Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Timbuktu: The Stripping has Began

It seems that no African heritage barely begins enjoying its belated share of limelight without outsiders [as in people who have no stake in the heritage at hand whatsoever] scrambling hysterically to strip it off its glory, and place credit where it is undue. Timbuktu has not fared any better. The glory of this historical complex has largely been put on the sidelines for quite some time now in the so-called "West", save to hear few metaphoric utterances on occasions of the namesake "Timbuktu", as some fairly remote exotic location, where one is bound to be lost. Again, an example of something positive given a negative spin by folks in the "West". Well, things have turned around a bit recently, with renewed interests in the manuscripts, which until now were in danger of gathering dust and kept in storage in Timbuktu university (madrasa) concerns. This comes in at a time, as reported by various news outlets, when a new museumsponsored by African and international organizationsis scheduled to be open to the public late in the year. With this renewed interest, so are efforts to strip the historical complex off of its self-earned glory gaining momentum. Just to give an example of this, consider the following piece from a Time online posting, which too makes a note of the aforementioned new museum:

Sitting at a junction of the Sahara's historic commercial routes on a lazy bend of the Niger River, Timbuktu used to be a hectic crossroads where gold traders heading north met herders and salt merchants trekking south across the desert. The city's lucrative trade fueled Mali's empires as well as a rich ethnic blend of black Africans and Mediterranean people, and an intellectual ferment with dozens of Koranic schools. Refugees from the Inquisition in Spain brought their libraries with them, and soon began writing and buying more books. Timbuktu's literary output was enormous, and included works covering the history of Africa and southern Europe, religion, mathematics, medicine and law. There were manuscripts detailing the movement of the stars, possible cures for malaria and remedies for menstrual pain. "I have here my family's whole history," says Ismael Diadié Haidara, whose ancestors carried their books to Timbuktu from Toledo, Spain when they fled religious persecution in 1467, and later wrote and purchased thousands more. "Families which were exiled, which had no country, had their libraries. It was people's security. They could say, 'This is where we come from.' "

On the one hand, the Time extract acknowledges Timbuktu had to have, and in fact, earned its rise to significance, having been the beneficiary of what the article describes "lucrative trade"; its fame was not handed out to it by outsiders as charityit was hard-earned. And then, on the other hand, the article immediately dives into the idea that "Refugees from the Inquisition in Spain brought their libraries with them, and soon began writing and buying more books." This sleight of hand has the effect of downplaying the home-grown intelligentsia base, that grew in tandem with the rise of the complex, into an international learning center, and overplaying the role of immigrants, in this case European "refugees"; it elicits a misguided notion, albeit in an underhanded way, that these refugees essentially turned the place into a learning center. Hence, the obscuring of the hard-earned and home-grown labor that led to the creation of this heritage is already underway, when the bearers of this heritage have hardly even began to celebrate the new limelight. Sure enough, as an example that the present author can recount from interaction on a social networking site, the article has been greeted with efforts to place due credit to Arabs [compare that to the effort by the Time article to overstate European role], not in one occasion, but at least a couple now. These two cultural-hacking camps place due credit anywhere but where it is actually due: Timbuktu!

The Arab diffusion-cultism attempts to create Timbuktu as a "goodwill charity case" from Arabs. One segment of the associated ideologues gives a one-sided role of being the "giver" in an unequal "trade relationship" of some sort to the "good-natured" Arabs, and the one-sided role of simply "takers" to the "primitive" illiterate locals of Timbuktu. In fact, it has even been bluntly said within this ideological circle, that "they were taught to read and write by Arabs". The underlying message here is that the Arabs "descended on" so-called primitive natives, whom no surprisewere illiterate. Never mind that complexes that had reached international significance had long been in the region prior to the arrival of Arabs, let alone Islam. Never mind that no place has experimented with developing more scripts independently than western Africa, let alone the entire continent. Forget about the fact that Arabic script itself is a handed-down adaptation of a script that has its origins on the African continent! It is a very simple-minded approach to complex historic processes that only rookies at history-telling will take. It doesn't consider the fact that Arabic text was essentially a non-issue in the preceding regional power [to ancient Mali]; the lack of Arab presence obviously did not stop say, ancient Ghana rising to significance in the region, so much so that travelers to the area took note, courtesy of Ray A. Kea (2004):

Al-Bakri gives a description (1068) of the royal capital:

The city of Ghana consists of two towns situated on a plain. One of these towns, which is inhabited by Muslims, is large and possesses twelve mosques, in one of which they assemble for the Friday prayer. There are salaried imams and muezzins, as well as jurists and scholars. In the environs are wells with sweet water, from which they drink and with which they grow vegetables. The king’s town is six miles distant from this one and bears the name Al-Ghaba. Between these two towns there are continuous habitations. The houses of the inhabitants are of stone and acacia wood. The king has a palace and a number of domed buildings all surrounded with an enclosure like a city wall. In the king’s town, and not far from his court of justice, is a mosque where the Muslims who arrive at his court pray. Around the king’s town are domed buildings and groves and thickets where the sorcerers of these people, men in charge of the religious cult, live…. The king’s interpreters, the official in charge of his treasury and the majority of his ministers are Muslims (Levtzion and Hopkins 2000: 80).

While the presence of Muslims, as noted above, was visible in the late periods of Ghana, it had already built itself the reputation as a regional power [as the excerpt below will demonstrate] and a wealthy one. The urban foundations of the elements described had all been in place, which is what allowed for accommodation of new converts to Muslims, with the building of mosques and appointing Muslim sections of the society in administrative posts. These were all possible, because the necessary infrastructure had already been in place, prior to any meaningful embrace of the newly arrived religion, Islam. In addition, Ray A Kea writes:

The Andalusian geographer al-Bakri (d.1094) states that the 11th century rulers of Ghana/Wagadu commanded an army of 200,000 men, 40,000 of whom were archers. It was essentially cavalry-based and the archers were in all likelihood mounted (Levtzion and Hopkins 2001: 81; also Ciss1998: 93, 104; de Grunne 1980). It ensured the centralization of political power and hence the centralization of surplus. Even if the geographer overstated the army’s numerical strength, the numbers nevertheless indicate a demographic order of magnitude that does not refute the archaeological evidence, which, in fact, suggests strong population densities in the Ghana/Wagadu heartland between the 9th and 14th centuries. A further point needs to be made. The maintenance of a cavalry force (military specialists) would have rested on the regular supply of grain for the horses and iron, brass, leather, and other items for the horsemen's equipment (bits, reins, saddles, etc.). These elements, representing secondary distributions of the surplus, required an urban-based commercial economy tied to subordinated communities of food producing and craft specialists.
In fact, Islam was not even adopted by Ghanaian elites who remained true to their local theological traditions for much of its history; it is only in the waning period, does one see any signs of Islam coming into the picture. Fact of the matter is, unlike the situation by around the height of the Malian complex, there was no political or social incentive for adopting either Arabic or Islam, and this would have depended on the relationship the complex had with its main traders, who were largely coastal northern Africans and Sahelian nomadic middle men. Yet, one can hardly be familiar with ancient Ghanaian archaeological record and come to the conclusion that they were illiterate primitives. In ancient Mali's case though, that aforementioned political and social incentive did exist, and so, Arabic as a regional lingua franca was expediently adopted, along with associated scripture, which was introduced to the Malians by their coastal northern African neighbors, not Arabs themselves, in contrast to what the aforementioned ideologues like to say. In fact, as a testament to this geopolitical expediency, the Malian intelligentsia had further locally modified the script into several Malian-specific distinctive forms from the coastal northwest African version introduced to themwith each variant serving a strategically specific social apparatus.

As one website puts it:

The Western style, influenced by the Hijazi script as used in North Africa evolved into the script known as Maghribi, or North African, beginning in the 11th century in North Africa, Spain, and Sicily. Western style script still is used in North Africa. From North Africa [NOT Arabia], this script crossed the Sahara Desert, came to Timbuktu, and spread throughout West Africa where scholars and scribes further developed the script. An exhibit of pages from these manuscripts is available at: Link


The most commonly used form of script in these Timbuktu manuscripts is Saharan, named for the desert that borders the city. Another form of Arabic script used in Timbuktu is Sudani, which refers to the belt of open farmlands that extends from East Africa to the lands just south of Timbuktu in West Africa. The third West African form of Arabic writing is Suqi–literally the market script. Suqi letters are noticeably square compared to the more elongated forms of Maghribi, Sudani, and Saharan.

Three different scripts were locally developed from the Maghrebian-derived version! These developments don't speak of a "primitive" people blindly going by the guidance of some "master race" of Arabs, who were not involved here nonetheless.

On some winding points here, the site also notes:

Other individuals traveled to Timbuktu to acquire knowledge. It was a city famous for the education of important scholars whose reputations were pan-Islamic. Timbuktu’s most famous and long lasting contribution to Islamic–and world–civilization is its scholarship and the books that were written and copied there beginning from at least the 14th century. The brilliance of the University of Timbuktu was without equal in all of sub-Saharan Africa and was known throughout the Islamic world...

The texts and documents included in Islamic Manuscripts from Mali are the products of a tradition of book production reaching back almost 1,000 years. Although this practice is anchored in the methods of Islamic book production, it possesses features particular to West Africa. The bindings of manuscripts from Timbuktu, and West Africa in general, are unique in the Islamic world. Their decoration with incised markings is in a style characteristic of the area. Further, pages are not attached in any way to the binding–a practice different from all other Islamic manuscripts....

Well how about that? Locally-developed practices of book-making, the only one of its kind found anywhere in the Islamic world.

Continuing on with our reading...

While many books were authored and copied in Timbuktu [Take note: not just "copied", but "authored"], its resident scholars also imported books from other parts of the Islamic world. Therefore, manuscripts found in Timbuktu are often written in Naskh, the most common book hand found in Arabic manuscripts from Egypt, Syria, and neighboring lands. Naskh developed from the Eastern style of the original Kufic script.

These works, whose subjects cover every topic of human endeavor, are indicative of the high level of civilization attained by West Africans during the Middle Ages and early modern period. They are also an important element of the culture of Mali, and West Africa in general, which survived the colonial experience.
- Link

The overriding message here, is that Timbuktu's legacy as a learning center is testament to the greatness of Timbuktu, not the greatness of the Arabian peninsula. So, if one were to use the rationale of ideologues of the "Arab diffusion" theory cultism, then since resident scholars of Timbuktu had apparently exchanged ideas with folks from afar, credit of Timbuktu's greatness will have to be parceled out to not only so-called "Arabs", but also Jews, Maghrebians, Egyptians, Persians, southern Europeans, neighboring western Africans, and the list goes on, of the era. Of course, that is not what Timbuktu's reputation as a historic learning center should highlight; rather, it ought to highlight ancient Mali's own home-grown achievement in attaining that global recognition, which brings us back to an earlier point about earning international recognition of significance: Timbuktu earned its reputation as a place of wealth and learning, as any other location would have to go through, to achieve the same. Accomplishment of this feat was therefore not a case of some charity handout from Arabian Arabs, as the aforementioned ideologues would have one believe.

So, worth repeating from the lines immediately cited above, are the following keywords:

Timbuktu’s most famous and long lasting contribution to Islamic–and world–civilization...

Keywords and interpretation: "Timbuktu's", not "Arabs'", contribution to the "Islamic-and world-civilization", and not just Western Sudan, is this:.

its scholarship and the books that were written and copied there beginning from at least the 14th century. The brilliance of the University of Timbuktu was without equal in all of sub-Saharan Africa and was known throughout the Islamic world.

Let's face it; had the coastal Maghrebians been using another form of script other than modified Arabic, guess what? Then, ancient Mali ruling elites, traders and intelligentsia would have likely also used some other script rather than Arabic-derivatives. Given this state of affairs, it is highly misleading to suggest that without Arabic script, the western African region would not have attained high learning and literacy, or that it could not have attained reputation as a learning center. Locally-modified Arabic script forms of Maghrebian type served as lingua franca scripture, facilitating effective trade and social relationships between the discrete groups of coastal northwest Africans, Saharan and/or Sahelian nomadic middle men and the Malian complex residents, and even between the complex ethnic mix that made up the Malian cosmopolitan landscape. To paint this as some simple model of Arabs [who were not even the major players here in the political and trade network] coming in and teaching people to read and write, is at best, a very simple-minded one dimensional way of thinking. The Western Sudanic folks took on the northern African versions of Arabic on their own terms; not a case of some foreign "saints" coming in and teaching some uncultured people how to read and write, as the aforementioned ideological elements advocate. Proof of this, to reiterate, can be intuitive from the fact that grand empires thrived in the region long before either Islam or Arabic-script of any form was embraced by any sections of society! It is more than conceivable, in the case of ancient Ghana, that intelligentsia, political and trade circles used some Saharan lingua franca as a trade language, along with associated script. Evidence of this can be seen from the fact that the Tamasheq communities of this very region have retained the usage of Tifinagha Saharan-developed form of "ancient Libyan" script, which itself is said to have partially been inspired by Phoenician letter systems.

For what its worth, below is the presentation of a fairly quick, and hence, by no means comprehensive list of African writing systemsfrom west to east, and north to south. Africans have experimented with several more, some of which have unfortunately not been preserved through to this day, while others are well hidden from the view of outsiders to what some call "secret societies". In some cases, even the exact age of these writing systems are uncertain; some are reckoned to have been around in remote periods of antiquity. Not too long ago, another form of scriptdubbed as "written sub-Saharan language"was uncovered in Sudan, assessed to be as old as ca. 2,300 years or so. Why this script is singled out as that of a "sub-Saharan" language has not been made clear in news articles like that of the BBC post, being that it has been uncovered in Sudan, also home to the Meroitic text, which has not openly been afforded the same description. One can only surmise that this has something to do with the fact that analysts involved "still don't understand" it, and it is therefore imagined to have come from further south (?) At any rate, a link to the BBC article on the finding is provided in the list below:

Independently invented African scripts?

Eastern Africa:

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics

Hieratic script

Demotic script

Proto-Sinaitic script

Meroitic script

proto-Ge'ez script [questionably called ESA] and Amharic script

Western African script record:

Ancient Sahara


Nsibidi script

Bassa Script

Adinkra signs

And more can be found here:

African Writing Systems

And here: African Writing Systems-2

Other African scripts record, the so-called "written sub-Saharan script":

ca. 2300 year old identified "sub-Saharan Script"

And now...

Independently invented Arabian scripts?

None. Just Proto-Sinaitic script modifications, and possibly direct developments imported from the Nile Valley, where the oldest examples of highly cursive Arabic script have been uncovered on papyri.

The aforementioned ideological elements will even go as far as to stare right at the Timbuktu manuscripts, a body of intellectualism and learning of, which to borrow from an earlier citation, subjects that cover every topic of human endeavor, and are indicative of the high level of civilization attained by West Africans during the Middle Ages and early modern period; they are also an important element of the culture of Mali, and West Africa in general, which survived the colonial experience, and yet still maintain that the whole affair is something that is not to be considered as "home-grown science". This is maintained of a region that is home to head-scratching mathematical concepts surrounding Sirius [as we shall soon briefly touch on] and this:  

Other individuals traveled to Timbuktu to acquire knowledge. It was a city famous for the education of important scholars whose reputations were pan-Islamic. Timbuktu’s most famous and long lasting contribution to Islamic–and world–civilization is its scholarship and the books that were written and copied there beginning from at least the 14th century. The brilliance of the University of Timbuktu was without equal in all of sub-Saharan Africa and was known throughout the Islamic world..

Notice that books were not just "copied", but they were actually also "authored" therein. How does an area become a cosmopolitan learning center for "subjects that cover every topic of human endeavor", and yet be devoid of "home-grown science"? This is something that the aforementioned ideological elements do not obviously think through. If it is simply all about just compiling "foreign-grown" work, then what is the whole point of people traveling to this "learning center" that could possibly otherwise be considered to be in "the middle of nowhere", just to "acquire knowledge"? Why not simply import the work directly from its source, or yet, go right to that source? Surely, if Timbuktu scholars could import books from afar, then should others not be just as capable of doing the same? Cosmopolitan learning centers don't just pop up in cultural backwaters, now do they! Remember, in the first citation posted here, we were told that: Timbuktu's literary output was enormous, and included works covering the history of Africa and southern Europe, religion, mathematics, medicine and law. There were manuscripts detailing the movement of the stars, possible cures for malaria and remedies for menstrual pain

Speaking of the movement of stars, let's revisit that aforementioned issue of Dogon astronomy. Citing a posting on Wikipedia, we are informed as follows:

Certain researchers investigating the Dogon have reported that they seem to possess advanced astronomical knowledge, the nature and source of which has subsequently become embroiled in controversy. From 1931 to 1956 the French anthropologist Marcel Griaule studied the Dogon. This included field missions ranging from several days to two months in 1931, 1935, 1937 and 1938[17] and then annually from 1946 until 1956.[18] In late 1946 Griaule spent a consecutive thirty-three days in conversations with the Dogon wiseman Ogotemmêli, the source of much of Griaule and Dieterlen's future publications.[19] They reported that the Dogon believe that the brightest star in the sky, Sirius (sigi tolo or 'star of the Sigui'[20]), has two companion stars, pō tolo (the Digitaria star), and ęmmę ya tolo, (the female Sorghum star), respectively the first and second companions of Sirius A.[21] Sirius, in the Dogon system, formed one of the foci for the orbit of a tiny star, the companionate Digitaria star. When Digitaria is closest to Sirius, that star brightens: when it is farthest from Sirius, it gives off a twinkling effect that suggests to the observer several stars. The orbit cycle takes 60 years. [22]They also claimed that the Dogon appeared to know of the rings of Saturn, and the moons of Jupiter.[23]

Griaule and Dieterlen were puzzled by this Sudanese star system, and prefaced their analysis with the following remark:-
The problem of knowing how, with no instruments at their disposal, men could know the movements and certain characteristics of virtually invisible stars has not been settled, nor even posed.[24]
In 1976 Robert K. G. Temple wrote a book arguing that the Dogon's system reveals precise knowledge of cosmological facts only known by the development of modern astronomy, since they appear to know, from Griaule and Dieterlen's account, that Sirius was part of a binary star system, whose second star, Sirius B, a white dwarf, was however completely invisible to the human eye, (just as Digitaria is the smallest grain known to the Dogon), and that it took 50 years to complete its orbit. The existence of Sirius B had only been inferred to exist through mathematical calculations undertaken by Friedrich Bessel in 1844. Temple then argued that the Dogon's information, if traced back to ancient Egyptian sources and myth, indicated an extraterrestrial transmission of knowledge of the stars.[25] Neither Griaule nor Dieterlen had ever made such bold claims about a putative esoteric source for the Dogon's knowledge.

More recently, doubts have been raised about the validity of Griaule and Dieterlein's work.[26][27] In a 1991 article in Current Anthropology anthropologist Walter van Beek concluded after his research among the Dogon that,
"Though they do speak about sigu tolo [which is what Griaule claimed the Dogon called Sirius] they disagree completely with each other as to which star is meant; for some it is an invisible star that should rise to announce the sigu [festival], for another it is Venus that, through a different position, appears as sigu tolo. All agree, however, that they learned about the star from Griaule"[28] 
Griaule's daughter Genevieve Calame-Griaule responded in a latter issue suggesting that van Beek may have been "sent by the political and administrative authorities to test the Dogon's Muslim orthodoxy" and argues that van Beek did not go "through the appropriate steps for acquiring knowledge."[29]

Robert Todd Carroll states that a more likely source of the knowledge of the Sirius star system is from contemporary, terrestrial sources who provided information to interested members of the tribes, or confabulation of new myths by credulous and biased Afrocentric scholars.[30] James Oberg also criticizes the idea that the Dogon tribes drew their knowledge from extraterrestrials, citing instead their extensive contacts with Western explorers, travelers and missionaries as well as members of the French Army, with whom some members of the Dogon served during World War I.[31] James Clifford however notes that Griaule sought informants best qualified to speak of traditional lore, and deeply mistrusted converts to Christianity, Islam, or people with too much contact with whites. [32] Oberg also points out the number of errors contained in the Dogon myths, including the number of moons possessed by Jupiter, that Saturn was the furthest planet from the sun, and the only planet with rings.

Now the reader should keep in mind that Wikipedia citing here is undertaken with a critical eye, as inaccurate information from the site has been identified here before. However, in this case, the material is cited on the understanding that it is fully referenced with footnotes, and hence, making such information fully open to independent verification by the reader, should he/she deem it necessary. That said, let's analyze the above mentioned briefly:

As one can see, the news of Dogon astronomy by two "Western" researchers was first followed up with goofy explanations of how they might have attained this, starting with Robert Temple. After all, how could a "primitive" bunch, with no "Western"-verified documentation of special instruments, be able to come to such advance understanding about a certain element of the universe? As the Wikipedia posting notes, not even Griaule or Dieterlen, the news-bearers of the Dogon understanding, were bold enough to openly come to such conclusions, as that of the extraterrestrial education of the Dogon. Walter van Beek on the other hand pays some community of Dogons a visit, presumably for the sole purpose of verifying Griaule's and Dieterlen's news of Dogon Sirius revelations. An interesting feature of van Beek's findings though, is that it seems to suggest that Dogon only learned of the stars from Griaule himself, some 60 years apart the time van Beek made his visit, which would mean and in contradiction to Griaule's and Dieterlen's revelations of Dogon understanding, that Dogon supposedly had no prior knowledge of Sirius or likely, the other celestial bodies. Yet, this was at a time when even "Westerners" could not figure out the "precise cosmological facts" that Griaule had obtained from the Dogons, having made four separate visits to the latter, followed by a decades long annual visit! One would think that for one, if Griaule had made such a scientific breakthrough, that he would be scrambling to get recognition for it himself, and not some unknown "rural" Africans, about whom they held steadfast prejudices in Europe that very few [Europeans] would have been willing to break away from. And then there is the matter of great detail that Griaule notes of local Dogon lexical names for the stars; did Griaule come up with those names and teach the Dogons said lexicon as well? Going by van Beek, one would have to assume so. The van Beek piece noticeably speaks of only Sigu tolo, which according to Griaule's report, identifies Sirius; yet, Griaule's clearly details not one, but multiple different stars by their Dogon names, none of which can be found in the van Beek piece. These are namely Sigu tolo [Sirius],  and its two companions stars: Po tolo [Digitaria star] and Emmę ya tolo [the female Sorghum star]. The van Beek piece does not tell the reader what was to made be of these companion stars. Furthermore, van Beek's finding has a curious feature: he tells us that Sigu tolo appeared to have varying identities among the Dogon, and yet, proceeds to tell us that they supposedly claimed to have gotten this information from a single individual, Griaule himself! Conventional wisdom should tell us that if that were so, shouldn't the likelihood of the stories being consistent with one another be just as great. If a single source tells two individuals the same story, should the stories of those two individuals therefore not be expected to be that very same story? At very least, what Griaule's daughter, Genevieve Calame-Griaule, said in response to van Beek's charges is likely what is at work here, that "van Beek did not go "through the appropriate steps for acquiring knowledge."" Griaule's visits to the Dogons was extensive. Was the same true for van Beek? Then there is that issue of trust, in acquiring information from Dogon, that James Clifford makes a note of. Clifford informs us that Griaule was very selective about whom he was acquiring information from, perhaps just as careful as the Dogons were likely to be, in sharing their secrets to outsiders; to repeat: Griaule sought informants best qualified to speak of traditional lore, and deeply mistrusted converts to Christianity, Islam, or people with too much contact with whites. In closing this case study, we are also informed that as superb and as advanced as the Dogon astronomical observations were, they still had a few shortcomings worth pointing out; to reiterate info already cited above, according to James Oberg, whom while not going as far as Temple with the "extraterrestrial" thing, explains off the Dogon intellectual ingenuity as information supposedly "generously" donated by "Western explorers, travelers and missionaries as well as members of the French Army", the number of moons that the Dogons associated with Jupiter were off or erroneous, and so was their estimation of the distance of Saturn from the sun and its description as the lone planet with rings. The funny thing though about James Oberg's explaining away off Dogon knowledge, is that it comes back to full circle with the fact that this was information that the general European public was supposed to have been ignorant of at the time of Griaule's visit; so, how can the ordinary European public [as explorers, missioners or foot-soldiers], whom one would expect to have been in an even worse off intellectual position than European professional astronomers, be expected to teach the Dogon something that they themselves were clueless of? In the end, what does all this tell us? The commotion following Griaule and Dieterlein's reports about Dogon knowledge simply highlights the rigidly held prejudices that Europeans have had about these Africans. "Primitive" people are not supposed to outdo the "advanced" Europeans, or beat them to something as complex as the astronomical specifics described here. The commotion and the conflicting rationalizations of how the Dogon could have attained this impressive knowledge goes to show that European folks have not been able to shake off these long held prejudices. The "anomalous" Dogon intuition simply upsets these prejudices and European-created sense of "racial" stratigraphy.

Then there is another ideological element which sought to answer the Dogon question, as we shall see with other such examples pertaining to Malians, by placing their origins in the Nile Valley, in historic times. All of these rationalizations wittingly or unwittingly converge on a common theme: that "true" western Africans are simply incapable of intellectual creativeness by themselves. It has to be taught to them, or people simply invaded the region en mass with said creativeness.

Amongst the aforementioned Arabic ideological sect elements, the following line of thinking was pushed forth in the heat of debate, from personal recounting: "The math was not developed independently." Given what was just pointed out above, it is clear that this line of argument simply underlies ignorance and the lack of motivation to do basic research. It's premise erroneously assumes that "Algebra" is an "independent Arab invention", and also predicated on the idea that since Timbuktu scholars adopted this form of math, that they were necessarily incapable of their own home-grown mathematical abstract thinking, and that Algebra is the only math known to these scholars. As it turns out, the very personality [some Arab individual going by a pseudonym] who came up with that line of thinking, was not well versed in the actual history of Algebra as a mathematical discipline. For one, he confused the compiler of the first published material with that namesake [i.e. "Algebra"], Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmia Persian, for an Arab. Now, had this individual done his homework, it would have been clear to him that Persians are very adamant about not being called "Arabs".

Even Persia's Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi was a beneficiary of "earlier traditions, most notably Indian mathematics", according the very source used by the Arab personality in questioni.e. Wikipedia. This is how that source put it:

While the word algebra comes from the Arabic language (al-jabr, literally restoration) and much of its methods from Arabic/Islamic mathematics, its roots can be traced to earlier traditions, most notably ancient Indian mathematics, which had a direct influence on Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi; (c. 780-850). He learned Indian mathematics and introduced it to the Muslim world through his famous arithmetic text, Kitab al-jam’wal tafriq bi hisab al-Hindi (Book on Addition and Subtraction after the Method of the Indians).[1][2] ...

The roots of algebra can be traced to the ancient Babylonians,[4] who developed an advanced arithmetical system with which they were able to do calculations in an algorithmic fashion. The Babylonians developed formulas to calculate solutions for problems typically solved today by using linear equations, quadratic equations, and indeterminate linear equations. By contrast, most Egyptians of this era, as well as Greek and Chinese mathematicians in the first millennium BC, usually solved such equations by geometric methods, such as those described in the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, Euclid's Elements, and The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art. The geometric work of the Greeks, typified in the Elements, provided the framework for generalizing formulae beyond the solution of particular problems into more general systems of stating and solving equations, though this would not be realized until the medieval Muslim mathematicians.

The Hellenistic mathematicians Hero of Alexandria and Diophantus [5] as well as Indian mathematicians such as Brahmagupta continued the traditions of Egypt and Babylon, though Diophantus' Arithmetica and Brahmagupta's Brahmasphutasiddhanta are on a higher level.

Even the very word "al-Jabr" [from which we get the name "Algebra"], as we can see above, should have been a dead giveaway. It reads: "restoration"restoration of what? Earlier mathematical traditions, of course, albeit with modifications where necessary! The aforementioned exemplary ideological personality, for what its worth, was hard-pressed to come up with a purely or independently-conceived mathematics by an actual Arab scholar, even as he audaciously points fingers at Timbuktu intelligentsia and charge it with having no home-grown mathematical concept of its very own.

As was the case with Timbuktu scholars, this Persian intellectual simply used Arabic, because it was the dominating regional lingua franca between the different nationalities that became part of the African-interior, Mediterranean confines and "Near Eastern" trade-ring. This was accompanied by the African reinforcement for spreading Islam into southwestern Europeanother testament to just how indebted Islam should be to the African initiative of extending the reach of the religion. Now of course, to get northern Africans to embrace Islam in the first place, engendered long bitter armed conflicts first in the "Near East" and then coastal northern African territories; thereafter, coastal northwest Africa was influential in spreading the religion southward, albeit on western Sudanic terms, as it relates to empires like ancient Ghana or Mali. This doesn't mean that there weren't occasional attempts to force Islamic expansionism on the Sudanic folks, and one sees this at the waning periods of ancient Ghanaian power in the region, i.e. of course, when the complex was reportedly increasingly embroiled with infighting, compounded by natural calamities like drought. Just how accurate is this assessment though? Pekka Masonen and Humphrey J. Fisher (1996) give us a fairly detailed insight on "conquest theories" surrounding the al Murabitun (Almoravids) and the Sudanic folks, in particularancient Ghana, in their work "Not quite Venus from the Wave: The Almoravid Conquest of Ghana in the Modern Historiography of Western Africa"; here, we will limit the discussion to a few sections of that work:

In 1974, in an article far too little known, Mahamadou Coulibaly was perhaps the first scholar to attempt an inclusive study of the conquest hypothesis. He began by emphasizing, quite rightly, that al-Zuhrthe source for the conversion of Ghana in 1076made no reference to any military victory. There is no evidence for the destruction of Ghana, its dismemberment, or any substantive political or military domination of Ghana by Muslim proselytes...

Coulibaly also introduced a new element into the discussion by using the results of the archeological excavations in Tegdaoust (the putative site of Awdaghust) and Kumbi Saleh (the putative site of Ghana) as arguments against the conquest. He correctly pointed out that no indisputable remains of Almoravid presence have been found at either site.

Interesting; but reading on:

In the same year Farias returned to the fray in a review article of Nehernia Levtzion's Ancient Ghana and Mali. Farias argued against the hypothesis in both general and specific terms. He pointed out that it is too much of an oversimplification to think that the relationship between the sedentary Sudanese and the pastoral Berbers would have been constantly violent--as some of the fourteenth-century Arabic and nineteenth-century European sources suggested. Quite the contrary, he stressed the cooperative and symbiotic aspects of their relationship. More specifically, Farias rejected Levtzion's interpretation of the Wagadu legend in oral tradition, with its killing of the sacred snake. This killing might appear to correspond all too well with the idea of a bloody Almoravid conquest of Ghana, the snake myth thus automatically and rashly treated as actual historical evidence. But, said Farias, "the interpretation of the mythical killing as a dramatic representation of an event is not easy to accept." 

Indeed, "not easy to accept", especially in the face of no corroborative evidence on the archeological end, or even primary texts dating to the period. Reading on, however... 

In the case of the Almoravids and Ghana, this meant that Fariaslike Semonin before himrejected the idea of the destruction of Ghana by the Almoravids in 1076, as manifested by Delafosse. Instead of conquest, Farias preferred to use the term "influence." John Hunwick pursued this line, arguing that the Almoravids did not actually conquer Ghana, but had great influence on its affairs, helping a Muslim faction of the ruling house rise to power.

The evolution in ideas from rejection of the conquest hypothesis to its replacement with "influence" in some circles is noticeable, as intended by Masonen and Fisher through their presentation and references. No doubt absence of compelling evidence has played a role in this evolution, in addition to any prevailing political climate within which these writers give us their piece of mind, that allowed for the emancipation of such investigative thought. "influence" still seems to suggest, albeit tacitly, that some level of coercion or pressure was necessary to account for why ancient Ghanaian ruling circles and folks suddenly converted in the waning periods of the complex, in particular during that seemingly magic year of "1076"; coercion noticeable enough to "influence" the said conversion but not great enough to lead to a violent confrontation between the al Murabitun (Almoravid) and the kingdom of Ghana. Going further...
This idea (Hunwick's version of "helping a Muslim faction of the ruling house to rise to power") had been introduced in 1970 by Jean Devisse, who speculated that the relationship between the new ruler of Ghana and the Muslim population might have changed for the worse after the death in 455/1063 of Basi who had been famous for his friendship with Muslims, eventually causing an Almoravid intervention. Similar thoughts have been expressed also by Daniel F. McCall and Dierk Lange. All this suggests that several scholars were prepared to give up the Delafossean conquest hypothesis, which they realized was indefensibleor at least weak and all but undocumented and the formulation of the "influence hypothesis" was an attempt to give a more reasonable answer to the question: why did the ruler and people of Ghana adopt Islam in 1076?

Good question! And we will seek the answer to it in the next segment of this topic. Please go here: Link

1 comment:

resjan said...

Very insightful! I enjoy reading your posts because I ALWAYS learn something new.

You are absolutely right to say that Timbuktu is being "stripped" by outsiders, which has happened time and time again in every corner of the continent...from Great Zimbabwe in SE Africa to KMT in NE Africa. But, we've got to refute such theories with facts, as you are clearly doing.