Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Timbuktu: The Stripping has Began - Conclusion

In this segment of the topic, we will examine the other school of Arabic ideologue demic-diffusion theoriesthis time, revolving around certain African oral traditions or legends. Since Timbuktu is the subject of our discourse here, analysis will mostly focus on allegations made around Malian traditions, with examples from elsewhere on the continent if need be.

We open the set of examples here with a matter that was the subject of an al-Jazeera, the English branch of the Qatar-based media concern, YouTube video posting of a program called "Witness". Al-Jazeera furnishes its YouTube video page with the following abstract, under "Category: News & Politics": Once Timbuktu was known as the intellectual centre for the propagation of Islamic teachings. Now the 'city of knowledge' is witnessing a renaissance. At any rate, at some point in the video clip, the following line was picked up by some correspondent, i.e. an ideological opponent of the present author, in a debate:

"This work is a protection of the manuscripts and our heritageour Arab heritage. These manuscripts are our history and are very useful for us."

These words were uttered by a woman apparently restoring fragile pages of Timbuktu manuscripts using papyrus paper-technology [another African invention], in what could have been in the company of assistants sent in from Dubai, as she did openly make a note of Dubai's role in assisting with doing just that. There was obviously an English voice-over translation in the video clip, making the audibility of the woman's own words relatively hard to pick up, unless one attentively listened. So, she could well have been saying these things in Arabic. At any rate, the words above, could be an allusion to any number of things, since the words "our Arab heritage" was not clearly defined or elaborated on: It could simply be an allusion to Islamic culture, being that ancient Malian rulers embraced that religion, or even the fact that the manuscripts were written in a form of Arabic script. However, and importantly, nowhere therein, is it claimed that either the woman in the video, or Malians in general are Arabs; this though, is precisely the far-reaching conclusion that the aforementioned debate opponent sought to use the lines forto essentially suggest that Malians see themselves as Arabs, or extensions of Arabs. And even assuming that this is what the woman in question meant, it goes back to the legends mentioned at the top of this page, passed down generations. Not to diminish the socio-cultural values of such legends, but in many cases, they are essentially tributes to the religious faith that the legend-bearers hold. Hence, certain element of mythology finds its way into these oral traditions, generally revolving around eponymous heroic ancestors, to which the community bearing the tradition ultimately trace their common ancestors.

The mere noting of this condition of culture was visited with sarcastic remarks along the lines of: "You need to go and teach that to those Malians on the clip who are telling you that they are Arabs and if only you could teach that to the writers of those manuscripts." Now, of course, that sarcastic proposition is ridiculous, because it will be like going to all people of different "Abrahamic" faiths, and telling them that biblical eponymous ancestors of say, "Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden", is not an accurate estimation of reality, based on the material findings of science, like for instance, what molecular genetics or human paleontology suggests. Likewise, it is not uncommon to find segments of African societies formulate legends that connect them to some religious eponymous ancestor in some holy land, which could necessarily place that ancestor elsewhere other than Africa. This is certainly true about Islamic African societies. Such undertaking, as that elicited by the aforementioned proposition, will predictably end in the undertaker being written off as "arrogant" and "insensitive". Theological or social constructs like this are best simply left understood as just thati.e. as religion, nothing more or less, and hence, alleviating the need to bother with trying to convince the bearers of such beliefs to the contrary in one way or another.

Still, ideologues insist that to question legends which were repeated to medieval writers, whom in turn passed them on, is tantamount to charging the message-bearers with not knowing where they came from. For example, on the question of Timbuktu scholars who spoke of legends that place an eponymous ancestor of theirs some place outside of African territory, names like AbdurRahman As-Sa'ad or Mahmud Ka'ati is offered, wherein the former is reported to have said that the Sanhaja and Songhai originally came from Yemen, presumably in his work titled "Taarikh As-Sudan", while the latter is said to have professed that the Songhai, Wangara and the Wakore all came from Yemen, presumably in a work titled "Taarikh Al-Fattach". In what amounts to sloppiness, even something as materially shallow as the following, is offered, having been a product of copying and pasting from some internet site(s):  

According to the manuscript number 43 of Ahmed Baba Center in Timbuktu, the Fulani trace their lineage back to the Koraysh of Mecca through Oqba ibn Yasir...

What these ideologues refuse to take into account, is that these legends serve a social purpose, which is why they exist in the first place. For instance, every element of society likes to think of itself as the "chosen people" of something that is higher than them or the torch-bearers of the most sacreda sense of patriotism. Specific sacred or revered eponymous ancestors therefore serve as the bridging element to whatever "end" it is that makes people feel like that they are part of the "chosen ones" or the "sacred ones". These cosmological matters that inspire these myths [surrounding said eponymous ancestors] serve as the divine-sanctioned moral code or law that members of societies are expected to adhere to on their own initiative, in addition to any written out laws of the land written by leaders, which have to be abide by and enforced by law-enforcers. Ruling elites and elements are usually effective in fomenting, if not systematically sustaining, legends from fabricated and/or historical events, that helps them to secure their place in society in the long run. These are usually accounts that date to some remote time long before a group of people formed a distinctive identity for themselves, generally involving time frames unreachable to the target audience that the legends are fed to. As such, it is hard for the average cultural-bearer to test the veracity of the accounts described in the legends, and then, couple this with the systematic repetition of such legends through social conditioning right from childhood. There is generally a misconception among many, that if something is widely accepted, and has been "sanctified by time and repetition"*, then there must certainly be legitimacy to it. Furthermore, many folks fear being considered "outcasts", and so, steer clear from setting themselves up to questioning "conventional wisdom" that could possibly lead one to view the world from a different lens and possibly affect one's code of conduct thereof, which in turn could result in earning one the reputation of an outcast. Again, ideologues tend to take complexities out of issues, and instead look to the most superficial of explanations that could be used to support their preconceived notions.

It makes little sense to hold medieval writers accountable for information that was passed down generations and onto them; however, they can be tested and held accountable for narratives of a series of events in their own lifetime that they claim to have witnessed firsthand, albeit in consideration of the context of the political and philosophical atmosphere that the writers were working in.

At any rate, to test the veracity of legends, should one choose to avail oneself of such, comparative analysis between different segments of a society can be quite intuitive. To demonstrate this, consider the following, from Richard L. Smith of the Ferrum College, which has been cited here before:

Moving beyond race, language—one of the defining characteristics in the modern concept of ethnicity—is rarely mentioned by classical or Arab authors except to note that their subjects spoke some form of gibberish. This began with Herodotus's offhand remark about the Ethiopian troglodytes: "The language they speak is completely different from any other language, and sounds like bats squeaking,"43 and continues through the sixth-century poet Corippus, who, in referring to Berber tribes, notes that their "barbaric languages bark in savage terms."44 Authors don't usually distinguish gibberishes from each other, nor do they state categorically that language was a major criterion for dividing the peoples of North Africa. Perhaps, however, we should assume this. Tacitus, who falls into the Sallust school in his discussion of North Africa but whose study of the German tribes is unsurpassed in classical ethnography, does refer to the importance of language in his review of peoples to the north of the Roman Empire.45 In other regions of Africa, including nearby West Africa, language has often served as an insignia of ethnicity.

Ibn Khaldun does distinguish the Berbers from the Arabs and other peoples by their language.

According to him, the Arabs gave the Berbers their name, the origin of which meant something like gibberish: "The word berbera signifies, in Arabic, a jumble of unintelligible cries; from which one says in speaking of the lion that it berbère when it utters confused roars."46 *

[46 * - “Histoire I:168. In another place, Ibn Khaldun offers an alternate if similar explanation. According to this, a Yemenite king named Afriqus b. Qays b. Sayfi, who lived at the time of Moses, often raided North Africa and killed many Berbers: "He gave them the name of Berbers when he heard their jargon and asked what that barbarah was." Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, trans. Franz Rosenthal, ed. N. J. Dawood (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967), p. 14.” - Richard L. Smith]

Richard goes onto say:

The unintelligible cries were the many local dialects Berber was divided into, by one modern count an astounding twelve hundred, although the situation at the time of Ibn Khaldun can only be guessed. And while Berber languages show relatively little internal differentiation in comparison to other branches of the Afro-Asiatic family, a detailed language map of Berber speakers would have the pattern of spilled vegetable soup.47* [47* - “For a background on the origin of Berber and its derivatives, see P. Behrens, "Wanderungsbewegungen und Sprache der früken saharanischen Viehzuchter," Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika6 (1984–85): 135–216.” - Richard Smith]

In the past scholars have tried to get a handle on this so-called "language of dialects" by recognizing two or three dialect clusters—Zanatiya, Sanhaja, and sometimes Masmuda (which, when not recognized as separate, is joined with Sanhaja)—based on phonetic and morphological variations and location. Zanata, Sanhaja, and Masmuda are not terms used in the writings of the ancients but do appear, full-blown, with Arab authors who draw a clear distinction between them. The Masmuda were concentrated in the High Atlas and surrounding areas while in the rest of North Africa the Zanata (those who speak Zanatiya) were more common in the north and east and the Sanhaja in the south and west. The word "Sanhaja" means those who speak Zenaga (Znaga), the major dialect of the western desert. - Richard L. Smith

Then there are legends of ‘Berber’ ancestry, one of which as already very briefly mentioned, is traced back to a personality(s) by the name of “Berr”:

According to the Arabian genealogies, all Berbers are descended from two men: Berr ibn Branes and Berr ibn Botr.79 These two Berrs, although possessing the same name, were not related. From them are descended the great families of Berbers such as the Masmuda, Senhaja, and Zenata. Of all these great families the earliest to spread seems to have been the Masmuda or Ghomara branch. This was followed traditionally by the Senhaja, who today include such varied peoples as the Siwans on the borderlands of Egypt, the Tuareg of the Sahara, and the Braber of the Middle Atlas in Morocco. The third great expansion was that of the Zenata, who were known in Roman times in Cyrenaica, but who did not reach Algeria and Morocco until the Middle Ages. In the thirteenth century these Zenata finally invaded Spain, conquering Arabs and earlier Berbers. One may compare the expansions of the Berber families to those of Kelts, Germans, Slavs, etc. in Europe. - Courtesy of

The present author can only imagine that the website which posted this piece is basing this on Arabic-speaking writers cited in their reference, such as al Bakri and Ibn Khaldun

[More on these sort of legends, from Richard L Smiths analysis:

Unlike Herodotus, Ibn Abi Zar did recognize that his subjects lived in segmented societies,55 but the framework that he and other Arab writers imposed was genealogical rather than anthropological. Groups were defined as descendants of specific people, so exactly who the Berbers issued from was a much debated topic. The most popular starting place was the Holy Land, and first among the candidates was Goliath. After David killed Goliath, the Philistines, frequently confused with the Canaanites, were said to have left their homeland and migrated to North Africa, where they became the Berbers. Not everyone who wanted to keep the Berbers in the Old Testament was convinced of the Goliath connection. One of the most popular accounts goes back to Noah's children, Ham and Sem, among whom Satan was said to have sowed discord:

"Ham, having become black because of a curse pronounced against him by his father, fled to the Maghrib to hide in shame.... Berber, son of Kesloudjim [Casluhim], one of his descendants, left numerous posterity in the Maghrib."56*
[56* - “Ibn Khaldun, Histoire I, 177–178. The Ham connection appears in al-Ya'qubi, Corpus, p. 21. The Goliath connection comes a little later in Ibn Hawqal, Corpus, p. 48. Much earlier, in the first century C.E., the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus claimed that the Gaetulians descended from Havilah, the son of Cush, grandson of Ham.” - Richard L. Smith]

Understandably, many of the Berbers did not want their family trees rooted in Goliath, Ham, or other Biblical ne'er-do-wells. Muslims all over the Islamic world often **tried to establish ancestral connections with the Prophet's homeland**, the Arabian peninsula, and the Berbers were no exception. A popular theory among them was that they were long-lost Yemenites.

Ibn Khaldun chronicled all the stories he could find concerning Berber origins and**demolished each in turn**. He characterized one story that featured an invasion by an ancient Yemenite king as an "example of silly statements by historians.
"57* [57* - “Ibn Khaldun, Muqaddimah, p. 14.” - Richard L. Smith] Nor did he mince words concerning another popular theory:

"The opinion which represents them as the children of Goliath or Amalecites, and which has them emigrate from Syria, willy-nilly, is so untenable that it merits classification as a fable."

But Ibn Khaldun proved more effective as a critic than in offering a viable alternative. In the end he, too, traced the Berbers back to Genesis:

"Now the real fact, the fact which dispenses with all hypothesis, is this: the Berbers are the children of Canaan, the son of Ham, son of Noah." Down this line came Berr who had two sons, Baranis and Madghis al-Abtar. All Berber tribes descended from one or the other of these brothers and were classified as either Baranes or Botr.
58* [58* - “Histoire I, 173–185. Also see R. W. Bulliet, "Botr et Beranes: Hypotheses sur l'histoire des Berbes,"Annales Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations36 (1981): 104–116.” - Richard L. Smith]


The Sanhaja were Baranes, and the Zanata were Botr. Further up the tree on the Baranes side were the Mulaththamun, who, according to al-Idrisi, descended from two eponyms, Sanhaj andLamt. They lived in the Maghrib and were the sons of a mother named Tazakkat (Tizki), "the Lame." But Sanhaj and Lamt produced troublesome broods who tried to conquer the other Berbers and were finally driven into the desert, where they became nomads living in tents and surviving on the milk and meat of camels.59* [59* - “Corpus, p. 127.” - Richard L. Smith]

Arab-imposed, male-centered genealogy tells us more about contemporary Arab historiography than it does about Berber ethnography. This is not to dismiss the importance of perceived descent, which was matrilineal among most Berbers, particularly those of the desert. Etymological analysis seems to indicate that this tradition had its roots deep in the past: the words for brother and sister in proto-Berber, for example, are "son of my mother"and "daughter of my mother" respectively.60* [60* - “G. Marcy, "Les survivances juridiques de la parenté maternelle dans la coutume du Maroc Central," Actes du Congrès del'institut des Hautes Études Marocaines (Rabat, 1937), p. 33.” - Richard L. Smith]

The progenitor of Sanhaja and Tuareg alike was more often than not thought to be a woman, **Tin Hinan** of the Kel Ahaggar being the most well known. Whatever the real story behind the formation of a group like the Lamtuna, a large measure of their self-identity came from the commonly held belief that their eponymous ancestor was a woman named **Lamtuna**, and thus they were related "by blood" to each other.

More on legends, as cited by Richard:

One final aspect of Biblical-based genealogical history is worth noting: it did not start with the Arabs. About halfway through his work, Procopius suddenly announces that it is necessary to tell how the Maures came to Libya. He begins with Joshua and the Hebrews invading Palestine and thrashing everyone in sight. Several of the Canaanite tribes escaped by moving into Egypt, but finding it already crowded, continued on to Libya. Autochthonous people Procopius calls the "Children of the Soil" already lived there; Procopius does not say whether the Canaanites and the Children of the Soil fought or intermarried, only that the Canaanites became Maures.61* [67* - “.V. IV.10.12–24.” - Richard L. Smith] Procopius did not invent the tie between the peoples of North Africa and the Old Testament: for the Christians it goes back to St. Hippolyte in the early third century, but its origins can be seen even earlier in Flavius Josephus and Jewish tradition.62*[62* - “Yves Modéran, "Mythe et histoire aux derniers temps de l'Afrique antique: À propos d'un texte d'Ibn Khaldun," Review Historique CCCIII 2 (Avril–Juin 2001): 327–337.” - Richard Smith] However, Procopius's story does establish a link between portals two and three. It is one of the few strands of continuity, even though it concerns a perceived rather than a real relationship, which brings us back to our original problem: Why does there appear to be such a level of discontinuity?

Richard adds…

The almost complete break in nomenclature between the classical and Arab periods has toraise a few eyebrows. The names we use today come from the sources available to us. Some names originated with the people themselves, as in the case of the Mauri, at least according to Strabo.63* [63* - “Geography XVII.3.2. Later the transliteration became "Moors."“ - Richard L. Smith] Others came from neighbors, and some that ended up in Greek and Roman references were simply botched transliterations.64* [64* - “In the opening paragraph of his discussion on Libya, Pliny complains, "The names of its peoples and towns are absolutely unpronounceable except by the natives," N.H. V.1. See Gustave Mercier, "La langue libyenne et la toponymie antique de l'Afrique du Nord," Journal Asiatique 105 (1924): 189–320.” - Richard L. Smith] Authors confused names probably more often than we suspect. In his tour of the middle of the desert, Pliny notes that "the Blemmyae are reported to have no heads, their mouth and eyes being attached to their chests."65* [65* - “N.H. V.8.46.” - Richard L. Smith] Strabo and others describe a real people they referred to as the Blemmyae, who were nomads living below Egypt. Pliny's Blemmyae, minus the name, were borrowed from Herodotus's discussion of western Libya beyond the cultivated area: "There are enormous snakes there ... donkeys with horns, dog-headed creatures, headless creatures with eyes in their chests (at least, that is what the Libyans say), wild men and wild women...."66* [66* - Geography VIII.7; 135; Histories IV.191.” - Richard L. Smith] Still others were made up by the Greeks and Romans. Diodorus Siculus provides some egregious examples in his tour of peoples living south of Egypt, which includes the Ichthyophagi (fish eaters), Chelonophagi (turtle eaters), Rhizophagi (root eaters), Hylophagi (wood eaters), Spermatophagi (seed eaters), Stnithophagi (bird eaters), and Acnclophagi (locust eaters). Just to show his scheme was not entirely based on diet, he threw in the Simi (flat nosed). It is unlikely that people actually thought of themselves as being Hylophagi or Simi.67* [67* - “.H. III.15.1; 21.1; 23.1; 24.1–2; 28.1–2; 29.1. On names the Greeks gave to the Libyans, see Olivier Masson, "Grecs et Libyens en Cyrenaique,"Antiquités africaines 10 (1976): 49–62.” - Richard L. Smith]

Smith's piece provides with demonstrations of how legends, at least pertaining to one of the examples provided earlierabout Sanhaja and Tuareg origins in Yemen, can be quite questionable, since "Berber" legends vary in their accounts and eponymous ancestors from population to population of Tamazight ("Berber") speakers, if not from time to time. He even provides an example of a medieval writer, Ibn Khaldun in this case, who questioned the veracity of certain legends that he had heard during his lifetime. Of note, which reinforces what was already said about Islamic-inspired legends across Africa, Richard points out: Muslims all over the Islamic world often **tried to establish ancestral connections with the Prophet's homeland**, the Arabian peninsula, and the Berbers were no exception. A popular theory among them was that they were long-lost Yemenites.

Richard's piece also explains how political motives play into legends formulated, some of which even conflict with one another, depending on whom, where and when. Does that mean the historic value of early writers telling these legends should be dismissed altogether, simply because of some political viewpoint they might have held for one reason or another? Of course not; that is just simplistic thinking.

The questions that logically come to mind, for the sake of the subject of this topic--Timbuktu, are as follows:

Given that Islam was not particularly adopted during much of ancient Ghana and times prior in the western Sudan, one would expect that if there is any authenticity to them, that the legends of Muslim communities of Mali would be consistent with those of some of their non-Muslim counterparts. The questions are: Is that the case, and do the consistency of legends align with or structure along the theological-affiliations of the populations, as opposed to ethnic or genealogical connection?

If the eponymous ancestors in the legends of Mali's Muslim communities are authentic, then how come Islam only emerged as a meaningfully embraced tradition in western Sudan near the turn of the 11th century, if not more so in the 14th century. Why did people in ancient Ghana feel the need to convert to Islam only in the waning days of Ghana? If one recalls, we had already covered this question in the last segment, but its purpose here is different. Did Mali's Muslim communities only initially arrive as a genealogically-connected group as late as the 11th century? Even so, how does one distinguish the converts from the non-converts (those who are presumably progeny of the eponymous ancestor who arrived with his/her Muslim traditions), as we know that there were no Muslims communities in the area earlier, but that conversion only starts taking place in western Sudan some time in the 11th century...or are we to believe that *all* Malians were descendants of the eponymous Muslim or Arab ancestor, despite the available records of conversion to Islam? Or yet, could it simply be a *coincidence* that Mali's Muslim communities hold legends that trace an eponymous ancestor to the Arabian peninsula, i.e. if we assume that such an ancestor was not a Muslim but an Arab? Also, recalling one of the references provided by ideologue elements, in their overall effort to support the idea that "Malians ultimately came from Yemen", we were told: According to the manuscript number 43 of Ahmed Baba Center in Timbuktu, the Fulani trace their lineage back to the Koraysh of Mecca through Oqba ibn Yasir

With that genealogical background, one would think that Muslim or Arab traditions would have emerged in western Sudan before [or at least, the same time] as the very ethnic groups that claim to have eponymous Arab ancestry. For instance, if it is said that the Fulani derive from an eponymous Arab ancestor in the Arabian peninsula, then the ethnogenesis of Fulani in western Sudan should not predate the alleged arrival period of that ancestor in western Sudan, whether it be evidenced by their mentioning in primary texts of antiquity or through DNA sampling inferences. By extension, if the eponymous Fulani ancestor is said to be in the Arabian peninsula during so and so period before ever arriving in the western Sudan, then it should follow that there should be no historical traces of the Fulani in western Sudan during that same period. To demonstrate the importance of chronological consideration, let's take the following for example, which was brought to the present author's attention by one ideologue sloppily, without a source referenced:

"The Fulani trace their lineage back to the Koraysh of Mecca through Oqba ibn Yasir who married a Fulani princess of Futa Toro by the name of Madeumaa. From this marriage she had four boys. They are the ancestors of the Fulani tribes: these are the Diallo, Dicko, Sangare, Balde' or Ba, Barry and Diakite". 

Well now, attentive reading should make it clear that the "Fulani princess" should not have existed at the time of this marriage event with Uqba ibn Yasir, if we are to assume that Uqba is the reason that such a thing as Fulani exists. In order for this Fulani princess to exist, she would have had to have descended from Fulani ancestry, right?! If she wasn't a Fulani, but just the other ancestor of recent Fulani, then the author ought to have been able to make a note of what her ethnicity wasits name, other than "Fulani", according to the legend.

The following has also been offered to account for the above's shortcomings, and once again we are compelled by its advocate to deal with unsourced references:

Tarikh el-Fettach claims that Askia Mohammed was descendant of the Sîlla, a Soninke clan from the Torodo (the Fouta Toro)

"The woman was a Turudithe same tribe as Askia...Askia Muhammad claimed to have relatives in Gao and the Toro of Yemen as confirmed to him by the Egyptian scholar Suyuti."

Apparently this explanation does not do much to rehabilitate the one shown prior, for while it seeks to acknowledge the irrationality pointed out about the said one shown prior, i.e. that a Fulani being present at marriage event that was supposed to mark the first stage in the processes that lead to the creation of the Fulani as a people, it suggests that the Fulani derive from Soninke ancestry. This would mean that the Soninke were around before any such group of people as the Fula ever existed; if so, how true would that be? Furthermore, it would imply that Fula, which is generally considered to cluster in the Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congo super-family, evolved from a Soninke language. This has not been demonstrated to the knowledge of the present author. Both questions have been left unanswered by its advocate, for what it's worth.

Now let's examine what genealogical studies involving uniparental markers reveal about Malian folks:

From Woods et al. (2005), here is the rundown of marker frequencies, and we will focus on paternal ancestry, since "Arab" lineage is supposedly assessed through the paternal line, among the Dogon section of Mali's multi-ethnic landscape...

A-M31: 2%; B-M150: 7%; E-M33: 45%; E-M34: 2%; E-P1*: 38%; E-M191: 5%

Sample size: 55

Pretty much all of these are African-specific markers. Hg J, which is fairly frequent in the Arabian peninsula and the Levant is noticeably absent here.

The Dogon only make a segment of the Malian population, and so, these would serve as just a snapshot of Malian overall gene pool. However, given that the Mande-speaking segment makes up the majority, and given the modal markers that characterize such language-speakers elsewhere, it is very likely that these same lineages shown above, are the ones that dominate Malian paternal genealogical landscape, esp. hg E-M33 and hg E1b1a. Hg E1b1b is likely to feature as well, but even more so in segments like the Tamasheq (Tuareg) groups of Mali, whose mtDNA are consistent with those found elsewhere in western Africa. The following comes from Rosa et al. (2007), although it was rather difficult to track the precise source and which segments of Malian populations were involved:

"Haplogroup E1*-M33, of probable local radiation (5–7% in Senegal and Burkina-Faso [2,3,5,7], 40.4% in Mali and 52.9% in Fulbe of Cameroon [1,26]), is surprisingly frequent in Felupe-Djola and Papel (34.0% and 20.3%). Both ethnic groups exhibit the highest haplogroup diversity (0.5 < D < 0.6) and the deepest-rooting phylogenetic types in our dataset – haplogroups A-M91, E2-M75 and E3*-PN2 – some with occasional occurrences in Fulbe and Balanta (Figure 2)."


"However, the Guinea-Bissau A-M91 lineages do not belong to the widespread A3-M32 but to the A1-M31 subcluster, with reported marginal presence in Mali (2.0% [2,7]), Gambia/Senegal Mandinka (5.1% [7]) and North African Berbers (3.1% [1,33-35])."  - Rosa et al. Y-chromosomal diversity in the population of Guinea-Bissau: a multiethnic perspective, 2007

The A-M91 marker above implicated in Mali was reported in Underhill et al.'s (2000) study. That frequency does not seem to be inconsistent with that reported in the Dogon sample. Clearly, information is sparse on Malian paternal gene pool, but these nevertheless give us a taste of a larger picture.

As for language, our ideological supporter of "Arab" ancestry of Malians was not able to account for why their primary language is not Arab, but sub-phylums of the Niger-Congo super-family, non-Semitic Afrasan/Afro-Asiatic (Tamazight) and Nilo-Saharan, with the Niger Congo group of the Mande making up the largest segment of the population, comprising different sub-groups of Mande-speakers. We are not given the details of what happened to the Malians' original "Arabic" language, or when and how it got replaced by a Niger-Congo sub-phylum, like say Mande.

Ancient Mali was a cosmopolitan complex, and the area remains a fairly ethnically heterogeneous region, as many other African locations usually are; are we to believe that each of these ethnic entities derive from eponymous Arab ancestors, and at the same time, that each of them dropped their Arabic language in favor of all the different western African languages now spoken in Mali? And yet through all this, they can proudly "proclaim to be of Arab heritage" while having some other primary language? Highly dubious, but these are the lengths to which reactionary ideological are willing to take, to obfuscate African history to the extent that they can. As the namesake of this discussion says: The stripping off western Africa of another of its history has begun!

So, what has transpired here thus far? In the first segment of this topic, focus was mainly on the scholarship base of Timbuktu, a one-time intellectual hub in the Islamic world, with its many libraries and world renowned madrasas or universities. Ideological objections to the significance and the local development of this legacy had also been examined, with examples, and correspondingly discredited. With that cleared, we went onto the second segment of the topic, which focused entirely on the emergence of Islam in the region. Naturally, this segment of the discourse had to talk  a lot more about Mali's predecessors wherein Islam first took hold, since Mali doesn't herald the beginning of the adoption of Islam in the Sudan of al-Maghribi. The predecessor of note here was ancient Ghana, for a number of reasons. It is during ancient Ghana's era that we first hear about conversion of the people of western Sudan to Islam, it was the regional power of the region and one that predated both the Arab and Islamic presence in the region. However, the historiography of the coming of Islam during Ghana's time had been heavily tainted by European imperialist aspirations for a long duration of time before things started to change during the era of rapid "decolonization" across Africa and possibly elsewhere in the 60s, and Masonen and Fisher elaborately pursue the genealogy, which they call the isnad, "in the European literature on the West African past, as story passed from scholar to scholar, altering a little each time the baton changed handshow the [conquest] hypothesis can to be", using a comprehensive body of researcherspast and present—who have chimed in on this hypothesis through the ages, and hence, making their work ideal for analytical purposes herein. In setting "precedents" for "white domination over blacks" and/or "northerners' domination over blacks", in order to justify what would become Europeans' own expansionist desires, European-based writers built on the theme of Moroccan efforts to set precedents for Moroccan expansionist ambitions into Bilad al-Sudan to as far as the "mountains of gold" wherein they could control the trade of gold, as to put them in a better position to trade with Europeans other than just Portugal; setting those precedents was notoriously facilitated through the works of Moroccan historians, who concocted or at least, promoted North-Afrocentric stories or legends about Almoravid conquest of the Land of Blacks (Bilad al-Sudan), even though in this case, no specific mention to Ghana has been reported. However, while Europeans gradually built on this seed, starting with the likes of Leo Africanus, a Spanish Muslim who had spent some time in Morocco, and who then carried off these North-Afrocentric attitudes to Europe through their writing, the actual and full-blown "conquest hypothesis" involving the alleged conquest of Ghana was that of European creation. European "conquest hypothesis" took on new characters as time went by, and each was influenced by European experiences, be it in Europe or overseas, and it seemed that the more elaborate it became, the more racist or chauvinisticand even fantastic in some casesit became, particularly by the 19th century, the period in which much of Europe's colonial adventures in Africa take off in an explosive manner. Thus, the "conquest hypothesis" was characterized by underlying and overt themes of the aforementioned "white domination over blacks" and "northerners' domination over southerners", "Muslims civilizing the animists, and the Christian Europeans then civilizing the Muslims", "Muslims being brutes and savages vs. civilized Europeans as the saviors of Africans" and so on, all of which adhered to racial hierarchy that developed in European thought. The conquest hypothesis severely hampered the true historiography concerning the western Sudan during Ghana, and hence, also affecting objective accounts for how Islam came about there, such that it would be widely embraced in ancient Mali by both rulers and locals. By ignoring this bit of history predating ancient Malian complex, one is bound to suffer from the same thing that reactionary ideologues suffer from: fabricating myths about how Arabs taught ancient Malians how to read and write, and gave them their Islamic culture, which is ridiculous, as we have seen here, because ancient Malian elites simply carried on what was put in place before their emergence as a regional power, i.e. the embracing of Islam and the use of Arabic as a regional lingua franca, simply because western Sudanese's main trading partners were North Africans who adopted Arabic as a lingua franca. It therefore made sense to continue what was already set into motion before their prominence, and adopt Arabic as a lingua franca. And we have seen, the "conquest hypothesis" attempted to use the fabricated "forced conversion" as "civilizing" agent on the one hand, and as a "fanatical and brutish" endeavor on the other. Of course, aside from being fabrications, neither of them make sense and are just plainly ridiculous, for Ghana was a dominant power in the region before its decline and eventual demise, by not "northerners", "Arabs" or "Berbers" but by rival western Sudanese elements, namely the Susu. No less important, it was a centralized polity made up of tributary system of local complexes with their respective sub-governing systems, and a polity that attained regional prominence and wealth through gold trade that predates the arrival of Muslims. These are all features of a people who have attained a high state of social development, and hence, not people of lawlessness, lack of governance, husbandry or industry; a centralize polity means that every productivity going on in the tributary units will have had to have systematically been reported back to the central government or seat of rule, which is where writing comes in for recording, and if not, then some other viable alternative with similar effect would have to have been in place. In short: Complexes like Ghana did not wait for Muslims or "northerners" to come to achieve a self-sustaining, socially structured and highly organized society, and there were plenty more highly structured societies in the region before Ghana itself. Mali simply took on the mantle of prominence in the region, and carried over where Ghana left, and the fact that it is yet another western Sudanese complex run by western Sudanese people, not an "Arab" or "European" one, is testament to the fact that no "civilizing" from outsiders was in the cards at any point in time. It developed wealth sufficiently enough to provide a large base for scholars and intellectuals, both locally and from afar, hence contributing to the Islamic world, what would become one  of the best-known learning centers of the medieval era. This legacy though, had been in danger of fading away from the limelight until recently, with the realization that the treasured manuscripts could well have been in danger of disappearing forever, and along with it, a good piece of humanity's history [which is not an option], and that something had to be done to save them and further unlock their secretsbuilding a museum specially for that, which could be a safe haven for these treasures, and hence relics of both ancient Mali's and western Sudanese legacy.

*Look for ongoing updates.

Also read, if not done so, the other segments of this topic; click below:

Link 1

Link 2

Ray A. Kea (2004): Expansions And Contractions: World-Historical Change And The Western Sudan World-System (1200/1000 B.C.–1200/1250 A.D.)*

Pekka Masonen and Humphrey J. Fisher (1996): Not Quite Venus from the Waves: The Almoravid Conquest of Ghana in the Modern  Historiography of Western Africa.

Richard L. Smith of the Ferrum College

Woods et al. (2005): Contrasting patterns of Y chromosome and mtDNA variation in Africa: evidence for sex-biased demographic processes.

Rosa et al. (2007): Y-chromosomal diversity in the population of Guinea-Bissau: a multi-ethnic perspective.

"Al-Jazeera: "Witness" YouTube posting, under "News & Politics" category.

*Retrieved personal notes, 2010.

"*" in the passage was reference to Masonen's and Fisher's text in the above-mentioned work.


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