Three Texts from Timbuktu


This manuscript preserves three short tracts pertaining to the Sudanic empires of Western Africa. The first is a response by Sufi saint Ahmad al-Bakkai al-Kunti of Timbuktu (circa 1803– 65), addressed to Amadu III (1830–62), the third and last emir of the short-lived Massina Empire (in present-day Mali). The response, in the form of a fatwa, scolded the emir for his own fatwa calling on the faithful to arrest or kill “the Christian who came to Timbutku in the year 1270 [1853–54],” a reference to German explorer of Africa Heinrich Barth. Barth’s expedition was sponsored by Great Britain, at the time an ally of Ottoman Turkey. In the response, al-Kunti, who hosted Barth in Timbuktu, argued that the “imposter” Amadu III has neither the religious nor the political authority to make war-and-peace decisions on behalf of Muslims. The second treatise is an anonymous chronicle of Arawan (present-day Araouane), a trans-Saharan entrepôt located north of Timbutku, in present-day Mali. The chronicle begins with the foundation of Arawan prior to the Muslim conquest of North Africa. It includes biographies of notable men from the town, chief among them Sidi Ahmed Agadda (1570–1640), guardian saint of the town. Also included is a history of the ethnic groups who inhabited the region, the internal and external conflicts during the Songhai Empire (collapsed 1591), and the arrival of the Europeans in the 19th century. The third tract is an epistle by Nuh ibn al-Tahir al-Fullani (died 1860), a scholar from Timbuktu. Al-Fullani addresses his epistle to many people of the Trans-Sahara, notifying them that the founder of the Massina Empire Ahmadu Lobbo (also known as Sékou Amadou, died 1845) is the 12th and last of the redeeming caliphs whose coming is the precursor to the advent of the mahdi (messiah). Al-Fullani bases his call on hadith traditions he cited from another work on the history of Sudanic Africa, Tārīkh al-fattāsh fī akhbār al-buldān wa al-juyūsh wa akābir al-nās (History of the inquirer into the news of countries, armies, and notable people) by Mahmud Kuti ibn Mutawakkil Kuti (born around 1468). The epistle is reflective of the religious and political tensions in the region as it struggled to counter European encroachment in the 19th century.

Last updated: February 28, 2017