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8. Ethnicity and Interdependence: Moors and Haalpulaaren in the Senegal Valley

Edited by James McDougall and Judith Sch Indiana University Press ePub

8

Olivier Leservoisier

The history of the relationship between Moorish and Haalpulaar1 societies has mainly been described in terms of their opposition, understood especially through their competition over the control of resources in the Senegal valley. Adopting a different perspective, the aim of this chapter is to underline the numerous relations that link these societies by emphasizing their interdependence, which has often been neglected by researchers. Indeed, apart from the observations made by Paul Marty (1921), Shaykh Muusa Kamara (1998), O. Kané (1974), and I. Sal (1978), historical commentary has tended to focus on conflicts rather than alliances, thus perpetuating, at times unintentionally, the image of two antagonistic blocs composed, on the one hand, of Moors (bdn),2 who are Arabo-Berbers of a pastoral nomadic tradition, and, on the other hand, black African minorities (Haalpulaaren, Soninké, and Wolof), who are mainly agriculturalists living along the Senegal River.

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4. Frontiers, Borderlands, and Saharan/World History

Edited by James McDougall and Judith Sch Indiana University Press ePub

4

James McDougall

Places which yield only the bare necessities of men’s lives must be inhabited by barbarous peoples, since no political society is possible. … The least populous countries are thus the most fitted to tyranny; wild beasts reign only in deserts.

—ROUSSEAU, THE SOCIAL CONTRACT

It would not be much of an exaggeration, and may even be a commonplace, to say that the question of how best to assess northwest Africa’s place within the wider world and its history has engaged travelers, writers, and scholars since Herodotus. For the great Greek compiler of eyewitness veracity and astounding tales alike, the imaginable world (centered, of course, on the Mediterranean) was bounded to the south by what he believed to be the curve of the Nile, cutting east and north through the desert, and to the north by the Danube, meandering symmetrically east and south from the land of the Celts. Beyond both were unimaginable barbarian lands without comprehensible language or civilization.1 The Sahara’s credentials as a limit, an edge of the world, are thus well anchored in the European history of ideas about the world and its inhabitants, and the extent to which they might be known; unlike the deep forests of Central Europe, of course, the great desert maintained this ancient mystique well into modern times. Even from the much closer perspective of medieval Arabic writers, the bild al-sdn functioned in historical and geographical literature as a limit to what (and whom) could be known and included in the recognizable world, and what could be left to the imagination. Somewhere out across the desert there was a modicum of law, religion, manners, and settled life, and contacts between Sijilmassa and Awdaghust or between Ouargla and Tadmekka/Essouk were so regular that Ibadi texts could use them as the setting for morality tales (Levtzion and Hopkins 1981: 90–91). But there were also single-breasted women and kings riding horned beasts. From the dimly perceived states and potentates of the medieval era (like those depicted on the famous Catalan Atlas of 1356, showing the fourteenth-century Malian king Mansa Musa holding an apple-sized nugget of gold) through to much more recent images of the region, the Sahara’s vast attraction as an unknowable frontier, alternately empty of anything or full of fears, has been inversely proportional to the extent to which it has been understood. This continues to be a barrier to broader understanding of the region in the wider world, and to some degree a potential danger for the region’s peoples today (E. A. McDougall, ed., 2007).

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2. On Being Saharan

Edited by James McDougall and Judith Sch Indiana University Press ePub

2

E. Ann McDougall

The introduction to this volume began with a brief rehearsal of Euro-American stereotypes about the Sahara, with a nod to their North and West African counterparts. My focus will be on notions of the Sahara that, albeit perhaps not any more “real” than those described and criticized there, are internal rather than external, and inform the way Saharans themselves think about the Sahara, both as a geographic space and as a marker of identity. This is a preliminary exploration and will ask more questions than it can answer. Nonetheless, I think it is central to the matter at hand: as scholars and academics, and especially as historians, it is all too easy to be seduced into a well-entrenched set of paradigms and perspectives such that even when we do seek out the “local” (be it oral, written, visual, or material), we often do not really hear, see, or understand its meaning.

This is perhaps best illustrated by two anecdotes that although very different in content, deliver, to my mind, a similar message. While I was conducting postdoctoral research in Nouakchott in the 1980s, I attended a local celebration of Mauritania and its culture organized by students.1 I was struck by the fact that over and over, young Mauritanian men (women were not much in evidence at such events yet) talked about themselves as “Saharan,” as “people of the desert,” although I knew that most of them had never traveled much closer to the desert than the suburbs of Nouakchott, while a few might have attended a family holiday or date festival in one of the many—and mostly declining—oases of the region. At the same event, a presentation on the contemporary, eastern Mauritanian desert oasis of Walata not so subtly suggested that the inhabitants of Walata were not quite as Saharan as these students were themselves: that they were in fact “people of the Sudan.”2 By implication, neither were the Walatis “really” Mauritanian, if to be Mauritanian was to be associated with a particular understanding of “being Saharan.” But what did this mean to the city-dwelling, modernizing youth of the 1980s? And who was included in this category, on what grounds, and in what particular context?

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6. Celebrating Mawlid in Timimoun: Ritual as Words in Motion, Space as Time Stood Still

Edited by James McDougall and Judith Sch Indiana University Press ePub

6

Abderrahmane Moussaoui

At Ouled Saïd, the whole oasis awaits the arrival of the procession. The standard of Sidi al-Hjj Bu M’hammad appears over the dunes just as the sun begins to set, enflaming the horizon red and ochre. Men, women, and children, scattered across the ridges of the dunes that border the oasis and its palm groves, stand up to meet it. Even the tolb, the students of religion who just now were chanting verses from the Qur’an on the flank of the highest dune, and who seemed to be settled there forever, suddenly get to their feet. A group of men goes out to meet the procession that has now stopped at the foot of the last dune, beyond the limits of the oasis on its northern edge, and a large semicircle forms around three musicians playing the tar, a kind of drum. In a little valley between the dunes bordering the oasis, one of its inhabitants welcomes the group of visitors, presenting to them the members of the jm‘a, the council, and the notables of the qsar.1 The visitors and most of those who have awaited their arrival now form a large circle some fifty meters across, at the center of which stand six tar players and a dozen men carrying between them the green banner of Sidi al-Hjj Bu M’hammad. The drummers provide a backdrop to a chorus of voices in which the names of God and of his Prophet are profusely repeated. A du‘a, an invocation or prayer of salutation addressed to the Prophet, is raised in chorus by men and women together, in low voices, in devotion: as-salmu ‘alayka y rasl Allh (May peace be upon you, O messenger of God). One man, the muqaddam (guardian) of the zwiya, is the focus of attention; he is everyone’s host.2 All the visitors seek to approach him, while the inhabitants of Ouled Saïd try to get close to the banner of Sidi Bu M’hammad. After about half an hour, everyone moves to the hollow of another little valley among the dunes. The circle is reformed, and the chorus begins again, as does the rhythm of the drums: a rasl Allh (O messenger of God). After a last prayer, the procession enters the qsar just as the sun sets. The Qur’an will be recited throughout the night—the salka (reading of the entire Qur’an at one sitting) will not be complete until the first light of dawn. Couscous is eaten, tea drunk, and rifles discharged into the air.

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13. Garage or Caravanserail: Saharan Connectivity in Al-Khalīl, Northern Mali

Edited by James McDougall and Judith Sch Indiana University Press ePub

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Judith Scheele

The considerable investments that are necessary to begin the irrigation of the smallest plot of land, the cost of the development and the maintenance of intensive arboriculture in an extremely dry environment cannot be justified solely by their financial return nor even by general economy. Furthermore, we noticed very often that, for various reasons (political, military, demographic, and so on), oases decline long before they have finished paying back the initial capital outlay. We might thus be surprised by the optimism and the voluntarism of the founders of oases, or in other words by their naivety, if we only consider the economic benefit that they might hope for. Maybe there are rewards other than financial, other benefits, or maybe other obligations of a system within which the agricultural sector is only a necessary, albeit loss-making, part.

—PASCON, LA MAISON D’ILIGH

Al-Khall is a trading town in the northern Malian desert near the Algerian border that, as its inhabitants like to stress, is marked on no map, but is known to all.1 Its location makes it a haven for smugglers and traders of all kinds, and it has therefore come to represent the rather harsh face of contemporary trans-Saharan exchanges: first and foremost, drug trafficking, but also arms dealing and people smuggling. Al-Khall’s rise was rapid, carrying within it the promise of an equally rapid decline; its population is stereotypically cosmopolitan; its very survival is dependent on its connections with the outside, as it produces nothing but trades in “everything.” It proclaims itself “stateless,” but thrives because it is located in the interstices of regional states. It is organized along close-knit networks that stretch far beyond its geographical boundaries, but that nonetheless regulate social interaction and individual status within it. Its fame is legendary throughout northern Mali and southern Algeria, where members of trading families never tire of debating the moral quandaries it brings up, rejecting it while also intimately relying on the revenue it generates. At first sight, then, Al-Khall hardly brings to mind the well-known images of historic Saharan trading outposts: dunes, camels, and palm trees, Timbuktu or Ghadamès. However, as a Saharan town in the making, it might help us formulate questions about Saharan settlements more generally, questions that otherwise risk being overlooked due to the sedentary bias of much scholarship, which necessarily sees them as “finished products.” Most important, the case of Al-Khall draws attention to the intrinsic dependency of settlement on movement and on outside connections, as hinted at by Paul Pascon in the epigraph, and to the effects such dependency might have on the internal organization of settlements.2

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