Aug 21, 2018

Sub-Saharan Centres of Learning

0 comments

Though we may think of Timbuktu as the pre-eminent site of pre-colonial West African scholarship, we must remember that there were other places spanning across the Western and Central Sudan that were renowned for their tradition of teaching.

One such place was the capital city of the Kanem Bornu state, Birni Gazargamu. This first great centre of Islamic learning in Central Sudan produced such outstanding figures as Idris Alooma, the pioneering 16th century mai (King) who improved governance and infrastructure. A scholar himself, he funded scholarship and the copying of sacred books. An earlier product of this stimulating aura was Ibrahim al-Kanemi, the first known Sub-Saharan writer (12th century) to have written in Arabic.

 

If we venture west from Chad into Nigeria we can enter the cities of Kano and Katsina, two of the original Hausa city-states. It was around the environs of Gobarau Mosque built during the reign of Sarkin (King) Muhammed Korau (1463-1495), the first Muslim ruler of Katsina, that this metropolis became a centre of learning. Ibn Sabbag known as Dan Marina, an acclaimed scholar of the 17th century, who the Sokoto Caliphate ruler Muhammed Bello, often referred to as ''the corridor to knowledge,'' was educated there. Muhammed al-Fulani al-Kishnawi, who became a noted figure, in the celebrated al-Jabarti circle, based at Al-Azhar University, also studied there. He passed away in Cairo in 1741 CE. In an article by Dr Musa Ahmad Karkaru we are informed that there are copies of his works in the Egyptian National Library, as well as in some Moroccan and Nigerian archives. The Kano Chronicle tells us that it was the Wangara teachers and traders that popularised Islam in Kano during the 14th century. Amid the reign of Sarkin Kano Muhammed Rumfa (1463-1699) and after his return from Mecca, the city became a centre of learning; attracting scholars and students from near and far - such as the jurist Muhammed al-Maghli, from Tlemcen, Algeria.

Continuing westward, into Burkina Faso, there is the village of Darsalamy, founded by Wangara scholars. Since the 18th century they have been resident in the major city of Bobo-Dioulasso. During the mid-19th century, in the western part of the country, they founded Darsalamy, translated as “abode of peace” or “house of peace” in Arabic, as a village of study and prayer in. Inspired by the teachings and life of the Malian scholar, al-Hajj Salim Suwari, these teachers followed his tradition.

 

Going south from Burkina Faso, we enter Ghana. Salaga, in the north of the country, was sometimes referred to as the 'Timbuktu of the South,' due to the twin attributes both towns shared – trade and scholarship. One of the outstanding figures of the 19th century in Salaga, was a scholar of Nigerian descent, al-Hajj Umar, who was a founder of the schools there. Thought to have had advanced knowledge in Greek philosophy as well as Arabic poetry, he later relocated to Kete Krachi; becoming a paramount figure in the establishment of that town as a centre of learning.

The Ivory Coast, which shares a border with Ghana, was also home to hubs of studying such as Bondouku and Kong, both founded in the early 18th century. The learning in these towns was generated by the teachings of Mande lineages in for example Kamagahte, Saganago and Timate. As well as being trading emporiums specialising in gold and kola nuts, they were well-known centres of learning, known for their teaching of Maliki law. Of the four recognised schools of Islamic law, the majority of Islamic West Africa follows the Maliki branch.

Staying on a westerly path, we find ourselves in the Sierra Leonean hinterland. In 1831, in a town called Gbile, in northern Sierra Leone, Fode Ibrahim Tarawali founded a school of higher learning. In an article by David E. Skinner, we are informed that the esteemed Pan African pioneer Edward Blyden, when passing through the area in 1872, said of the school, that:

'Billeh is a sort of University town – the Oxford of this region... The president of this institution is Fode Tarawally, celebrated throughout the country for his learning...”

 

Going north of Sierra Leone, passing through Guinea, we make a stop in the Senegambian region. In 1611, Khaly Amar Fall founded the widely honoured Pir Saniokhor University in Senegal. Senegalese notables such as Omar ibn Said, Malik Sy (founder of Bundu) and El Hajj Umar Tall studied at Pir, as well as the Gambian mystic Mass Kah, who founded his own settlement and school in his homeland, which he called Medina.

East of Senegal is Mali. The country that produced centres of learning, such as Jenne, where the Bagayogo lineage hails from and Kabura. Kabura is celebrated for being the hometown of the Fulani teacher Moddibo al-Kaburi, a pioneering figure of the Timbuktu scholarship, which produced alumni such as Ahmed Baba, the eminent scholar of 16th century Timbuktu. Some referring this period to its “Golden Age.”

 

Thus if Timbuktu was the bright star, the central phenomenon in the teaching constellation, the other centres of learning we have briefly visited were complimentary satellites of often equal brilliance.

New Posts
  • Another question that has been on my mind for years. Was there an original name for Africa? Where did the name Africa come from?
  • The French colonial empire was established in 1534 when an expedition was sent to colonize the New World. Although the bulk of the empire was in what is today Canada and the USA, the French also colonized some territorys in South America and a few Caribbean islands. The most notable of these islands was Saint-Domaing, which grew sugar, a luxury back then. By selling sugar, the French became very rich, and so Saint-Domaing became the most important colony of the French empire. Wanting to cultivate sugar the cheapest way possible, the French resorted to slavery and Africa was viewed as the perfect place to get slaves. French ships would sail to the African coast, bye slaves, sail to the Americas, sell them in exchange for American goods, and then return to Europe. The slaves were immediately put to work ones they arrived. The working conditions were brutal, they had long working hours and it wasn’t uncommon to have slaves die of exaction. If slaves got out of line, they would be wiped, if they tried to escape, they would have their ears cut of and if they were caught a second time, they would be executed. The French did introduce “Le code Noir” or “The Black Code” witch set up rules on how slaves must be treated. For instance, when slaves were sold, families could not be separated, child slaves were forbidden from working and a master had to take care of a slave that could no longer work. Butt by the XVIIIth century, slavery was being challenged by Enlightenment philosopher, who viewed it as inhumane. The Enlightenment also led to the French revolution (1789-1799) and with the country in chaos, the slaves of Saint-Domaing revolted in 1791, starting an almost 13 year long war. The French did abolish slavery in 1794 in an attempt to keep its colonys only to be brought back in 1802 by Napoleon, back when he was 1st consul of France. By that point in time, the French had lost much of their empire, loosing Quebec to the British in 1763 and seling Louisiana in 1803 to the United-States, In 1801, the republic of Haiti was proclaimed by the former slaves of Saint-Domaing and would gain its independence in 1804. France had now lost its most important colony. France still had a few colonial possessions, mainly small islands, wher slavery still existed. It would take another revolution and the establishment of a second French republic for slavery to finally be abolished in 1848.
  • It’s no surprise to find ancient African monuments decorating the stands of museums all over Europe instead of Africa. During the raid of Africa by the west, many treasurable artefacts made of gold, iron and bronze were looted and not returned. Today, many African countries are calling out the West to return what rightfully belongs to them. One such story making the headlines is Emmanual Macron’s recent promise to see to it that Africa gets its monuments back from French museums. While all that is interesting to note, what is more intriguing is the fact that faces of Africans can be found on the monuments that belonged to the Thracian ancient group that is now part of Greece and modern Turkey. A close look at the images on the monuments cannot be mistaken. Roundheads with the afro hair and thick features are definitely the depiction of Africans(Please note, Africa is a diverse continent with around 3000 tribes or ethnic groups and 54 countries so don't espect every African to have these features which unfortunately many people don't recognized) by the west in ancient times. The Thracians are described as an ancient people that inhabited Turkey and Greece around the 4th -5th century. They were a mysterious group of people popular for their winemaking, jewellery and ornaments and their notorious war-waging. Throughout the documented history of the Thracians, there are no traces or mention of their contact with Africans to explain the faces of Africans that appear on their monuments. Perhaps, the Thracians were intrigued by the African image during one of their escapades or travel expeditions. The Thracians were also known to be travellers and explorers but did not have an interest in controlling findings from their explorations. Any theory to explain this, Please comment below