Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Sadi's Tarikh Al-Sudan Down to 1613, and Other Contemporary Documents

Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Sadi's Tarikh Al-Sudan Down to 1613, and Other Contemporary Documents

Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Sadi's Tarikh Al-Sudan Down to 1613, and Other Contemporary Documents

Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Sadi's Tarikh Al-Sudan Down to 1613, and Other Contemporary Documents

Synopsis

The principal text translated in this volume is the Ta r kh Al-s d n of the seventeenth-century Timbuktu scholar Abd al-Rah m n al-Sa d. Thirty chapters are included, dealing with the history of Timbuktu and Jenne, their scholars, and the political history of the Songhay empire from the reign of Sunni Al (1464-1492) through Moroccan conquest of Songhay in 1591 and down to the year 1613 when the Pashalik of Timbuktu became an autonomous ruling institution in the Middle Niger region. The year 1613 also marked the effective end of Songhay resistance. The other contemporary documents included are a new English translation of Leo Africanuss description of West Africa, some letters relating to Sa d an diplomacy and conquests in the Sahara and Sahel, al-Ifr n's account of Sa d an conquest of Songhay, and an account of this expedition by an anonymous Spaniard. This publication has also been published in paperback, please click here for details."

Excerpt

Exactly one hundred years ago, the French scholar Octave Houdas published the Arabic text of al-Saʿdī's Taʾrīkh al-sūdān, and two years later he followed this with a translation that was to stand the test of time through the entire twentieth century. I first began reading the text of al-Saʿdī's work in the early 1960s as I made my first, faltering excursions into West African history. It was (and to a large extent, still is) one of the few historical texts from the region to have been published in its original Arabic and to have a complete translation into a European, or any other, language. Over the years, I came greatly to appreciate Houdas's pioneering work on this and several other important texts. Nevertheless, I felt his interpretation of the cumbersome text of al-Saʿdī could, in many places, be improved upon, whilst his sparse annotation could be much expanded in the light of subsequent research. In the 1980s I began to think of the possibility of undertaking this task myself; by the end of the decade I had already embarked upon it.

It would have been ideal to re-edit the Arabic text, but the long and tedious labour this would have involved, and the unwillingness of European and American publishers in these days to publish such texts, persuaded me to take another approach. Instead of editing the text, I decided to work from Houdas's text, consulting other available manuscripts of the Taʾrīkh al-sūdān, and incorporating any noteworthy variants in footnotes to the translation. In fact, there are scarcely any textual conflicts of real significance; most of the variant readings I have noted are in the spelling of personal and place names, though an occasional knotty passage in Houdas's text has been resolved by reference to the wording of other manuscripts.

When I began work on this translation in 1989, I had the simple ambition to translate the entire work as it stood. As work progressed, I conceived of a different approach. The interest of al-Saʿdī's work lies primarily in the detailed account it gives of the rise of the Songhay empire, its internal workings, and its demise at the hands of Moroccan invaders; additionally, it affords us considerable insight into the role of the learned class of Timbuktu, the social and political . . .

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