The Primitive City of Timbuctoo

The Primitive City of Timbuctoo

The Primitive City of Timbuctoo

The Primitive City of Timbuctoo

Excerpt

The following pages are based on field research conducted during seven months residence in Timbuctoo in 1940. In normal times the city is fairly inaccessible. During 1940 the obstacles to travel imposed by submarines, French Sûreté, and the Axis Control Commission made the double crossing of the Sahara and the navigation of four hundred miles of the Niger seem like minor obstacles. We had originally planned to remain longer in the French Sudan but after the "phony war" ended with the capitulation of France, we were eventually forced to leave.

The material herein presented was derived through observation, intensive interrogation of six French-speaking native informants, and many interviews with natives through the medium of a French-speaking native interpreter. We did achieve some knowledge of Songhoi, the native Negro language and lingua franca of the city. We did not know the totally unrelated Arabic and Temajegh languages which were also native to large segments of the population. Even though participation in the native life of Timbuctoo could not be achieved, contact with the small French colony was studiously avoided. The result was that while we were never considered citizens of the native city, we were more in the confidence of the natives and had greater entrée into their activities than did the French.

I wish to express my appreciation to those agencies and individuals who not only made the work possible but contributed much to what is worthwhile in this volume. The field work in Africa was done on a post-doctoral field fellowship of the Social Science Research Council. The writing of the report was greatly facilitated by a Demobilization Award granted by the same research council. Dr. Donald Young and Miss Laura Barrett, then both with the Social Science Research Council, were of continuous assistance in major ways and through numerous courtesies. Improvements in the manuscript resulted from suggestions offered by Professors Robert Redfield, Joseph Green berg . . .

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