Revolutions in the Western Sudan

David Robinson
“Revolutions in the Western Sudan »
in The History of Islam in Africa. Levtzion & Pouwels (eds.). Athens. Ohio University Press. p. 131-152

Chapter 6

Over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a number of West African Muslim scholars and military leaders organized successful movements of reform and state-building. The reform movements they called the regimes, they characterized as Islamic states, under appellations such as imamate or caliphate. These reformers and builders formulated their experience in oral tradition and writing for themselves and future generations, and these accounts had a great impact on their contemporaries in other regions, who were sometimes inspired to follow a similar course. The most prominent scholars and leaders were Fulbe, and over this period they reconstructed their own ethnic identity to fit the dominant role they were playing—or at least thought they were playing—in the islamization of the region
During the colonial period, these accounts were reinterpreted by Islamicists and historians and fashioned into an important chapter of West African history. By the 1960s, the subject of the “jihads of West Africa” was a kind of growth industry, overwhelming other less spectacular forms of Islamic practice and Islamization
Since that time, a certain balance has been restored , but these movements merit separate treatment because they constitute an important chapter of the history of the faith in West Africa. They were fundamental to the spread of Islam-often through the agency of Sufi orders-from town and capital to countryside and from elite to common people (as well as from Sunni code to sufi practice). They produced pedagogical systems that provided the tools to understand the faith in its original Arabic form but also in Pulaar (Fulfulde) and other languages . They were instrumental in transforming West Africa into a part of the dar al-Islam.
The movement that led to the creation of the Sokoto caliphate in Hausaland in the central Sudan (today’s northern Nigeria and adjacent areas) is by far the best known of these phenomena. It must be understood, however, in its historical and geographical context. It built upon its predecessors and exerted enormous Influence upon its successors in the nineteenth century. The fundamental problem faced by all of these movements was the question of legitimation: who had the authority to declare a jihad and to take charge of an emerging Islamic state? The Islamic heartlands were not united under a single authority. The Ottoman sultanate was a distant and declining reality that could not pretend to control the territory much beyond the Mediterranean littoral; Morocco, although independent of Istanbul, maintained fragile claims to territory and influence on the West African fringe. Both regimes were recognized as Islamic authorities, but they were absorbed with European expansion around the Mediterranean, and neither inspired the new leaders of West Africa. In this situation, the West Africans turned to the classical foundations of the faith, to Muhammad and the early Muslims, to create an Islamic authority where, in their judgment, none existed
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the West African savanna was a frontier of the faith. The Almoravid movement of the eleventh century had indeed begun with a declaration of jihad, but it did not have a lasting impact in most areas and among most societies. Between the eleventh and eighteenth centuries, when many of the people and ruling classes of the savanna region had a “pagan” identity, there are only fleeting and elusive references to the invocation of jihad. In Sahara and savanna alike, Muslim communities had become accustomed to operating under and alongside non-Muslim authority. Their scholars made much of the corrupting effect of power, and suggested that less injustice was probably committed in the existing order of things than in a specifically “Islamic” regime . This scholarly perspective, related to the Suwarian tradition described in Chapter 4, was articulated fully in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a response to the jihadists, who in turn were obliged to delve more deeply into their motivations, conduct, and legitimating authorities . The historical debate, which continues to this day, itself constitutes a major source for the two perspectives.
Interpreting the historical sources constitutes a problem, emerging as they do primarily from the leadership, either as chronicle or theoretical legitimation, or from their critics. Little information was generated by the followers themselves, despite the dramatic spread of literacy, nor by the losers, nor by neutral observers. Europeans began to explore the West African interior in the nineteenth century, and some, such as Heinrich Barth and Eugène Mage 10, were fascinated by the jihads and Islamic states, but they drew their versions primarily from the scholarly elites. The European explorers and the indigenous elites alike regarded the jihads, the states, and their conspicuous Fulbe leadership as a linked chain and progressive development in West African history.
These sources and movements did not emerge in a social and economic vacuum. Scholars, leaders, and followers were disturbed by the increasing levels of violence, the exploitation by ruling classes, and the enslavement of Muslims. Muslim men, women, and children were often taken with their “pagan” contemporaries, and they might wind up in other African societies, in the Americas, or the Mediterranean area. The impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade was deeply felt in areas closer to the coast; the trans-Saharan trade touched all the arenas of jihad11

Early Jihad Initiatives

The earliest link in the “chain” of jihads occurred in the late seventeenth century in the far western portion of the Sahara 12. This movement, called Sharr Bubba, was occasioned by the spread of Arab nomadic groups, the Bani Hassan, into the far western Sahara. From the fourteenth century on, these groups gradually made their way south, as far as the Senegal River, spreading their version of spoken Arabic (Hassaniyya) and increasingly dominating the indigenous, Berber-speaking inhabitants.
By the 1670s, Nasir al-Din, a Berber scholar and warrior from the southwestern part of present-day Mauritania, rebelled against this domination and fashioned a coalition largely around the indigenous inhabitants. For a few years he succeeded in putting the Hassan on the defensive, portraying them as “bandits” who did not practice the faith, and in establishing an embryonic Islamic state. His entourage of clerics (zwaya) recruited disciples in the Wolof and Pulaar-speaking regions of Senegal, and these followers were successful in exploiting local grievances and briefly overthrowing the ruling dynasties of Cayor, Walo, Jolof, and Fuuta-Tooro. However, by 1680 the traditional political elites, with some support from French trading interests based in Saint-Louis, had regained power 13. North of the river, the Hassan not only reasserted their domination but established emirates-confederations of tribes dominated by one “warrior” lineage. The contemporary division of bidan society, in which the Hassan dominate the political and military domains while the zwaya control religious instruction, adjudication, commerce, and agriculture, and both enjoy the support of various tributaries and slaves, has its origins, or at least its codification, in the final victory of the warrior elite.
South of the river, the reform-minded disciples of Nasir al-Din survived and transmitted their visions of an Islamic society to future generations. They constituted a kind of international reform network in the Senegambia region 14. Like their counterparts in other parts of the West African savanna, they typically operated at the frontiers or interstices of states. They used their distance from the centers of power to organize and train disciples. In time some of those communities of disciples grew in size and ambition and seized power from the established political elites. These reformers were able to hold on to power and institutionalize at least some of their vision of an Islamic state.
Although it has been claimed that Malik Sy, the founder of the state of Ɓundu in the 1690s, was the first successful offshoot of Sharr Bubba, not much evidence ties Malik Sy to Sharr Bubba. (as Michael Gomez has shown), other than his origins in a village near Podor; nor is there much in his Ɓundu regime to suggest a commitment to an Islamic society 15. The next movement in time occurred further south, in the mountainous region called Fuuta-Jalon, in the Guinea Conakry of today. This movement eventually acquired an importance comparable, in many respects, to the Sokoto caliphate, with ramifications through the upper Guinea coast and Senegambia 16. It is the least studied of all the movements, especially for its origins in the eighteenth century, and it has no obvious connections with the refugees and disciples of Sharr Bubba 17
The beginnings of the imamate (or “almamate”) of Fuuta-Jalon lie apparently in the growth in population and wealth of a Muslim Fulbe community, with roots in agriculture and pastoralism, and in its increasing conflict with the Jalonke ruling elites and other groups. With support from a Muslim Malinke kingdom to the east, the Fulbe waged a long struggle, over about fifty years. They established their control by about 1780. Two members of one Fulbe family, Ibrahima Sori and Karamoko Alfa Barry, provided the key leadership. They were the progenitors of the Sorlya and Alfaya houses that took the title of almamy and alternated in power from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century.
Both indigenous and external writers have constructed a history of prosperity and peaceful alternation in power of the two ruling houses. On the issue of prosperity, they have it right: prosperity was rooted in the country’s location, enormous potential in agricultural and pastoral production, and the regime’s ability to use slave labor and to supply excess labor capacity to slave traders, especially those tied into the trans-Atlantic system out of the Rio Nunez and Rio Pongo. Futa was even able to adjust to the gradual abolition of the Atlantic system 18. More perhaps than any other Fulbe-dominated regime, the political economy was based on a thorough integration into the internal and Atlantic slave trades. There was a heavy accumulation of slave labor; indeed, slave labor freed up the Fulbe for the political, religious, and educational tasks to which they gave priority 19. But the political scene was different-and anything but peaceful. The two ruling houses fought frequently over control of the federation, and both in turn struggled with the regional barons, most particularly the Alfa mo Labe, ruler in Labe, throughout the nineteenth century. Under French colonial rule in the twentieth century, regional and national leaders retained their positions and some influence 20
Despite the insecurity, and assisted by the prosperity; Fulbe scholars in Fuuta-Jalon gave serious attention to the interpretation of their revolution and to the development of a specifically Pulaar pedagogy for teaching and spreading the faith. These scholars were especially visible in the Labe region, under the patronage of the Alfa mo Labe, and they have left a heritage almost as remarkable and extensive as the literature of legitimation created by ‘Uthman dan Fodio and his contemporaries in Sokoto. The Labe literature was primarily in Pulaar, not Arabic; much of it was designed for recitation and the edification of the women, slaves, and other less literate members of the population. Free Fulbe women could acquire positions as teachers and pedagogues, but they were contained within a very patriarchal framework 21. For a vast surrounding area, including the Muslim communities of the Freetown peninsula and other parts of the upper Guinea coast, teachers in Fuuta-Jalon provided the models of Islamic learning and drew aspiring scholars to their schools 22. This intellectual heritage made it important for Shaykh ‘Umar, the leader of the last major Fulbe effort in the nineteenth century, to sojourn for a number of years in Fuuta-Jalon.
Reformers in Fuuta-Tooro, the middle valley of the Senegal River, were the next to lead a movement in favor of an Islamic state 23. In their case, the connections to Sharr Bubba are clear. Key leaders studied in schools connected to the earlier movement, most notably at Pir in southern Cayor 24. They were closely connected by marriages contracted in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century, an indication that their ancestors were active participants in the earlier reform. By the 1760s, they had constituted themselves as a group, the Torodbe, or “seekers,” and begun to sharpen their criticism of the reigning dynasty in Fuuta-Tooro, the Denyanke. But in this case the rulers were also Fulbe, and the reformers put the accent even more clearly on their religious, as distinguished from ethnic, identity 25
Like the construction of the founding of the almamate of Fuuta-Jalon, the history of reform in Futa centers on two figures. The first, Sulayman Bal, prepared the way. He delivered sharp critiques of the Denyanke, because of their failures to promote the faith and to mobilize the population against famine and raids. The Hassan, supported by contingents from Morocco, raided with impunity in the valley throughout much of the eighteenth century 26. Bal died in one of the battles, and his abrupt departure threw the embryonic Torodbe regime into a quandary; they had no obvious leader of stature, learning, and connection to take his place.
After a period of probably several years, the Muslim community secured the services of a kinsman, a graduate of Pir who had been teaching in relative isolation on the border with Ɓundu. Abdul Qadir Kan was well connected to the torodbe and to the Sharr Bubba tradition. He had studied and taught across the region of southern Mauritania and northern Senegambia. After his inauguration as imam, or almamy 27 he instituted a series of religious and political innovations. To encourage literacy and the practice of the faith, he established mosques, schools, and courts in the villages, a fact that, more than any other, has made the Futanke, under their Senegalese appellation Tokolor, leaders in the processes of Islamization in the region. To provide protection, he strengthened or founded settlements at the key river fords; his policy was to stop the Hassan raids at the river, rather than actively to encourage settlement on the north bank 28. Finally, Almamy Abdul passed treaties with the French, the dominant European trading partner along the river. The 1786 agreement spelled out the “customs” that the French should pay for the right to trade in and through Futa with the upper valley, and made it clear that Muslims must not be the victims of the slave trade 29
Almamy Abdul maintained a strict and personalized control over events and relations in Futa. Over time he came into conflict with his first allies, powerful regional lords or “electors.” These men came from Fulbe families who were closer to the older traditions of pastoralism and autonomy and did not share the commment to Islamization. They bridled at the strict application of the sharia. By the early 1800s, they were ready to revolt 30
The internal dissension ultimately converged with strong pressures from outside. Initially, Abdul had enjoyed great success on the external front: he engineered a successful campaign against the Hassan leader ‘Ali Kowri, who, as head of the Trarza confederation and ally of Moroccan forces in the Sahara, had made frequent exactions among the Fulbe of the middle valley; Abdul then resumed the aborted mission of Sharr Bubba, and as the patron of militant Muslim minorities in the Wolof areas, he imposed his will on the ruling dynasties 31. But when Damel Amary Ngone resisted his demands, Abdul mobilized a huge force and marched into Cayor: the Damel filled the wells in front of the approaching army, destroyed his weakened foes, and took Abdul prisoner 32
With Abdul imprisoned in Cayor, the electors and reformers in Futa were forced to choose an interim leader. Abdul later returned and resumed command, but his authority was seriously diminished, and the influence of his electors had increased. He tried nonetheless to impose his will to the east, over Ɓundu and the upper valley. In the process, he treated members of the royal family of Ɓundu brutally and lost the support of some of the most prestigious Muslims of the region. Mukhtar ould Buna, a zwaya scholar who had praised the victory over Eli Kowri, had this to say:

As for me, I was disgusted with the religion of the Moors and came among the Blacks to learn their religion and abandoned the thinking of people who don’t believe at all. But you, you have convoked this man [the Almamy of Ɓundu] in the name of Islam [and sentenced him without hearing his testimony and then killed him].
Why have you acted in this way? 33

The overextension to the east led directly to the downfall and death of Almamy Abdul. The Bamana state of Kaarta, overtly non-Muslim in a period of conflicting religious identities, had become the patron of one of the royal factions of Ɓundu. The Bamana king eagerly mobilized an upper-valley coalition, coordinated his activities with the internal dissidents, including the grand electors, and killed Abdul in 1807 34
The death of Almamy Abdul marked the end of strong central government in Fuuta-Tooro. Electors and other regional leaders dominated the political life of the regime for the rest of the nineteenth century, even though almarnies were chosen until the French established colonial rule in 1890-91. The effect of the fundamental reforms did survive, however. The Futanke preserved a strong sense of Islamic identity, education, and commitment to jihad, and maintained ties with militant Muslim communities across Senegambia. They played major roles in reform movements throughout the region in the nineteenth century, and they were critical to the success of the holy war of their compatriot Umar Tal 35
These “far western” movements are often dismissed as precursors to more fundamental changes of the nineteenth century; but this judgment is primarily the product of limited research, the abrupt end to the experiment in centralization in Fuuta-Tooro, and the overwhelming attention of scholars to the Sokoto caliphate. At the fundamental levels of Islamization-spreading literacy and building a consciousness of a dar al-Islam-it would be hard to overestimate the importance of the two Futas and of their influence over the vast region stretching from southern Mauritania to Sierra Leone. By their “success” in at least establishing regimes that could lay claim to an Islamic identity, they “solved” the great problem of legitimation. It is nonetheless true that these Islamic revolutions did not generalize their results to the larger world of the West African savanna, nor did they seriously engage the scholarly partisans of the older tradition of avoiding the military and political domains.

The Emergence of the Sokoto Caliphate

The next movement in the “chain” begins with Uthman dan Fodio, who grew up in a Fulbe community in the northwestern part of Hausaland in the lateeighteenth century 36. He came from a distinguished scholarly lineage that had migrated from the west, probably from Fuuta-Tooro, some centuries before, and he soon distinguished himself as student, teacher, preacher, and author.
Amid growing Violence, wars, and raids between and within states, and periods of drought 37, ‘Uthman sharpened his message of reform. By the 1780s, he had acquired a considerable following, drawn especially from the Fulbe of Hausaland but also including some Hausa and Tuareg. He exercised considerable influence at the court of the sultan of Gobir, but by the 1790s his community was perceived as a threat to established interests. In 1804, a Gobir force actually attacked and killed several members of the ‘Uthmanian group, whereupon ‘Uthman and his forces fled, proclaimed themselves an Islamic state, and declared war on Gobir. They framed this in the classical Muhammadan pattern of hijra and jihad, more clearly than most of the other reformers described in this chapter.
The Gobir phase of the jihad culminated in the capture of the sultan’s capital in 1808 and in the construction of a new town, Sokoto, the following year. Sokoto became the principal residence of’Uthman and his entourage. He was ably assisted by his brotherAbdullah, his son Muhammad Bello, his daughter Nana Asmdu, and Nana’s husband Gidado, who was the wazir, or chief minister. Bello, who increasingly took over the direction of military and political affairs, succeeded ‘Uthman when he died in 1817. Bello became the first caliph. ‘Abdullah, with some bitterness against his nephew, moved to nearby Gwandu and became the ruler over the lesser, western dominions of the emerging state 38
The second phase of the military campaigns began shortly after 1804, when members of the ‘Uthmanian community took “flags” of justification back to their home areas in Hausaland and summoned the Hausa sultans to convert and obey the new Islamic authority. When the sultans refused, the ‘Uthmanians declared jihad and, in most cases, succeeded in toppling the old dynasties and replacing them in the old palaces and cities of Hausaland. Within a few years, in a third phase, communities attached to ‘Uthman pushed east, south, and west to establish domination over peoples who were neither Hausa nor Fulbe.
They faced their stiffest military and intellectual challenge on the eastern frontier. Muhammad al-Amin al-Kanemi, a scholar who had taken over the old kingdom of Bornu, retorted in a correspondence with ‘Uthman and Bello in the 1810s that his people might be sinners but they had not rejected Islam, and that consequently the jihad was not justified in that region. He combined his highly defensible argument with successful defensive mobilization against the jihadic forces 39
In their two decades of watching over the domains of the vast new confederation, Muhammad Bello and Wazir Gidado established the main features of Sokoto administration 40. Most power lay in the emirates, where the bearers of ‘Uthman’s flags and their descendants held sway. Despite the goal of simplifying administration and ending uncanonical taxation, the new regimes soon adopted the broad outlines of the old Hausa bureaucracy. Through intermarriage with Hausa women, the new ruling families came to speak Hausa more fluently than Fulfulde. But much of the ‘Uthmanian vision of a deeper and wiser practice of Islam was put in place. Mosques and schools multiplied, in rural as well as urban areas, and Qadiriyya sufi practices were encouraged to support the process of Islamization. In most years, the emirates sent military contingents to wage a collective jihad on the northwestern frontier, near Sokoto and the frontiers of resistance. They recognized the contribution of Uthman and the primacy of his family throughout the nineteenth century.
On the economic front, the lands of the Sokoto caliphate, and particularly its hubs in Hausaland, prospered as perhaps never before. Agricultural and artisan production grew under the impetus of an expanding supply of slaves from, in particular, the smaller societies to the south 41. The surplus in cereals, animals, and manufactured goods attracted even more traders from the trans-Saharan, savanna, and forest networks; they had confidence in the relative security of routes in most directions, and appreciated the oversight exercised by the emirates and Sokoto.
One of the most signal achievements of the caliphate was a vast literature of apologetics. More than any other set of leaders of the reform movements, the ‘Uthmanians were inveterate writers 42. While most key narratives and interpretations were composed in Arabic, many of the pedagogical works were written in Hausa and Fulfulde, and were designed for recitation to the less literate-women, slaves, farmers, and pastoralists. The key texts were copied and circulated to other parts of the savanna and helped to create what I have called elsewhere the “Sokoto model” of jihad43. Sokoto became a place to visit and study, for the likes of the Kunta of the Niger Buckle and’Umar Tal.
One of the most vital contributions to the apologetic literature was made by Nana Asma’u, ‘Uthman’s daughter. With encouragement from her father, brother, and husband, she developed a pedagogy and organization to reach the women of the Sokoto region. She hoped gradually to displace the dependence on the ancient bori practices of healing, divination, and social reproduction. By her poetry in Fulfulde, Hausa, and Arabic, and by her training of teachers, she probably accomplished more thoroughgoing Islamization in the northwestern part of Hausaland than anyone else in the calpihate 44
At the end of the century, British, French, and German interests competed for the territory of the caliphate. In 1903, the British won out, occupying all of the critical cities and settled zones, including Sokoto and the biggest commercial hub, Kano. The French took some of the northern and western zones, where Niger, Burkina Faso, and Benin lie today, and the Germans obtained the eastern fringe in today’s Cameroon. All of the colonial powers were slow to alter the hierarchies of the precolonial era, including the subordination of women and the practice of slavery upon which the whole society had come to depend 45. Under Frederick Lugard, the British developed their system of indirect rule, keeping much of the emiral structure in place. In some respects, this policy made the Hausa-speaking ‘Uthmanians more powerful than before and put the political and military elites of the northern part of Nigeria in a position to play a dominant role after independence in 1960 46. As recent events have shown, these elites remain powerful and cohesive in contemporary Nigeria.

The Middle Niger and the Caliphate of Hamdullahi

After 1804 and the creation of the apologetic literature, Sokoto became the model of militant Islam for many West Africans. Its flags of authorization definitively “solved” the problem of legitimating jihad in the West African savanna. Seku Amadu, the founder of the Islamic regime in Masina, the middle delta of the Niger, was no exception 47
The movement led by Seku Amadu Bari (Cisse) was marked by a strong rural bias against the corruption of the city. For Amadu, this meant the practices of Jenne, the old trading and production center of the middle delta, and the domination of a foreign “pagan” power, the Bamana state of Segu 48. Amadu studied and taught in the countryside not far from Jenne, and he became acutely aware of the compromises of the urban’ulamd, the influence of the large scholarly and commercial network maintained by the Kunta of Arawan and Timbuktu, and the capacity for intervention of Segu, which lay just to the southwest. In the second decade of the nineteenth century he began to mobilize his Fulbe followers, secured a flag of legitimation from ‘Uthman, and organized resistance to Segu’s incursions.
In 1818, Amadu won a major battle against Segu. In subsequent years he inaugurated a new regime, dropped the link to Sokoto 49, and established a new and “incorruptible” capital at Hamdullahi (“Praise be to God.”) He created a small council of advisers, a larger council of about one hundred leaders, and the most centralized regime of any of the Muslim Fulbe entrepreneurs. He and his councilors regimented the lives of people in city and countryside alike. They settled pastoralists in designated areas and established transhumant paths for their flocks.
Amadu and his most trusted adviser Shaykh Nuh Tayru, who had been educated within the Kunta network, then took their most ambitious step: they declared Amadu the twelfth caliph, predicted from the time of Askiya Muhammad’s pilgrimage at the end of the fifteenth century. His accession was announced in letters to Muslim communities across the Sahel, Sahara, and North Africa 50. This bold invention was probably designed to compensate for dropping the link to the Sokoto caliphate and to justify the exercise of power in Timbuktu and the Niger Buckle, where the old traditions of Songhay held sway. It also helped as Masina extended its influence, in political and cultural terms, to the east, into Liptako and other Fulbe areas of todays Burkina Faso.
Hamdullahi quickly came into conflict with the dominant religious and commercial network of the region, the Kunta. Sidi Muhammad and Ahmad al-Bakkay, son and grandson respectively of Sidi al-Mukhtar, contested Amadu’s claims and considered his severe interpretations of Islamic practice to be wrongheaded-the product of a very limited experience in Islamic education and practice 51. The Kunta also objected to Hamdullahi’s ban on the sale and consumption of tobacco, a product in which they had a very profitable interest, and to the strict regulations of movement, which made their Middle Niger networks harder to maintain.
Hamdullahi had its share of internal problems as well. Seku Amadu reigned for almost three decades. He did not clearly designate a successor, and when he died in 1845 there were a number of candidates, especially the oldest brother, Ba Lobbo, and the oldest son, Amadu II. The council chose the son, and Ba Lobbo became the leading general in the army. The dissension became more pronounced when Amadu II died in 1853 and the succession passed to his son Amadu mo Amadu (Amadu III). This Amadu had had a more traditional Fulbe socialization, and he did not maintain the strict traditions of his predecessors in Islamic education and control. By the late 1850s, when an external threat surged on the horizon, the disaffection, especially among the older generation and the better educated, was very great indeed 52

The Jihad of Al-Haj ‘Umar

The threat to Hamdullahi came from a native son of Fuuta-Tooro. ‘Umar Tal, with an ambition borne of the experience in the two Futas and of sojourns in Sokoto and Hamdullahi, sought to unite the western Sudan in a confederation comparable in scale to the Sokoto caliphate. More than any other individual, he provides the linkages among the jihads
‘Umar came slowly to this vision. Born at the end of the eighteenth century 53, he grew up in the Podor region of Fuuta-Tooro at a time when the almarnate was in full decline. He studied in Fuuta-Jalon for several years in the early 1820s, having become a practitioner of the Tijaniyya, the sufi order based in Algeria and Morocco but new to West Africa 54. (See chapter 20.) The founder had claimed direct revelation from the Prophet and from God, and some followers used his charisma to promote the superiority of the order over other sufi allegiances. Over time, ‘Umar Tal became the principal agent of the Tijaniyya in West Africa. He used his authority to challenge the Kunta and other leaders of the older Qadiriyya establishment, and in later life he linked the order to the military struggle against non-Muslims.
In the 1820s, the Tijaniyya was very active in Mecca and Medina. ‘Umar decided to make the pilgrimage, an unusual commitment at the time for West African Muslims and one that none of his “jihadic” predecessors had accomplished. He spent the years 1828-30 in Mecca and Medina, performing the pilgrimage each year, and obtaining a commission for spreading the Tijaniyya in West Africaa —designation fundamental to the rest of his career. En route to and from Mecca, he visited the Hamdullahi and Sokoto caliphates.
On his return, he spent some six years in Hausaland, most of it (1831-38) at the court of Muhammad Bello. He made a strong impression as teacher, scholar, adviser, and military leader. When he departed, he left behind a small but prestigious Tijaniyya community, and took with him one of Bello’s daughters 55. The Tijaniyya presence produced tense relations with the local court and the Kunta patrons of the Qadiriyya.
‘Umar spent most of the 1840s in Fuuta-Jalon. He received a positive reception from one almamy and settled in the village of Jegunko. There he formed another important Tijanlyya Muslim community, including adepts from as far away as Fuuta-Tooro in the north and Freetown in the south 56. He completed his major work, al-Rimah, which today is still a major resource for Tijaniyya followers 57. In 1846-47, Umar traveled through Senegambia to Fuuta-Tooro to test reactions to a possible relocation. Returning south, he moved his following beyond the eastern edge of Fuuta-Jalon to a relatively open area in the small Mandinka kingdom of Tamba.
From hereon, ‘Umar emphasized not writing or teaching but waging the military struggle. He linked Tijaniyya affiliation to this effort. The jihad, launched in 1852 against the king of Tamba, quickly moved on to more ambitious targets: the two Bamana kingdoms that had emerged in the eighteenth century around a very conscious non-Muslim identity 58. Segu controlled the middle Niger and was the principal adversary for the caliphate of Hamdullahi; Karta developed in the Sahelian space northeast of the upper Senegal, where it intervened decisively in the Senegal River valley and (as shown above) against Almamy Abdul of Fuuta-Tooro. ‘Umar made the destruction of these outstanding “pagan” regimes, which threatened the emerging dar al-Islam of West Africa, his particular calling 59. He recruited his armies in the “west,” among the Muslim and especially the Fulbe populations of Fuuta-Jalon, Ɓundu, Fuuta-Tooro, and other parts of Senegambia. He secured European firearms, powder, and artillery from French and British sources at the coast; this gave him a superiority in weaponry over his more landlocked foes to the “east.”
In I855, ‘Umar marched into Nioro, the Kaarta capital. In 1861, he seized Segu and staged a public ceremony of destruction of fetishes from the palace. At this juncture ‘Umar’s prestige knew no bounds; he received letters and delegations of congratulation from all over the African Muslim world. Muhammad Akansus, a well-placed Tijaniyya leader in Morocco, put this achievement in flowery terms:

Our ears have been delighted by this good news about you and your majesty. … It is news of victory and conquest, the news of clear glory, a great victory, a source of much joy. In truth this is a glory for the Muslim nation, a victory through a road that had previously been blocked, it is a joy for the saints of God who repeat it standing and sitting. I pray that the swords of truth will strike the foreheads and cheeks of the evil people 60

‘Umar had designed a movement that differed significantly from its predecessors: it was a movement not to reform or overthrow his native land but to spread the faith by the destruction of “pagan” regimes 61. In the destructive task he succeeded admirably. The dar al-Islam of the western Sudan was a reality, or so it seemed, and Muslim scholars of many persuasions recognized the achievement.
‘Umar gave little attention to the construction of the Islamic state. This was due in part to the constraints of war mobilization. Once he decided to challenge the “pagan” regimes, especially the aggressive Bamana ones 62, he had to devote his energies to massive recruitment and military strategy. His sons and potential successors were quite young. The eldest, born during his sojourn in Hausaland, were just reaching their mid-twenties as he undertook the Segu campaign, and it was only then that they left the family center of Dingiray to gain experience in the arts of war and administration. Indeed, the biggest deficiency was ‘Umar’s own inexperience and lack of interest in establishing courts, schools, mosques, and the other institutions of an Islamic state-institutions that might have brought the Bamana and other subject populations into suitable Muslim practice 63. This neglect separates him in many respects from the founders of the regimes discussed above.
Another reason for’Umar’s inattention to these matters was his determination to settle a conflict with the Muslim Fulbe state of Masina. Hamdullahi, and its newfound Kunta ally Ahmad al-Bekkay, had provided critical assistance for Segu’s resistance to conquest; ‘Umar found incriminating letters from Amadu III and the Kunta in the Segu palace. For Umar, this support was unforgivable; it constituted evidence of apostasy. In 1861-62, he demanded that Hamdullahi acknowledge the error of its ways and surrender the Bamana king, who had taken refuge there. Hamdullahi refused 64, andUmar embarked on a military campaign during the hot dry season of 1862. His arguments are contained in a long, bristling, and carefully documented treatise, the Bayan Ma Waqa. The treatise was eloquent, but it probably did little to persuade most West African scholars of the legitimacy of the campaign 65
The ‘Umarian forces were initially victorious; they controlled Masina for about a year. But the Masinanke, with the help of Bekkay, organized a successful revolt and siege in 1863, defeated most of the Futanke forces, and killed ‘Umar in February 1864. ‘Umar’s nephew Ahmad al-Tijani, who escaped the siege, then mobilized the traditional enemies of the Masinanke to the east and began an arduous, bloody, but ultimately successful “reconquest” from his base in Bandiagara. The toll of conquest, revolt, and reconquest was enormous in terms of lives lost and prosperity was destroyed. The struggles damaged the unity and practice of Islam and diminished the prestige of the Kunta and Ahmad al-Bakkay, the leader from the anti-jihadic tradition who died waging jihad against jihad66
After the catastrophe of Masina, the ‘Umarians began to lose their leading role in the spread of Islamic practice and of Tijaniyya affiliation in West Africa. Ahmad al-Kabir, who following his father’s death presided over the ‘Umarian dominions from Segu, struggled to maintain control within the family and against numerous external foes 67. Al-Tijani gave him no recognition in Bandiagara as he sought to reclaim the ravaged plains and rivers of Masina. Several brothers who lived around Nioro, the key staging area forUmarian recruits and weapons on their way to Segu, rejected Ahmad’s authority in the early 1870s and again in 1885 68. The Bamana and other subjects were in frequent revolt; Samori cut him off from Dingiray and diminished his influence in the south; and the French steadily intruded into his domain. When the French took the capitals of Segu, Nioro, and Bandiagara between 1890 and 1893, they destroyed the last vestiges of the ‘Umarian state and laid the foundations for the colonial territory of the Soudan 69
In the late-nineteenth century, the mantle of holy war and Islamic state was carried by a variety of leaders and peoples. It ceased in any sense to be the preserve of the Fulbe. In the upper Niger there was the Mandinka leader Samori, as well as his precursors and rivals 70. The Fuuta-Jalon was the scene of a number of reforms, often greeted with hostility by the almamate, which had become the establishment. In similar ways, Senegambian reformers took on the abuses of the so-called Islamic states as well as the anciens régimes, and challenged all states to live up to their responsibilities toward their subjects. And anti-jihad scholars, from the Kunta, Fadiliyya, and Sidiyya, for example, used the excesses and violence of the nineteenth-century movements to bolster their argument that all power was corrupting 71
‘Umar Tal helped to provide the transition to a new understanding of Islamic obligation in the late-nineteenth century: as resistance to European intrusion. In his confrontations with Faidherbe and the French along the Senegal River in the 1850s, ‘Umar did not clearly call for holy war against the Europeans. He did, however, mobilize an embargo, attack a few isolated outposts 72, and call into question muwalat, “friendship” with the Europeans. By the late 1850s, when it was obvious that he could not dislodge the French from the Senegal valley, he called for hijra, massive emigration, from the region 73. It was this call that Ahmad al-Kabir subsequently used to attract Senegambian militants to the ‘Umarian capitals of Nioro and Segu late in the nineteenth century. He made his own hijra in 1893, when he departed Bandiagara for the east-just ahead of the armies of Colonel Louis Archinard 74. Many other Muslims reacted in similar fashion to the European intrusion into West Africa at the end of the century. They typically moved to the east, toward the Sudan of the Mahdi and the holy lands of Islam, or to the north, toward today’s Mauritania or Morocco, which was not yet under French domination.
The holy wars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries mark an important phase in the history of Islam and Islamization in West Africa. They heightened the sense of belonging to the dar al-Islam. They made the practice of the faith more attractive to many. They also sharpened the use of Islamic practice as a criterion for distinguishing between slave and free, provided relatively few opportunities for women beyond marriage and the household, and increased the level of violence throughout the region. The Fulbe, as the ethnic group that furnished most of the leadership, emerged from this period with a heightened sense of their own Islamic preeminence.
It is important not to forget the less spectacular contributions of Muslim teachers who stuck to more traditional and less “jihadic” ways. In fact, the overwhelmingly Muslim identity of the savanna region today may be more a product of their efforts and of the desire of West Africans to affirm a recognizable identity in the face of European colonial rule. This striking Islamization has proceeded despite the destruction of the Islamic states-with the partial exception of the Sokoto caliphate-established by jihad in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

. In particular they established a genealogy that linked them to ‘Uqba ibn Nafi’, the Arab conqueror of parts of the Maghrib in the seventh century C.E., and developed a tradition whereby their language, Pulaar, or Fulfulde, was second only to Arabic in the estimation of the Prophet. Robinson 1985, chapter 2.
. Symbolized in Curtin 1975.
. See the critique of the “jihadic” emphasis expressed in Searing 1993.
. See Brenner 1985 and Robinson 1982,. The spread of literacy in Arabic and its ability to survive the multiple vicissitudes of slavery can be seen in the experience of Muslim slaves in the United States and Jamaica. See Gomez 1994.
. This can be seen most conspicuously in the interpretations of ‘Uthman dan Fodio, Abdullahi, and Muhammad Bello in the Sokoto-Gobir case in the early nineteenth century. See Last 1967. But it is also present in the other movements, some ofwhich preceded the Sokoto development. See Robinson 1985, chapter 2.
. The most visible case was the flirtation of Askiya Muhammad of Songhay with the prospect of jihad and Islamic government around 1500. See Hunwick 1985 and Willis 1989.
. See Brenner 1988.
. For some instances of this related to the career of al-Hajj Umar, see Robinson 1985, 44, 121-22, 354-55.
. Barth 1857-58.
10. Mage 1868.
11. For a discussion of the preferences for women slaves in West African societies, see Klein and Robertson 1983, Klein 1972, and Robinson 1985, 55, 63-65, 114, 179, 245-46, 303. For Muslims in the British colonies and the United States, see Gomez 1994.
12. Sharr Bubba, or Shurbubba, may mean « Babbds war, » « Cry out assent! » or something else. I draw my basic view from Ould Cheikh 1990 and 1985. For a more standard interpretation, see Stewart 1972. For other relevant material and the larger context of relations between Saharan Muslims, who typically understood themselves as « white, » with Muslims in the Sahel and the savanna, who were identified as « black, » see Brenner 1988; Stewart 1976a; Webb 1995.
13. This is the interpretation offered by Barry 1972- and Ritchie 1968. The French traders preferred to work with the warrior groups, who were less likely to impose conditions on the commerce in gum. See Ould Cheikh 1980. For a study of the importance of this to the later successful Islamic revolution in Fuuta-Tooro, see Robinson 1975.
14. For example, centers such as Pir, in the southern reaches of Cayor, or Coki, in the northern part, which often operated independently of the throne. See Boulègue 1987 and Robinson 1975.
15. In Gomez 1993.
16. These follow a more conventional definition of Senegambia, such as the one formulated by Curtin 1975, rather than the one that embraces Fuuta-Jalon in Senegambia; see Barry 1988. The most complete account of the Islamic movement in Fuuta-Jalon is still Rodney 1968 and Person’s article in vol 2 of Ajayi and Crowder, eds. 1985. See also McGowan 1975 and Diallo 1972.
17. The one scholar working on the subject actively is Botte 19go, 1991, 1994.
18. Bruce Mouser 1973a, 1973b, and Rodney 1968.
19. See the Botte articles (1990, 1991, 1994) and Balde 1975.
20. Harrison 1988. But the French eventually undermined the influence of the ruling elite.
21. See Botte 1990. Botte also indicates that the ajami system of pedagogy began even before the military revolution and that the ruling classes specifically refused to allow the non-Fulbe to become Muslim. The pedagogical materials, especially those produced by the Labe scholars, and particularly Cerno Muhammad Samba Mombeya, are accessible in the Fonds Vielllard at IFAN in Dakar. They have been exploited primarily by Alfa Ibrahima Sow 1965, 1968, and 1971.
22. See, for example, Harrell-Bond et al. 1978. The Muslim scholars of Futa included some Mande-speaking scholars as well, such as the Jakhanke of Touba. See Sanneh 1979.
23. The most complete article on this subject is still my « Islamic Revolution » (1975). See also Kane 1973.
24. Pir occupies an important place in the historiography of Islamization in Senegal; Boul&gue 1987. The reformers were also linked to Coki.
25. For the best recent statement on the emergence of the different social classes and categories in Fuuta-Tooro, see Kyburz 1994.
26. Curtin 1975; Webb 1995.
27. Traditionally placed in 1776. Almamy Abdul and his contemporaries seem not to have left a written record comparable to that of the other Fulbe-led Islamic movements (nor did they accumulate slaves on a scale comparable to that of Fuuta-Jalon). More Arabic documentation may come to light, however, with the publication of the French translation of Kamara 1998.
28. Many of the lineages of the central region of Futa have had a fairly continuous occupation of the right bank. See Leservoister 1994. The issue of land and rights on the north bank of the Senegal has become a heated debate in the last decade, fueled by the disputes and killings in Mauritania and Senegal. Most of the occupation of the north bank by haal-pulaar goes back to the early twentieth century.
29. In the search for African resistance to the practice of enslavement and slave trade, historians have often seized upon this instance in the career of Almamy Abdul. The sovereign was not, however, expressing opposition to the slave trade and slavery as institutions-only to the victimization of Muslims in them. See Barry 1988, 156.
30. In particular, ‘Ali Dundu Kan, the elector of Dabiya in Bossea, and’All Sidi Ba, the elector of Mbolo cAll Sidi, in Yirlabe. For an oral tradition of this encounter, see Kane and Robinson 1984, 53-63.
31. He used the Maliki formula, an invitation, usually in the form of a diplomatic mission, to « convert » and swear allegiance to the new Islamic regime of Fuuta-Tooro. This provided his potential enemies with more ample opportunity to organize resistance. It is likely that the other reformers mentioned in this chapter, all of whom came from traditions of the Maliki school of law, followed the same practice. See Seed’s (1995) demonstration of the impact of this Maliki practice on Spanish practice in the Iberian peninsula and the Americas.
32. Abdul’s fortunes in Cayor are a favorite subject of the oral traditions of Senegal, and the perspective taken is typically that of the Damel. See Roger 1829 for the conflict between the Muslims of Njambur and the Cayorian king, and for the Futanke intervention, see Robinson 1975.
33. Soh 1913, 46.
34. For a Futanke perspective on this signal event, in which Almamy Abdul is portrayed as a martyr against the forces of reaction, see Kane and Robinson 1984, 65-71. For a Ɓundu perspective, which regards Abdul’s death as a liberation from foreign domination, see Gomez, 1993, 31-35.
35. The Umarian phenomenon is treated later in this chapter. Futanke or Tokolor origin was virtually a prerequisite for “reform” identity in nineteenth-century Senegambia: Ma Ba Diakho, Amadu Bamba, and Malik Sy all claimed Futanke origins. For other reform movements in Senegal, see Mein 1972; Robinson, “An Emerging Pattern of Cooperation between Colonial Authorities and Muslim Societies in Senegal and Mauritania,” in Robinson and Triaud 1997; Barry 1988.
36. The best available source on ‘Uthman and the Gobir phase of his movements is still Last 1967. A very useful biography of’Uthman, with numerous examples of his work in Arabic, Fulfulde, and Hausa, is Hiskett 1973.
37. On the economy and environment, see Baier and Lovejoy 1975.
38. See Stewart and Adeleye, “The Sokoto Caliphate in the Nineteenth Century,” in Ajayi and Crowder, eds. 1985, vol 2.
39. See Brenner 1973 and 1992.
40. The most succinct treatment of the caliphate in the nineteenth century is still Adeleye 1971. See also Hogben and Kirk-Greene 1996.
41. The Sokoto region was probably as dependent on slave labor as was Fuuta-Jalon in the nineteenth century. It is hard to compare Sokoto’s slave exports into the Saharan and trans-Saharan trade with Futds more fully documented exportation into the Atlantic trade. On questions of slavery, slave trade, and slave resistance, see Lovejoy 1986.
42. For a list of the main works of the Sokoto leadership, see Last 1967, 236ff.
43. Robinson 1985, 76-77, 365-70.
44. It seems unlikely that her example was duplicated either in other parts of the caliphate or in the other movements described in this chapter. We now have a biography and complete set of her works: see Boyd 1989; Boyd and Mack 1997.
45. See Hogendorn and Lovejoy 1992,1993.
46. Last, “The ‘Colonial Caliphate’ of Northern Nigeria,” in Robinson and Triaud 1997; Sani Umar 1997.
47. Stewart 1976.
48. Research on the caliphate of Hamdullahi or Masina developed rapidly through the 1970s but has developed little in the last two decades. The principal contributions were made by Amadou Hampate Ba, a Masinanke, with Daget 1955; Brown 1969; Sanankoua 1990; Johnson 1976.
49. Stewart speculates that Amadu’s success, combined with the death of ‘Uthman and dissension between his son Muhammad Bello and his brother Abdullahi, led to this declaration of “independence”; Stewart 1976.
50. Amadu and Nuh made changes in the copies of the Tarikh al-Fattash, one of the two major “Timbuktu” chronicles that forms the cornerstone of Songhay and much West African history. See Levtzion 1971. Some of the documents can be found at the Fonds Gironcourt at the Institut de France in Paris.
51. We are fortunate to have, from the early 1850s, the observations of Heinrich Barth on Hamdullahi and the Kunta. Barth was the guest in Timbuktu of Ahmad al-Bakkay and was threatened several times by the forces of Hamdullahi as he traveled in the Middle Niger. (Barth 1857-58, 3:321ff). See also Robinson 1985, 99-112, 2,82-91.
52. For the internal dimensions, the best source is still Bâ and Daget 1955, 1:72, 248ff., 285-86. There was also a Tijaniyya community in Hamdullahi, the product of ‘Umar’s passage there in 1838, but it is difficult to estimate its role in the weakness of the regime in the 1850s. See Robinson 1990.
53. The date is uncertain-between 1794 and 1797. I have adopted the date of 1797. For narrative and analysis on ‘Umar Tal and his movement, see Robinson 1985; Ly-Tall, 1991. For works that focus on the intellectual and sufi contributions of Umar, see Dumont 1971; Willis 1989.
54. See Abun-Nasr 1965. Sufism was not, however, the only path to Islamization in nineteenth-century West Africa; many learned, devout, and charismatic Muslims continued to practice in the older patterns. See, for example, the study of the Tagant region: Villasante de Beauvais 1995.
55. Controversy surrounds the identity of this person. What likely happened is that Muhammad Bello gave his daughter Mariam to ‘Umar just before his death and that she died shortly thereafter. A second daughter, perhaps named Ramatullah, was then given to ‘Umar, and she became the mother of Habib and Mukhtar. Seydu Nuru Tall claimed to be a descendant of Ramatullah. See Ly-Tall 1991, 127; Robinson 1985, 105-6.
56. The Freetown Muslims actually remember Dingiray as the place where they studied. Robinson 1985, 115-17.
57. The full title is Kitab Rimah Hizb al-Rahim ala Nuhur Hizb al-Rajim; it was published in the margins of Harazim 1963-64. It deals with his pilgrimage, authorization, and some aspects of his stay in Sokoto.
58. For Bamana identity, see Amselle 1990.
59. This interpretation is fully developed in Dumont 1971.
60. Hanson and Robinson 1991, 68.
61. The contrast is developed more fully in Robinson 1991, chapter 9. There is tantalizing evidence that ‘Umar in 1861-62 envisaged continuing to wage war against the remaining “pagan pockets” of West Africa.
62. Kaarta had dominated the upper Senegal and played the key role in the downfall of Almamy Abdul, the “martyr” and centralizer of the Fuuta-Tooro experiment, while Segu had dominated the Middle Delta region and made life difficult for the Hamdullahi regime; Umar was perceived by many as a liberator from the pagan yoke. Ibid., 320-29.
63. Ibid., chapter 9.
64. ‘Umar was certainly aware of the decline in Islamic practice in Hamdullahi, especially under the regime of Amadu III, and the animosity between communities of Tijaniyya and Qadiriyya allegiance. The Tijanlyya in Masina were a sturdy minority committed to reform. But it is difficult to imagine’Umar undertaking an ultimatum and military campaign simply to reform Islamic practice or spread the Tijaniyya. Ibid., chapter 8.
65. See the careful translation and commentary completed by Mahibou and Triaud 1984. It is a good example of the debates that the Jihad of the sword generated during this time and that are referred to in note 8 above.
66. Robinson 1985, 305-16.
67. For translations of documents and commentary organized around the reign of Ahmad, see Hanson and Robinson 1991.
68. Hanson 1996.
69. For the French penetration and destruction, see Kanya-Forstner 1969.
70. See ibid. and Person 1968-75.
71. Kanya-Forstner 1969.
72. Most notably at the unsuccessful siege of Medine in 1857. For the confrontational period, see Robinson 1985, chapter 6; also, Hanson and Robinson 1991, 106-11.
73. Hanson 1996.
74. On Ahmad al-Kabir’s emigration and the general problem for Muslims, see Robinson 1987.


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Bienvenue dans mon monde d'exploration et de découverte ! Je suis Ingrid Allain, une voyageuse passionnée avec une curiosité insatiable pour la riche tapisserie de la culture africaine. Pour moi, l'Afrique n'est pas juste une destination ; c'est une fascination de toute une vie et une source d'inspiration. Des rythmes vibrants des cercles de tambours d'Afrique de l'Ouest à la perlerie complexe des artisans Maasaï, chaque coin de ce continent détient un trésor de traditions à découvrir. À travers mes écrits, je vise à partager la beauté, la diversité et la résilience des cultures africaines avec le monde. E-mail: [email protected] / Linkedin
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