Category Archives: Mali

Explorer and Sheikh Finally Part

From A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa, by Steve Kemper (W. W. Norton, 2012), Kindle pp. 302-303:

The packet [Heinrich Barth] gave al-Bakkay to send from Timbuktu included letters for the Foreign Office, the Royal Geographical Society, and many friends. It didn’t reach Europe until 1857, having spent more than two years in Ghadames.

The lull before parting was bittersweet. Barth and his friends from Timbuktu had grown fond of each other. In the mornings, as he took the air outside his tent, they gathered around him for conversation. One morning they asked him to read aloud from his European books, for the sound of the languages. He read the Bible in Greek and some passages in English, and recited a poem in German—the latter a big hit because “the full heavy words of that language” reminded them of their own. Another day they asked him to put on his European clothing, so he dug out his black suit. They admired the fine cloth and the trousers but found the frock coat comical. In Central Africa, wrote Barth, they were right.

As their time left together grew short, he and the sheikh continued their genial wide-ranging talks. They had been almost constant companions for nine-and-a-half months. Finally the day arrived when Barth was to cross the river and continue his journey home. His entry for July 9:

This was the day when I had to separate from the person whom, among all the people with whom I had come in contact in the course of my long journey, I esteemed the most highly, and whom, in all but his dilatory habits and phlegmatic indifference, I had found a most excellent and trustworthy man. I had lived with him for so long a time in daily intercourse, and in the most turbulent circumstances, sharing all his perplexities and anxieties, that I could not but feel the parting very severely.

Barth esteemed al-Bakkay, but couldn’t resist pointing out his flaws. The explorer sometimes judged the sheikh a timid procrastinator, but that seems unfair, considering the violent forces he had to balance. He risked his life by defying Ahmadu Ahmadu. He outmaneuvered not only the emir, but enemies in Timbuktu, including scheming members of his own family, while also dealing with constant threats from bellicose Tuaregs. He was also kind, generous, loyal, open-minded, and invigorating company. Because of him, Barth survived Timbuktu.

When he reached the opposite bank of the Niger, Barth fired two shots in farewell, as al-Bakkay had requested. Then he turned and began jotting notes about the sandy downs of this new shore, and the paths that led away from the river toward the east.

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Filed under Africa, Britain, Europe, Germany, language, Mali, religion, scholarship, travel

South Korean “Foreigners of Convenience”

A few days ago, The Marmot’s Hole posted a translated summary of a Korean newspaper article about one way that South Korean parents are getting their children into local international schools, which are a conduit to higher education abroad. They purchase foreign residency permits from embassies of Ecuador or Mali in order to qualify their Korea-resident kids as “overseas Koreans” qualified to attend international schools.

In the case of Ecuador, all you need do is visit for a week to qualify, while Mali’s embassy in Japan can issue permanent residency visas. Both options will usually cost you about 30 million won.

As a result, some people estimate that as many as 80% of the kids enrolled in international schools are South Koreans, while the official Ministry of Education figure is 13%, because dual citizens and those with official residency overseas are counted as foreigners.

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Filed under Ecuador, education, Korea, Mali

Ibn Battuta’s Impressions of Mali, 1352

This desert is bright, luminous. Traversing it, one breathes deeply; one is in good spirits, and safe from robbers. The desert here contains many wild cattle. A flock of them might come so near to a caravan that people can hunt them with dogs and arrows. However, eating their meat creates thirst and, as such, many people avoid it as a consequence. If killed, water is found in their stomachs and I have seen the Massûfa squeezing the stomach and drinking the water. There are also many snakes.

A merchant of Tilimsan known as al-Hajj Zaiyân was in our caravan. He had the habit of catching these snakes and playing with them. I had asked him not to do this but he would not desist. He put his hand into a lizard’s hole one day and found a snake there instead. He grasped it and was about to mount his horse. But the snake bit the finger of his right hand, inflicting severe pain on him. The wound was cauterized, but in the evening the pain worsened. He cut the throat of a camel and kept his hand in its stomach all night. The flesh of his finger loosened and then he sliced off his finger at the base. The Massûfa told me that the snake must have drunk water before biting him, or the bite would have killed him.

When the people coming to meet us with water had reached us, our mounts were given water. We entered an extremely hot desert. It was not like the one we had just experienced. We would leave after the afternoon prayer, travel all night and stop in the morning. Men from the Massûfa and Badama and other tribes brought us loads of water for sale. We reached the city of Iwalatan at the beginning of the month of rabi’i [17 April 1352] after a journey of two months from Sijilmasa. It is the first district in the country of the Blacks. The Sultan’s deputy here is Farba Husain; farba means ‘deputy’.

On arriving, the merchants deposited their goods in a clearing and the Blacks assumed responsibility for them. The merchants went to the Farba who was sitting on a mat in a shelter. His officials were standing in front of him holding spears and bows, and the Massûfa notables were behind him. The merchants stood in front of him, and he spoke to them through an interpreter as a sign of his contempt for them even though they were close to him. On observing their bad manners and contempt for white people, I was sorry I had come to their land. I retired to the house of ibn Badda’, a kind man of Sala from whom I had let a house by request.

The inspector of Iwalatan, named Mansha Ju [lit. Royal Slave], invited those who had come in the caravan to a reception. I refused to attend. My companions urged me very strongly to accept, and finally I accompanied the rest. At the reception coarsely ground anli was served mixed with honey and curdled milk. This was put in a half gourd shaped like a large bowl. Those present drank and then left. I asked them: ‘Is it for this that the Blacks invited us?’ They replied: ‘Yes. For them it is the greatest hospitality.’ I became convinced that no good could be expected from these people, and I wished to join the pilgrims travelling out of Iwalatan. But I decided to go and see the capital of their king before leaving. I stayed in Iwalatan for about fifty days in all. Its people treated me with respect and were hospitable… The town of Iwalatan is very hot. There were some small palms and they had sowed melons in their shade. Water came from underground sources. Mutton was plentiful. Their clothes were of fine quality and of Egyptian origin. Most of the inhabitants belong to the Massûfa. The women are of exceptional beauty and are more highly respected than the men.

SOURCE: “Ibn Battuta, World Traveller (b. 1304),” in Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing, edited by Tabish Khair, Martin Leer, Justin D. Edwards, and Hanna Ziadesh (Indiana U. Press, 2005), pp. 294-296

Also see Ibn Battuta and His Saharan Travels and Ibn Battuta on the Web.


Filed under Africa, Mali