Week 1 – Initial Findings Seem Promising

From this point on, I am planning on updating every Thursday at the very least.  At this point in my research, I have looked into two sources from medieval Africa.  This portion of my research consists mainly of looking into primary sources from the medieval era and looking for any note of the plague or any kind of event that could reasonably be seen as such.  Sources like these tend to cover long periods of time without following any sort of chronology, so long swaths of time are condensed and only the highlights, so to speak, are left.


In Hiskett’s translation of the Song of Bagauda, he draws from three sources: a modern oral tradition, an earlier written account related to the oral tradition that he heard, and another, unrelated, written account of the oral tradition.  He weaves these three sources together to make a modern rendition of the song, which was subsequently translated into English.  It works well in conveying the information of the song, but he shifts between the various sources for the sake of clarity, undermining the individual messages of the various sources.  Regardless, there are several notable pieces of information.


I have found in the chronicle there are several notes of famine and how this caused the inhabitants of the areas around Kano to flee there.  Yet there is no mention of anyone starving; rather, they had to leave their homelands.  As it stands, one could look into whether the famine coincided with another event – the plague perhaps – forcing them to leave their lands.  A more interesting note is the inclusion of a moralizing tract near the end of the song.  It advises against worldliness, which causes the poor individual to “suffer pox,” among other symptoms.  Its inclusion in an oral tradition makes it reasonable to assume that a disease ravaged the people of Kano for a long enough time that it would be included in its cultural memory through an oral tradition.


The other source translated by Lange does not lend itself well to my research, but there are still a few interesting pieces of information to be found.  It is Ibn Furtu’s account of the conquest of the area surrounding Lake Chad by the Sultan Idris b. ‘Ali b. Ahmad.  Lange characterizes this as a written recording of a sermon delivered by Ibn Furtu and Furtu spends most of his time praising the military acts of the Sultan.  It is his main objective, with the chronology and the specifics of the Sultan’s acts remaining secondary in Furtu’s considerations.  As such, not a lot of great information is explicitly available in the text, but Furtu consistently mentions the inhabitants who had been defeated by the Sultan as fleeing from their towns.  It is interesting in that it contrasts to the ending of the Sultan’s other conquests, which generally contained the slaughter of a defeated town’s inhabitants.  Another thought that one needs to consider is Lange’s mention of Furtu’s language – his handle of Arabic is primarily religious and thus he had to default to the closest words that he knew in his sermons rather than accurate local word.  At this juncture, other things that bear possible future consideration are the repetition of trees being felled by the Sultan’s forces and an early discrimination by Furtu between a holy war and a non-holy war waged by the Sultan.


At this point in my research, things are looking promising, given the sources that I have looked into.  There are the normal considerations to be made – translation problems, loss of the original documents, retellings have their own personal embellishments, etc., but the few nuggets of information that I have found have filled me with hope.  I will continue my research with another few sources this week and likely look at the earlier sources again in the hopes of uncovering something with a subsequent view.

Works Cited:

Hiskett, Mervyn. “The ‘Song of Bagauda’: a Hausa king list and homily in verse–I.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African studies 27, no. 03 (1964): 540-567.

Lange, Dierk. “A Sudanic Chronicle: The Borno Expeditions of Idris Alauma (1564-1576) according to the account of Ahmad B. Furtu.” Studien zur Kulturkunde 86 (1987): 1-179.



  1. zkharazian says:

    In political behavior survey research, we can control for certain variables that may affect our results — such as age, education, income level, etc. How do you “control” for potential confounders, like loss of original documents or translation problems, in qualitative research, if at all?