Concluding Thoughts on Sub-Saharan Sources

Since my previous post last week, I have completed the remaining texts for this particular section of my research.  In looking at these texts, very little information has come to light that explicitly names any sort of disease or epidemic, with the exception of Holt’s Sudan of the Three Niles.  The overall information that one can derive from these texts is that death was a common occurrence in sub-Saharan Africa, often as the result of conquerors killing dissidents or taking over towns.  These are known as a result of the various chroniclers who wished to show their readers – present or future – that those men who had the backing of God would triumph over those who had not accepted him or his laws.  As such, epidemics were unlikely to be recorded unless they had something to do with the faith of Islam, such as the death of a major religious figure.  Holt’s translation makes note of three diseases: the Yellow Wind, or “plague” as it was called in the time “of the Children of Israel,” the “Mother of Seven,” and small pox.  However, using this information is difficult.

The works of Holt, Hill, and others are written in the centuries after what one traditionally refers to as the medieval era, i.e. the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries.  That is not to say that they are completely useless; rather, one has to look at the explicit references that they make, like the Yellow Wind, in works from the medieval period.  For instance, Hill makes note of how a “strong wind” blew for several days before the advent of the Yellow Wind disease.  One could look for similar circumstances in earlier works to find the existence of this disease in that time period.

Other than the explicit notes of disease, there are several scenarios that necessitate further research.  These include divine acts, such as the attack of the army of children in Sa’di’s Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire and the performance of miraculous healing in Wise’s Timbuktu Chronicles, the massive killings of various peoples by conquerors, and the many migrations of peoples noted in the texts.  All of these are treated as secondary details for the most part in these chronicles, despite the interesting circumstances surrounding them.  The blatantly supernatural, as noted earlier, need to have some sort of explanation, and disease is much more plausible than a fortress being suddenly assaulted by a large amount of children.  With respect to the massive killings, most chronicles make note of how they deserved it as a result of their wicked ways or something of that ilk, but it strikes me as unnecessarily harsh.  This is especially interesting as many conquerors vacillate between killing enough people that “only a small fraction of these people [were left] alive, a fraction so tiny that they could all be hidden in the shadow of a single tree” or capturing many survivors and having them sold into slavery.  The circumstances are not elaborated on, but the reasoning between capture and killing could be interesting, especially if a city’s populace was too sick to be enslaved and had to be killed to prevent the spread of disease.  

Finally, looking into the migrations of peoples could bear fruit with respect to the plague.  Whenever people leave their towns, it could be because of wars, famine, or disease.  Comparison with the migration patterns of Europeans could be useful, as when I was reading several of these works, the idea that people had been fleeing towns kept reminding me of Boccacio’s Decameron and how those who were able to flee to the countryside during plague outbreaks often did so.  As such, one could look into the various lives of the many holy men mentioned in these texts and make note of them leaving a particular city and see if there is a note of distress or that the city had been punished by God in some manner.  Such circumstances could point towards the presence of the plague in that town.

Ultimately, I feel that the reading of these texts has been useful for two reasons.  One, it has encouraged the consideration of the circumstances within the various sub-Saharan texts with respect to the plague and two, it has allowed for a relatively large number of citations to be made that can be used by future researchers as starting points in their own research.  With this part of my research concluded, at least for now, I will begin my work on the West African texts of Ibn Battuta.





Works Cited:

Saʻdī, ʻAbd al-Raḥmān ibn ʻAbd Allāh, and John O. Hunwick. Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Saʻdī’sTaʼrīkh Al-sūdān Down to 1613, and Other Contemporary Documents. Leiden ; Boston: Brill, 2003.

Hill, Richard L. “AN UNPUBLISHED CHRONICLE OF THE SUDAN 1822-41.”Sudan Notes and Records (1956)

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.

Holt, Peter Malcolm, ed. The Sudan of the Three Niles: The Funj Chronicle, 910-1288/1504-1871. Vol. 26. Brill, 1999.

Palmer, Herbert R. “The Kano Chronicle.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 38 (1908): 58-98.

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.

Wise, Christopher, and Hala Abu Taleb. “The Timbuktu Chronicles, 1493-1599 CE: Al Hajj Mahmud Kati’s Tarikh al-fattash.” (2011).