John O. Hunwick’s Legacy: A series of panels at the 2016 African Studies Association annual meeting

1 December 2016

The Saharan Studies Association is proud to announce a series of panels to be held at this year’s African Studies Association annual meeting in Washington, D.C. These panels will be on the theme of John O. Hunwick’s Legacy.

Summary of the Panels

I. John O. Hunwick’ Legacy: Bibliographer of West African Manuscripts (Chair Rebecca Shereikis)—ISITA
Charles Stewart, Amidu O. Sanni, Tim Cleaveland, Knut Vikør (Discussant Robert Kramer)

II. John O. Hunwick’s Legacy: The Place of Sharīʿa in Songhay in African History (Chair Charles Stewart)—Saharan Studies Association
Michael Gomez, Bruce Hall, Zachary Wright, Lansiné Kaba (Discussant Ghislaine Lydon)

III. John O. Hunwick’s Legacy: Slavery and African Diasporas (Chair Ghislaine Lydon)—Saharan Studies Association
Paul Lovejoy, Ann McDougall, Chouki El-Hamel, Ahmad Sikainga (Discussant Bruce Hall)

IV. John O. Hunwick’s Legacy: The Next Generation (Chair Jeremy Dell)—Saharan Studies Association
Janice Levi, Madina Thiam, Rémi Dewière (Discussant Ahmad Sikainga)

Panel I John O. Hunwick’s Legacy : Bibliographer of West African Manuscripts

Chair : Rebecca Shereikis, ISITA

Discussant : Robert S. Kramer, St. Norbert College

John O. Hunwick’s lifework was dedicated to building institutions and publishing collections for the preservation of Africa’s written heritage expressed in the Arabic language and script. He began his career as an instructor of Arabic, who would live in Nigeria and Ghana, where he helped create Arabic manuscript repositories and scholarly bulletins. His indefatigable efforts collecting West African Muslims’ biographies and bibliographies, would lead to the monumental Arabic Literature in Africa (ALA) series, with which he collaborated with numerous scholars, including his dear friend R. Sean O’Fahey. This panel is composed of his colleagues and students who will discuss Hunwick’s extraordinary legacy in the area of manuscript preservation and institution building.

“The new ALA V: Mauritania and the Western Sahara”
Charles Stewart, Northwestern University and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

No single project gave John Hunwick greater satisfaction than the Arabic Literature of Africa series, conceived with Sean O’Fahey, that Brill began publishing in 1994. This was the final and definitive response to the Trevor-Roper claim that Africa was lacking a written past; it was the Brockelman for Africa; it was the culmination of a career of launching journals and creating institutes for the study of Islam in Africa and Arabic manuscripts. ALA V, released in late 2015, completes the geographic sweep from the Red Sea to Atlantic; only ALA 3b remains. This paper explores the contribution of ALA V as the culmination of the West African volumes, surveying the 10,000 entries (the largest of the series) written by 1875 authors across 350 years. ALA V challenges some of the assumptions long made about Islamic scholarship in West Africa, and it lays the ground for re-examining the oft-repeated claims to tens of thousands of manuscripts yet to be found in the Timbuktu region.

“Imagining John Hunwick through his ‘Valedictory’ Lecture at University of Ibadan and the ALA Series.”
Amidu Olalekan Sanni, Lagos State University, Nigeria

This paper will contemplate the extraordinary scholarly legacy of John Owen Hunwick, from its beginnings in Nigeria to the publications of the Arabic Literature in Africa (ALA) series. It begins by examining his groundbreaking and influential lecture made at the University of Ibadan in 2008, entitled “Islam and Arabic Into Western Africa,” which has now turned out to be a valedictory work prefacing the end of a five decade-long career. In other words, this occurred almost 50 years after Hunwick began teaching Arabic in the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and later in the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies, which he, in conjunction with B. G. Martins, established in 1962. He served as the Acting Head of the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies between 1964 and 1967. He also founded the Centre for Arabic Documentation in the Institute of African Studies for the preservation of Arabic Manuscripts. He was the pioneer Editor of the Mujallatul-Buḥūth (Research Bulletin) of the Centre since July, 1964. Aside from retracing Hunwick’s contributions to institution building in Nigeria, I will also relate these experiences to the ALA series, which I had the privilege of reviewing.

“John Hunwick and Timbuktu: Building an Intellectual Bridge Across Time and Space”
Tim Cleaveland, University of Georgia

John Owen Hunwick began his study of the history of Islamic West Africa accidentally, after several years as a student and teacher of the Arabic language. As a teacher at the University of Ibadan in 1960, people brought him old Arabic manuscripts to translate, thus drawing him into the study of history. His translation of historic texts drew his attention to Timbuktu, the historic center of Islamic scholarship in West Africa. In this intellectual oasis of Muslim scholarship, no scholar was more revered than Ahmad Baba al-Timbukti, who became the subject of John’s first published essay in 1964. Over the next four decades John maintained his scholarly interest in Timbuktu and Ahmad Baba, dedicating his career to the preservation and publication of West African historical texts. In addition to translating and analyzing texts, he was also the force behind the creation of academic institutions in Ibadan, Timbuktu and Evanston focused on Islamic literature and history. John pioneered the publication of scholarly journals and books focused on the recovery, preservation and publication of historical sources written in Islamic West Africa. In doing so, John Hunwick built an intellectual bridge between the present and the past, and between the West and West Africa.

“John Hunwick, Editor and Publisher”
Knut Vikør, University of Bergen

In 1990, a new journal called ”Sudanic Africa” saw the light of day. It was the result of an initiative by John Hunwick to create a forum for presenting and discussing historical source material from the Sudanic Belt, Senegal to Somalia. It followed a longer tradition of publications to promote such ”non-literary” material from the region, to further undermine the assumption that Africa lacked locally produced historical sources. The journal was published regularly until professor Hunwick’s retirement in the mid-2000s in sixteen book-length volumes, before being carried on inside a new journal, Islamic Africa, that had a wider specter of disciplines. This paper presents the experiences of the Sudanic Africa journal, and highlights John Hunwick’s contribution to promote exemplary sources and biographical material, as well as the importance of having a regular forum for a network of younger and older authors in the field.

Panel II. John O. Hunwick’s Legacy: The Place of Sharīʿā in Songhay in African History

Chair: Charles Stewart, Northwestern University and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Discussant : Ghislaine Lydon, University of California, Los Angeles

Some thirty years ago, John Hunwick published arguably his most important work Sharīʿā in Songhay : The Replies of al-Maghīlī to the Questions of Askia al-ḥājj Muḥammad. Based on his SOAS dissertation, this was an annotated translation and examination of a foundational legal text written by a controversial legal scholar from Tlemcen (Algeria), who had instigated a violent pogrom again Jews in the Saharan oasis town of Tamentit, prior to traveling to Songhay in the 1490s. It was written as a series of replies to questions posed to him by the Askia Muḥammad about the rights, obligations and limits of his authority as a Muslim leader. At the same time, it was an exercise bent on his legitimizing power after the recent creation of a post-Sunni dynasty. Michael Gomez evaluates the historical value of the “Replies” in light of its political agenda. Bruce Hall provides a new reading discussing the reliance on Islamic discourse to buttress Songhay sovereignty. Zachary Wright finds eighteenth-century resonance of such Islamic “orthodoxy” in the revivalist Tariqa Muḥammadiya, and the intellectual discourse of its leaders in Africa and beyond. Finally, Lansiné Kaba provides a critical evaluation of Hunwick’s work within Songhay historiography.

“John Hunwick’s Sharī’a in Songhay: Pursuing the Implications”
Michael Gomez, New York University

The 1985 publication of Sharī’a in Songhay: The Replies of al-Maghīlī to the Questions of Askia al-ḥājj Muḥammad, was a pivotal moment in the historiographies of West Africa and Islamic studies. Hunwick’s wonderful translation opened critical vistas into the ways in which Islam was beginning to insinuate itself at the dawn of a novel dispensation in West Africa, the new Askia regime. As such, the Replies has as one of its principle concerns the transition from the preceding Sunni dynasty, serving as a mechanism of legitimization for the coup d’état led by the Tondi-farma Muḥammad, while facilitating the appropriation of material goods amassed under Sunni ‘Alī. But the stabilization of the Askias was not al-Maghīlī’s sole agenda or interest, as the Replies meanders into such areas as the bona fides of certain scholars, the circumstances under which Askia al-ḥājj Muḥammad could attack other Muslim polities, and what constitutes an acceptable pursuit of Islam. Throughout much of the exchange, slavery features prominently. This paper is a meditation, in many ways speculative, as to which communities the Replies may allude to with respect to slavery, the practice of Islam, and questionable scholarly credentials, and why. As such, the paper seeks to test the extent to which the Replies can be accessed as a document of history, as opposed to a historical document.

“Religious authority and symbolic power in Shari`a in Songhay, a re-reading”
Bruce Hall, Duke University

Despite advances in archaeological, historical, and anthropological literature on the development of social and political complexity in Africa, the historiography of pre-colonial states in Sahelian West Africa, and of the role of Islam in these political formations, retains an attachment to a particular model of statehood derived from Arabic geographies and chronicles. This model emphasizes the role of military power in state formation, and makes much of the largely ambivalent relationship between Islam and indigenous forms of authority reported in some of the Arabic sources. In John Hunwick’s Shari`a in Songhay (1984), he translated and analyzed one of the foundational texts for Muslim statecraft in West Africa, al-Maghili’s replies to the questions of Askia Muhammad written in 1498. Hunwick’s interpretation of this work, which remained very close to the text itself, has been very influential, confirming the defining synthesis of Nehemia Levtzion who had proposed a model of trade and statecraft in the Sahel with separate Muslim and indigenous spheres, most clearly manifested in the separate Muslim and royal towns thought to have marked the capitals of early empires like Ancient Ghana and Songhay (Gao). My paper offers a re-reading of Hunwick’s Shari`a in Songhay which emphasizes the rhetorical strategies of sovereign power in imperial Songhay by focusing on some of the ways in which Islamic authority was claimed and contested by its rulers. I argue that Songhay rulers claimed a religious authority that far outstripped their coercive power, and that this claim was made in quite explicit terms. Instead of an ambivalent relationship between the Muslim religious estate and secular power, Islamic religious authority was the principal basis of Songhay rulers’ claims to extensive power.

“Africa and Islamic Revival in the 18th Century: African Muslim Scholars of the Tariqa Muhammadiyya”
Zachary Wright, Northwestern University in Qatar

John Hunwick’s groundbreaking work excavating the rich Islamic scholarly traditions of West Africa demonstrated the fruitful participation of African Muslim scholars in global networks of intellectual exchange. Often Hunwick’s narrative was prone to the familiar story of Arabs like al-Maghili bringing an alleged Islamic “orthodoxy” to the supposedly heterodox Muslims of black Africa. But Hunwick’s study of African scholars such as Salih al-Fulani, who studied and taught in Arabia in the eighteenth century, illuminated the situation of black Muslim scholars at the core of Islamic intellectual exchange. Increased Islamic scholarly activism in the eighteenth century, resulting in the formation of numerous African “Jihad” states, referenced a global Tariqa Muhammadiyya revivalist movement even as they responded to local concerns about religious orthodoxy, enslavement, and perceived social disorder. The Tariqa Muhammadiyya articulated a reformist-activist Sufi affiliation, a direct connection to the enduring spiritual reality of the Prophet Muhammad, and a revival of legal reasoning (ijtihad). Intellectuals included the likes of Shah Wali Allah (India), Muhammad Hayat al-Sindi (Arabia), Muhammad al-Hifnawi (Egypt), Muhammad al-Samman (Arabia), and Ahmad al-Tijani (Maghreb). Long thought rooted almost exclusively in the Hijaz and India, African Muslim scholars in fact played formative roles in this eighteenth-century Islamic revival.

“John Hunwick’s contribution to Songhay History”
Lansiné Kaba, Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar

A keen observer of Songhay History, and excellent Arabicist, John Hunwick’s curiosity and analysis stopped short of raising grand questions à “la Braudel”, or “Marc Bloch.” The scope of this scholarship, coupled with his quality translation of such valuable texts gave John Hunwick a stellar place among Africanists. Jean Rouch captivated the imagination of generations of French and African readers with his passion-filled “Contribution à l’histoire des Songhay” that denounced Islam and the Askiya regime! Then in the 1980’s, Sékéné Mody Cissoko coined the term of “Songhay épanouissement” to refute what appeared as an Islamophobic expression in Rouch’s analysis and to apply to the deeds of the same islam-oriented Askiya dynasty! And Saad’s “Timbuktu” cleverly used the Arabic texts to discuss the nature of Songhay’s intelligentsia. Hunwick’s scholarship, on the other hand, exemplified a detached and dispassionate approach that lacked what is called in French “le souffle historique, nationaliste ou conservateur.” Stilll, he excelled in that which he chose to devote his life. We will forever remain grateful to his energy for guiding the future generations of Western Sudanic historians and for enriching our knowledge of the Middle Niger River basin region, a pivotal area that witnessed an interesting history before the advent of the Atlantic slave trade and European domination.

Panel III John O. Hunwick’s Legacy: Slavery and African Diasporas

Chair : Ghislaine Lydon, University of California, Los Angeles

Discussant : Bruce Hall, Duke University

The study of slavery among Muslim societies and Arabic documentation informing it, is an area that occupied much of John O. Hunwick’s thinking and publications. His African Diasporas in the Mediterranean Lands of Islam, co-written with Eve Troutt-Powell, is a landmark resource for examining the Islamic legal sources and the Saharan and trans-Saharan predicaments of slavery in Africa. This panel is composed of four historians who engage with Hunwick’s legacy, and it is chaired and discussed by two scholars of West African slavery and history. Paul Lovejoy provides a new reading of the Kano Chronicle, which validates Hunwicks earlier conclusions about its authorship by a royal Hausa slave. Ann McDougall draws on Hunwick’s publications to discuss the question of translation of Arabic texts, including the Replies of Al-Maghīlī and Aḥmad Bābā’s famed fatwa. Chouki El Hamel weighs Islamic precept and practice on the question of the integration of slaves, as illustrated by Shaykh Ma’ al-Aynayn’s family history. Finally, Ahmad Sikainga explores further the question of the predicament of race in representations of the enslaved in the works of prominent Saudi and Gulf writers.

“Dan Rimi Barka, Royal Slavery, and the Writing of the Kano Chronicle”
Paul Lovejoy, York University

As John Hunwick recognized, the Kano Chronicle was authored in the late 1880s by a single individual. It was not a compilation of traditions that were periodically updated, as previously thought. That single individual was a royal slave in the palace of Kano, Dan Rimi Barka, whose son, Nuhu, updated his father’s text, probably in Hausa, although the only surviving version is in English and is known as “Notes on the History of Kano,” which C.L. Temple used in his efforts to resolve political crisis in Kano in 1909 around the appointment of a slave official to the position of Waziri of Kano, which could only be awarded to a free person, not a slave, and which in fact was not even a traditional title in the governance of Kano. The crisis of the Waziri inadvertently provides evidence to the identity of the author of the Kano Chronicle, which has previously escaped attention in its definition as an historical compilation of oral tradition.

“‘The Replies’: al-Maghili, Ahmad Baba, John Hunwick and Slavery in 15th – 16th Century West Africa”
Ann McDougall, University of Alberta

John Hunwick asked provocative questions; he very much enjoyed the discussions and debates he inevitably set in motion. Equally, he took seriously the responsibility to make Arabic texts critical to these discussions and debates, available to Anglophone scholars. Translation and annotation is not merely a ‘service’. Although Hunwick demurred that he refrained from critical analysis of texts in order to stimulate discussion, his imprint on how slavery has been approached in Islamic North and West Africa is unmistakable. In 2002, with Eve Trout-Powell, he framed an important collection of texts with a series of questions engaging with controversial aspects of the subject in the context of the 19th C. Mediterranean: what role did Islamic law play in shaping slavery? What role did racism play in constraining or exacerbating aspects of that law? Why do we not ‘see’ slavery and its legacies in Islamic societies in the same way we do elsewhere? How significant were women in both the trade and institution, given that they alone could as slaves, produce ‘free’ offspring? This paper, drawing on his translations of al-Maghili’s and Ahmad Baba’s Replies, will engage with these questions as they play out in the late 15th-16th century West Africa.

“Enslaved ‘Black’ West Africans in the Moroccan Sahara in the 20th Century”
Chouki El Hamel, Arizona State University

This paper is inspired by John Hunwick’s research on slavery and African internal diasporas. It examines a case study of the slaves in Shaykh Ma’ al-Aynayn’s family. Ma’ al-Aynayn was born around 1830, in present-day Mauritania and moved with a large number of slaves in early 1890s to live in the south of Morocco. When he died in 1910 he was a famous religious scholar and anti-colonial leader. I intend to define the concept of integration of slaves in the family. How is the role of slaves manifested in the development or construction of a leading family in the south of Morocco? In what circumstances was integration understood as a source of social mobility? What kind of integration afforded individuals a special access to power, places and institutions? What are the limitations and how the old servile subordination of the blacks was transformed into a form of clientship to the former masters. This political and social clientship is well illustrated and apparent in today’s living arrangements and election for municipalities and parliament. I will attempt to deconstruct this familiar concept of slavery by focusing on the slave-master relationship as represented in interviews with the grandchildren of slaves who belonged to Shaykh Ma’ al-Aynayn’s family.

“The Representation of Slavery in Literature and Popular Culture in Arabia and the Gulf”
Ahmad A. Sikainga, Ohio University of Ohio

This paper explores the representation of slavery in literature, rituals, and other forms of artistic expression in Arabia and the Gulf. Despite the long history of enslavement in Arabia, there has been a remarkable silence on the subject. This is due in part to the fact that slavery evokes a sense of guilt among the slave owners and a feeling of shame among the slaves and their descendants, who want to shed their servile past and assert their equality. Nonetheless, the experiences of enslavement have been maintained in various forms of artistic expressions such as music, dance as well as religious rituals that have their roots in Africa. These include various strands of the spirit possession which were practiced in various parts of the Gulf. Moreover, the legacy of slavery and the status of former slaves and their descendants have been the subject of several novels by some prominent Saudi and Gulf writers. In addition to underscoring the importance of literature and popular culture in understanding the history of slavery, these works provide significant insights into the psychological impact of enslavement and marginalization.

Panel IV John O. Hunwick’s Legacy: The Next Generation—Saharan Studies Association

Chair : Jeremy Dell, University of Pennsylvania

This fourth and last panel showcases the contributions of young scholars who engage with John Hunwick’s scholarship. It is composed of three graduate students, a recent degree holder, and an emeritus and distinguished scholar. The presenters represent the next generation of historians who are building upon Hunwick’s insights in three distinct areas : the study of African Jewish communities (building on Hunwick’s pioneering work on Saharan Jews) ; the history of West African diasporas, in this case pilgrims and their communities in the Republic of Sudan and Egypt ; and Muslim political and racial discourse on slavery as illustrated in the history of the Saifawa rulers and scholars of Borno.

“Jews of a Saharan Imagination: Reversing the Historical Oversight of Jewish Communities in West Africa”
Janice Levi, University of California, Los Angeles
Ahmad A. Sikainga, Ohio University of Ohio

(Re)emerging Jewish communities in West Africa are presently relying on oral narratives and embodied memories to understand a believed Jewish past. For the House of Israel in Ghana, their faith identity is tethered to an imagined Jewish past that stretches north to the Sahara and east to Israel. Although many corroborate a history that originated in Côte D’Ivoire and Mali, there is dissension when it comes to historicizing their past prior to those locations. Without written record and divergences in the oral narrative, their belonging to the Jewish community traced through genealogical lineage becomes imagined. In excavating the materials available from the Muslim authored manuscripts of the medieval era to the European encounter in the early modern era, these imaginations are becoming realized with a documented Jewish past. Critical to these written contributions is the work of John Hunwick whose translations and scholarship provide detailed evidence of a Jewish presence in West Africa, but also reveals the conditions in which these Jews lived. This documentation challenges master narratives that attempt to eliminate the authenticity and the very existence of these communities who claim a Jewish history in Africa south of the Sahara.

“A Trail of Scented Salaams: Migrating and Settling along the Tarīq-al-Sūdān (19th and 20th c.)”
Madina Thiam, University of California, Los Angeles

Borrowing from John O. Hunwick’s translations of Ahmed Bābā’s words, I call trail of “scented salaams” the Tarīq-al-Sūdān, or Sudan Road, a major axis crossing the Sahel from West to East. The Tarīq-al-Sūdān is a pilgrimage route, used by West African Muslims performing the hajj to Mecca and Medina. Many settled along the way, resulting in the formation of a considerable West African diaspora in the modern-day Republic of Sudan. Gazing eastwards from Kano to Khartoum, or Bamako to Cairo – Egypt is included as the main periphery of the Tarīq-al-Sūdān – this study examines the role of the Sudan Road in shaping Islamic thought and political movements in the 19th and 20th centuries Sahel. It explores the religious, political, and labor migrations that shaped and reinforced each other on the Tarīq-al-Sūdān. These migrations revolved around the practice of the hajj. As pilgrims traveled and settled along this trail, they carried with them names, ideas, and practices, which now connect the Western and Eastern Sahel.

“Sons of Himyar, Quraysh and Saints. Race, Slavery and Islamic Legitimacy in the Borno Sultanate (13th-17th centuries)”
Rémi Dewière, Institut des mondes africains

By claiming a Yemeni origin, the Sefuwa sultans of Kanem (actual Chad) and then Borno (Nigeria) aimed to be recognized as a “white people to the south of the Sūdān,” meaning a Semitic people among Hamitic people. By doing so, the Sefuwa claimed Jewish legends for themselves through Arabic literature (Hunwick, 2006: 79). Used at a local and a transregional level, Islamic classification of races was both a juridical protection against slavery and a justification of its practice by the political elites of Kanem and Borno in a context of the increasing of trans-Saharan slave trade economy. Genealogy was also one of the tools that Sefuwa dynasty mobilized in order to strengthen their Islamic legitimation between the 13th and the 17th centuries. During the medieval and early modern period, genealogy, sainthood and miracles have been employed to legitimize the sultan’s power among Muslims in the lake Chad basin in the context of a dynamic of competition among political and regional powers. This paper aims to show how the Islamic legitimacy of the Borno sultans changed over the centuries, following the evolutions of religious practices in the area, and the role played by the ‘ulamā’ or Muslim scholars in the process.

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