List of panels
Administrative and legal documentation in pre-colonial Africa and beyond
Date and Start Time 27 June, 2013 at 11:30
Specialists of various scholarly traditions are invited to reflect on the question of production, transmission and preservation of administrative and legal documentation in pre-colonial Africa.
Specialists of various scholarly traditions are invited to reflect on the question of production, transmission and preservation of administrative and legal documentation in pre-colonial Africa. The aim of this panel is to foster dialogue between scholars working on non-narrative sources, whether land charters, weddings contracts, deeds, funerary inscriptions or other archival materials. Presentations of methodological issues rather than case-studies would facilitate a comparative approach leading to a renewed understanding of the social organizations that produced these documents. Practices of writing, history of local and state administration, and prosopography are among the particular themes organizing this interdisciplinary dialogue. Colleagues working in different regions of Africa and on Muslim, Christian or Jewish sources will share their methods with a Western Medievalist. While often required in Medieval studies, a comparative approach within Africa is long overdue. This panel ambitions to build bridges between well-known methods for the critical study of legal documents, called diplomatic, and sources produced in the African context that would benefit from such a methodology. Experiences about the critical edition of such sources would be a relevant contribution to this panel.
Chair: Anaïs Wion
Discussant: Sébastien Barret
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
La correspondance administrative du Grand Maître de la confrérie saharienne Sanusiyya : l'exemple de 7 lettres (1898-1901)
Analyse de 7 lettres en arabe envoyées par le chef d’une grande confrérie religieuse, la Sanusiyya, basée en Libye, à son représentant près du lac Tchad entre 1898 et 1901: forme et style des correspondances, nature des instructions. Cette confrérie administre un vaste réseau à travers le Sahara.
La confrérie Sanusiyya, basée dans l'est de la Libye, a été fondée par Muhammad al-Sanusi (1787-1859). Elle a rayonné à travers le Sahara grâce à un réseau de zawiya, lieux d'enseignement et d'accueil, dans une zone traversée par des pistes commerciales reliant la côte méditerranéenne aux pays du Tchad. Pacifique à ses débuts, la Sanusiyya fut victime de l'expansion européenne et devint une organisation politico-militaire.
Nous présentons 7 lettres, datées de 1315 H. /1898 à 1319 H/1901, adressées par Muhammad al-Mahdi, fils et successeur du fondateur (1859 à 1902), à al-Barrani, shaikh de la zawiya de Bir Alali, proche du lac Tchad. Ces lettres correspondent à un moment de transition entre la période pacifique de la confrérie et l'organisation de sa défense face aux menaces européennes. Elles montrent le fonctionnement d'une « administration sanusi », non étatique et trans-régionale. Nous nous intéresserons à la structure de ces documents : cachets, en-têtes, ordre et position des parties, titulatures, et à la nature des instructions envoyées par le « centre » à son représentant. Nous parlerons de la manière dont ces lettres ont été conservées : saisies après la prise de la zawiya par les troupes françaises en 1902, leurs originaux ont été déposés aux archives, où elles ont été longtemps exclues de consultation. Nous avons publié le corpus complet (38 lettres entre différents acteurs de la région) en 1987. Les lettres retenues dans cette présentation portent les nos 1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 12 et 19 de cette série.
How non-narrative are administrative documents? Reflections on a nineteenth-century family archive from west Africa
The paper examines the genres found in a 19th c. African archive. It poses two questions relating to the ways in which Africans organised written material: Is ‘administrative’ documentation always non-narrative, and is it not possible for ‘narrative’ documentation to serve an administrative purpose?
In a pioneering review of non-narrative sources available to historians of pre-colonial Africa, Marion Johnson (1987) singled out seven genres: [financial/commercial] accounts, dictionaries / word-lists, maps / itineraries, statistics, climate data, population figures and external statistics (mainly commercial). These had in common that they were not written in "continuous prose (or verse)".They did not, for instance, include letters. Johnson showed that such sources had been underused due to historians' predilection for sources which tell a story, but also to the real problems that non-narrative sources pose.
To tackle such problems, it makes sense to deal with them separately. One wonders, however, whether the distinction between narrative and non-narrative documentation was one that the inhabitants of precolonial Africa would have recognised. I will examine a nineteenth-century family archive from the coast of what is now Togo (Jones & Sebald 2005). In a broad sense this can be viewed as administrative documentation, since the archive was assembled - in part for 'political' purposes - by a family whose members held themselves to be the ruling lineage, albeit of a very small kingdom. It will be shown that while correspondence - mainly with Europeans - accounts for at least 90 per cent of the documents, the corpus switches from one genre to another in a manner which Europeans would have found confusing. The letters are interspersed with genealogies, commercial / financial ledgers, judicial records, minutes of meetings, lists of kings or "war generals and notables" and lists of events.
Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir's Risāla fī ẓuhūr al-khaliīfa al-thānī 'ashar: construction of legitimization in the Masina Caliphate (1818-62)
A letter addressed to different “kings” and “tribes” written by Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir sheds light on the Ta’rīkh al-Fattāsh. Between narrative and non-narrative sources, this paper analyses the process of construction of political legitimization of the West African Caliphate of Masina (1818-62).
Most of the historical knowledge on pre-colonial West African history is based on the famous Timbuktu chronicles known as the Ta'rīkh al-Fattāsh (Houdas & Delafosse 1913-14). According to the scholars, the chronicle has a complex history of its own, characterized by a number of layers of writing and forgeries (Brun 1914; Hunwick 1967; Levtzion 1971; Ly 1972; Hunwick 1992). However, all the researches devoted to the Ta'rīkh al-Fattāsh neglect a crucial document that sheds light on the process of writing of the chronicle.
It is a letter sent by the Fulani scholar Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir who, in the early 19th century, manipulated the chronicle in order to provide political and spiritual legitimation to the newly established Caliphate of Masina (1818-62). The letter, addressed to different Muslim "kings" and "tribes", sheds light on a crucial phase in the process of writing of Ta'rīkh al-Fattāsh, linking the chronicle to the events of the 19th century - instead of those of the 15th-16th as usually perceived by the scholars.
This paper analyses Nūḥ b. al-Ṭāhir's letter, extant in multiple copies in African and European manuscript collections. The study of this important document leads to a radical re-thinking of the chronicle itself, its authorship, its date, its title, as well as in solving all the contradiction that characterize the edited version of the Ta'rīkh al-Fattāsh. Furthermore, a combined reading of the letter and the chronicle allows scholars in understanding a peculiar propaganda which provides a good example of construction of political legitimization in pre-colonial Africa.
"Traditional" medieval diplomatics and non-European documentation: chances for a dialogue
This paper aims at reflecting on how traditional diplomatics, which is mostly directed towards the Christian West, can share and exchange thoughts and methods with the emerging studies on non-European, non-Christian and non-medieval documentation
Since the 17th Century, historians of medieval Europe have relied on diplomatics for the critical study of the written documentation they use. It has created an array of methods and conceptions which (hopefully) allows us to understand the documents, to uncover falsifications, and more generally to use the written inheritance of the past with a better perception of its juridical, social and cultural context. The very history of diplomatics explain why it has considered, above all, Christian Europe and the Middle Ages, although there have been successful attempts towards modern history, medieval Japan, Byzantium and other historical, linguistic or cultural areas. Currently, scholars of Hebrew, Arabic or African documents and others are developing concepts and methods for the analysis of their documentation.
This paper aims at reflecting on how these research fields and the somewhat more established field of medieval diplomatics can interact and share their tools, methodology and solutions - a good opportunity for that is given by the fact that, simultaneously, the dramatic impact of the so-called "Digital Revolution" on archival sciences leads to new reflections on the nature of the written document, giving yet other tools to think with. Such an interaction should be understood as a dialogue, and not as a single-directed attempt at transferring all or some of the methods of medieval diplomatics towards new objects - even if being given by a medievalist, this paper will have to start from the point of view of his own scholarly traditions.
Medieval Nubia: documentary evidence and the production of power
The Old Nubian legal documents, correspondence and accounts from the medieval site of Qasr Ibrim introduce us to the production of power in Christian Nubia.
My recent study, Medieval Nubia: A Social and Economic History, analyzes the published documents in Old Nubian from Qasr Ibrim, a central site in northern Nubia. My forthcoming work publishes editions and translations of further unpublished Old Nubian documentary archives from the same site. Together, the published and unpublished material reveals much about the administrative and legal practices of this understudied civilization of medieval Africa. The land sales give direct glimpses at the activity of the eparch of Nobadia, the region's highest political official, who was active in the region's private land market. Other office-holders named in these texts shed light on the rise and fall of various factions in Nubian politics. The accounts suggest the existence of a cash economy and a gold to silver exchange rate identical to that of Muslim Egypt. The personal correspondence hints at power struggles between Nubia's center and its periphery. In short, documentary production in medieval Nubia was neither economically nor politically neutral. Nubia's elite needed its documentary evidence to construct its power.
Reconstruire un certificat de décès d'Egypte ayyubide
On montrera ici par quelles méthodes on est parvenu à
a. classer et dater un document très fragmentaire de type administratif - un certificat de décès d'Egypte ayyubide - trouvé à Quseir al-qadim,
b. reconstituer partiellement son texte à partir de 2 fragments grâce à plusieurs types de puzzle.
Après les fouilles menées par une équipe d'archéologues de Chicago dans les années 90, à Quseir al-qadim (QAQ), un mouillage sur la mer Rouge, côté égyptien, une nouvelle vague de documents en arabe a été mise à jour par cinq campagnes de fouilles anglaises (1999-2003). Ces documents en arabe sur papier, souvent fragmentaires, croisés avec les autres données fournies par le site et divers artefacts, ont permis de se faire une meilleure idée de l'activité de QAQ qui a connu une période de pointe à la fin de l'époque ayyoubide.
Parmi eux se trouve un document administratif de type certificat de décès.
Son identification ainsi que sa datation ont nécessité un détour méthodologique par des documents de la Geniza de la même époque. Le type du document a, en outre, pu être confirmé à travers la reconstitution d'une partie de son texte, rendue possible grâce à deux autres fragments lui appartenant.
L'édition du texte a fait l'objet d'une première publication, dont l'objectif était une meilleure connaissance du fonctionnement de l'institution, proche du Trésor, chargée des biens intestats en Egypte ("A Late Ayyubid Report of Death Found at Quseir al-Qadim (Egypt)", dans : P.M. Sijpesteijn, *Documents and the History of the Early Islamic World. Proceedings of the Third international conference of the International Society for Arabic Papyrology (ISAP), Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria (Egypt), 23-26.3.2006,* Leyde, Brill, 2013). C'est sur les aspects méthodologiques que l'on insistera ici.
"We rode the boundaries of the land": reflections on the changing control over land and the uses of land documents in Dar Fur sultanate (Sudan), 1785-1875
In DarFur, oral informants could often explicate sultanic land grants, court cases and administrative letters, and show that documents recorded the outcomes of long power struggles over land. The state gradually expanded its power, creating a new land-holding elite in the process.
Recent work on medieval Ethiopia suggests that individual land documents existed in multiple versions, undergoing both a bureaucratic process of creation, polishing and reworking from rough draft to final form but also substantial transformations of the very nature and the extent of the rights granted over land. Others have also seen struggles over land as long processes, rather than as a single event captured in a definitive document. This has added to the growing literature on Sudanic empires and the complex process of state formation.
For the study of the hakura system in Dar Fur, a rare combination of eighteenth and nineteenth century land documents in Arabic and the memories of oral informants provided a good look into the past.
While the documents include sultanic land grants, court cases and administrative letters, informants could often explicate the documents, identify the people mentioned in them, and show that documents recorded not undisputed facts but the outcomes of multi-generational power struggles over the land.
During site visits, informants indicated key features of the land in question. With this broader set of information, the texts could be placed in the contexts of sultanic strategies, ethnic conflicts, personal agency, commercial development and climatic variation as evidence of and tools in much larger struggles over land.
Such rich contextual evidence suggests that not only were land documents generated in an administrative process, but the state gradually expanded its power in a series of struggles over land, creating a new land-holding elite in the process.
Is the "diplomatic formulary" relevant to understand Ethiopian medieval and modern charters?
The Ethiopian Christian kingdom has produced and preserved numerous land charters and other legal and administrative documents (12th until 19th c.). I analyze this documentation using the study of the “formulary”, i.e. of each of the formulas employed in the structure of a legal text document.
The Ethiopian Christian kingdom has produced and preserved numerous land charters and other legal and administrative documents (12th until 19th c.). I analyze this documentation using the classical methods of medievalist diplomatic. One of these methods is the study of the "formulary", i.e. of each of the formulas employed in the structure of a legal text document.
The first step of this study was to define the relevant fields and to find the good balance between being precise enough in order to select relevant pieces of text, but not too specific in order to let the reality of the Ethiopian texts impose itself. A set of seven "formulas" have been selected: invocation; subscription (which nominates and explicits its author and his legitimacy); motivation (the reasons for the act to be written); provision (what is the content of the act itself, its beneficiaries); list of persons (list of names usually considered as a corroboration and/or a dating system); clauses and sanctions.
This contribution will present :
- how this method has been employed on a coherent corpus (the Golden Gospel of Aksum Seyon) using the tools of the TEI-XML encoding standard
- how it appears to be relevant and what are the results in term in historical analysis
- what are the limits of this exercise or/and how it can be experimented further
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.