There is not one African indigenous religion (AIR); rather, there are many, and they diverge widely. As a group, AIRs are quite different from the scriptural religions the world is more familiar with, since what is central to AIRs is neither belief nor faith, but ritual. Exemplifying an “imagistic” form of religiosity, these religions have no sacred books or writings and are learned by doing, by participation and experience, rather than by instruction and teaching. Belonging to specific local ethnic groups, they are deeply embedded in and informed by the various ecologies of foragers, pastoralists, and horticulturalists—as they are also by the social structures of these societies: they “dwell” in their cultures. These are religions of the living, not so much preparing for afterlife as geared toward meeting the challenges of everyday life, illness and misfortune, mourning and comforting—but also toward feasting, life, fertility, and togetherness, even in death. Quiet rituals of the family contrast with exuberant public celebrations when new adults re-enter the village after an arduous initiation; intricate ritual attention to the all-important crops may include tense rites to procure much needed rains. The range of rituals is wide and all-encompassing. In AIRs, the dead and the living are close, either as ancestors or as other representatives of the other world. Accompanied by spirits of all kinds, both good and bad, harmful and nurturing, existence is full of ambivalence. Various channels are open for communication with the invisible world, from prayer to trance, and from dreams to revelations, but throughout it is divination in its manifold forms that offers a window on the deeper layers of reality. Stories about the other world abound, and many myths and legends are never far removed from basic folktales. These stories do not so much explain the world as they entertainingly teach about the deep humanity that AIRs share and cherish.
African Indigenous Religions
Walter E.A. van Beek
African Religion and Healing in the Atlantic Diaspora
John M. Janzen
Religion and healing are useful scholarly constructs in summarizing, consolidating, and interpreting a myriad of details from the historic African-Atlantic experience. For heuristic purposes, religion is understood as the worldviews, rituals, and supernatural beings that represent ultimate reality; healing is the understanding of, and responses to, affliction and misfortune, and the struggle to achieve wholeness. Combining religion and healing in an overview of the African diaspora experience will consider the following: original African worlds in four regional contexts in Western and Western Central Africa (e.g., Senegambia, Upper Guinea, Southern Guinea, Kongo-Angola); the traumatic middle passage refracted in the “broken mirrors” of memory; how this memory is mixed and reinterpreted with the New World experience of slave markets, plantations, maroon settlements, and during post-slavery, post-empire times; scholarly models of continuity and transformation; and modern constructions of religion and healing.
The mid-19th century was an era when the French colonial administration was consolidating its control over colonies in French West Africa. Having witnessed armed resistance movements from non-Muslim and Muslim leaders in the region, the French administration was suspicious of popular leaders who did not support the colonial agenda. Some were killed, and others were arrested, exiled, or put under house arrest in order to destroy their movements. Ahmadu Bamba (1853–1927) was one of the Muslim leaders the French administration regarded as a threat to colonial rule. Because he did not share the position of local Muslim leaders who allied with the Wolof ruling nobility whom he regarded as unjust, Bamba founded a new Sufi movement that sought to provide the masses with an ethics-centered Islamic education. His conflict with the Muslim leaders and Wolof aristocratic rulers exacerbated his tension with French administrators who saw him as an imminent threat. As a result, Bamba was arrested and exiled in Gabon (1895–1902) and Mauritania (1903–1907) and was kept under house arrest in Ceyeen-Jolof (1907–1912) and Diourbel (1912–1927). The exiles and arrests, which were designed to destroy his movement, did not work as his Murīdiyya order has become one of Senegal’s most culturally, economically, and politically powerful movements, with committed members spread around the world. His legacy endures. He was a prolific writer and has left an impressive corpus of Arabic texts that continue to guide his followers around the world. His senior disciples, who translated his ethos to the broader Wolof audiences using Wolofal or Wolof ʿAjamī (Wolof written with the Arabic script), have also left a rich corpus of primary sources that capture the history, traditions, and doctrine of the Murīdiyya from Murīd perspectives. Unfortunately, these sources remain largely inaccessible to academics.
Boko Haram: History and Context
Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, better known as “Boko Haram,” is the most violent phenomenon of the Nigerian Fourth Republic. It is responsible not only for a regional food crisis that has devolved into famine in some areas, but also the displacement of millions and the deaths of tens of thousands of people. The insurgency in Nigeria began as a dissident religious sect’s venting of local grievances in Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern Borno State. The movement was founded at the turn of the century by Mohammed Yusuf, a Salafist preacher notorious for his rejection of Western education and government employment. Boko Haram only gained significant international attention in the aftermath of the 2014 abduction of more than 270 schoolgirls from their dormitory in the remote town of Chibok, but the group did not always employ such deplorable tactics. Although policymakers in capitals the world over have been eager to emphasize the group’s connections to international terrorist groups, the movement is localized and often more akin to an African insurgency than to a prototypical terrorist organization. The group’s initial years were characterized by relatively benign activities like the provision of social services, punctuated by occasional bouts of criminality that, over time, escalated into a series of targeted assassinations that provoked federal government response. A series of violent actions ultimately transformed Boko Haram from a largely nonviolent fundamentalist religious movement into the lethal and resilient force it is today, known internationally for its brutality: notably, the group’s interactions with the Nigerian security sector, categorized by indiscriminate state violence; leadership changes within the insurgency’s ranks that elevated Abubakar Shekau following Mohammed Yusuf’s execution; and regional trends in weapons flows and ideological currents.
Christian History and Historiography
Christian presence in Africa has a long and varied history. African congregations represented some of the world’s earliest churches, with lively Coptic and Orthodox communities in both North Africa and present-day Ethiopia. But wide-scale Christian expansion truly began during the proselytization efforts of the 19th-century missionary movement. Success in gaining converts was initially limited, a fact not aided by the perceived ties of missionaries to Western colonial powers. But through the translation and intermediation of a dedicated strata of African evangelists, proselytizers, and preachers, Christianity rapidly became one of the continent’s most popular faiths. The independent church movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries exemplified the determination of Christians across the continent to make the faith a local religion: throwing off white missionary control, thousands of Africans formed their own independent churches that experimented with new modes of Protestant Holiness theology. Transnational links have always been key to the development of Christianity in Africa, with connections to North American African American churches sustaining many of these independent churches. More recently, international networks have also influenced the large charismatic revivals that swept the continent from the 1970s onward. Inspired by itinerant evangelists from both North America and Europe, Africans have formed new churches that stress the “Prosperity Gospel,” deliverance from witchcraft, and the equation of “modernity” with Christianity. Underlying many of these diverse developments has been an ongoing debate regarding the intrinsically African qualities of Christianity: scholars continue to wrestle with understanding the extent and nature of indigenous versus exogenous elements that go into making Christianity—along with Islam—one of the most widely practiced religions on the African continent.
Christianity and Abolition in Africa
Efforts to mitigate slavery in Africa were multidimensional. Many drew upon Christian discourses and institutions, yet fully assessing Christian antislavery in Africa raises complex moral and historical questions. Christian abolitionism inspired missionaries throughout Africa and the diaspora, helped generate support for Christian missions, advanced global treaties that made slavery illegal, and profoundly shaped 20th- and 21st-century African Christianity, including through the evangelization of slaves, some of whom became famous abolitionists themselves. Antislavery appealed to humanitarian instincts among Christian missionaries, their benefactors, and European populations, and it undoubtedly alleviated some suffering. Notwithstanding the benevolence in such motivations, racialized paternalism was also in operation. Moreover, like slavery for export, antislavery altered African political economies, sometimes abruptly, helping some Africans and disempowering others. It also legitimated eventual colonial rule in Africa, since depictions of a vulnerable, slave-ridden continent implicitly defended European intervention as an urgent humanitarian undertaking. Europeans also applied antislavery unevenly in Africa due to their own self-interests, often, for example, delaying emancipation (legally ending all slavery) because it threatened labor systems deemed vital for colonial order and economies. Christian antislavery impulses and actions, whether to stop the slave trade or in pursuit of legal abolition, thus resist generalization and do not allow easy self-congratulation for either defenders of European colonization or Christians, African or non-African.
Christian Missions and the State in 19th and 20th Century Angola and Mozambique
Teresa Cruz e Silva
Christian missionary work in Angola and Mozambique during the colonial and postcolonial eras was shaped by a complex of factors related to religion, education, and politics. Missionaries’ networks of local support played an outstanding role in their humanitarian work, particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries. By the end of the 19th century, Catholic and Protestant missions had established themselves in Angola and Mozambique. Until 1974, Protestants had a tense relationship with the Portuguese authorities, as they were suspected of serving the political interests of some European countries against Portugal, and later of supporting African opposition to colonial domination. Unlike the Protestants, the Catholic Church enjoyed a close collaboration with the ruling regime. Under the Concordat and the Missionary Accord of 1940 and the Missionary Statute of 1941, which were agreed between the Vatican and Portugal, Catholic missions enjoyed a privileged position to the detriment of Protestants, whose activities were severely restricted. The years that followed the independences of Angola and Mozambique in 1975 were characterized by open hostility to religion, aggravated by the nationalization of missions’ assets and properties in both countries. Mission activities related to education and health became hard to carry out. With the civil wars in Angola and Mozambique, warfare and dislocation gave a new social role to the churches. Between the mid-1980s and 1990 the first signs of new policies emerged. While in Angola the relationship between church and state was marked by ambiguity and mistrust, cooperation and collaboration prevailed in Mozambique, where the 1980s saw a rapprochement and constructive dialogue between the two institutions. This was sealed by the roles both Protestants and Catholics played in the peace and democratization processes. The political opening that characterized the 1990s and 2000s brought significant changes for both countries including the presence in the public space of new churches, especially those of Pentecostal denominations. The new sociopolitical contexts in Angola and Mozambique between the late 20th and early 21st centuries shaped the new roles of the missions, which remain more focused on social, rather than political, activities.
Christian and Islamic Nubia, 543–1820
In the 6th century, after the arrival of the Christian missionaries from Constantinople, Nubia became the southernmost outpost of Byzantine culture in Africa. New religion brought new sacral iconography and literary genres based on Greek, which became the sacred language of the Nubian liturgy and hymnology. The Greco-Byzantine elements diluted in the indigenous African traditions created an original culture in the Middle Nile that preserved much of its Byzantine ideal until the fall of the Christian Kingdoms in the 14th and 15th centuries. However, at the beginning of the 11th century, Nubia witnessed the process of nationalization of its culture, which is evidenced by the proliferation of the Nubian language in official documents and visitors’ graffiti in the churches. The economy of Christian Nubia was enhanced by the high productivity of the riverine agriculture based on the widespread use of the water wheel (saagiya) and trade. Nubia played the role of intermediary in the exchange between Africa’s interior and the Mediterranean. However, the profitable trade in slaves, cattle, and gold was stripped of its benefits when the traditional north–south routes diverged from the Nile Valley, thus avoiding the Nile checkpoints where the duties in kind were levied from the caravans by the Christian rulers. The first symptoms of Nubia’s political decline appeared in the 9th century when the Arabs started to settle in the gold-bearing regions along the Nile. The fall of the Christian Kingdom of Makuria was preluded by a period of total dependence on the Mamlūk sultans of Egypt, who openly interfered in the dynastic disputes among the Nubian ruling families. The outbreak of the second plague pandemic in the mid-14th century destabilized the Nubian economy, ruined the agriculture, and forced people to turn to God and the heavenly intercessors for help. In the 15th century, Nubia reverted to its original state of political segmentation and anarchy under the rule of petty kinglets who could not prevent the subjugation of Upper Nubia to Funj Sultans and Lower Nubia to the Ottomans. The last attempt at military unification of the Middle Nile by an indigenous power was the ascendance of the Islamized Nubian tribe of the Shaiqiyya, which in the early 18th century dominated a huge part of the Middle Nile. The coming of the Mamlūk refugees from Egypt in 1811 weakened the Shaiqiyya’s supremacy. Ten years later the Middle Nile was incorporated into the Ottoman eyālet of Egypt governed by Muhammed Ali.
Copts received the Christian faith through Mark the Evangelist in ad 42. Through the first seven centuries of Greco-Roman rule, a distinctive Coptic theological stance was formed as well as its literature, art, and liturgy. Coptic monasticism shaped Coptic spirituality and influenced the universal church. With the Arab Islamic conquest in the 7th century and with its successive dynasties, followed by Ottoman, British, and French political rule, the Copts adapted to each political system. Coptic Christianity survived through all this political turmoil to the present time, emerging in the 21st century as a vibrant Coptic Christianity that is spreading throughout the world.
Disease Control and Public Health in Colonial Africa
Disease control and public health have been key aspects of social and political life in sub-Saharan Africa since time immemorial. With variations across space and time, many societies viewed disease as the result of imbalances in persons and societies and combined the use of materia medica from the natural world, spiritual divination, and community healing to redress these imbalances. While early encounters between African and European healing systems were still marked by mutual exchanges and adaptations, the emergence of European germ theory-based biomedicine and the establishment of racialized colonial states in the 19th century increasingly challenged the value of African therapeutic practices for disease control on the continent. Initially, colonial states focused on preserving the health of European soldiers, administrators, and settlers, who were deemed particularly vulnerable to tropical climate and its diseases. Around 1900, however, they started paying more attention to diseases among Africans, whose health and population growth were now deemed crucial for economic development and the legitimacy of colonial rule. Fueled by new insights and techniques provided by tropical medicine, antisleeping sickness campaigns would be among the first major interventions. After World War I, colonial health services expanded their campaigns against epidemic diseases, but also engaged with broader public health approaches that addressed reproductive problems and the social determinants of both disease and health. Colonial states were not the only providers of biomedical healthcare in colonial Africa. Missionary societies and private companies had their own health services, with particular logics, methods, and focuses. And after 1945, international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) increasingly invested in health campaigns in Africa as well. Moreover, Africans actively participated in colonial disease control, most notably as nurses, midwives, and doctors. Nevertheless, Western biomedicine never gained hegemony in colonial Africa. Many Africans tried to avoid or minimize participation in certain campaigns or continued to utilize the services of local healers and diviners, often in combination with particular biomedical approaches. To what extent colonial disease control impacted on disease incidence and demography is still controversially debated.
Encounters Between Ethiopia and Europe, 1400–1660
By the early 1400s, diplomatic representatives and pilgrims from the Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia had traveled to the Italian peninsula for political and religious reasons. In doing so, they inaugurated an era of Ethiopian–European relations that unfolded for more than 200 years: Ethiopians reached multiple locales across Latin Europe to forge political alliances, acquire technology, and pursue religious knowledge. They drew the attention of European observers, especially those with an interest in the overseas. Secular and religious personalities, but also average merchants, began their quests for the Ethiopian highlands, lured by the tales of their visitors who were believed with growing certainty to be subjects of the mythical Prester John, the imaginary Christian sovereign believed to rule the Indies. Their journeys enabled cultural exchanges, technological transfer, and the forging of one of the first Euro-African political alliances, that between the kingdoms of Ethiopia and Portugal. In the 15th century, Ethiopian pilgrims flocked to Rome, and diplomatic representatives found hospitality in the Venetian Republic and at the Aragonese and papal courts. Concurrently with Ethiopian arrivals in Europe, European adventurers and representatives began reaching Ethiopia, eventually leading to the establishing of Portuguese–Ethiopian relations. The exchanges climaxed with a Portuguese military intervention to support the Ethiopian monarchy against the sultanate of Adal in 1541. In the decades following the conflict, Jesuit missionaries began operating in the country: after a difficult inception in the 1620s, the fathers experienced ephemeral successes, followed by a dramatic expulsion that ended early modern Ethiopian–European relations.
The History of Christian Missions to Africa
Christianity came very early to Africa, as attested by the Gospels. The agencies by which it spread across North Africa and into the Kingdom of Aksum remain largely unknown. Even after the rise of Islam cut communications between sub-Saharan Africa and the churches of Rome and Constantinople, it survived in the eastern Sudan kingdom of Nubia until the 15th century and never died in Ethiopia. The documentary history of organized missions begins with the Roman Catholic monastic orders founded in the 13th century. Their evangelical work in Africa was closely bound up with Portuguese colonialism, which both helped and hindered their operations. Organized European Protestant missions date from the 18th-century evangelical awakening and were much less creatures of states. Africa was a particular object of attention for Evangelicals opposed to slavery and the slave trade. Paradoxically this gave an impetus to colonizing ventures aimed at undercutting the moral and economic foundations of slavery in Africa. Disease proved to be a deadly obstacle to European- and American-born missionaries in tropical Africa, thus spurring projects for enrolling local agents who had acquired childhood immunity. Southern Africa below the Zambezi River attracted missionaries from many parts of Europe and North America because of the absence of the most fearsome diseases. However the turbulent politics of the region complicated their work by restricting their access to organized African kingdoms and chieftaincies. The prevalent mission model until the late 19th century was a station under the direction of a single European family whose religious and educational endeavors were directed at a small number of African residents. Catholic missions acquired new energy following the French Revolution, the old Portuguese system of partnership with the state was displaced by enthusiasm for independent operations under the authority of the Pope in Rome. Several new missionary orders were founded with a particular focus on Africa. Mission publications of the 19th and 20th centuries can convey a misleading impression that the key agents in the spread of African Christianity were foreign-born white males. Not only does this neglect the work of women as wives and teachers, but it diverts attention from the Africans who were everywhere the dominant force in the spread of modern Christianity. By the turn of the 20th century, evangelism had escaped the bounds of mission stations driven by African initiative and the appearance of so-called “faith missions” based on a model of itinerant preaching. African prophets and independent evangelists developed new forms of Christianity. Once dismissed as heretical or syncretic, they gradually came to be recognized as legitimate variants of the sort that have always accompanied the acculturation of religion in new environments. Decolonization caught most foreign mission operations unawares and required major changes, most notably in the recruitment of African clergy to the upper echelons of church hierarchies. By the late 20th century Africans emerged as an independent force in Christian missions, sending agents to other continents.
The History of Islam in East Africa
The history of Islam in East Africa stretches back to around 1000 CE. Until the mid-20th century, it remained largely confined to the coast and closely bound up with the history of the Swahili towns situated on it. The Swahili language remains central to many East African Muslims, hence the occasionally heard phrase, “Swahili Islam.” East African Muslims are mostly Shafiites and some belong to Sufi orders, especially Qadiriyya and Shadhiliyya. Since c. 1850, Islam, with many variations in ritual, has become the religion of speakers of a multitude of languages across the region, second only to Christianity. The region’s independent nation-states initially promised equality for all religions within a secular order. Since c. 1990, though, the minority status of East African Muslims has fed into a multitude of grievances related to the region’s economic and political impasses. This situation has led to growing movements of Islamic preaching and activism, supported by increased contacts with congregations elsewhere in the Indian Ocean. At times, they have influenced electoral politics, especially in Zanzibar, where Islamic activism resonates with fear of marginalization by the mainland. In Kenya, Somali-influenced Islamist terrorists committed a series of atrocities in the 2010s. East African governments, in turn, have been proactive in tracking and disrupting such networks, and in Kenya, the government engaged in targeted assassination. Nevertheless, peaceful coexistence between Muslims and adherents of other religions remains the norm in East Africa, and its dynamics are often poorly understood.
The History of Mali: Connectivity and State Formation since the 18th Century
Madina Thiam and Gregory Mann
The Republic of Mali comprises a very diverse population spread over a vast territory composed of a large part of the southern Sahara, the Sahel, and the savannah. One of the world’s great rivers, the Niger, runs through much of the national territory, reaching its northern apex near Timbuktu. For over a millennium, this territory has allowed empires and kingdoms to flourish alongside decentralized societies. These include the empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhay, as well as any number of smaller states, trading diasporas, and nomadic and semi-nomadic communities. The territory of Mali has long been a hub in African commercial and intellectual circuits, notably those linking the societies of the Maghreb (or North Africa) to those bordering the Atlantic. In the 19th century, as elsewhere in Muslim Africa, new and explicitly Islamic states emerged in western and central Mali. They did not endure more than a few decades, as the territory was colonized by France in the late 19th century. The Republic of Mali claimed its independence in 1960 and rapidly developed greater autonomy from French neo-colonialism than did most of its neighbors. Mali has maintained an out-sized diplomatic and cultural role on the African continent and beyond under a socialist government from 1960 to 1968, military government through 1991, and a vibrant democracy in the decades since. However, since 2011, the country has been increasingly beset by violent conflicts between nonstate actors, the national government, and foreign forces including the French. Thus, in historical perspective, Mali’s geographic position and its environment have proven conducive to the production of expansive, diverse, and mutually dependent communities that have produced radically distinct and often fragile states.
Interactions between North Africa and Spain: Medieval and Early Modern
Arabic-speaking Muslim polities existed in medieval Spain and Portugal where they were superseded by Christian empires that gradually disavowed cultural connections to this past. Hebrew and Arabic were largely expurgated from homes and libraries. Jews and Muslims who refused to convert were expelled. And while an incipient study of that past existed, echoed even in popular literary forms, the need to disavow kinship prevailed, at least publicly and officially. The Maghrib, for its part, separated by a mere fourteen kilometers of sea from the southern tip of Spain, experienced Portuguese and Spanish imperial expansion firsthand, receiving the bulk of the displaced and interacting with fortified settlements and encroachments along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. Later European colonization of North Africa completed the galvanization of a Maghribi culture of resistance to and disavowal of European, Latin, and Christian cultural forms and connections. Spain and North Africa came to be conceived as separate worlds; domains of inimical faiths; divided by culture, language, religion, and a history of mutual hostility. This sense of separateness is deceptive, however, as the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa are bound by deep and extensive commercial, material, and cultural contacts. They share inextricable histories in which alternating movements of commerce, conflict, and migration have played fundamental roles in shaping recognizably Western Mediterranean societies. They should be thought of as areas of a unified region with a common culture, or at the very least, as areas sharing a common region, in which they interact regularly, creating extensive ties and parallel forms of cultural and social organization.
Islam and Emancipation
Emancipation is a broad concept that includes liberation from slavery as well as broader projects of self-fulfillment. Muslims in Africa have drawn on Islamic sources both to justify and to critique enslavement, slaveholding, and slavery as an institution. Commercial law in particular recognized slave owners’ rights and early debates focused on categories of enslaveability. Slaves themselves drew on Islamic resources to improve their personal situation, to press for reforms, and to critique or try to overthrow the institution as a whole. Political transformations often created openings for more radical attempts to remake social hierarchies in the name of Islam, while Islamic revolutions both disrupted and facilitated the slave trade, depending on time and place. More broadly, critiques of other forms of ascriptive inequality, such as those based on race, caste, former slave status or slave descent, gender, and sexuality, have had equally complex relationships with the ways people have drawn on Islam. Many, but not all, analysts have emphasized the greater effectiveness of emancipatory projects that mobilize Islamic repertoires rather than relying on “Western” ideas of liberalism. The colonial era provided a new set of intellectual and political resources for those seeking to support or critique inequalities in Islamic terms. Halfhearted efforts to abolish slavery created some openings, but colonial commitment to maintaining social order limited its impact. The discursive legacy of colonialism has been more pronounced, particularly by creating an alignment between cultural nationalism and some conservative readings of Islamic sources, while neocolonial discourses can marginalize or even hamper the emancipatory efforts of Muslim activists.
Islamic Historical Sources: Manuscripts and Online
Amidu Olalekan Sanni
Of central interest here are the historical sources on Islam and Africa, the role and contributions of manuscripts to the narrative, and how the new cyber world has become a domain for those sources as instruments for the generation and utilization of knowledge. Africa came in contact with Islam right from the birth of the faith in the 7th century. Although Judeo-Christian, Late-Antique, and pre-Islamic materials provided the earliest historical sources on Islam and its people, the Qur’an, hadith (statements of the Prophet Muhammad), and the sira/maghāzī (biography/expeditions) were the first original sources on Islamic history on which later writings, including those from Africa, drew. The manuscript tradition in Islam is as old as the faith itself; it was one of the earliest material sources on Islamic sciences, and in the case of Africa, it provided a treasure trove of materials. At the beginning of the 21st century, the approach to scholarship and utilization of manuscripts changed radically, as digitization, creation of online databases, interconnected portals and links to universal portals, catalogs of manuscripts and published materials, among other innovations, redefined the ways knowledge of Islamic history is generated, accessed, and utilized.
James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey: Educator, Minister, and Global Black Intellectual
Ethan R. Sanders
James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey (1875–1927) was a transatlantic black intellectual, educator, and Christian minister. Aggrey was raised in West Africa, where as a young man he became a rising figure among the educated elite of the Gold Coast and played an important role in the Gold Coast Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society’s defeat of the Public Lands Bill of 1897. For two decades, he served as a professor at Livingstone College, the chief educational institution of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) Church, and as a pastor in two AMEZ churches in rural North Carolina. Throughout this period, he became connected to a number of black intellectuals and educators in Washington and New York, including Robert Moton, James Cromwell, W. E. B. Du Bois, John Edward Bruce, Arthur Schomburg, and Carter G. Woodson. Through these connections, he became a promoter of Ethiopianist ideas and developed a vision for Africa’s redemption and a positive outlook toward the continent’s role in the future of the world. In 1920–1921 and again in 1924, Aggrey was selected to join two educational commissions to visit eighteen African territories. Over the course of eighteen months, Aggrey made hundreds of appearances and spoke to thousands of Africans through both public speeches and private audiences. His fame during this time led to his becoming the first continental celebrity of sub-Saharan Africa. His fame in the West also peaked during the early 1920s, and he became one of the most sought-after Christian speakers in Britain and North America, leading one scholar to suggest that Aggrey was perhaps the most well-known African in the United States during this period. Aggrey had a long-lasting impact on the African continent, in large part through helping the people of the continent to see themselves as belonging to an African nation of people who had a glorious future once they unified as one people. Aggrey helped to infuse a positive value into an “African” identity, and his vision was interpreted in various ways throughout colonial Africa and led to numerous educational, political, and social movements and shaped the ideas of many prominent African figures throughout the 20th century.
Robert S. Kramer
It is tempting to seek an auspicious beginning for the Sudanese city of Omdurman, given its eventual significance, but there is none to be found. From its humble origins as a watering place for local pastoralists on the west bank of the Nile, and a mere hamlet and waystation for travelers by the early 19th century, it grew rapidly in the 1880s into a crowded market center, an administrative capital, and even a holy city: all due to the tumultuous events of the Sudanese Mahdist movement (or Mahdiyyah) of 1881–1898. And while it was not the intention of Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi to found anything—he considered Omdurman just another “spot” (buq‘a) among the many he had camped at—the policies of his successor and the devotion of his followers enlarged and ennobled the place, transforming it into the dominant urban center of the Nilotic Sudan. As a holy city, Omdurman can hardly be compared to such places as Jerusalem, Rome, or Mecca, with their centuries or even millennia of existence; and although it resembles Shaykh ‘Uthman dan Fodio’s city of Sokoto in northern Nigeria as the capital of an expansionist jihadist state, it also differs from it in some important ways. Ultimately, whether one considers its messianic or economic importance, its military or administrative functions, its planned or spontaneous origins, Omdurman is remarkable for becoming, in just over a decade’s time, one of the most important cities across Sudanic Africa. Moreover, the experience of the Sudanese people in so tribally and ethnically diverse an urban environment, under such concentrated and extreme conditions, both impelled by the policies of the state and inspired by fervent Mahdist belief, helped to accelerate ongoing social changes, which ultimately led to the formation of a more coherent national identity.
Muslim Brotherhoods in West African History
Muslim Sufi brotherhoods (ṭuruq, sing. ṭarīqa) are ubiquitous in contemporary Islamic West Africa. However, they are relative latecomers in the history of the region, making their appearance in the mid-18th century. Yet, Sufism has a longer presence in West Africa that predates the consolidation of ṭuruq. Early evidence of Sufi practices dates to the period between the 11th and the 17th centuries. By that time traces of the Shādhiliyya and the lesser-known Maḥmūdiyya are available between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Chad, but it was the activities of the Kunta of the Qādiriyya and of al-ḥājj ‘Umar of the Tijāniyya that led to the massive spread of Sufi brotherhoods in the region. The authority of leaders of ṭuruq did not disappear with the imposition of European colonialism. In fact, the power of those leaders who adjusted to the novel political situation further consolidated thanks to their role as mediators between their constituencies and the colonial government. Eventually, the end of the colonial period did not signal the decline of ṭuruq in West Africa. Conversely, during the postcolonial years, Sufi brotherhoods continued flourishing despite the secular nature of West African independent states and the increasing tension with a plethora of equally rising Salafi movements.