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Bori Religion in West Africa  

Kari B. Henquinet

Bori is a religious tradition with origins in West Africa dating to at least 1500 ce. Based on oral histories, ethnographies, archaeological analysis, and limited written sources, its origins lie in complex, syncretic blendings of pre-Islamic Arna (Maguzawa) religious traditions, Hausa aristocracies, and Islam throughout what became Northern Nigeria and south-central Niger over many centuries. Bori practitioners have special knowledge of the spirit world and thus are skilled at healing spirit-induced illnesses or interpreting communal problems with a spiritual basis. Individuals are frequently initiated into Bori as they seek healing but also sometimes through their heritage. Once initiated, Bori adepts learn to live with their spirits for the rest of their lives, inviting spirits to possess them during ceremonial rituals. Bori specialists are more prominent in areas heavily influenced by Arna traditions or Hausa aristocracies that maintained special leadership positions connected to Bori for the protection of the kingdom. Women have often found opportunities for power and prestige through Bori in a patriarchal society, although in some regions, men dominate religious leadership and healing practices in Bori. From the early 19th century, Bori was condemned and banned in the Sokoto caliphate and subsequently under British rule in Nigeria. Nevertheless, it persisted in these areas and especially flourished in regions of Hausaland outside of the caliphate, where historical practices of Hausa kingdoms and Arna religion were practiced more openly and centrally in society. Over the course of the 20th century, Bori has been studied by researchers not only in these regions of West Africa but also among diasporic communities and pilgrims with ties to West Africa.

Article

Christian and Islamic Nubia, 543–1820  

Bogdan Zurawski

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.

Article

Interactions between North Africa and Spain: Medieval and Early Modern  

Camilo Gómez-Rivas

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.

Article

Saharan Peoples and Societies  

E. Ann McDougall

The Sahara: bridge or barrier? Today, most would answer that the desert was more a historical facilitator than hindrance in moving commodities, ideas, and people between North and sub-Saharan Africa. A recent publication even coined a new name for the region: “trans-Saharan Africa.” However, the Sahara is also a place where people live. Complex societies, sophisticated polities, extensive economies—all flourished at various times, waxing and waning in response to much the same factors as societies elsewhere. It is just that in the Sahara the vagaries of climate and the availability of water always established the parameters of development. A long-term drying era led to the dispersal of the Late Stone Age Dhar-Tichitt agro-pastoral settlements in eastern Mauritania, but in the east, Lake “Mega-Chad” shrank, leaving rich, sandy soils that attracted new cultivators. The Garamantes people of the Libyan Fezzan overcame their lack of water by developing a sophisticated underground irrigation system that supported an urbanized, cosmopolitan civilization that outlasted the Roman Empire. The introduction of the camel in the 4th century and the gradual growth of Islam from at least the 9th century added new possibilities for economic, cultural, and religious life. The Sahara benefited from the sequence of medieval empires emerging across its southern desert edge. Camel pastoralism, salt mining, oasis agriculture, and expansive trade networks shaped the region’s economy; those same networks facilitated cultural and scholarly exchanges. As Islam took root, growing its own understandings of North African and Middle Eastern schools of thought, a prodigious body of Saharan scholarship was created. It underpinned much of the jihad-led political upheaval and state-building in the 18th and 19th Sahel. Saharan clerics also directed their religious fervor against the invasion of French imperialists; “pacification” took the colonialists decades to achieve. But the impact of this violence exacerbated traditional clan conflict and disrupted economic life. So too did policies aimed at sedentarizing pastoralists and reshaping their social relations in the interests of the colonial economy. Much talked-about but largely ineffective efforts to abolish slavery had far less real impact than taxation policies; these both suppressed traditional exactions such as those levied by “warriors” and introduced new ones, including those to be paid in forced labor. Life in the Sahara became increasingly untenable. The arrival of Independence did nothing to address colonial legacies; the years of drought that devastated herds and crops in the desert and along its edge less than a decade later further fueled both political instability and economic crisis. That today the region nurtures radicalized Islamic movements promising to return “true meaning” (not to mention material benefits) to that life is not surprising.