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African Biography and Historiography  

Heather Hughes

Biography in the African context can take many forms, from brief entries in a biographical dictionary or obituary in a newspaper to multivolume studies of single individuals. It can encompass one or many subjects and serves both to celebrate the famous and illuminate obscure lives. Biographies can be instructional as well as inspirational. Sometimes, it is hard to draw a line between biography and autobiography because of the way a work has been compiled. An attempt is made to understand this vast range of forms, with reference to social and political biography. The main focus is on work produced since the 1970s, with examples drawn from all regions of sub-Saharan Africa (although Southern Africa is better represented than others, as is English-medium material). Matters that preoccupy biographers everywhere, such as the relationship between writer and subject and the larger relationship between biography and history, are raised. Biography can be an excellent entry point into the complexities of African history.

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Ahmadu Bamba  

Fallou Ngom

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.