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Justin J. Corfield

“Leo Africanus,” (1488 or 1490–c. 1554), whose proper name is al-Hassan ibn Muhammad al-Wizzaa al-Fasi, is best known for his book on Africa, which was published in 1550 and which gave a great insight in early modern Europe into the world view of Africans. It remained, for many years, one of the major published sources on west-central Africa, and brought the city of Timbuktu to the attention of Europeans. His work also led to great tales being told of Timbuktu, a place of wealth but more importantly of remoteness, in a similar manner to Shangri La, which represented remoteness and spirituality, and El Dorado, a place of unimaginable wealth.

Leo Africanus was born in the kingdom of Granada, but his wealthy family had to leave the city when it was conquered by the armies of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492 They moved to Fez ...

Article

Kahina  

Allen J. Fromherz

semi legendary queen of the Aures Mountain Berbers who resisted the Arab Muslim conquest of North Africa Her name the Kahina meaning the sorceress in Arabic was ascribed to her by Arab chronicles Indeed the main sources describing the Arab conquest of the Berbers are all in Arabic and are written from the perspective of the conqueror Legends ascribed to Kahina therefore must be seen as part of a conquest narrative even as they often portray her as a noble adversary of the spread of Islam Nevertheless it is almost certain that Kahina represented a historic person a woman or perhaps even a group of different queens or chieftesses who resisted the Arab conquest in the late seventh century Her memory is preserved and celebrated even by the most strident Berber converts to Islam In recent years she has become a powerful symbol of Berber nationalism both within and beyond ...

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Kahina  

Marian Aguiar

In the seventh century, the Arabs arrived in the land they called Ifriqiya, in present-day Tunisia, bringing Islam and seeking gold. The Jarawa Berbers in the Aurès Mountains became the main force halting their progress through North Africa. This group was known for their military prowess, and although they offered nominal allegiance to the Byzantine Empire, they in fact ruled their own land. Their chief was the Kahina, a woman who, some said, was more than a hundred years old and had two sons of two fathers, one Greek and one Berber She might have been a Christian or a Jew and some historians have attributed her resistance to religious fervor Or she might have simply been a strong ruler who would rather burn down her own kingdom than let it fall into the hands of an outside force There is little historical documentation of the Kahina s ...

Article

Chouki El Hamel

Moroccan scholar, diplomat, and traveler, was born al-Hasan b. Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Wazzan al-Fasi al-Gharnati (hereafter, al-Wazzan) in Granada, Spain, to a wealthy family (some sources place the date of his birth between 1488 and 1496). In 1492, Granada fell into the hands of the Spanish Castilians, after which Iberian Muslims were forced to migrate to North Africa. In this context, the al-Wazzan family moved to Morocco and settled in the city of Fez. They were able to preserve their socioeconomic status and participated in diplomatic and commercial activities. In his book Description of Africa al Wazzan mentions that after his family settled in the region of Fez he used to accompany his father on business trips to the Rif region and the Middle Atlas mountains to collect taxes on behalf of the Wattasi sultan He also accompanied his uncle on a diplomatic mission to Timbuktu at age ...

Article

Elizabeth Heath

The son of a wealthy family, Leo Africanus was born in Spain but moved to Fès, Morocco, as a child. There he was educated and later employed by his uncle as a clerk. Africanus’s first trip to the western Sudan, around 1512, was part of a diplomatic and commercial mission to the Songhai Empire led by his uncle on behalf of the rulers of Fès. During this trip Africanus traveled extensively throughout the region and visited its major trading cities, including Tombouctou, Djenné, Gao, and Sijilmasa. He recorded his observations on all of the region’s major states: the Songhai and Mali empires, the Hausa States and Bornu, as well as the Bulala state occupying the former Kanem empire. This trip provided much of the research for his later publications.

Between 1516 and 1518 Africanus made several trips to Egypt and possibly a trip to Constantinople. In 1518 during ...

Article

Jean Ouédraogo

princess, ruler, and military leader, was born in Gambaga of the Dagomba country of northern Ghana. Her father was Naba Nedga and her grandfather Naba Gbewa of Pousga. An intrepid warrior, she married a hunter named Rialle late in life after fleeing the Dagomba. From their union was born a son named Ouedraogo, who is credited by historians with founding the sprawling medieval empire of the Mossi. Grief-stricken upon learning of the news of Ouedraogo’s death on the battlefield near Ouagadougou, Yennenga and Rialle both died within weeks and were buried in Zambanlga, Rialle’s native village.

It may never be possible to definitively elicit the facts dates and events surrounding the life of Yennenga Nonetheless the relevance and continued importance of their matriarch to the Mossi and to West Africa more generally cannot be overstated Despite the variations in the main narrative whose twists and turns remain rooted in the ...