Amadou Hampâté Bâ

Translated by Daniel Whitman
With “Kings, Sages, Rogues: The Historical Writings of Amadou Hampâté Bâ”

Washington, D.C. Three Continents Press. 1988.

       Table des matieres      

Daniel Whitman
Kings, Sages, Rogues: The Historical Writings of Amadou Hampâté Bâ

In the foreword to this volume, the encyclopedic nature of Amadou Hampâté Bâ and his work were discussed. His treatment of the Fulɓe initiatory texts has been the primary subject of this book, but there exists a whole other corpus of work in addition, none of which has yet appeared in English. Three of his historical accounts, while not intended as a trilogy, can be taken as an aesthetic and historical whole: they recast the individual and collective fates of certain peoples and persons over the course of the past century and a half, showing both progress and regression in the face of the European presence. More importantly, they explore the possibilities for social, spiritual, and individual material development in spite of that presence. Their common feature is that they all recount the history and cultures of the peoples of the Niger Bend, and in particular, of the Fulɓe people of Bâ's personal background.
These works include L'Empire peul du Maasina, 1818-1853; Tierno Bokar, Le Sage de Bandiagara; and L'Etrange destin de Wangrin 1. They are sociological, theological, biographical, and novelistic as well as historical, but history is their common element. The moral issues within are more implicit than, say, in Achebe's intentional trilogy; similarly the characters discussed are more historically separate. But the clash of cultures is as resounding, as are the epic proportions of a society's crisis and ultimate political extinction. Even so, we derive a sense of the relative insignificance of politics in Western terms, and a clear image of the resilience of one culture nominally under the control of another. The implied European presence in the latter two works loses its status as prime mover, which it attained in much of the contemporaneous West African fiction, to take a position of secondary importance with regard to the spirit, the ideals, and the cunning of the peoples of the Niger Bend.

1. L'Empire Fulɓe du Maasina

The theocratic Fulɓe (“Peul” in Wolof, French) empire of the Maasina was founded in 1818. “During its short existence,” observes one commentator, “[it] was the most genuine Islamic state West Africa had ever seen.” 2. It is this unique historic moment which Ba explores in L'Empire peul du Maasina.
Historically the Fulɓe 3, the only pastoral people of West Africa, have been in a crucially strategic position because of their close association and rivalry with the surrounding peoples: Tuareg, Mandingo, Bambara, Hausa, and Toucouleur. Much has been made of their obscure origins, and of the fact that their language seems totally unrelated to any other language of the area in which they eventually settled. Their physical characteristics, which also differ from those of their neighbors, have led to theories linking them to Phoenicians, ancient Egyptians, Berbers, Ethiopians, and even Hindus, and MalayoPolynesians. One legend claims they are descendants of Esau, who, in the Old Testament, was also a wandering pastoralist; others claim that they are one of the lost tribes of Israel, or descendants of a Roman legion lost in Africa 4. They are known to have founded a state in the Fuuta-Jalon . More relevant to Ba's account, they are known to have opted strongly, after some vacillation, for Islam in the eighteenth century 5.
The contemporary Fulɓe have highly developed qualities of leadership, and a strong degree of faith in their destiny as a people. In the Empire peul du Maasina, Bâ recounts the words of advice of Usman dan Fodio, head of the theocratic Fulani-Hausa empire, to his son Muhammadu Bello:

When you receive a visit from a personage of the Fulɓe race, honor him. The Fulɓe, naturally proud, loves pomp. He is prepared to die for those who play to his gullibility, even as he is swift to slay those who lack propriety towards him 6.

A fuller psychological portrait is given later on, by the same dan Fodio:

One must treat the Fulɓe just so. They respond more to signs of respect than to gifts, however sumptuous, and they are capable of the worst excesses when their delicate pride is wounded. Amiability, gentleness and devotion are inherent in the Fulɓe soul, only these qualities are covered by a layer of almost morbid irritability. He who learns how to bring out the Fulɓe soul without staining his honor will find a support that will remain steadfast, a stream which will never run dry 7.

In the late eighteenth century, Islam had entered into the western Sudan as the religion of kings and merchants, but had not yet supplanted the animism of the people. The Fulɓe had been settled in the area at least since the sixteenth century. Their adoption of Islam in the eighteenth century, however, was pivotal for the history of the area, for its dissemination became their mission, and their rise to power came hand in hand with the advance of the new monotheism. In the 1790's dan Fodio called for jihad in Hausaland against the pagan rulers there, and by 1810 the Fulɓe had become conquerors, meeting strong resistance only in Bornu. A network of Fulɓe rule spread throughout the area. Dan Fodio's son, Mohammadou Bello, administered the new empire; Sokoto to the east was his personal fiefdom; his brother, Abdullahi, took the west from Gaudo. The greatest, though most tempestuous, reign in the area was that of the Toucouleur al-Hajj Umar, who spent some seven years with Mohammadou Bello in Sokoto before calling for jihad in the 1840's and 50's as a convert to the new Tijani brotherhood.
Bâ's study constitutes a microcosm of events in the western Sudan, especially in the development of the theocratic Fulɓe state of Maasina. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Maasina was populated by nonMuslim Fulɓe and Bambara. Its leaders were Fulɓe from the Diallo clan 7b, the most important of whom was the Arɗo of Maasina. Cheikou Amadou (later Ahmad I), a Fulɓe, took it as his mission to Islamise the region, after consultation with dan Fodio of the Sokoto empire to the south. The Arɗo, fearing for his place, appealed to his Bambara overlord at Ségou for military aid, but Ségou was taken by Cheikou Amadou. A capital was established at Hamdullahi in 1918, and Islamic rule was firmly established “more by the shared ideals and aims of the educated and intellectual leaders than by threat of a powerful army.” 8. In many cases animists actively supported the jihad because of their disenchantment with their own corrupt leaders.
Bâ's account encompasses the reign of Cheikou Amadou (1818-45) in Maasina, and that of his son, Amadou Cheikou (1845-53). During the latter, the dynasty succumbed to a combination of outside pressures, internal discontent among some of the conquered, and predatory activities by rival, non-Muslim leaders in the area.
Bâ's historiography is in itself highly revealing. From the outset he stresses the importance of oral tradition as a legitimate source of history, and he relies on it heavily in the Empire peul. Recognizing that much of his material is anecdotal, even hagiographical, he underlines the differences between the African approach to history and the European: he reminds us that “history is always didactic to the African” (p. 14) (see footnote 1). If “objectivity” has been sacrificed in a few instances, ithas been forthe purpose of preserving the African character of the account. We witness the foundation of a theocratic state-not by a traditional chief or conqueror, but “by a humble marabout whose word and deed overcome all difficulties and galvanize Muslims into a high pitch of ardent faith.” (p. 14). It is this acceptance of the religious and the theological as history, that causes one French critic to see the two elements as inextricably intertwined in Bâ's work 9.

The story begins, characteristically, with a prophecy announcing the imminent arrival of Cheikou Amadou and the ultimate end of the Toucouleur empire due to internal rebellion:
— His name will be then Ahmad?
— Yes.
— Will he have the genius of a leader in war?
— To be sure, and with Allah's permission we will bestow on him one of ours, a powerful warrior who will vanquish the rebels, Satan's cohorts and fetishists. He will vanquish them at their every encounter (p. 19).

The messianic character of this prediction is of some note, and will be of interest later in discussing the Tijani and Harnallist movements of our own century.
Despite a network of jealousies working against him, particularly among other marabouts who see their role as religious to the exclusion of the military and political, Amadou Hammadi Boubou does indeed rise to power, particularly after killing the Ardo Guidado in a duel. The marabouts enlist the aid of the prince of Ségou, who has first 100,000, then 200,00 men, at his disposal, against Amadou's 1,000. The story seems to vacillate between legend and history at this point, as Amadou's followers remain serene in the face of death, then gain the support of a few Fulɓe warriors, and then, to everyone's surprise, dvfeat the Bambara of Ségou. This incident is explained by supernatural intervention, and is compared to the parting of the Red Sea and other Old Testament miracles.
The victory is soon followed by the swift conversion of political leaders of the area, notably of the Arɗo Gelaajo who has a dynastic claim to Maasina. A capital, founded at Hamdallahi (Alhamdu lillahi: “praise of God”), is built in three years, with heavy religious emphasis on its planning. All roads radiate from the central mosque; no fewer than six hundred Koranic schools dot the city; security is maintained by an army of 10,000 and a police force established under the direction of seven marabouts.

Bâ then describes Amadou Hammadi Boubou (now Sheiku Amadu), whose wisdom rivals that of Solomon. In one episode, a poor man, Alkandi Sanfo, finds a sack of gold in the street; after a year of advertising for its owner, he brings it to Cheikou Amadou. The latter decrees that the gold will be divided into five parts, one for the poor, which will go to Alkaydi Sanfo, and four for those who find no takers for unclaimed objects. Alkaydi Sanfo is thus rewarded with all the gold, which becomes a demonstration of God's compensation for good acts.
Cheikou Amadou is seen to resemble Mohammed in not cutting his hair. He speaks deliberately, citing Koranic examples and putting his interlocutors at ease. He shows moderation by not having “many” wives or concubines, and “very few” captives, or slaves (pp. 50-51).
Numerous subsequent chapters are devoted to the administrative and military upkeep of the realm, including skirmishes with Bambara cattle rustlers, and Cheikou Amadou's deliberate wooing of his rival Ardos by trust rather than coercion. On one occasion he hands his lance to an Arɗo and walks many miles in front of hiid'alone, giving him every opportunity to kill him, and thus winning his loyalty in turn. The Fulɓe empire is obliged to enter into various struggles, both militarily and diplomatically. Cheikou Amadou's wise counsel is constantly in demand. Tuaregs among others become fair-weather allies. In 1864 the Tuaregs become the first group to win a major military victory over Maasina, by ousting the Fulɓe rulers from Timbuktu. Following this the Fulɓe Ba Lobbo fails to put down a revolt in Djenné: the empire is beginning to crack.
Before the end comes for Cheikou Amadou, he is visited by the Tijani leader al-Hajj Umar on his way to and from Mecca. Umar has previously visited Mohammadou Bello in Sokoto, and has won converts all the way from Sokoto to Hamdullahi. His presence in the area is disturbing to the Fulɓe rulers, in the same way that their own presence was disturbing to the marabouts under the previous, non-Muslim regime. It is considered a bad omen when the infant Amadou Amadou, Cheikou Amadou's grandson, screams and resists as Umar tries to pick him up. This omen, like the prophecy at the beginning of the account, is not an idle one, for Toucouleur empires and Umar himself will ultimately supplant the Fulɓe empire of Maasina. The omen will not be fulfilled until after Cheikou Amadou's death, but the apprehension is is already felt.
After a two-week illness, Cheikou Amadou dies, causing Maasina to mourn and Tuareg and Bambara peoples to rejoice. Elegies are improvised on the occasion of the funeral:

Amadou is dead, spear of right and justice.
Amadou is dead, who hated a lie and cherished truth…
Amadou is dead,
who, when asked, “can your enemy hope for salvation?”
answered, “not to agree with me does not bring on damnation.
I am human, fallible, riddled with faults,
woven with imperfections, full of iniquity.
Salvation is at God's discretion…”
Amadou is dead, whose spiritual lance
killed more evils than his temporal sword cut human heads…
The protector of the herds is dead
Amadou is dead, who carried the fame of the Fulɓe so high (p. 253).

Although Bâ's epic ends with the death in 1852 of Cheikou Amadou's son, Amadou Cheikou, he states his intention to follow it with another extending to 1893 and the French conquest of the entire area. An interpretive work covering the period 1852-93 would be of great value, given the dilemma of the years of initial contact and conquest by the French. The conflict between the Qadiriyya and al-Hajj Umar's Tijaniyya, and the attempts of the French to pry the factions even farther apart to their own advantage, present a multitude of problems: did Umar truly see the French as a potential ally against the Qadiriyya? If so, was his jihad against them in 1857 an attempt merely to appease the hawks in his own camp? Did Ba Lobbo, who killed Umar in 1864 over the mistreatment of the Qadiriyya, do so for religious reasons, or for personal aggrandisement, or for fear of an eventual Toucouleur-French alliance? Did Umar even understand that Faidherbe's advance to Fort Medina in 1855 used Umar's Toucouleur empire as a pretext for penetration, and that Faidherbe's appeals to the underdogs of that empire were not intended as overtures toward permanent alliances, but only makeshift means of penetration? These questions, as well as Umar's vacillation between preferential trade agreements with the French and outright war against them, call for an extension of Ba's study of the previous period.
Bâ's Empire peul shows a distinct break in the West African tradition of oral epic. Where works such as Sundiata provided a precedent for the collective sense of mission of a West African people in civilizing its neighbors, the Maasina empire, as portrayed by Bâ, has a new, unprecendented element: religion. Theocratic rule in a monotheistic context has now supplanted what was also a messianic movement, but a messianic movement centered on one individual, and lasting only as long as he did.

2. Tierno Bokar, Le Sage de Bandiagara

Concurrent with the decline of the Fulɓe empire of the Maasina was the rise of the Tijani tariqa, or path of faith, as a generalized phenomenon in West Africa. Bâ's work on Tierno Bokar concerns the subsequent Hamallist movement which was both a derivative and an antithesis of the Tijaniyya.
The same al-Hajj Umar who ultimately contributed to the dissolution of the Fulɓe empire of the Maasina was instrumental in spreading the new Tijani order throughout West Africa. A Sufi order, it espoused an egalitarian society and an emphasis on simple faith, in place of the elitist approach of the traditional Qadiriyya, with its doctrine of study and intellectual activity as the way to salvation. Both tariqas were, theoretically, only ramifications of the Sufi order that supposedly encompassed them.
The year 1789 is sometimes cited as the beginning of the movement, at which time the founder, Ahmad al-Tijani, then an activist against Turkish domination, left Algeria to settle in Fez 10. The dilemma of the Tijaniyya in the nineteenth century was that it needed to curry favor with the French in order to maintain their authority over their following, and yet, in doing so, they lowered their prestige among their own constituents.
Moreover, their very presence was to some degree an expression of protest against French encroachment.
The dilemma was largely Umar's, and accounts for some of the vacillations in his policy. Other tariqas had the same problem, and if the Tijaniyya was one of the first orders to cooperate with the French in Algeria, it was not the only. It should be emphasized that the Tijaniyya came about primarily as a reaction to the Qadiriyya doctrine and not to the French presence, although that presence did add another element to the ambiance of protest. Both competing and collaborating with the French, it was never tantamount to indigenous resistance to foreign domination; this equivocal character made the Hamallist movement possible later on, as a reaction in turn against the Tijaniyya.
French expansion was, in any case, the main reason the Tijaniyya failed to build a permanent empire. In the 1840's al-Hajj Umar had received so many expressions of support (or actually, deference) from the leaders in the Niger Bend area, that he felt prepared to call for jihad, and in 1851 he conquered Ka'arta. The French governor in Senegal, Louis Faidherbe, later sent dispatches to France warning of a general uprising led by Umar against the French. Whether he was in fact plotting such a move at that time we do not know. His eventual conquest of Maasina encountered severe resistance, leading to a general revolt in 1863 involving both Fulɓe and Bambara. By the time of his death the following year, his son, Ahmadou Tall, had a shaky empire to administer. Ahmadou Tall signed a treaty with the French in 1866 agreeing to a renunciation of the jihad which Umar had begun and the opening of his own borders to French trade in return for trading privileges at St. Louis.
During the 1870's, while France was drained from the lost Franco-Prussian war, and the ensuing reparations, amicable relations continued, despite the discontent of Ahmadou Tall's two brothers ruling in Ka'arta and Diamboukou. In the decades following, however, French encroachment profited from the Tijani state's passive stance and inability to rally local support: a treaty in 1880 undermined Ahmadou Tall's authority by recognizing his brother on an administrative par with himself. Scurrilous reports of Tall's siding with Samori Touré served as pretext for the French conquest of Ségou in 1890. By 1903 Maasina had fallen under direct French administration, thus bringing to an end the only Tijani state.
During the following years the stage was set for the rise of the Hamalliyya: the French attempted, usually successfully, to harness the Sheikhs of the Tijaniyya for their own ends without crushing them. The French saw these Tijani leaders as potential administrators for a French regime; the numerous studies on them, among the first the French ever undertook in the area, demonstrated their interest 11. One such study declared that “this Toucouleur people, intelligent and energetic, is truly the homeland of the Mahdis and the spawning ground of false prophets.” 12 The Tijaniyya persisted despite the numerous pressures against it, and today still constitutes sixty percent of the rural Wolof population of Senegal 13. However, its compliance and even collaboration with the French administration frustrated many of its members. Directives such as the following letter from a Fulɓe Tijani leader to his assistants must have grated against the sensibilities of many:

Have confidence in the French, even as they have confidence in you. Is the remuneration of worthy actions anything other than the worthy action… know that the French have given full assistance to our religion and our country. We would understand this if we were intelligent enough 14.

The Hamalliyya was in some sense, then, a sequel to the Tijaniyya of al-Haij Umar, even though it nominally rejected it. In 1900 Si Muhammad uld Ahmad uld Abdallah al-Akhdar settled in West Africa and began criticizing the Tijani doctrine on purely religious grounds. In reciting the wazifa, or special rosary prayer, he claimed, the Tijanis had strayed from tradition in repeating one of its components, the hailahah, twelve times instead of eleven. A disciple of his, who was to become the unwitting leader of an intensely active politico-religious movement, founded what the French called “Tidjanisme differencié” or “Tidjanisme réformé” or “Tidjanisme-onze-grains.” Hamahul'Allah b. Sharif Muhammad b. Sidna Omar (whence Hamallism) was born of a Fulɓe mother, and therefore appeared to his followers better qualified to lead his African compatriots than were some of his Moorish predecessors.
The number of times the hailahah was recited in the wazifa had always varied from place to place, and had not caused any strife for that reason until the period following 1910. That it did foment local disturbances serious enough to alarm the French can be explained only in terms of the political discontent of Sheikh Hamallah's followers. Although his teaching was per se esoteric and nonpolitical, from the very beginning it had an element of inherent civil disobedience, in that his followers technically broke the law in traveling to visit him in his zawiya or prayer-house in Nioro (in what is today Southern Mauritania) without the required laissez-passer.
In 1917 a serious disturbance broke out in Bamako, between regular and reformed Tijanis. Incidents continued, and became irksome to the French. They detained Sheikh Hamallah in Mauritania for five years. Upon his release in 1930, riots in Kaédi led to thirty deaths. While Hamallah did nothing directly to foment the political strife that followed, neither did he do anything to calm the situation; more serious clashes in the 1940's led to his deportation to Cassaigne, Algeria, and eventually to Vals-les-Bains in France, where he died in 1943.
In 1937, the chief marabout of French West Africa, Hajj Sa'idu Nuru Tall, who was sincerely loyal to the French 15, brought about a momentary reconciliation between Sheikh Hamallah and other Tijanis in Nioro. As a result of this reconciliation Tierno Bokar Salif Tall, a revered Sage of Bandiagara, joined Hamallah's movement. He did so ostensibly for reasons of doctrine rather than politics, going against the current of his own community. Tierno Bokar's conversion brightened the outlook considerably for the Hamallist movement, as had Hamallah's return to Nioro, after five years' imprisonment. For the next three years, Hamallah and Tierno Bokar were able to teach in relative calm. In 1940, however, the year of Tierno Bokar's death, an outbreak of unprecedented violence occurred during which frenzied Hamallist followers massacred some 400 Tijanis at Lemras. This provoked a severe French reaction although none of the violence had been directly aimed at the French.
After 1942, with Hamallah in exile, the movement altered radically and ultimately degenerated. The prayer “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Prophet of God” was changed to read “There is no god but God, and Hamallah is our Sheikh.” After Hamallah's exile the movement took on a character of unmasked violence, and turned to orgiastic cults (!?).
Despite this change, some noted disciples of Tierno Bokar — including President Modibo Keita of the Mali Republic, Boubou Hama of the Ministry of Education of the Niger Republic, and Hampâté Bâ himself, member of the UNESCO executive council — remained faithful to the original principles as late as the 1960's. Bâ's own commitment to the democratic aspects of the Hamalliyya led to his attempts to Africanize Koranic teaching by providing translations of the Koran into Fula and Bambara.
After 1946 Hamallism ceased to be a problem for the French administration, since it had lost its political component now that the means for expressing political discontent had been institutionalized with the formation of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain. Despite Yakouba Sylla's splinter, Spartacist group, which perpetuated Hamallism to some degree, the movement had largely died out by the 1960's.
Le Sage de Bandiagara treats only the privileged period from shortly before Tierno's conversion to Hamallism, to his death in 1940. Clearly the work of a disciple, it does not feign objective distance. In a sense, it is a devotional expression of adherence to a following rather than a disinterested observation.
Tierno 16 Bokar was born of a Hausa mother and Toucouleur father and a brother of al-Umar, and was “successively Bambara, Fulɓe, Marka, and Dogon by adoption.” 17. Born in 1875, he stood at cross-currents, not only with respect to the ethnic groups in his area, but also historically: as great-nephew of al-Hajj Umar. Tierno witnessed the capture of Ségou by the French and their eventual takeover of the administration of the area. Bâ affirms that, while the Toucouleur may have asserted military superiority over the Fulɓe, it was the Fulɓe who “conquered the spirit of the Toucouleur” (p. 121), and whose influence was a civilizing one. He compares Bokar's exposure to violence as a child to that of St. Francis (p. 13), and thereby implies that Tierno's steadfast adoption of pacifism, even during the most turbulent period of Hamallism, was similarly inspired.
Tierno Bokar grew up amid the strife between Bambara and Fulɓe in a kingdom governed by the Toucouleur. During this period, Guiré, a Somono Tijani teacher (muqaddam) became his spiritual guide. The French, meanwhile, were gaining a foothold in the area. By 1890, when the empire collapsed, Tierno Bokar had learned the Koran by heart. The collapse of the Toucouleur empire meant several years of wandering for the Toucouleur of Ségou. In 1864, after much displacement and numerous skirmishes, their military leader Tijani (the late Umar's nephew) settled with his followers in Bandiagara, in Dogon country. Ironically, the rival Fulɓe under Amadou Cheikou, also displaced by Archinard's advance, settled nearby, and despite lingering animosity the two groups lived relatively harmoniously.
Bâ recounts this anguished period mainly to underline the unswerving serenity of Tierno during the period, and his exceptional refusal to succumb even emotionally to the turbulence. In Bandiagara he gained a new teacher, Ahmadou Tafsirou Bâ. He soon become Bâ's favorite student. Bâ's pedagogy was atypically oriented toward learning as a pleasurable experience, fully aware of the “servitude imposed by texts upon those who have not been happy in learning them (p.29).” Upon reaching age twenty-six, Tierno married and began teaching at his master Bâ's invitation.
This began a new phase in Tierno's life, during which he became responsible for the education of the young in Bandiagara. His daily life acquired a rhythm and routine which would not alter for thirty-three years.
A rigorous life. The will towards mortification? Certainly not. Asceticism is alien to the deeper thought of Africa whose rule is “to live”. A social being, the African requires of his spiritual guides, of the elders and of the masters, to be a model for him, and asceticism does not constitute the right path in the eyes of a people boiling over with life, rich from their perpetual youth and from their oldest thoughts. A life as clear as crystal. A life as pure and simple as prayer (p. 32).
Eventually Tierno gathered a following of some two hundred students, whom he had to feed and house. The parents of the students occasionally brought some meager gifts and food of their own accord, but otherwise Tierno required no payment for his services.
Tierno's life continued in this manner until some ten years after his mother's death in 1927, when the Hamallist movement pressed itself upon him as an option. Umar's son (?), Ahmadou Tall virulently opposed it, and urged Tierno to do the same. Instead, Tierno decided to investigate it during a trip to Bamako, made to see his half-brother installed as imam there.
The Tijaniyya had reached West Africa by two routes: from the Maghreb, through Mauritania, and by al-Hajj Umar during his pilgrimages to and from Mecca. In Bâ's view the Umarian Tijaniyya was the first to stray from tradition (p. 44). From the first, Tierno found a source of comfort in Hamallah's new doctrine, from its support of resignation to its use of reason.
In the 1890's, the Tijani empire of Umar finally fell to the French. Military defeat left a spiritual vacuum that had to be filled. Bâ does not mention the Tijaniyya's cooperation with the French, which undermined their own support, mainly because it had no bearing on Tierno Bokar's adoption of the creed. It was, however, a crucial element in the spread of the movement.
Bâ briefly recounts the series of events which led to clashes between the Hamalliyya and the Tijaniyya in the 1930's and 40's, ending with a quotation from Tierno which seems to justify Hamallah's death. Tierno had died six months before Hamallah's final arrest, but had foreseen the troublesome events ahead:

During the time a servant remains faithful to his mission and fulfills his duty, he is a servant. But as soon as some contingency causes him to deviate from his duty… [he] becomes a victim as much as any of the others (p. 51).

In 1937 Tierno decided to meet Hamallah in Nioro on the way to Bamako, much to the chagrin of Tierno's followers and the consternation of Hamallah's enemies. Partly because of the momentary reconciliation recently arranged, partly because of the meeting itself that convinced Tierno of Hamallah's sincerity, he was won over, thus greatly influencing the fate of the movement. Bfi describes the meeting in detail. At one point during the meeting, Tierno describes a dream (pp. 54-56) he has had, which seems prophetic and indicative of the path he should follow. In the dream, he encounters eleven men (corresponding to the eleven beads of the Hamallist rosary) who walk through the desert. They are in a miserable condition, and their clothes in tatters. Tierno joins them and after falling into their miserable state, he comes upon a pond with them and drinks a refreshing white water there. His last reservation is dispelled as Umar himself appears in the dream, and gives his approval.
Tierno tells the dream to Hamallah, explains his subsequent anguish in not knowing how or whether to approach him, and adds that he seeks the truth, at whatever cost. Implicit in this passage is the severe disapproval of Tierno's Bandiagara, should he convert to Hamallism:

When I find what I am seeking, nothing in the world will be able to keep me from rallying to the camp of the truth. Though my flesh may be torn from my veins, my veins from my bones, my bones from their marrow and that marrow from the truth, I will leave behind my flesh, my veins, my bones and their marrow, in order to grasp the truth (p. 56).

After his meeting with Hamallah, Tierno was indeed won over to the Hamallist cause, and while this enhanced the latter, it made enemies for Tierno; many of his disciples questioned or left him. However, others rallied behind him, despite his own family's opposition. When asked by a French administrator about his conversion, Tierno responded frankly, but his interpreter, Oumar Sy, comically falsified the conversation out of concern for Tierno's welfare. “The commandant de cercle, happy to see such a favorable outcome, and Tierno, delighted with such unexpected moderation on the part of the commandant, were enchanted with each other.” (p.61)
Tierno returned to his teaching in Bandiagara, and the atmosphere was peaceful for some months until the death of Tijani Aguibou Tall in 1938, which raised the problem of succession of a spiritual leader of the area. A confrontation occurred at the mosque the following year, where the new Tijani muqadam publicly insisted that Tierno leave. Tierno complied, but only after answering, also publicly, “What have you against the number eleven? … Don't you see that the mosque itself lies upon eleven pillars?” Tierno then left the mosque for the last time. His own family went against him, and spies were sent out to follow his movements. He returned to his zawiya, now abandoned, then died after a two-week illness. Bâ implies that it was anger, to which Tierno was so unaccustomed, that killed him.
The second part of Bâ's work departs from historical events, and discusses Tierno's teaching as Bâ himself had received it. Tierno's message was tripartite, consisting of law (Shariah), the path of faith (Tariqa), and truth (Haqiqa). The pursuit of these three elements was sequential, and hierarchical: the one led to the other, with truth being the ultimate attainment. This progression mirrored the three paths set down by Mohammed: Islam (outward acts), Imam (inner faith), and Ihsan (“perfect comportment, where man acts under God's constant gaze”) 18. The same tripartite conception was used in some of the methodological approaches to learning, such as “imitation — comprehension — incorporation,” “conversion — rectitude — reverence,” “differentiation — sincerity — serenity,” and “mediation — vision — knowledge of God: Love.” These procedures reflected a “synthesis of esoteric teaching,” which Bâ links to the Sufi tradition itself (p. 110).
Tierno's manner of teaching was perhaps even more significant than the substance; at least Bâ devotes more attention to it. The overall pedagogical principle that Tierno followed was “speak to people within their means of understanding.” (p. 73) Love and tolerance were valued infinitely above the products of rote memorization.
Bâ presents a long catechism, in which Tierno's words are reconstructed through Bâ's own memory and that of others. Tierno discusses the “three symbolic lights”; namely, that produced by matter during combustion, sunlight, and the light of God. This latter is the light of truth, as described in the following passage:

It is a darkness more brilliant than all other lights together. It is the light of truth. Those who have the good fortune to reach it lose their identity, become what a drop of water becomes when falling into the Niger, or rather, into a sea which is infinitely greater in breadth and depth (p. 76).

Tierno's teaching was inherently all-inclusive; he revolted against the idea of anyone being excluded from the knowledge of God's love. As for mankind's love, it is to be directed outward and upward, for “to love only that which resembles you is to love yourself, which is not to love at all.” (p. 79)
Tierno's tolerance extended to beliefs other than his own, and, according to Bâ, his only hatred, if he ever had one, was for religious intransigence and intolerance. Religious struggles as perceived by some Muslim leaders of West Africa were of no interest to him, for “personally, the only struggle I care for is the struggle to root out faults within ourselves.” (p. 84). When asked about a French philosopher's belief that each war is a religious war, Tierno's answer was “Religion, the sum of revelation, is the negation of every war except the one which causes us to struggle against ourselves. If it is occasionally otherwise, it is because man is only man.” (p. 9)
A holy man is not apolitical, adds Bâ in Aspects de Ia civilisation africaine 19 on the contrary, his presence affects politics. But a politician, by seeking to affect political changes, however beneficial they may appear, is never a holy man.

3. L'Etrange destin de Wangrin

The biographical account of “Wangrin,” which Bâ has published, is somewhat removed from the mainstream of West African social history, yet it provides an interesting postlude to the complex series of events treated in the two other historical works. “Wangrin” is one of the many pseudonyms used by a successful opportunist Bâ had known in his youth as a friend of his uncle. His story is a demonstration of how one ingenious African was able to thrive even under the colonial regime, by making that regime work in his favor. To a lesser extent, it may be seen as a portrait of the Bambara people at the beginning of the present century.
Some time before the First World War, an internecine conflict between the Yorsam and Noubigou groups had led the Noubigou to turn to the French, hoping ultimately to avenge their grievances against the aggressive Yorsam. The French, realizing the instability of their alliance with the Noubigou, sent the sons of the chiefs and notables away to a French school at Kayes. Wangrin was in the first group to be sent, and his intellectual gifts showed themselves as he quickly learned the French language and culture to the extent that it was taught at Kayes. He soon earned his certificat d'études primaires indigène, the highest diploma then granted to natives of the French colonies. He was assigned the position of monitor at the local school in the town of Diagaramba; the French were highly pleased with his work.
Wangrin took his first pseudonym, Gongoloma-Sooké, after the Bambara god of the ruse, at this time.
In Bambara mythology, Gongoloma-Sooké was the fabulous god whom water could not wet, nor fire burn. Salt could not salt him, nor soap make him clean. Soft as a mollusk, even so, no metal could cut him 20.
Gongoloma-Sooké did everything reversed: he walked backwards, cursed his well-wishers and praised his enemies. Bâ's book on Wangrin discusses how Wangrin adopted these characteristics in order to survive and even prosper under the French regime. As in the other historical works of Bâ, the role of prediction and prophecy is highly important: during Wangrin's circumcision, for instance, he is told he will find success in life as long as he accepts Gongoloma-Sooki~ as his personal god. His star will dim, however, “the day that N'tubaninkan-fin, the turtle-dove, lands on a dead branch of a kopok tree in bloom, coos seven times and takes off to land on the ground, to the right of your path (p. 24).- At that moment, Wangrin will become vulnerable to his enemies and the erosion of his good fortune will begin.
Wangrin's story is long and complex, involving some thirty subordinate characters. He rises as far in the ranks of the French administration as an African could, serving as interpreter to one French commandant de cercle after another, providing them with women when necessary, and volunteering information he knows they will need. His actions skirt the limits of betrayal and immorality while rarely actually indulging in either. The competition for his position is intense-other local inhabitants are eager to depose him and work for the French in his place, but his aggressive nature sees him through each crisis to the consternation of his peers. He makes himself indispensable by learning other local languages in the area, until he reaches the point of being able to handle virtually every situation. Collaboration is never anything more than a guise on anyone's part, and Wangrin teases the French behind their back. The blessing “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen” is rendered into Bambara “Naa keera min ye nne nin taala.” or “whatever this b.s. is, you won't get me in on it!” (p. 35)
Wangrin learns to say “Merci, mon commandant, vive la France!” unflinchingly and thereby wins the favor and even a certain loyalty on the part of the French. His own French is not the local forofifon naspa, or pidgin, but a real “color-of-Bordeaux-wine French” that the administrators are surprised to hear coming from a native. As he rises in the administrative ranks he amasses a large personal fortune and a plethora of local enemies. He also takes a griot, Kountena, into his services. Kountena is an execrable kora-player, but a good-natured companion. “I would rather see my friends laugh at my music-making,” he says, “than weep over my death.” (p. 66)
Wangrin enters into a few questionable business ventures with French accomplices, and sometimes both are brought to trial. During one close call, “Wangrin lost twenty pounds, and de Villermoz [a French commandant de cercle and accomplice with Wangrin in shady dealings] aged by fifteen years.” (p. 124) Other times, Wangrin is cleared in court but is so ostensibly guilty that it is all he can do to avoid being lynched by French locals.
Wangrin acquires an enemy, Doumouma Romo, whose animosity is of epic proportions. Romo plays Isengrin to Wangrin's Reynard, devoting his life to unseating Wangrin or at least cheating him out of money; but he is constantly outsmarted by Wangrin, further improverished, and often publicly disgraced. The relationship between the two takes on the aspect of a game, but the stakes are high. At Romo's moment of lowest fortune, he turns to the Fulɓe adage for inspiration: “Be patient with your father's murderer until you have a good dagger in hand and the murderer is within striking range. Then when the time comes, hit home with both hands, pitilessly.” (p. 154) Patience is Romo's only recourse: at one point he is framed for a shady business deal performed by his rival, and is sentenced to ten years in prison.
French administrators come and go, and vicissitudes leave Romo and Wangrin swapping places between jail and administrative eminence. Wangrin's aggressiveness, however, makes him almost maddeningly consistent in finding a good place for himself. On one occasion he leads Romo to believe there will be some lost money at a certain place in the road. When Romo takes the bait and goes to find out, he uncovers a sackful of pebbles, with the note, “Go to the bank and cash in these pebbles. They are worth one hundred thousand francs. Every time a son cursed by his mother goes out seeking fruit, it's her other, blessed son who finds them. Signed: you-know-who.” (p. 298) When it is Wangrin's time to be arrested for an offense, Romo puts on such a passionate display of wanting to be the one to arrest him that the French administrator allows him to do so. Wangrin escapes in a burlesque scene, however, only after spitting in Romo's face. Romo attempts suicide, and fails.
The character of the story shifts at the end from comic to tragic. Nothing has been able to stop Wangrin in his rise to power and wealth, neither the contempt of colonials nor the enmity of compatriots. Too accustomed to this success and rendered arrogant by it, Wangrin wrongly scoffs when the element of oracle comes back into the picture. Somewhat before Wangrin actually sees the turtle-dove of the original prophecy, he is told by a geomancer that he ought to slow his activities. “Know this,” says the latter, “that when the sun is at its zenith, it blinds those who try to stare at it, and prevents them from perceiving accurately. This is exactly your case now.” (p. 373) Wangrin laughs at the advice, and goes to Dakar where he squanders his wealth on a French woman, Madame Terreau, who has no intention but to milk him of his wealth.
From this point, Wangrin's fortune alters irreversibly for the worse. While out driving he unwittingly kills a python, sacred to the Bambara. In his subsequent depression he becomes alcoholic, and spends the remainder of his savings on drink. He becomes aware of what is happening to him before the end:

O fate! You are a strange shadow.
When someone wants to kill you, you flee.
When someone tries to escape you,
you follow closely behind (p. 406).

In a chapter entitled “Clochard et philosophe,” Wangrin spends his last days singing drinking songs. He imparts the wisdom he has accumulated, to two young friends:

What is life here below?
… Anguish wedded to hope.
A lie one takes for the truth,
even though it never fails to play
cruel tricks on the living.
Life is an old, neurotic hag.
She strikes down the good with the bad,
the pious with the incredulous,
with the same rod: death.
What is man?
The fool who doesn't take
himself for a fool, whereas he grazes
night and day in the pasture of
What is fortune?
A bad mount that kills its rider.
The best revealer of the true character
of a man and his mood.

Wangrin is found dead in the gutter one morning after a heavy rainstorm. In a moving last scene, Romo follows local tradition by saying a eulogy for him at his funeral where he forgives him all, both in “heart and mind.” He calls for Wangrin's creditors to address themselves to him, and promises swift payment of any debts Wangrin owed them. Incredibly, no one steps forward, because even in his extreme misery, Wangrin had never approached anyone for money.
Wangrin mixes elements of burlesque and tragedy, anecdote and history. Although Bâ's acquaintance with “Wangrin” was certainly less formative than his association with Tierno Bokar, the story has some similarity in approach, in that it reveals by implication a social and historic milieu behind the detailed account of one important character. Here, the character is comical, while the implication goes beyond comedy. Wangrin's mission is a highly individualized, egotistical one, and this we may take (as we do in Achebe's No Longer at Ease) as one consequence of the European presence. Here, unlike the Achebe work, character and author conspire to win and build upon the reader's sympathy for Wangrin. His quips, his trickery are irresistible, his faux pas merely tactical and therefore pardonable. Where the attitude in Tiemo Bokar had been one of reverence, it is now one of delight, wonderment, and no small measure of admiration.
In these three works Bâ gives vividly detailed accounts—all deriving from oral tradition and personal contact—of privileged moments from a mosaic of West African history. Taken together, they constitute a preciously refined and sympathetic portrait of some complex relations and events from a turbulent, decisive century and a half. Their scope embraces a pre-colonial social organization, as well as two separate stages in the process of colonial takeover. As such, they provide valuable testimony on that process itself, the sort of testimony we need in penetrating the blurred intentions and confused actions associated with that period. They also give us an intimate, closer understanding of the peoples affected by French expansion-reacting to the colonial presence, to be sure, but also carrying on true to their traditions at the same time, and often succeeding in sidestepping, ignoring, denying, and even undermining an intractable imperialist administration. Se d6brouiller. It is what Wangrin does: he manages. This, it seems, is what we can best learn from these three works.

1. With Jacques Daget. Paris: Mouton, 1962; with Marcel Cardaire. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1957; and Bâ, Paris: Edition 10/18, 1973, respectively. Page numbers in the text of this essay refer to these editions.
2. J. Spencer Trimingham, A History of Islam in West Africa. London: Oxford University Press, 1962, rpt. 1975, p. 180.
3. A note on nomenclature: Fulɓe is the English term. To themselves (therefore, more correctly) they are known as Fulbe, and their language as Fulfulde. To the Wolof and French they are known as Peuls, to the Bambara, Fula, to the Hausas, Fulɓe (H.A.S. Johnston, The Fulani Empire of Sokoto. London: Oxford University Press, 1967, p. 261.) The rival but related Toucouleur or Toucoulor come from the Fuuta-Tooro to the west, and owe their generally accepted name to a French mispronunciation of the Wolof mispronunciation of Tekrur. The Toucouleur are considered a “branch” of the Fulɓe (Pierre Alexandre, “A West African Islamic Movement: Hamallism in French West Africa.” From Protest and Power in Black Africa. Ed. Robert Rotberg and Ali Mazrui. New York: Oxford University Press, 19701, p. 498. Delafosse supports the idea of the Fulɓe belonging to the Israelite people, who, expelled from Egypt by a Ptolemy, were persecuted by the Romans and fled to Fezzan, where they made their way to Air (in present day Niger) and then to Maasina (As reflected in Claude Wauthier, L'Afrique des Africains. Paris: Seuil, 1964. p. 173.) This matter is also discussed by Roger Mauny in “Le Judaisme, les Juifs et l'Afrique occidentale,” Bulletin de l'I.F.A.N., Dakar, no. 34 (July-October, 1949).
4. Johnston, op. cit., pp. 18-20.
5. Ibid., p. 20.
6. Bâ, L'Empire Peul du Maasina, op. cit., p. 242. My translation, as are all others from Bâ.
7. Ibid., p. 282.
7b. Erratum. Cheikou Amadou belonged to the Bari clan.
8. J. B. Webster and A. A. Boahen, History of West Africa. New York: Praeger, 1967 [rpt. 1973]), p. 19.
9. Jacques Nantet, Panorama de la littérature noire d'expression française. Paris: Fayard, 1972, p. 49. 10. Jamil Abun-Nasr, The Tijaniyya: a Sufi Order in the Modern World. London: Oxford University Press, 1965, p. 15.
11. E.g., Neveu, Rinn, Depont and Coppolani, Paul Marty. Ibid., p. 1
12. Paul Marty, L'Islam an Sénégal, quoted by Abun-Nasr, ibid., p. 141 (my translation).
13. Donal Cruise O'Brien, Saints and Politicians. London: Cambridge University Press, 1975, p. 10.
14. al-Hajj Malik Sii, quoted by Abun-Nasr, op. cit., p. 143.
15. Ibid., p. 153.
16. Pierre Alexandre, “A West African Islamic Movement: Hamallism in French West Africa.” In Protest and Power in Black Africa. Ed. Robert Rotberg and Ali A. Mazrui. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970, p. 508.
17. Bâ, Tierno Bokar, op. cit., p. 90.
18. Bâ, Aspects de la civilisation africaine. Paris: Présence Africaine, 1972, p. 69.
19. Ibid., p. 71.
20. Bâ, L'Etrange destin de Wangrin, op. cit., p. 21.