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Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Today I ran across Wesley Muhammad, "The Black Arabian Origins of the Yorùbá". We are promised this will be part of a book, Aḷḷāh and Olódùmarè: Islām and Ifá as Sibling Rivals. This 34-page essay was good until a detour starting pages 19-24.
In its first part Dr Muhammad argues that, in the first decades AH, some Arabians became Muslims and then apostasised. These skipped out of Arabia and entered the Sahara. On the other side of that desert they encountered and influenced the northern Yoruba - the Ọyọ, distinct from other modern "Yoruba" - and the Borgu, and the Hausa. Dr Muhammad argues each case in turn, from oral-tradition passed first to British explorers and ethnographers of the nineteenth century, and then to Christian Nigerian patriots of the early twentieth like Samuel Johnson. The Ọyọ, Borgu, and Hausa, he notes, are Muslim today but were not Muslim then, or were only just becoming Muslim then. Dr Muhammad argues instead that these peoples were para-Muslim, survivors of the Arabian religions which Muhammad supplanted. They would have been para-Muslim for thirteen centuries.
To finetune it all Dr Muhammad notes that the legendary (and anonymous) leader of this new sect was remembered as a black man. He supplements that in p. 19 with a quote, from Muhammad Bello, Infāq al-mayṣūr in 1812 :
The inhabitants of this province (Yarba), it is supposed, originated from the remnant of the children of Canaan, who were of the tribe of Nimrod. The cause of their establishment in the West of Africa was, as it is stated, in consequence of their being driven by Yar-rooba, son of Kahtan, out of Arabia to the Western Coast between Egypt and Abyssinia. From that spot they advanced into the interior of Africa, till they reach Yarba where they fixed their residence.
Dr Muhammad assumes - going back to that founder - that he could not have been a Kwa-speaking West-African. He observes south-Semitic Arabians who are more like Ethiopians, and always darker than the Qurashi and Najdi northern Arabians whom we see in OPEC meetings today. Dr Muhammad concludes that the seed population must have been east African, from the substrate population of Arabia.
I think that last part is a distraction from the important, first part. Which means I have to deal with that part first.
Among the affected peoples is the Hausa, which is Chadic. This is, I believe, important for tracing the steps of the para-Muslims. The Semitic peoples have traditionally taken over the coasts and then wandered up the caravan-routes. Along East Africa, their first non-Semites would have been the Somalis and Afar. As for the West: Delta-Egypt first, Berbers next, Lake Chad third. (The Copts and Nubians, until the 'Abbasid era, might have converted to Semitic religions but they did not permit folk-movements through their territory, until well into the Middle Ages.)
Dr Muhammad at p. 23 relates how Goldenberg has shown how the Biblical character Canaan son of Ham has been associated with racial slavery of blacks. (I would add that this "curse of Ham" is implied already in Arculf's account delivered to Adomnan in the 690s AD, remarking upon the cabins at Jericho c. 665.) Those trading in human chattel - in this time, Jews and low-caste Arabians - would share that sacred "datum" with their partners. When the Semites were dealing with people like nomadic Semites, particularly Berbers, the Semites could treat their immediate partners as near-Semites. The latter now had motive to direct their slave-raids against the "less pure", if I may.
I also suspect that Dr Muhammad has downplayed the Muslim sultanates to the north of Hausa-stan. Timbuktu, in particular, would have exerted a powerful force of prestige. It's not too much to label it the Tuareg Baghdad.
Given those facts, I see no need to assume that Canaan even meant Canaan; much less, as Dr Muhammad cites from Salibi 2007, that the real Canaan was in a "black" part of Arabia. It is enough that Arabs and Jews had tarred "'abid" with the blood of Canaan. It is no stretch to suggest that they might have disparaged the 'abids' land, as well - wherever an 'abd was found - as (the new) "Canaan".
To sum up: the evidence is very late, and poorly-constrained, and subject to corruption from the ambient sectarian-milieu. I appreciate the footnotes, though. It's a good start.
UPDATE 2/20/2016 - I have found that Ella Landau-Tasseron had pointed out (1997) that the family of 'Absi prophet Khalid bin Sinan had spread Khalid's word among the Berbers. Alongside the message of Islam, her sources tell her, but they also tell her that Khalid's prophecy contradicts sura 12 which excludes bedouin. Was memory of this what gave rise to the Ifá tradition ...?
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