Accepted Paper:

"Abáni fugurá" / "My father was a scholar": autobiographical accounts of Ali Eisami Gazir  


Stephanie Zehnle (Kassel University)

Paper short abstract:

Ali Eisami Gazir was enslaved during the 19th century in West Africa. But his account does not only give voice to a whole generation of slaves captured throughout the Sokoto Jihad. His identity heavily relied on Islamic education. He proudly told his owner: "My father was a scholar".

Paper long abstract:

When Ali Eisami Gazir was interviewed by the German missionary Sigismund Koelle in ca. 1850, he had already reached high age. He was looking back on over 60 years of his Bornu childhood, enslavement, trafficking, freedom and resettlement in Sierra Leone. Being kidnapped by Fulbe warriors in 1806 he was only one victim of many of the Sokoto Jihad years that lead to the formation of a West African Caliphate.

Ali narrates his religious life caesuras and disastrous occurrences of regional scale in a parallel way. He went to an Islamic teacher; he was initiated together with other boys in a common circumcision. When his row of Islamic life rituals stopped because of Jihad attacks - he was about to marry - Ali lists this war after a sun eclipse, locust menace, a famine and the pestilence.

It was a missionary who finally gave Ali a voice in Latin letters, but Ali himself could read and write Arabic and dictated his story. Because his father was a scholar, Ali was engaged in the Royal Palace for four years and learnt the Yoruba language. In opposite to himself as a Muslim, he defines non-Islamic African regions as uncivilized: According to Ali they drink cow blood, alcohol, and ride their horses without saddles. He is not alienating the Spanish or British he met, but exoticizing some Bornu neighbours. Ali Eisami Gazir uses his literacy for class distinction apart from his slave status. He therefore is an example for steady religious identities defying new environments.

Panel P161
Cultural productions in the context of slavery: slave narrative, narrative of the self and religious configurations