Author:Mauro Nobili (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Paper short abstract:
My paper focuses on Ḥamdallāhi from a symbolic and a pragmatic point of view. Symbolic as the city was built to embody the ideal Islamic city. At the same time, Ḥamdallāhi was built to control the nomadic life of the Fulani and put them under the centralized control of the newly emerged caliphate.
Paper long abstract:
In 1818, the Muslim reformer Aḥmad Lobbo defeated a coalition of Bambara and Fulani soldiers and established a new West African caliphate, in today's Republic of Mali. Among the first decisions he took was the foundation of a new capital city: Ḥamdallāhi - from the Arabic "Praise be to God." The establishment of Ḥamdallāhi reflects the need of the new ruler to settle in a city that had no ties with previous political powers of the region, but also set the norm for a large-scale operation of sedentarization of Fulani nomads, who composed the largest part of Aḥmad Lobbo's supporters. The creation of new urban spaces is peculiar of many of the so-called 19th-century African jihads, such as Sokoto (founded by 'Uthmān b. Fūdī) and Omdurman (founded by the Sudanese Mahdi) among others. However, scholars have so-far neglected such cities, except for Omdurman that is the subject of a monographic study by Robert Kramer (Holy City on the Nile: Omdurman during the Mahdiyya, 1885-1898. Princeton, N.J.: Markus Weiner, 2010). This paper aims at analyzing Ḥamdallāhi from both a symbolic as well as a pragmatic point of view. Symbolic as the city was built to embody the ideal Islamic city, where the tenets of the religion could be performed at their best. At the same time, Ḥamdallāhi was built for pragmatic reasons, i.e. the need to control the nomadic life of the Fulani and put them under the centralized control of the newly emerged caliphate.
Urban scenographies of political power in Africa before 1900 (double panel)