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The Ivory Saltcellars: A contribution to the history of Islamic expansion in Greater Senegambia during the 16th and 17th centuries

Les salières en ivoire : une contribution à l'histoire de l'expansion islamique dans la Grande Sénégambie au cours des XVIe et XVIIe siècles
Thiago H. Mota

Résumés

Cet article a pour objectif de revenir sur l’expansion de l’Islam en Afrique de l’Ouest au cours des XVIe et XVIIe siècles en lien avec la production d’ivoires sculptés. L’analyse porte sur la Grande Sénégambie, une région comprenant le bassin du fleuve Sénégal au nord, le plateau de Futa Jalon à l’est et la Sierra Leone septentrionale au sud. L’étude est basée sur des sources écrites européennes, des traditions orales africaines et des ivoires sculptés africains appartenant au musée ethnologique de Berlin, en Allemagne. L’hypothèse principale est que les XVIe et XVIIe siècles ont constitué un moment d’expansion sociale de l’Islam, avant que celui-ci ne devienne une force politique majeure en Sénégambie au cours des XVIIIe et XIXe siècles. L’objectif de cet article est ainsi de présenter une analyse croisée des pièces d’ivoire et des débuts de l’expansion islamique, en se concentrant sur les images sculptées dans les salières d’ivoire qui présentent des liens avec la culture écrite islamique d’Afrique occidentale.

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This paper was prepared within the Project SLAFNETSlavery in Africa: A Dialogue between Europe and Africa, supported by the European Commission through Horizon 2020 – Research and Innovation Framework Programme (H2020-MSCA-RISE-2016, 734596/ SLAFNET). I would like to acknowledge Peter Mark for his contributions to this paper, with many fundamental tips; Jonathan Fine for sharing official photographs of the ivories quoted here and for letting me make my own images when I visited the Ethnologisches Museum, guided by him, in June 2017; Vanicléia Santos and José Horta for all discussions we had during this research. Any mistakes are my own responsibility.

  • 1 B. Barry, 1998; E.C. Dias, J. Da Silva Horta, 2007.

1In this article, Islamic expansion in West Africa during the 16th and 17th centuries will be analyzed through the study of European written narratives, African oral traditions, and the ornamentation carved on African ivories known as saltcellars. The geographic space under analysis concerns Greater Senegambia,1 which is understood as the region running from the Senegal River basin in the north, to the Futa Jalon plateau in the east, and to northern Sierra Leone in the south. The main hypothesis is that the 16th and 17th centuries comprise the moment of social expansion of Islam, prior to the seizure of political power by Muslim warriors during the 18th and 19th centuries. Hence, this article’s central goal is to present a new interpretation of both the ivory pieces and the Islamic expansion, by focusing on the images carved in ivory saltcellars that are associated with Western African Islamic written culture: books, paper, and alowas (wooden boards on which letters are written with washable ink). Historiography has long considered the representation of books and other pieces ornamenting these saltcellars as indications of material culture referring to European contexts. Nevertheless, when one begins the analysis of those depictions from an African paradigm and viewpoint, it is important to confront them with elements of African cultural and historical backgrounds, among which the local Muslim religion and its expression stand out.

  • 2 On these movements, see H.F.C. Smith, 1961; P. Curtin, 1971; M. Klein, 1972; T. Ka, 2002.
  • 3 On this topic, see previous publications: T. Mota, 2017b; T. Mota, 2016a; T. Mota, 2016b. See also (...)

2In carrying out such a procedure, this article also aims to shed new light on studies of Muslim African intellectual culture by focusing on the period before the well-known 18th and 19th century jihads.2 Thus, the analysis of the 16th- and 17th-century ivory pieces contributes to new perspectives for researching into African written production and the local practices of reading. To this end, two saltcellars will be examined. Both are in the collection of the Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin, Germany. To better understand these pieces, the research procedure will look into European narratives describing peoples and cultures of the region and will indicate how African oral traditions demonstrate a local interest in the literate and religious Islamic culture. This approach aims to show the density of Islamization in Senegambia, arguing that this facilitated the later jihads.3 In the end, it is concluded that the study of arts and material culture in Africa strengthens the research in social history by offering new evidence and elucidating processes that add meanings to information presented in written and oral sources. The examination of these documents shows that Islamic written culture developed earlier in Senegambia than usually believed and guided part of the local artistic production.

African ivories in historiography

  • 4 For an overview of this production, see V. Santos, 2017.
  • 5 Bassani and Fagg noted that the piece was recognized as a chalice or cup with a pedestal in Europe (...)
  • 6 F. Malacco, 2017.

3Historiography on African ivory art began in 1959 with William Fagg’s work, cataloging 100 sculptures from West Africa. The studies grew in the 1980s, with Kathy Curnow’s groundbreaking thesis, William Fagg and Ezio Bassani, and Kate Ezra’s contributions. All of them were centered on the classification of African ivories as Afro-Portuguese pieces and limited their chronology of production between the late 15th and mid-16th centuries.4 In the 2000s, the work of the art historian Peter Mark reopened the debate, innovating in the methodological approach by considering written documentation as an input for analyzing African artistic production. His method overcame the established research on style issues, which hitherto had focused on descriptions of similarities between the pieces as the main resource to identification of geographical and temporal origin. Mark’s methodology crosses material culture and written sources, which allows him to identify workshops for ivory production in Sierra Leone, pointing out the continuity of the making of local objects, such as saltcellars, into the 17th century.5 In addition, new research undertaken by Felipe Malacco has shown local Senegambian uses for ivory oliphants, late in the 16th and early 17th centuries, highlighting the continuity of local workshops and self-identified industry on ivory for personal African use.6

  • 7 P. Mark, 2007.
  • 8 K. Curnow, 1983, p. 18–19.
  • 9 L. Afonso, J. Horta, 2013.
  • 10 P. Mark, 2014.

4The known pieces of carved ivory from West Africa have grown in number since 1959, with additional identification of about 50 other objects spread around Western museums.7 The majority of this collection is composed of spoons, trumpets or oliphants, and saltcellars. Throughout the historiography, these objects have been analyzed under concepts such as “Afro-Portuguese” or “Luso-African” ivories. The latter implies pieces “more African than Portuguese.” The former says the opposite. Both utilize the concept of “art of compromise,” however. This is a genre in which travel artwork is perhaps the main representative, marked by the concession and adaptation of the pieces to the taste of foreign consumers—in this case, Europeans. An art market built on this concept features relations of economic dependence, subjecting artistic production to the demands of external consumption.8 Some of the ivory pieces analyzed by historians from this perspective, such as the trumpets or oliphants, studied by Luís Urbano Afonso and José da Silva Horta, record European references like images from the book Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis, first published in France and then translated into Portuguese. The presence of these illustrations leads to this oliphant’s classification as Afro-Portuguese.9 Others, as those combined by Mark’s study, show a large presence of iconographic elements derived from local cultures, referring to elephants, snakes, dogs, and commercial products from Senegambia, like kola nuts. Based on these elements, Mark classified them as Luso-African, implying the predominance of an African iconography.10 The author still maintains the hybrid paradigm claiming some Portuguese status to these pieces.

  • 11 Mariza de Carvalho Soares argued that African ivories have been classified as apocryphal when Europ (...)
  • 12 V. Mudimbe, 2013, p. 29.
  • 13 K. Ezra, 1984; E. Bassani, W. Fagg, 1988.

5In this context, the hybrid condition is attributed to all known ivories owing to the presence of some European elements identified in part of the documentary corpus. Following this paradigm, pieces that are not understood as a consequence of a mixed Portuguese and African heritage have been seen as apocryphal.11 Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning the formation of an investigative procedure that seeks hybridity, considered as a principle and not as a conclusion. The emergence of the field of studies shows this paradigm, as it is indicated by an African-hyphenized nomenclature. This approach to African material culture, artistic, and/or intellectual production follows a pattern long developed in Western imagination, as demonstrated by Valentin Mudimbe.12 African creativity, authorship, and intellectual achievements have been put aside in Western scholarship in favor of a claimed European participation in processes of building African knowledge and skills. In the study of ivories, this approach may be seen mostly in the analyses of the expressive saltcellars, whose images can be accessed in the catalogs prepared by Kathy Curnow, Kate Ezra, and Ezio Bassani and William Fagg.13

  • 14 K. Ezra, 1984, p. 13–14.
  • 15 T. Mota, 2017b.

6In Ezra’s catalog, prepared for the “African Ivories exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1984, the artworks are presented as Afro-Portuguese products. Describing them, Ezra assumes that African carvers were familiar with horns or oliphants demanded by Portuguese traders, but not with saltcellars. She notes that “saltcellars, often quite elaborate, were a common feature of the tables set by European nobility during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, when salt was still a rare and costly condiment.”14 Hereafter, she warns that these sophisticated pieces were essentially European objects, just decorated with elements from African cultures in which they were produced. The recognition of use as a salt container was sought in the European context, with no regard to its condition in Africa itself. This analytical approach seems curious since, from a historiographical point of view, the research method to be used implies that a document (written, image, material culture) needs to be considered first in its original social context. This approach would show that Senegambian societies valued salt highly, and, thus, local uses for these saltcellars should be envisioned.15

  • 16 K. Ezra, 1984, p. 10.
  • 17 K. Ezra, 1984, p. 14.
  • 18 A noteworthy exception is the aforementioned work of Peter Mark.

7This is the case when one looks into the abundant 16th- and 17th-century European sources for Western Africa, as we are going to demonstrate below. This issue, however, was absent in Ezra’s analysis, even though she acknowledges the antiquity of ivory carving throughout Africa and the symbolic values attributed to those pieces. As she points out, archaeological investigations across the continent have found objects in ivory in residences and graves of rulers and people with power in local societies, demonstrating that “the use of ivory to denote prestige is not a recent phenomenon.”16 Moreover, she notes that the growth of European demand for the product has increased the value attributed to ivory pieces in African societies themselves, bringing it closer to symbolizing wealth. In this sense, Ezra asserts that “objects made of ivory still serve to indicate their owners’ status” in Africa.17 Nevertheless, little appreciation of African social, cultural, and political context has dominated the bibliographical production on ivories.18 Most scholars emphasize hybridity through the hypothesis of a European destination. Thus, the objects depicted, especially with regard to literate culture (like paper and books), have exclusively been identified as icons from Europe.

  • 19 The date of arrival in Germany is not recorded.
  • 20 K. Curnow, 1983, p. 386; E. Bassani, W. Fagg, 1988, p. 227.
  • 21 K. Curnow, 1983, p. 386.

8This is the case of particular saltcellars which belong to the African collection of the Ethnologisches Museum (Berlin). Figure 1 shows the piece III C 168, recorded as early as 1852 in Germany, coming from an anonymous donation.19 In the Catalogue Raisonné elaborated by Bassani and Fagg, it corresponds to the piece n.24; in Curnow’s catalog it is item n.01. The piece is 8.7 cm high and is fragmented; only the base survives. The location of the top is unknown (the photo has reversed the object).20 There are illustrations of four human characters: two women and two men. In describing these images, Curnow notes that “the men wear smooth caps, one wears a shirt and pants with cod-piece, the other wears shoes and a short tunic; both hold books and appear to be European.”21 The well-dressed men are interpreted by her as Europeans, and the women, who are shirtless and wear a long skirt, as Africans.

Figure 1: Code III C 168

Figure 1: Code III C 168

Photography: © Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz, photographer: Melanie Herrschaft.

  • 22 K. Curnow, 1983, p. 451; E. Bassani, W. Fagg, 1988, p. 227.
  • 23 K. Curnow, 1983, p. 451.

9Figure 2 shows the piece III C 4888, which entered the same German institution in 1873, coming from the ethnologist Philipp Wilhelm Adolf Bastian’s cabinet of curiosities. It is a 24.7-cm high complete saltcellar and corresponds to identification n.18 in Bassani and Fagg’s catalog and n.56 in Curnow’s.22 In describing this piece, Curnow pointed out the presence of “four male figures, dressed in Portuguese clothing. Two of them squat and hold books, while the other two stand, holding unidentified objects.”23 The characters in this saltcellar wear pleated pants, shirts, caps, and accessories around their wrists and necks. Nothing in this garment reveals undoubtedly Portuguese clothing, especially when compared with other Portuguese representations present in the ivory corpus, in which the characters most likely interpreted as Portuguese are dressed in European-style hats and coats. Hence, what suggests to the author a European identity in these figures?

Figure 2: Code III C 4888 b

Figure 2: Code III C 4888 b

Photography: © Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Photographer: Claudia Obrocki.

  • 24 E. Bassani, W. Fagg, 1988, p. 69.

10Analyzing the faces of the figures, men and women reveal the same phenotype, as far as it is possible to judge on this type of work. This must indicate African features, as in most of this documentary corpus. However, Curnow identifies only the women, without hesitation, as “African women.” Nevertheless, there is no element in the four figures that unquestionably identifies them as Europeans. Not even the highlighted codpiece, index of European dressing, can be clearly identified; it is a volume in the genital region in Figure 1, but not an accessory from European clothing. Then why classify men as Europeans and women as Africans? Bassani and Fagg’s image analysis explains Curnow’s interpretation: “in describing the figures on the bases of the saltcellars we have deduced their African identity only from their nudity, or the clothes they wear, or from their jewelry or scarification marks.” Hence, they conclude that “the facial features of Africans and Europeans are identically rendered.”24 Therefore, what suggests the European identity attributed to the characters in Curnow's analysis, as well as in Bassani and Fagg’s, is the carrying of books and the figures’ clothing (in opposition to nudity in women), attributed to European culture. Nevertheless, one might ask why European and African facial features would be the same if the sculptors were so skilled as to carve lots of different forms of animals, humans, and objects? Is it possible that African-featured faces could, indeed, represent African subjects?

  • 25 J. Horta, 1991; W. MacGaffey, 1994, p. 261.
  • 26 B. Lecocq, 2015, p. 25.

11The attribution of nudity to African characters has a long history in European texts describing Africa, and it is common in this literature.25 Having said that, the consideration of elements of intellectual and literary culture in Africa exclusively associated with the Western canon is based on an interpretative paradigm, not on evidence of written documentation or on any other evidence. As Baz Lecocq demonstrates, analyzing the historiography about trans-Saharan connections, there is a civilization bias that permeates the studies, constituting a scientific agenda that emphasizes the relations between north and south, thinking how north influences or modifies south, never the opposite. By this model, the creative and intellectual innovations should start in the north and then reach the south. However, this perspective is anchored not in sources, but in an ethnocentric perspective of civilization.26

12On the other hand, the confrontation between representations of objects of written culture depicted in African carved ivories and narrative texts about African societies from the 16th and 17th centuries evidences local aspects of production, circulation, and consumption of written culture. Also, the garment usually described as coming from a European background reveals itself as undoubtedly African when written records are put face to face with ivory pieces. Therefore, investigating the way African meanings are ascribed to these images indicates a methodological procedure to avoid the Eurocentric a priori in this research agenda. Thus, the initial question should be this: what are the values assigned to saltcellars and imagery referring to books and elements of written culture, in Africa?

Islamic written culture in Senegambia: Evidence prior to the jihadi wars

13To challenge the paradigm that associates intellectual production and written culture exclusively with Europe, one needs to analyze the local functions and meanings attributed to books and writing and reading practices in Senegambia. First of all, it must be understood that intellectual production can be increased without reading and writing skills, owing to the many possibilities of learning and transmitting knowledge other than through a written basis. Yet, this paper focuses on written culture depicted on ivory to demonstrate how it could (and did) carry meanings beyond European influence and perspective. Following this approach, some questions need to be put. How was local written intellectual production set up in Western Africa? What objects can be associated with this literate culture? Would they be depicted in carved ivory? How were Sape and Temne artisans, the well-known ivory sculptors, engaged with reading? To answer these questions, one must look into Islamic expansion across Senegambia.

  • 27 J.-L. Amselle, 2012, p. 43.
  • 28 A. Sarr, 2016.

14Explanations should be based on local culture. Indeed, an ethnic approach to a deeply interconnected region may not be the best option.27 Even if Sape or Temne art workers have not been described as Muslims in the consulted documents, the presence of Muslim preachers across Greater Senegambia was well recorded. Then, to better understand the meanings shared by peoples there about uses of paper and carrying books, it is necessary to give up ethnic borders and to focus on a regional approach and mechanisms that connected different communities. In this way, books and papers (mostly used in charms) may be seen as objects of spiritual protection by the majority of the peoples, even those who did not possesses the code to claim this power from Islam. Nevertheless, the role played by Islam making this material available must be recognized due to its appeal, which supported the subsequent Islamization, primarily based on education through Koranic schools. Talismans produced by Muslim preachers have been scattered through the region, facilitating the later spread of Islam as a legitimate source for spiritual power, challenging local spirits in struggles for land.28

  • 29 S. Diouf, 2013; T. Mota, 2017a; T. Mota, 2018.
  • 30 Among recent works, see G. Lydon, 2009; T. Walz, 2011; B. Hall, C. Stewart, 2011; S. Lliteras, 2013 (...)
  • 31 On the subject, see T. Mota, 2019.

15European written sources and African oral traditions reveal the deep role played by Islam in Greater Senegambia as early as the 16th and 17th centuries, when the faith first spread over the region. This process of Islamic expansion can be noticed in regard to the presence of enslaved African Muslims in the Americas and Europe, where they continued their religious beliefs.29 Concerning the 18th and 19th centuries, several works have pointed out the high performance of written culture, expressed in activities of centralized government, religious textual production, elaboration of chronicles, and constitution of libraries along the Sahel.30 For a study of the less known earlier period, available sources include European narratives about Senegambian peoples as well as African oral traditions about the process of Islamization. A form of oral tradition associated with preaching claims a peaceful propagation of Islam through religious education at Koranic schools, before the jihadi wars. These Koranic schools figure in European sources as well. They were the main institutions in which literacy was taught, and the documents consulted have shown they were more readily available in early times than the 19th-century reformers would emphasize, presenting their own arguments against other Muslim peoples. Public reading of the Koran took place, and the study and recitation of the Muslim sacred book occurred in Greater Senegambia beginning in the 15th century, if not earlier.31 Therefore, reading and writing skills were developed from an African Islamic point of view.

  • 32 D. Berliner, R. Sarró, 2007, p. 19.
  • 33 L. Herzog, W. Mui, 2016; T. Ka, 2002.
  • 34 V. Fernandes, 1958b, p. 695. Original in Portuguese (hereafter, all quotations in Portuguese and Fr (...)

16As David Berliner and Ramon Sarró argue, “without learning, without transmission, there is no such thing as religion.”32 In Senegambia, the Koranic schools were busy with the production and transmission of Islam since before the religious brotherhoods emerged.33 At the end of the 15th century, these schools were marked by the presence of foreign preachers from Mauritania, Mali, and Morocco. The chronicler Valentim Fernandes described, in the early 16th century, the presence of these preachers throughout the region. Among Serer peoples, he remarked the presence of Islam, which had not yet been institutionalized, claiming the black Africans were instructed in Islam by light-skinned ones: “they have the Mafoma [Mohammed] sect and have their bexerins, Moorish clergymen.”34 Fernandes described the former Wolof state of Cayor, northward of the Dakar peninsula, stating that the function of teaching and transmitting the Muslim faith was performed by

  • 35 V. Fernandes, 1958b, p. 683 : “bexerins brancos, que são clérigos e pregadores de Mafoma, os quais (...)

white bexerins, who are clerics and preachers of Mafoma, who know how to write and read. These bexerins come from far away into the hinterland, like the kingdom of Fez or Morocco, and come to convert these blacks to their faith with their preaching.35

17The performance of this social group is at the foundation of Islam in the region: the “bexerim” are the ancestors of the present days serïgn or serïgn-bi.

  • 36 This model was developed in the study of the Muslim religion in the African hinterland and later ap (...)
  • 37 IAN/TT, Lisbon Inquisition, process 10832, fl 05 : “Amaçambat e que era da seita de Mafamede,” and (...)

18Among the Mandinga settlements, in the vicinity of the Gambia River and southward, chroniclers of the early 16th century pointed to Islamic religiosity as an ongoing process that had not reached large social sectors. It was largely restricted to long-distance traders and regional political elites. These observations derived from descriptions made by European navigators in the late 15th century. These chroniclers and their Arab and Berber counterparts are referenced in historiography to support the thesis that establishes Islamic trade as a mediator of the subsequent expansion and acceptance of Islam by political elites before the popular masses. Islamic social expansion over ordinary people is generally understood as a result of jihadist wars undertaken from the 18th century on.36 However, this essay argues that popular adherence to Islam in Senegambian societies occurred as early as the 16th and 17th centuries, preceding the later jihadist regimes. The preaching carried out by foreign marabouts gave rapid results: if early preachers were light-skinned marabouts from northern Africa, this situation quickly changed by the mid-16th century. For this period, there are records of inter-generational religious formation: a Wolof man, enslaved in Portugal, was sued by the Holy Inquisition Court, in Lisbon, accused of Islamic practice. In his testimony, this man said that in his land he had been called “Amaçambat and that he was from the sect of Mafamede [Mohammed]” and added that he “knew many prayers from his sect that they taught him as they do to the boys.”37 Therefore, the document evidences a process of Islamic progression through which individuals were born and inserted into already existent Muslim communities. Their religious continuity took place in an institutional way.

  • 38 A. Almada, 1964, p. 236 : “caciz Jalofo, chamado naquelas partes bexerim.”
  • 39 N.I. de Moraes, 1995, p. 379: “qui a bien cinq ou six mil personnes, tous noirs, nus et mahomettans (...)
  • 40 Father A. Brásio, 1991, p. 310: “não cessam de dia nem de noite”; “agora todos os mais professam ce (...)

19At the end of the 16th century, the result of preachers’ dispersal proved to be fruitful, enabling the growth of local followers: in a 1592–1594 account, the Cape Verdean businessman André Álvares de Almada described the presence of a Muslim preacher at Caior’s court: “a caciz Jalofo [a Wolof preacher], called in those parts bexerim.38 It was no longer the “white bexerins” quoted by Fernandes. The change in the patterns of Islamization led to the rapid transformation of the social basis of Islam: in 1660, a French missionary described “five or six thousand inhabitants” in Rufisque, present-day Senegal, claiming to be all Muslims.39 The Spanish friar Pablo Heronimo de Franxenal, writing to the secretary of Propaganda Fide’s officer on 28 October 1671, highlighted the Islamic expansion in Senegambia as a major impediment to Christian missions, saying that Islamic preachers “do not cease day or night.” As a result of constant preaching, he argued that “now most of them profess blindly, stubbornly and deceptively the false and damnable sect of Mafoma.” To him, there was no doubt that Islam would prevail as the most recognized religion to be practiced in the region, “up to the Red Sea.”40 The peaceful process of teaching and learning, rather than external imposition, allowed the incorporation of large segments of the Senegambian population into the Islamic ranks.

  • 41 L. Sanneh, 1997, p. 12–13.

20The role of local agents was instrumental in the spread of Islam. In analyzing this process, the Gambian historian Lamin Sanneh argues that two categories acted as agents of Islamization. On the one hand, the transmitters, a group formed by a great diversity of individuals who went to Africa and stayed there for some time: merchants, travelers, artisans, mendicant marabouts, missionary preachers, scholars, jurists, clergymen, and so on. Sanneh argues that this group worked in the Islamic expansion but was secondary in the process of Islamization of African peoples. Primordial would have been the role played by another segment, characterized as receivers: individuals from local populations who adhered to Islam from the transmitters and adjusted the faith to local contexts and needs, expanding it through new references.41 The Wolof and Mandinga bexerins described by André Álvares de Almada are part of this group.

  • 42 L. Sanneh, 1979, p. 37. Sanneh considered that the process of expansion of the Khakhankés had begun (...)
  • 43 I. Wilks, 2011, p. 1–79.
  • 44 M.A. Gomez, 2018, p. 16.

21Koranic education made possible the religious and social expansion and consolidation of Islam, which preceded the Muslim political regimes. This perspective is also evidenced by oral traditions present in Senegambia, which refer to a personage originating from Massina who would become famous for institutionalizing Islam in Bambuk, eastern Senegal: Al-Hajj Salim Suware. This individual is claimed to have lived sometime between the 13th and 17th centuries, the period of dispersion of Islam in Senegambia through a social group of traders institutionally linked to Islamic preaching: the jakhankés (or diakhanké).42 He is recorded only by oral traditions; there are no written sources on him. Nevertheless, the model featured by the approach attributed to Suware is well documented, through references to Koranic schools.43 Lamin Sanneh argues that the jakhanké identity was built on Islam: they were Muslim clergymen and teachers from Mandinga people, claiming origin in Massina, specifically in the village of Jakha (Dia, Diagha, Diakha), from which derives the term jakhanke. Many oral traditions claim Jakha as the first city in the Middle Niger and as an important hub for long-distance trade. Appearing long before Islam, Jakha may have been an urban site as early as 500 BC.44

  • 45 N. Levtzion, 1994; T. Green, 2019, p. 43–44.
  • 46 F.L. Coelho, 1990, p. 23: “uma casta de negros que chamam Jagancazes, na qual vem mais de três mil (...)
  • 47 National Center for Arts and Culture, Department of Literature, Performing and Fine Arts (hereafter (...)

22Following the connections between long-distance trade and Islam in early phases of Islamization,45 the presence of Muslim traders from Jakha in Greater Senegambia is noted in a written source. In the middle of the 17th century, the Cape Verdean Francisco de Lemos Coelho noted African traders named jagancazesjakhankés—at the village of Barracunda, on the Gambia River. According to Lemos Coelho, they formed a group with more than “three thousand people and more than one thousand beasts; the main thing they come for is salt,” followed by paper, beads, and some textiles.46 Hence, the process of Islamization would have begun from these foreign Muslims. Oral traditions present the jakhanké heritage by positing Al-Hajj Salim Suware as the prototype and archetype of African conversion by teachings of Islamic culture. Those traditions do not advance as evidence the link between Islam and trade; instead, they claim Suware would have been a pilgrim on the way to Mecca, who performed the Hajj seven times, and from where his religious authority is derived. At Mecca, Suware is believed to have received a divine call, which would have indicated the need to spread Islam in West Africa.47

  • 48 L. Sanneh, 1979, p. 1–3.
  • 49 Toby Green’s use of oral traditions is exemplary. See T. Green, 2012.
  • 50 NCAC, tape 358A, p. 2.

23Religious practice and Suware’s peaceful preaching, following his definitive return from Mecca, are recognized by oral tradition as the model that consolidated the paradigm of Islamic teaching in Senegambia.48 But data from oral archives dealing with early modern times must be read as an African perspective on the past. Oral traditions offer narratives that define a sense of history in a broad way, more connected to long-duration institutions than to individuals or particular events. Hence, it must be highlighted that this corpus of knowledge features local mechanisms to interpret and understand the past. They are not evidence from that past itself.49 As an intellectual resource to represent the past, oral traditions also bring together elements about the present when they were enunciated. Thus, some narrations collected in the 1970s, relating to Suware’s role in Islamization, were told by individuals claiming to be his heirs. This is the case of the tradition related by the Mandinga marabout and farmer Alhaji Momodu Mutar Suware. Interviewed in 1975 at the age of 73, Alhaji Momodu was recognized by his local community of Jaabi Kunda, The Gambia, as a descendant of the founding Salim Suware. Alhaji Momodu claimed that Al-Hajj Suware propagated Islam in Senegambia by preaching, not by fighting local peoples: “he did not fight those people, he was not a ruler. But all of them accepted Islam.”50 Hence, in local farmers’ oral traditions, knowledge about Islam arrived peacefully from teaching and was featured in opposition to the establishment of governors who claimed a religious right to political power. According to this perspective, most rulers have been seen as warriors, not preachers.

  • 51 Movement between centers of religious formation is one of the constant features in the biography of (...)

24In opposition to the procedure of these Muslim warriors who have established political states across the Greater Senegambia and fought local pre-jihad Islamic institutions by neglecting them, pacifist oral traditions point to the centrality of education, contrasted with the idea of conversion by coercion. In the same way, this kind of oral tradition claims an autonomous pursuit of Muslim religion by African peoples. The memory mobilized by Alhaji Momodu recounts that after the death of Al-Hajj Salim Suware, the community that had crowded around him in the village of Jakha would have dispersed. The metaphor of community dispersion points to the dispersion of Islam itself and, mainly, the method of Islamic teaching. Following this perspective, the knowledge cultivated by Suware would germinate in different parts of West Africa: in Bundu, Wuli, Caior, and elsewhere. The narrative, therefore, gives meaning to displacement, a characteristic of Islamic education in West Africa: the search by a talibé (disciple) for a master who would teach him, somewhere else than in his own land. This pattern of learning is present in West African Muslim biographies, such as that of Malick Sy, the founder of the Bundu caliphate.51

  • 52 NCAC, Tape 132 / A. Informant: Laa Sankung Jaabi; Topic: History of the Senegambian Marabouts; Date (...)

25In addition to dispersion, this displacement also indicates the power of attraction of Koranic teaching centers, capable of bringing together people from different locations. Another oral tradition describes the quest for Koranic knowledge from the village of Sutuco, near the Gambia River, to Jakha, where Al-Hajj Suware supposedly had lived. A man named Yusuph, son of Sambu Jaaki Kesama, had been sent by his father to Mbemba Lang Suware, who should teach him about Islam. (In this narrative, it is not clear if Mbemba Lang Suware and Salim Suware are the same man.) Yusuph would have left the state of Wuli to learn about Islam in Jakha. The document stated: “Suware took the boy and began to instruct him.”52 Next, Yusuph returned to Sutuco after completing his studies and started teaching Islam there. Therefore, the local understanding about the concentration of bexerim in places like Sutuco derives from a model of knowledge production based on movement, from a Suwarian approach. Once those students graduated, they would move to other places, sometimes returning home and setting up their own schools.

  • 53 D.P. Pereira, 1958b, p. 641: “o principal deles se chama Sutuco, que será de quatro mil vizinhos.”
  • 54 On the Wolof states in Senegambia, see R. Fall, 1983, 1988; B. Barry, 1985; O. Kane, 1986; R. Fall, (...)
  • 55 V. Fernandes, 1958b, p. 674; “a aldeia de Budomel [buur damel, governor of Cayor] não tinha senão 5 (...)
  • 56 D.P. Pereira, 1958b, p. 644: “a gente desta terra toda fala a língua dos Mandingas, e são macometas (...)

26This statement is reinforced by European 15th- and 16th-century written sources, which indicate that the village of Sutuco was an important center for the diffusion of Islamic knowledge in Senegambia. At the beginning of the 16th century, the Portuguese chronicler Duarte Pacheco Pereira compiled early travel accounts on the African coast and stated that, in the region of the Gambia River, there were four large settlements: Sutuco, Jalanco, Dobaneo, and Janansura. And he adds: “the greatest of them is called Sutuco, which will be of four thousand neighbors.”53 The impressiveness of this village is evident when contrasted with the capital village of the state of Caior, when it was still dependent on the Jolof.54 The early 16th-century chronicler Valentim Fernandes affirmed that in 1455, “the village of Budomel [buur damel, ruler of Caior] had only 50 houses of straw surrounded by hedges and branches of trees with a door where is its entrance.”55 Sutuco, in turn, was already a trading center frequented by Mandinga merchants. This village was already characterized by the Islamic religion: according to Duarte Pacheco Pereira, “the people of this land all speak the language of the Mandinga and are macometas [Mohammedans] that keep the law or sect of Mafoma.”56

  • 57 A. Almada, 1964, p. 275: “três casas principais grandes, como entre nós conventos, de grande religi (...)

27Along the banks of the Gambia River, Sutuco was accompanied by other important villages with Islamic presence and widespread Koranic education. At the end of the 16th century, André Almada affirmed that there were “three great principal houses, such as among us convents, of great religion and devotion among them, in which these religious reside and those who learn to this effect.”57 These religious were the bexerim, the preachers responsible for teaching in the Koranic schools. According to the Cape Verdean chronicler, the first religious center was located near the river’s mouth, on the Atlantic coast; the second was 70 leagues inland in Malor, and the third was 50 leagues from the second, in Sutuco. At that time, this last village gave place to a large regional market, where Muslim traders, preachers, and local farmers had a place to perform their prayers. As André Álvares de Almada declares:

  • 58 A. Almada, 1964, p. 275–276: “fazem suas salas para o Oriente postos os rostos, e antes de as fazer (...)

they make their salas [salat, prayers] facing to the East, and before doing it they wash their head first and then their faces. They pray together with a loud voice like many clerics in choir, and they finish with Ala Arabi, and Ala mimi.58

  • 59 R. Jobson, 1999, p. 126.

28Sutuco and other villages were not only commercial zones. There, schoolmasters and students seeking Islamic knowledge were found together, and Koranic schools then took shape with an associated set of practices, material culture, and behaviors. As for the didactic resources used to teach writing, the English merchant Richard Jobson observed, in 1623, that “they have for their books a small smooth board, fit to hold in their hands, on which the children’s lessons are written with a kind of black ink they made, and the pen is in a manner of a pencil.”59 The Cape Verdean businessman Francisco de Lemos Coelho, in the middle of the 17th century, stated that in those villages:

  • 60 F.L. Coelho, 1990, p. 117: “não há bexerim que não traga consigo dez e doze rapazes, aos quais ensi (...)

there is no bexerim who does not bring with him ten and twelve boys, whom he teaches to read and write, who do everything on tablets and learn at night by the light of fires, which they do with a loud voice.60

  • 61 M. de la Courbe, 1913, p. 191: “Ils envoyent a cette escole leurs enfans, pendant la nuit, et vous (...)
  • 62 Some topics discussed in this section were developed in T. Mota, 2019.

29At the end of the 17th century in the Wallo polity, in northern Senegal, the emissary of the Compagnie du Sénégal, Michel Jajolet de La Courbe, also noted the lessons or prayers taught to children by marabouts or bexerins. According to La Courbe, “they send their children to this school during the night, and you hear them read by singing lessons of the Koran, or prayers in Arabic, which are written on small wooden boards.”61 These objects described by Jobson, Coelho, and La Courbe are the alowas, wooden boards on which the letters are written with washable ink, applied to Islamic education and Arabic literacy. The centrality of the alowa in Koranic learning and its resilience over time make it an object of Muslim literate culture in West Africa: an index of the Muslim African intellectual heritage.62

  • 63 A. Almada, 1964, p. 230: “uns negros tidos por religiosos, chamados bexerins, os quais escrevem em (...)

30Directly associated with religious learning in the Koranic schools were the production and circulation of writings. Between the 16th and 17th centuries, a number of European merchants and explorers pointed to the presence of Islamic writing in Senegambia. In 1594 André Álvares de Almada described the existence of “some Negroes considered as religious, called bexerins, who write on paper and in bound books of four and a half sheets.”63 The role of these bexerins was to educate children in the Koran. In this sense, the Portuguese Jesuit Father Manuel Álvares wrote, in 1616:

  • 64 M. Álvares, 1616, p. 4v: “v.”

the best of the Wolof nobility live in the hinterland. Among these [Wolof peoples], the sect of Mafoma is followed [.] in raising children [,] their way is likely the custom of those heathens; those [Wolof] who are... bexerins teach their sons Arabic, and then they are raised to be ministers.64

  • 65 F.L. Coelho, 1990, p. 25: “são os letrados da Lei, e todos leem e escrevem a língua arábica.”

31Such learning would later potentiate the exercise of laws according to the Koran and Muslim justice, and, ultimately, would make possible the establishment of Muslim governments. In the meantime, Francisco de Lemos Coelho pointed out, in 1669, the relations between the use of letters and the exercise of justice. In his memorial, he describes the bexerins as Islamic law agents and stated that “they are the masters of the law, and everyone reads and writes the Arabic language.”65

32In 1623, Richard Jobson described his voyage to the Gambia River, where he had remained for seven months between 1621 and 1622 and had observed books carried by Muslim clerics. According to Jobson,

  • 66 R. Jobson, 1999, p. 131.

they have great books, all manuscripts of their religion, that we have seen when companies of Mary-bucks [marabouts] have traveled by [with?] us, some of their people laden therewith, many of them being very great, and of a large volume, which travel of their [with them].66

  • 67 M. de la Courbe, 1913, p. 169: “Le lendemain, il me vint dire a Dieu ; il me montra son Alcoran qu' (...)
  • 68 M. de la Courbe, 1913, p. 191: “les marabous gagnent leur vie à montrer à lire, comme j'ay dit, a e (...)

33At the end of the 17th century, in the Wolof state of Wallo, the Frenchman Michel Jajolet de La Courbe met merchants and marabouts from Mauritania, one of whom had recently returned from Mecca. La Courbe writes: “the next day, he came to tell me about God; showed me his Koran, which he himself had written.”67 The presence of books and objects associated with the written culture is directly linked to these men, their knowledge, pilgrimages, and the spiritual and political power they possessed. Moreover, the performance of writing was a way of life to many of those bexerins. As La Courbe noted, many “marabouts make their lives by teaching how to write the Korans, and how to make the grisgris [amulets] in order to protect them from all the accidents which may befall men.”68

  • 69 On the cultural capital invested in books, see G. Lydon, 2004; T. Mota, 2016b.

34Activities derived from teaching, such as the production of amulets and the dispersion of blessings, were fundamental to the expansion and consolidation of Islam. Alongside them, carrying books daily, as pointed out by Jobson, was a distinguishing index among local people, who attributed a high value to Islam.69 In addition, the centrality of the religious culture, the Koranic schools, and the circulation of books associated with Islam, especially the Koran, are evident in many sources. La Courbe writes:

  • 70 M. de la Courbe, 1913, p. 191; “suivent la loy mahometane, dans laquelle ils sont plus sçavans que (...)

They follow the Mohammedan law, of which they are more knowledgeable than the Cape Verdean people, having public schools, where they learn to read in Arabic, which is the language of their religion and in which the Koran is written. [...]; there is no one among them who does not know how to write, and Arabic letters also serve to write their natural language; when they begin any work, they say this word: bissimilaye, which means In the name of God, which is the beginning of the Koran, and many among them observe their law very exactly, not drinking neither wine nor brandy, and fasting during Ramadan or Lent, very regularly.70

  • 71 IAN/TT, Lisbon Inquisition, process 4031, fl. 11.
  • 72 A. Donelha, 1977, p. 160: “o que levam para vender são feitiços em cornos de carneiros e nôminas e (...)

35These data indicate a strong literate culture of Islamic expression in Senegambia. The processes of Islamization (conversion) and Islamic progression (being born in Islamic societies) in the region occurred intensely throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, carried out by local preachers. They arose from the first generation formed by those who accepted Islam through foreign preachers and, then, made it available to local people. Their leadership can be found even in Muslim West African Diaspora: many Western African persons (mainly Wolof and Sereer) were caught by the Portuguese Inquisition in the middle of 16th century, accused of practicing Islam in Portugal and planning to run away to “the lands of Moors,” in Africa. The leader of the group was said to be a Wolof man named Domingos Jalofo, “who knows reading and is a great Moor,”71 which means a preacher. In Senegambian coastal regions, the most prominent in this affair were the Mandinga and Wolof bexerim, who institutionalized the social reproduction of Islam. Nevertheless, such an ethnic categorization remains incomplete, because these bexerim travelled all around the region, as far as southern Sierra Leone. According to the Cape Verdean trader André Donelha, they “seed the sect of Mafamede in many parts and go in a pilgrimage to the house of Mecca.” Doing so, these bexerins used to sell amulets, some of them made of “written papers,” which they spread, propagating Islamic practices and beliefs.72

36This movement was accompanied by the spread of written culture of Islamic expression, locally produced. The Arabic alphabet was used to write both Arabic and local languages, as cited above. The teaching of reading and writing in Arabic and the constant presence of books in the vicinity of Muslim preachers both point to the centrality of objects related to reading in the daily life of African Muslim communities in the 16th and 17th centuries. Those books, papers, and alowas were important emblems of their social role. This observation allows us to renew our examination of the ivories: what are the meanings of depictions of objects associated with written culture, from an African perspective?

Back to the ivories: African iconography and its local meanings

  • 73 K. Curnow, 1983; P. Mark, 2007.
  • 74 L. Afonso, J. Horta, 2013.

37The best-known pieces of African ivory came from three regions: the one between Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone; Benin; and Congo. Through material analysis, textual descriptions, confrontation of styles, and the nature of the pieces, art historians have identified parameters to establish the specific geographical origin of these objects.73 The pieces analyzed in this article have been attributed to the region between Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone, that is, southern Greater Senegambia. In written sources from the 15th to the 17th century, this region appears as a site of important workshops. In a description written between 1507 and 1510, based on information provided by a Portuguese captain named Alvaro Velho do Barreiro, who lived on the Senegambian coast for eight years, the chronicler Valentim Fernandes described the ivory production there.74 This workshop was located close to the Rio Grande in present-day Guinea-Bissau, which is a social divider:

  • 75 V. Fernandes, 1958a, p. 721: “os negros deste rio contra o Cabo Verde [ao norte] são pela maior par (...)

the blacks of this river against Cape Verde [to the north] are mostly Mohammedans, though [there are] many idolaters among them. But from this river onward [to the south] all are idolaters.75

38In this intermediate region, there were Sape peoples, the well-known ivory artisans. According to Fernandes, these Sape art workers:

  • 76 V. Fernandes, 1958a, p. 722: “fazem coisas sutis de marfim, como colheres, saleiros e manilhas.”

do subtle things of ivory, like spoons, saltcellars and shackles.76

39Further south, within the borders of present-day Sierra Leone, during the same period, the chronicler Duarte Pacheco Pereira described the peoples called Temne and stated that:

  • 77 D.P. Pereira, 1958a, p. 652: “nesta terra, fazem umas esteiras de palma muito formosas e, assim, co (...)

in this land, they make very beautiful palm mats and, also, spoons of ivory.77

40Still in Sierra Leone, Valentim Fernandes described the existence of a specialized production system in which orders could be made:

  • 78 V. Fernandes, 1958a, p. 734. Such specialization was also pointed out by P. Mark, 2014, p. 243. “na (...)

in Sierra Leone, the men are very skillful and very ingenious, they make wonderful ivory works of all kinds of the things one tells them to do. Some make spoons, other saltcellars, others hilts for daggers and any other subtlety.78

  • 79 L. Afonso, J. Horta, 2013, p. 23.

41It was, therefore, a region recognized for its workshops and the activities of artisans involved in the art of carving ivory. Since those artisans were highly specialized and could work on demand, as noted by Fernandes, it would not be surprising if they had fulfilled European desires for their products. In fact, the ordering of pieces to be sent to Portugal is documented, as demonstrated by Afonso and Horta: in 1490 three trumpets in ivory were commissioned, in which the arms of Portugal and Castile were to have been carved, at the time of the marriage of D. Afonso from Portugal with a Castilian princess. The comparison of the iconography in those remaining pieces, with European illustrations from the same time, documents their relations. This approach has allowed art historians to date the production of one set of ivories to the period between c. 1490 and c. 1540.79

  • 80 P. Mark, 2007.
  • 81 F. Malacco, 2017, p. 58.

42In this perspective, from the founding work of the field of studies in 1959 until Peter Mark’s research in the 2000s, it was believed that the production in Sierra Leone had ceased in the mid-16th century. On the one hand, the majority of European written sources and iconographic documentation related to ivories corresponded just to this period. On the other hand, the description of the invasion of Sierra Leone by Mane peoples, presented in reports and descriptions of travelers, was understood as a disjunctive force that would have disorganized the local societies and closed ivory workshops. Mark’s scholarship, however, demonstrated the continuity of production in the early 17th century, through documentation related to the Jesuit mission of Cape Verde, especially the treatise written by Father Manuel Álvares.80 In fact, as Felipe Malacco also observes, local uses of oliphants carved in ivories by Africans are presented in 16th- and 17th-century sources, which contrasts with the thesis that these pieces were carved just for European consumption.81

43In describing products made by artisans in Sierra Leone in 1616, Father Manuel Álvares highlighted the presence of tableware, made from wood and ivory in local workshops. These pieces could have been made for a local market, as their usefulness, pointed out by Malacco, suggests. Alvares writes:

  • 82 Corofins or Corfis are objects used in religious ceremonies. André Donelha says that “they make man (...)
  • 83 M. Álvares, 1616, p. 55v: “As tagarres, que são umas escudelas grandes de pau, muito curiosas e lin (...)

The tagarres, which are large, very curious and beautiful wooden bowls, which serve at the tables, of which some are smaller, others larger; the ivory spoons so finely finished, in their handles they make various ornaments, such as heads of animals, birds and their own ‘corofins’,82 with such perfection that there is none more so to be seen; their betes or roundwood, which serve as a seat, are small but curious, with lizards and various animals, so that they are very skilled in the mechanics in their own way.83

  • 84 A. Donelha, 1977, p. 78: “muitos serviços de casas, como pilões, tagaras, potes, cântaros, panelas (...)

44Like this tableware, such as wooden bowls and ivory spoons, the saltcellars could be used for Africans’ own purposes and as an index of prestige and social differentiation. Dinner objects like these were also described in Sierra Leone by André Donelha who, in 1572, came across “many house services such as pestles, bowls, pots, pitchers, pans and other things.”84 The decoration presented in the wooden utensils, as described above, is the same one noticed in the ivory saltcellars, as can be seen in Figures 1 and 2: animals, such as monkeys, birds, and dogs, and objects of local prestige. Since they were produced by Sape/Temne sculptors living on the coast from present-day Guiné-Bissau to Sierra Leone, these pieces indicate more than tastes of foreign clients: they point to the worldviews of their creators and local users, in a moment marked by the development of globalization, understood here in a full sense, and not circumscribed to European expansion.

  • 85 S. Subrahmanyam, 1999, p. 290–291.
  • 86 The priority of the Muslim presence in Africa in relation to the European is symptomatic in the ana (...)

45This phenomenon, in the period, is characterized as a broad process of opening geographical horizons for humanity.85 It was marked by the growth of Indian navigation by the Indian Ocean; expansion of trade in Asia by land and sea; strengthening of the Muslim pilgrimage routes throughout the Old World; expansion of African connections to the outside, via the Sahara, the Mediterranean, and the Red Sea; establishment of links between West Africa and Mecca; American connection to the rest of the globe, through European navigations; and maritime circumnavigation, carried out by Europeans. As Sanjay Subrahmanyam argues, this process was a diffuse and multi-vector one. Inscribed on this global scale, African ivory pieces point to local forms of participating in this event, mediated by the presence of European, Arab, or Berber traders in Senegambia, in addition to travels by Africans, sending embassies to Europe or moving through Africa and the Islamic world. Indeed, it must be remembered how deeply connected to the Old World West Africa was long before European navigations.86

46The local use of saltcellars would be possible. As in Europe, the piece would be a marker of distinction for those who had privileged access to salt. As the Cape Verdean trader André Álvares de Almada affirmed:

  • 87 A. Almada, 1964, p. 245: “tem o sal muita valia na terra destes, mais que outra mercadoria nenhuma. (...)

salt is very valuable in their land, more than any other commodity87

47adding:

  • 88 A. Almada, 1964, p. 353: “há tão pouco sal que não basta para os do sertão. E há algumas nações e g (...)

there is so little salt there that it is not enough for those in the hinterland. And there are some nations and people who do not see or eat it.88

  • 89 Livro da Receita da Renda das Ilhas de Cabo Verde de 1513 a 1516, IAN/TT, Núcleo Antigo, documento (...)

48Access to salt (and to saltcellars) would have been a privilege of regional elites, linked to the hinterland and the Atlantic World. Thus, the first use of these pieces may have been regional, before they entered the Atlantic market. Indeed, in 1515, the ship Santa Cruz brought two ivory saltcellars from Guinea coast to Santiago island, in Cape Verde.89 These pieces are recorded in the Livro da Receita da Renda das Ilhas de Cabo Verde de 1513 a 1516, which indicates that the ivory wares landed in the archipelago (before going to Europe) were already named saltcellars. Therefore, their function had likely been defined in Africa itself. This is one reason for the saltcellars to be classified as African ivories, as opposed to Luso-African or Afro-Portuguese pieces. This attribution highlights the fact that the raw material, the sculptor, the workshop, and the resources applied in the production were of African origin. The artisans could exercise their creativity and evoke either local or foreign references, in dialogue with the expansion of global borders.

49Accordingly, the two saltcellars analyzed in this article acquire new meaning. Besides the possibility of having been prepared for local consumption, the representations of literacy inscribed on them have full meaning for regional communities associated with Islamic expansion and the increased frequency of writing, reading, and carrying books. Figure 1, presented at the beginning of this article, shows one character carrying a book. The representation of this object emphasizes the importance attributed to writing and to the utensils that made it circulate, from an African Islamic paradigm. The contact local Africans had with the Koranic narrative was mediated by their preachers, instructed in the subject, as much as through the visual experience or direct contact with materials associated with the written culture, such as books, paper, and alowas (tablets). Father Manuel Álvares described the preaching performed by a bexerin, pointing to the reading and explanation of the Koran. According to the missionary, when the Muslim preacher comes to the village, his talibés (Koran students) inform the community about the celebration he will lead.

When the time comes, he spreads mats on the floor and puts the Koran on it and begins his prayers.

50Father Álvares explains that:

  • 90 M. Álvares, 1616, p. 11v-12: “o Ministro mais de duas horas em ler e declarar parte da Escritura, n (...)

although the minister spent more than two hours reading and declaiming part of the Scripture, there was no one to speak or sleep or dispute with him; the great audience never takes its eyes from him.90

  • 91 R. Jobson, 1999, p. 122.

51The evidence of dealing with the Koran is clearer when one observes the themes of conversations held by foreign chroniclers and local Muslims. Richard Jobson described their knowledge of the common narratives of the Old Testament and the Koran, talking about Adam and Eve—“who they call Adama and Evahaha”—Moses, Noah’s flood, among others.91 The Franciscan Alexis de Saint-Lô went further by saying that:

  • 92 A. de Saint-Lô, 1637, p. 81: “Ces Marabouts avoyent souvent en la bouche Adam, Moyse & Mahommet.”

these marabouts frequently had Adam, Moses, and Mohammed in their mouths.92

52Similarly, Wolof Muslims prosecuted by the Portuguese Inquisition evidenced their prior knowledge of the Koranic narrative. In 1553, a Wolof man named Bastiam (in Portugal) deposed himself before the Court of the Holy Office of Lisbon and, being

  • 93 IAN/TT, Lisbon Inquisition, process 12047, fl. 3: “perguntado se sabia ler o Alcorão dos mouros e s (...)

asked if he could read the Koran of the Moors and knew how to write, he said he could read the Koran and thus could write.93

53Literacy and the presence of the Koran were a reality in Senegambia at the period. These elements support the hypothesis that the books depicted in Figure 3 indicate objects that could have been picked up from a written Islamic culture and not exclusively from a Christian and European background.

Figure 3: Details: Part III C 168

Figure 3: Details: Part III C 168

Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Preussischer Kulturbesitz (code III C 168). Photography: Thiago Mota (June 2016)

  • 94 F.L. Coelho, 1990, p. 111, “papel miúdo, que em um dia se gastariam vinte resmas.”
  • 95 Archives Nationales du Sénégal (Dakar), Fonds AOF, Folder 13.G1: Traités conclus avec les chefs ind (...)

54Figure 3 portrays two men holding written objects, apparently bound books, as well as curved sheets held by their middle. The latter would be an elegant way to represent paper sheets upon ivory in a form other than a flat figure, which could be misunderstood to be wooden tablets or even a tray. One should bear in mind that most preserved Arabic manuscripts from Western Africa have been composed of sheets held together in folders made of leather, not as bound books. But, also, André Almada’s speech quoted above must be remembered, where he noted that bexerim used to “write in paper and in bound books of four and a half sheets.” These attributes indicate that the images in question may represent a bound book as well as a set of sheets, as a reference to local Muslim written culture, broadly consumed across the region. Paper was a good appreciated primarily by Muslim scholars, and its early importance has passed unseen by historians. A Cape Verdean trader registered paper as a highly sought commodity in Senegambian rivers, where twenty reams (10,000 sheets) would be bought in just one day.94 An agreement between French traders and marabouts in northern Senegal, in the 18th century, establishes that the marabout should receive 30 hands of paper (approximately 750 sheets) yearly, among many other goods as tributes.95 Thus, carrying papers or books assumed important religious meanings.

  • 96 R. Ware III, 2014.

55Moreover, bound books and sets of manuscripts had their value mainly as a practice performed by local agents, emphasizing reading skills. To carry books, being associated with Europeans, Africans, or Muslims of Saharan or North African origin, was not uniformly perceived by African peoples in Senegambia as a resource of religious capital itself. The book is the objective aspect of this capital, which needed to be embodied (literally, kept inside the body, known by heart)96 and institutionalized through Koranic schools. That is, the possession of books without the mastery of memorizing, writing, reading, and, even more, without the public and institutional recognition of being capable to do so, would have had little validity. As Richard Jobson warned,

  • 97 R. Jobson, 1999, p. 131.

the narration whereof [by marabouts] may make their intelligence somewhat more respected, and in my poor opinion carry along a better esteem.97

  • 98 Writers’ Association of The Gambia (WAG), 2012, p. 44.

56Its long-standing recognition can be proved by a Fulbe proverb, shared across the region: “One who has not learnt will not recite.”98 Memorization and reading were abilities developed in the Koranic schools, which, after completion of the apprenticeship, certified and guaranteed the candidate access to social recognition that increased his intellectual and religious capital. To be portrayed with a book asserts the mastery of these skills. Accordingly, a local meaning applied to European books would be accessible in those terms, making it possible that books, as intellectual and religious icons, were used as a bridge between different cultures.

  • 99 A. Almada, 1964, p. 239–240, 274: “calções muito aveludados, estreitos e justos por baixo nas perna (...)
  • 100 A. de Saint-Lô, 1637, p. 77: “l’Alkaire porta quelque espace de temps une robbe de Coton, d’une cou (...)
  • 101 A. de Saint-Lô, 1637, p. 49: “grande quantité des Negres, n’ayans pour tous habits que de petits ca (...)
  • 102 M. Alvares, 1616, p. 11v: “bexerins põem escolas de ler e escrever letras arábicas, de que usam nas (...)

57Taking a look at the way the characters above are dressed, it is necessary to go back to written sources. As for clothing, André Álvares de Almada's description of Wolof and Mandinga peoples emphasizes the use of footwear and sumbias, their hats. He also describes their trousers, saying they wear “very velvety shorts, narrow and ending just below the legs, like ours; leaving their legs bare [...].”99 This describes the man on the left. The French priest Alexis de Saint-Lô stated in 1637 that in the port of Joal the mayor or local ruler wears “a robe made of cotton,”100 as does the man on the right; the mayor of Joal also had a marabout in his court. In Rufisque, the Franciscan noted the use of “small cotton shorts,” associated with the carrying of grisgris.101 The piece hanging around the woman’s neck strongly suggests one of these grisgris, usually made by the bexerim, who maintained “schools to read and write Arabic letters, which they use in their amulets,” as highlighted by Father Álvares.102 Conversely, the subject on the left leaves no doubt about the shorts. These elements point to regional features in dialogue with local and global culture, a characteristic further reflected on the ivory, with the fleur-de-lis, monkey, and bird. The latter were also used in the ornamentation of objects made for local consumption, as shown above. Moreover, these icons also appear in scarification, as described by Manuel Álvares. The Jesuit stated that many people in Sierra Leone had:

  • 103 M. Alvares, 1616, p. 62: “o corpo, rosto e mais membros lavrados de mil pinturas várias das cobras, (...)

the body, face and limbs decorated with a thousand different paintings of snakes, lizards, howler monkeys, birds, etc.103

58The same elements used in this body decoration were present in kitchen utensils and ivory pieces. Thus, the figures stamped on these saltcellars also show elements of local culture. And books stand as part of that culture.

  • 104 P. Mark, 2014, p. 249.

59If Figure 1 brought books into the analysis, Figure 2 shows an object used in learning the Koran: the alowa. In the saltcellar III C 4888 (Figure 2), there are depictions of four animals resembling dogs at the base. At the top, there are four snakes facing the dogs. The animals inscribed on the piece refer to local indices of power and authority, as demonstrated by Mark,104 and are analogous to those presented in the decoration of other kitchen wares, as described by Father Álvares. In the analysis undertaken here, the focus is on the people represented and the objects they carry. Figure 4 shows a cutout of two of the four faces presented in the object displayed in Figure 2.

Figure 4: Details. Piece III C 4888

Figure 4: Details. Piece III C 4888

Ethnologisches Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin-Preußischer Kulturbesitz. Author’s personal archive.

60In analyzing the objects carried by these men, Curnow identified the books as referring to the European cultural context. However, the way these objects are displayed, their shape, and the way they are used—the characters seem to be staring at them, grabbing them with both hands over their legs—indicate these pieces most probably are tablets, not books. The possibility of being tablets (alowas) was not accessible to many early scholars, since their methods were based on searching for European evidence in African pieces. Here, the identification, in historical sources from the time the saltcellars were produced, of African material culture of Islamic expression, enriches our understanding of the historical context. It is argued that the figures represent Koranic learning and the insertion of Africans in the domains of writing and reading, by using alowas. The identification of these pieces, in turn, reflects the social roles played by these subjects. Bexerins’ travels around Greater Senegambia made Islamic learning available as far as Sierra Leone. Islamic institutions were newly arrived in the region, and the interdiction against representing human beings in artwork was not deeply implanted. Furthermore, it is not certain that the artisan was a Muslim. Rather, this image demonstrates how Islamic practices and material culture were scattered around the region, affecting Muslim and non-Muslim persons.

61In comparing the illustrations with written documents, one can see a direct relation between the way of dressing in Sierra Leone and the depiction in ivory. Manuel Álvares described the common dress of the region. His description indicates that the artisan actually depicted local people: the shirts, trousers, shoes, and the bead string around the necks of all individuals indicate it well. According to the Jesuit, they used to “wear Moorish shirts, [...] with their many pleated shorts,” clearly visible in Figure 2, worn by the man in the middle and the one on the right. Following Álvares, “to walk, they have shoes like sandals,” seen above, and

  • 105 M. Álvares, 1616, p. 62: “usam de camisas mouriscas, [...], com os seus calções de muitas pregas, q (...)

they use few accessories, only the boys surround themselves by chains of strands of glass beads, and around their arms and neck they use some crystal beads, coral, and so on. Men and women also wear something of this jewelry.105

62This kind of jewelry can be seen in Figures 2 and 4, around the subjects’ necks and wrists. All of these elements, added to the phenotype, show the artisan was carving local people in ivory.

  • 106 A. Almada, 1964, p. 240: embarbecem já de muita idade.”

63Hence, the two men carry Islamic writing tablets and are well dressed in local patterns. Both are wearing shoes and plain hats or sumbias, a garment still common in countries located in the Senegambia region, as well as a small beard, unusual in representation of Portuguese men at that time but possible to Western Africans, since André Almada recorded that their “beards grow when they are very old.”106 The fact that the object where they appear is a saltcellar, an item of distinction, indicates the regional use of this device. The iconography indicates that the piece was produced to represent local expressions. These people, surrounded by indices of trade, political and spiritual power, such as dogs and snakes besides the monotheist religion itself, are reflective of the social value attributed to the objects and animals represented. The ensemble highlights local sensibility to Senegambian material culture, reflecting its own codes. More than that, it points to a Muslim presence well towards the south, in the geographical sector under analysis, indicating the advance of Islam, traders, and preachers within the forested region of the western coast.

64Therefore, it is possible to argue that the depiction of men carrying books and alowas is a manifestation of local culture associated with Senegambian Islamic culture. Such elements add value to the saltcellars, which would honor those who came to possess them. They also highlight the strengthening of Islam in a context of expanding regional borders. That these ivories were eventually bought by Europeans does not necessarily imply they had been ordered by them. The pieces may have been produced for objectives other than European interest, with a focus on a regional market. The carvings may then have been bought by Europeans due to the exotic appeal of those objects to these buyers. It is thus possible to analyze the presence of elements that do not refer to European culture, but rather to the regional culture, Islamic or not, within the context of local consumption of ivory. The illustrations presented in these African ivories would thus express local convictions and be addressed to nearby consumers. The perspective presented here favors new interpretations of the two saltcellars, in which elements of Islamic written culture were central to the elaboration, interpretation, and attribution of value to the objects.

Final remarks

  • 107 T. Green, 2019, p. 37.
  • 108 On the epigraphic textual production in the interior of the continent, between the 11th and 15th ce (...)

65The history of West Africa must not be seen as a responsive history forced by European transformation.107 Facing this challenge, the importance of Islam to the region is better evaluated when it is seen not as a foreign faith imposed on African peoples, but one sought by them and locally built throughout many centuries. Hence, religious features—such as writing and reading skills, writing tablets, books, paper, and objects of intellectual appropriation of Islamic culture in the 16th and 17th centuries—become clear in an iconographic dialogue between the ivory saltcellars, European sources, and oral traditions from Greater Senegambia. However, most of the historiography on Islam in West Africa before the 18th century focuses on cultural, intellectual, and written production mostly from the Songhai empire.108 The scarcity of studies on Islam in Greater Senegambia in the 16th and 17th centuries explains the marginality attributed to Muslim elements in the history of African art from this region at this time. By conjoining historical and art historical methodology, new perspectives may be opened. The role played by Islamic written culture in Senegambia, including Koranic schools, circulation of books, and production of knowledge through the alowas, is reflected in the representation of these objects on saltcellars. The elements depicted in these pieces relate to objects, animals, forms, and products whose utility and local meanings gradually become clear when the pieces are studied together with European narrative sources and African oral traditions. This offers new elements and perspectives for a history of Islam in 16th and 17th century Senegambia, directly associated with the material culture and its artistic elaboration.

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Notes

1 B. Barry, 1998; E.C. Dias, J. Da Silva Horta, 2007.

2 On these movements, see H.F.C. Smith, 1961; P. Curtin, 1971; M. Klein, 1972; T. Ka, 2002.

3 On this topic, see previous publications: T. Mota, 2017b; T. Mota, 2016a; T. Mota, 2016b. See also T. Green, 2017.

4 For an overview of this production, see V. Santos, 2017.

5 Bassani and Fagg noted that the piece was recognized as a chalice or cup with a pedestal in Europe prior to the consolidation of the term; on the use of the “saltcellar” nomenclature, referring to the objects that interest us, see E. Bassani, W. Fagg, 1988, p. 62. Nevertheless, in the African context, these objects were already presented by the term saltcellars (saleiro, in Portuguese) since, at least, the early 16th century, according to a document: “Livro da Receita da Renda das Ilhas de Cabo Verde de 1513 a 1516,” Instituto dos Arquivos Nacionais/Torre do Tombo (IAN/TT), Núcleo Antigo, documento 757, published by L. de Albuquerque, M.E.M. Santos, 1990. This document was analyzed by M.M. Torrão, 2017. I thank Dr. Torrão for kindly sharing the information.

6 F. Malacco, 2017.

7 P. Mark, 2007.

8 K. Curnow, 1983, p. 18–19.

9 L. Afonso, J. Horta, 2013.

10 P. Mark, 2014.

11 Mariza de Carvalho Soares argued that African ivories have been classified as apocryphal when European features are not noted on them. Nevertheless, there is plenty of information about their uses and local production, mainly in Congo. This element shows how the lack of European traces on African pieces is a point that derives from academic scholarship. See M. de C. Soares, 2017.

12 V. Mudimbe, 2013, p. 29.

13 K. Ezra, 1984; E. Bassani, W. Fagg, 1988.

14 K. Ezra, 1984, p. 13–14.

15 T. Mota, 2017b.

16 K. Ezra, 1984, p. 10.

17 K. Ezra, 1984, p. 14.

18 A noteworthy exception is the aforementioned work of Peter Mark.

19 The date of arrival in Germany is not recorded.

20 K. Curnow, 1983, p. 386; E. Bassani, W. Fagg, 1988, p. 227.

21 K. Curnow, 1983, p. 386.

22 K. Curnow, 1983, p. 451; E. Bassani, W. Fagg, 1988, p. 227.

23 K. Curnow, 1983, p. 451.

24 E. Bassani, W. Fagg, 1988, p. 69.

25 J. Horta, 1991; W. MacGaffey, 1994, p. 261.

26 B. Lecocq, 2015, p. 25.

27 J.-L. Amselle, 2012, p. 43.

28 A. Sarr, 2016.

29 S. Diouf, 2013; T. Mota, 2017a; T. Mota, 2018.

30 Among recent works, see G. Lydon, 2009; T. Walz, 2011; B. Hall, C. Stewart, 2011; S. Lliteras, 2013; S. Jeppie, 2016; O. Kane, 2016; P. Lovejoy, 2016; M. Nobili, 2016.

31 On the subject, see T. Mota, 2019.

32 D. Berliner, R. Sarró, 2007, p. 19.

33 L. Herzog, W. Mui, 2016; T. Ka, 2002.

34 V. Fernandes, 1958b, p. 695. Original in Portuguese (hereafter, all quotations in Portuguese and French will be listed after the reference): “têm a seita de Mafoma e têm seus bexerins, clérigos mouros alvos.”

35 V. Fernandes, 1958b, p. 683 : “bexerins brancos, que são clérigos e pregadores de Mafoma, os quais sabem escrever e ler. Estes bexerins vêm de longe do sertão, como do reino de Fez ou de Marrocos, e vem a converter estes negros à sua fé com suas pregações.”

36 This model was developed in the study of the Muslim religion in the African hinterland and later applied to the study of the Atlantic Coast. See N. Levtzion, 1994; J. Boulègue, 2013.

37 IAN/TT, Lisbon Inquisition, process 10832, fl 05 : “Amaçambat e que era da seita de Mafamede,” and “sabia muitas orações de sua seita que lhe ensinaram em pequeno como que fazem aos meninos.”

38 A. Almada, 1964, p. 236 : “caciz Jalofo, chamado naquelas partes bexerim.”

39 N.I. de Moraes, 1995, p. 379: “qui a bien cinq ou six mil personnes, tous noirs, nus et mahomettans.”

40 Father A. Brásio, 1991, p. 310: “não cessam de dia nem de noite”; “agora todos os mais professam cega, obstinada e enganadamente a falsa e maldita seita de Mafoma”; “assenhorando-se até chegar ao Mar Vermelho.”

41 L. Sanneh, 1997, p. 12–13.

42 L. Sanneh, 1979, p. 37. Sanneh considered that the process of expansion of the Khakhankés had begun in the 11th century, but the interpretation of sources given in the present study does not corroborate such an interpretation. See L. Sanneh, 2016, p. 82.

43 I. Wilks, 2011, p. 1–79.

44 M.A. Gomez, 2018, p. 16.

45 N. Levtzion, 1994; T. Green, 2019, p. 43–44.

46 F.L. Coelho, 1990, p. 23: “uma casta de negros que chamam Jagancazes, na qual vem mais de três mil pessoas e mais de mil bestas, o principal que se vem buscar é sal [...] aos brancos dos navios vendem marfim, negros, ouro e também muita roupa a troco, o principal, papel, conta, avelório, e outras fazendas como cristal, e pano vermelho, e terçados, e fio de lã vermelho e amarelo.”

47 National Center for Arts and Culture, Department of Literature, Performing and Fine Arts (hereafter NCAC) in Fajara, The Gambia. Tape 358A, Family history of the Suware Family of Jaabi Kunda. Informant: Alhaji Momodu Mutar Suware (Marabout), 73 years old, farmer, Mandinga; Collector: BK Sidibe; Date: 5 April 1975; Transcription: Mariama Bayo; Translation: Demba T. Saanyang, p. 1.

48 L. Sanneh, 1979, p. 1–3.

49 Toby Green’s use of oral traditions is exemplary. See T. Green, 2012.

50 NCAC, tape 358A, p. 2.

51 Movement between centers of religious formation is one of the constant features in the biography of the marabouts of the region. Besides the works of Smith, Curtin, Klein, Ka and Nobili already cited, see I. Lapidus, 2002.

52 NCAC, Tape 132 / A. Informant: Laa Sankung Jaabi; Topic: History of the Senegambian Marabouts; Date: 5 April 1972, p. 1–2.

53 D.P. Pereira, 1958b, p. 641: “o principal deles se chama Sutuco, que será de quatro mil vizinhos.”

54 On the Wolof states in Senegambia, see R. Fall, 1983, 1988; B. Barry, 1985; O. Kane, 1986; R. Fall, 1988; J. Boulègue, 2013.

55 V. Fernandes, 1958b, p. 674; “a aldeia de Budomel [buur damel, governor of Cayor] não tinha senão 50 casas de palha cercadas de sebe de vergas e de ramos de árvores com uma porta onde entra.”

56 D.P. Pereira, 1958b, p. 644: “a gente desta terra toda fala a língua dos Mandingas, e são macometas que guardam a lei ou seita de Mafoma.”

57 A. Almada, 1964, p. 275: “três casas principais grandes, como entre nós conventos, de grande religião e devoção entre eles, nas quais residem estes religiosos e os que aprendem para esse efeito.”

58 A. Almada, 1964, p. 275–276: “fazem suas salas para o Oriente postos os rostos, e antes de as fazerem lavam primeiro o traseiro [da cabeça] e depois o rosto. Rezam juntos com uma vozaria alta como muitos clérigos em coro, e no cabo acabam com Ala Arabi, e Ala mimi.”

59 R. Jobson, 1999, p. 126.

60 F.L. Coelho, 1990, p. 117: “não há bexerim que não traga consigo dez e doze rapazes, aos quais ensina a ler e escrever, o que tudo fazem em tábuas, e aprendem de noite à claridade de fogos, o que fazem em voz bem alta.”

61 M. de la Courbe, 1913, p. 191: “Ils envoyent a cette escole leurs enfans, pendant la nuit, et vous les entendez lire en chantant des leçons de l’Alcoran, ou prieres en Arabe, qui sont escrites sur des petites planches de bois.”

62 Some topics discussed in this section were developed in T. Mota, 2019.

63 A. Almada, 1964, p. 230: “uns negros tidos por religiosos, chamados bexerins, os quais escrevem em papel e em livros encadernados de quarto e meia folha.”

64 M. Álvares, 1616, p. 4v: “v.”

65 F.L. Coelho, 1990, p. 25: “são os letrados da Lei, e todos leem e escrevem a língua arábica.”

66 R. Jobson, 1999, p. 131.

67 M. de la Courbe, 1913, p. 169: “Le lendemain, il me vint dire a Dieu ; il me montra son Alcoran qu'il avoit escrit luy mesme.”

68 M. de la Courbe, 1913, p. 191: “les marabous gagnent leur vie à montrer à lire, comme j'ay dit, a escrire des Alcorans et a faire des gris gris pour detourner tous les accidens qui peuvent arriver aux hommes.”

69 On the cultural capital invested in books, see G. Lydon, 2004; T. Mota, 2016b.

70 M. de la Courbe, 1913, p. 191; “suivent la loy mahometane, dans laquelle ils sont plus sçavans que les peuples du Cap Verd, ayant des ecolles publiques, ou ils apprennent a lire en Arabe, qui est la langue de leur religion et en laquelle l’Alcoran est escrit. [...] ; il n'y en a guerre entre eux qui ne sachent escrire et les lettres arabesques leur servent aussy à escrire leur langue naturelle ; lorsqu'ils commancent quelque ouvrage, ils disent ces mots : bissimilaye, qui veulent dire au nom de Dieu, qui est le commencement de l’Alcoran, et plusieurs d'entre eux observent leur loy fort exactement, ne buvant ny vin ny eau de vie, et jeunant leur Ramdam ou caresme, fort régulierement.”

71 IAN/TT, Lisbon Inquisition, process 4031, fl. 11.

72 A. Donelha, 1977, p. 160: “o que levam para vender são feitiços em cornos de carneiros e nôminas e papéis escritos, que vendem por relíquias, e como vender tudo isso semeiam a seita de Mafamede por muitas partes, e vão em romaria à casa de Meca e correm todo o sertão d’Etiópia.”

73 K. Curnow, 1983; P. Mark, 2007.

74 L. Afonso, J. Horta, 2013.

75 V. Fernandes, 1958a, p. 721: “os negros deste rio contra o Cabo Verde [ao norte] são pela maior parte maometanos, ainda que muitos idólatras entre eles. Porém, deste rio avante [ao sul] todos são idólatras.”

76 V. Fernandes, 1958a, p. 722: “fazem coisas sutis de marfim, como colheres, saleiros e manilhas.”

77 D.P. Pereira, 1958a, p. 652: “nesta terra, fazem umas esteiras de palma muito formosas e, assim, colheres de marfim.”

78 V. Fernandes, 1958a, p. 734. Such specialization was also pointed out by P. Mark, 2014, p. 243. “na Serra Leoa, são os homens muito sutis e muito engenhosos, fazem obras de marfim muito maravilhosas de ver de todas as coisas que lhes manda fazer. Uns fazem colheres, outros saleiros, outros punhos para adagas e qualquer outra sutileza.”

79 L. Afonso, J. Horta, 2013, p. 23.

80 P. Mark, 2007.

81 F. Malacco, 2017, p. 58.

82 Corofins or Corfis are objects used in religious ceremonies. André Donelha says that “they make many wooden idols, figures of men, howler monkeys and other animals, which they call corfis, and put them in the ways, some near the villages, some far away. They say they are the keepers of the settlements of that part [fazem muitos ídolos de pau, de figuras de homens, bugios e outros animais, que chamam corfis, e os põem pelos caminhos, uns perto das povoações, outros longe. Dizem que são guardadores das povoações daquela parte].” A. Donelha, 1977, p. 112. According to Paul Hair, “‘corfis’ derives from ‘k-ǝrfi,’ term for ‘spirit’ or spiritual power in the Temne tongue.”, P. Hair, 1977, p. 262.

83 M. Álvares, 1616, p. 55v: “As tagarres, que são umas escudelas grandes de pau, muito curiosas e lindas, que cá servem nas mesas, das quais umas são mais pequenas, outras maiores; as colheres de marfim tão acabadas, em cujos remates fazem as várias galantarias, como cabeças de bichos, pássaros e seus próprios corofins, com tanta perfeição que não há mais que ver; os seus betes ou seus rachões redondos, que servem de assento, são estes baixos, mas curiosos com os lagartos e vários bichos, de sorte que são estremados na mecânica ao seu modo.”

84 A. Donelha, 1977, p. 78: “muitos serviços de casas, como pilões, tagaras, potes, cântaros, panelas e outras coisas.”

85 S. Subrahmanyam, 1999, p. 290–291.

86 The priority of the Muslim presence in Africa in relation to the European is symptomatic in the analysis of cultural relations conveyed by these parts. Kathy Curnow points out that many oliphants present in medieval Europe derive from the presence and production of ivory by Muslims in Cordoba or Sicily, K. Curnow, 1983, p. 115. See also T. Green, 2019, p. 42–43, 48, 56.

87 A. Almada, 1964, p. 245: “tem o sal muita valia na terra destes, mais que outra mercadoria nenhuma.”

88 A. Almada, 1964, p. 353: “há tão pouco sal que não basta para os do sertão. E há algumas nações e gentes que o não veem nem o comem.”

89 Livro da Receita da Renda das Ilhas de Cabo Verde de 1513 a 1516, IAN/TT, Núcleo Antigo, documento 757. Publicado em L. de Albuquerque, M.E.M. Santos, 1990.

90 M. Álvares, 1616, p. 11v-12: “o Ministro mais de duas horas em ler e declarar parte da Escritura, não há quem fale nem durma nem bulha consigo, não tirando nunca os olhos dele o grande auditório.”

91 R. Jobson, 1999, p. 122.

92 A. de Saint-Lô, 1637, p. 81: “Ces Marabouts avoyent souvent en la bouche Adam, Moyse & Mahommet.”

93 IAN/TT, Lisbon Inquisition, process 12047, fl. 3: “perguntado se sabia ler o Alcorão dos mouros e se sabia escrever, disse que sabe ler o Alcorão e assim sabia escrever.”

94 F.L. Coelho, 1990, p. 111, “papel miúdo, que em um dia se gastariam vinte resmas.”

95 Archives Nationales du Sénégal (Dakar), Fonds AOF, Folder 13.G1: Traités conclus avec les chefs indigènes du 28 août 1782 au 05 juillet 1843, p. 08 (2 May, 1785), “Lorsqu’ils partiront de l’Ile St. Louis pour leur pays, le directeur leur fera donner… 30 mains de papier…”

96 R. Ware III, 2014.

97 R. Jobson, 1999, p. 131.

98 Writers’ Association of The Gambia (WAG), 2012, p. 44.

99 A. Almada, 1964, p. 239–240, 274: “calções muito aveludados, estreitos e justos por baixo nas pernas, os quais ficam dando por debaixo dos joelhos como os nossos; trazem as pernas nuas [...].”

100 A. de Saint-Lô, 1637, p. 77: “l’Alkaire porta quelque espace de temps une robbe de Coton, d’une couleur assez triste.”

101 A. de Saint-Lô, 1637, p. 49: “grande quantité des Negres, n’ayans pour tous habits que de petits calçons de toille de coton, mais le reste de leur corps quasi tout couvert de gris-gris.”

102 M. Alvares, 1616, p. 11v: “bexerins põem escolas de ler e escrever letras arábicas, de que usam nas suas nominas.”

103 M. Alvares, 1616, p. 62: “o corpo, rosto e mais membros lavrados de mil pinturas várias das cobras, lagartos, bugios, pássaros, etc.”

104 P. Mark, 2014, p. 249.

105 M. Álvares, 1616, p. 62: “usam de camisas mouriscas, [...], com os seus calções de muitas pregas, que mais se parecem com ceroulas. Para caminhar, têm alguns uns sapatos, ao modo de alparas. Trazem o cabelo trançado. De loucainhas usa pouco o gentio, só aos meninos cercam pelas cadeiras de fios de contas de vidro, pondo-lhes ao pescoço e nos braços cristal, coral, etc. Trazem também os homens e as mulheres alguma coisa desta pedraria. Todos de ordinário têm nos dedos alguns anéis de metal, como latão mourisco e estanho.”

106 A. Almada, 1964, p. 240: embarbecem já de muita idade.”

107 T. Green, 2019, p. 37.

108 On the epigraphic textual production in the interior of the continent, between the 11th and 15th centuries, related to the chronicles of Timbuktu, see P.F. de Moraes Farias, 2003; for a recent approach on western African empires, see M.A. Gomez, 2018.

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Thiago H. Mota, « The Ivory Saltcellars: A contribution to the history of Islamic expansion in Greater Senegambia during the 16th and 17th centuries »Afriques [En ligne], 10 | 2019, mis en ligne le 23 décembre 2019, consulté le 15 juillet 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/2406; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/afriques.2406

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Thiago H. Mota

Professor of African History, Federal University of Viçosa, Brazil

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