Al-Ya'qubi

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[pp. 70-76]

AL-YA'QŪBĪ

(wrote 872-891 A.D.)

Aḥmad b. 'Alī Ya'qūb b. Ja'far b. Wahb b. al-Wādih al-'Abbāsī, from the family of the well-known Shiite Wadih.

Traveller in Armenia, India, Egypt and the Maghrib.

Brockelmann, p. 226 f.

Main works: Ta'rīkh al-Ya'qūbī.

Ed.: M. Th. Houtsma, Ibn Wadhih al-Yaqubi Historiae, 2 vols., Leiden 1883; Ta'rīkh al-Ya'qubī (Arabic), Collections UNESCO, 2 vols., Beirut 1960.

Kitāb al-Buldān

Ed.: De Goeje, BGA 7, Leiden 1892, French translation: G. Wiet, Les Pays..., Cairo 1937.

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From Ta'rīkh al-Ya'qubī (Coll. UNESCO):

The kingdom of the Ḥabasha and the Sūdān:

When the descendants of Noah (wūld Nūh) departed from Bābil, they crossed the Euphrates and went westward. The sons of Kūsh b. Hām, who are the Ḥabasha and the Blacks (as-Sūdān), after they crossed the Nile, divided themselves into two groups: one group turned southwards scattering east and west: they are nowadays the Nūba, the Buja, the Ḥabasha and the Zanj; the other group went on westwards and they are nowadays the Zaghāwa, the Ḥabash [or Hubsh],[1] the Qāqū, the Marawiyyūn, and the Maranda [p. 71] (Marunka) Kawkaw and Ghana.[2]

The Nūba, as they went to the western bank of the Nile, became neighbours of the kingdom of the Qibṭ, the children of Baisar[3], b. Hām b. Noah, and they established their kingdom there. Later on the Nūba further divided into two kingdoms. One was the kingdom of those called Muqurra, who settled on the eastern and western banks of the Nile and had Dunqula as their capital. It was this people who made peace with the Muslims and gave them the baqṭ; their country had palm-trees, vineyards and cultivated areas. The total length of this kingdom was about two months’ journey. The second kingdom of the Nūba, called 'Alwa, was more powerful than Dunqula; their capital was called Sūba. They had a large territory about three months' Journey. In their country the Nile branched off into several smaller rivers (khiljān) (Coll. UNESCO I, p. 191).

The kingdom of the Beja (mamlakat al-buja); They dwell between the Nile and the sea and are divided into several kingdoms, each governed by its own king.

The first kingdom of the Beja (al-buja) begins from the Aswān frontier. This is the last district of the Moslem territory stretching east and west from south to the frontier of Barakāt. They are a kind of Ḥabash called Naqīs, and their capital is called Hajar. They are subdivided into tribes and clans (buṭūn), as is customary among the Arabs; some of their tribes and clans [p. 72] are al-hadarāt [sic! obviously for al-ḥadāriba], Suhāb, al-'Amā’ir, Kūbir (Kūtir?), Manāsa, Ras'a, Arbari'a and az-Zanāfij. Gold mines, precious stones and emeralds are found in their country. They are at peace with the Moslems and the Moslems work in the mines of their country.

The second kingdom of the Beja is that of Baqlīn, which has many towns and is very large. Their religion is similar to that of the Magians (al-majūs) and the Dualists (ath-thunawiyya); they call the Almighty God by the name "az-zabhīr"[4] and the devil by the name "sahāy harāqa". They pull out the hair of their chin and remove their central incisors.

The third kingdom is that of the Bāzīn, who border on the kingdom of the 'Alwa Nubians and the Baqlīn Beja, with whom they are, however, at war. The crop on which they live is ... [lacuna] ... which, together with milk, forms their staple food.

The fourth kingdom is called Jārīn. They have a dreadful king, whose rule extends from Bādi’[5] on the Red Sea coast, to the frontier of Barakāt in the territory of the Baqlīn, until a place called Hall ad-dujāj. They, too, remove their upper and lower incisors lest - they say they resemble the teeth of asses; they also pull out the hair of their chins.

The fifth kingdom is that called Qat'a [Ibn Hawqal: "Qas'a"], the last of the Beja kingdoms. It is very large, extending from Bādi’ to a place called Faykūn.

[p. 73] They are a warlike, powerful nation who possesses a fighting clan (dār muqātila) known by the name of dār as-sawā, where their bravest young men are specially trained for war and combat.

The sixth kingdom is the kingdom of the Najāshī, which is a vast powerful country. Its royal town is Ku'bar [Aksum]. The Arabs go thither to trade. They have big towns and their sea coast is called Dahlak. All the kings of the Habasha country are subject to the Great King (al-malik al-a'zam) and are careful to obey him and pay tribute. The Najāshī professes the Jacobite Christian religion (dīn an-nāsraniyya al-ya’qūbiyya).

The last [i.e. 7th] kingdom of the Ḥabasha is that of the Zanj, a people who dwell near the Sind, as well as on other related nations, different from those Zanj who dwell on the borders of the Sind and the Kurak. They are a people (qawm) who, Respite of their multitude (hisāb) are, however, of the same mind (ijtimā' qulūb). (ibid. I, pp. 191-193).

The Caliphate of 'Umar b. Al-Khaṭṭāb:

He ['Amr] wrote to 'Umar asking for permission to invade the rest of Ifriqiyā. 'Umar replied that he, 'Amr, and no one else, should carry out the raid, as long as he lived. Then he ['Amr] sent Bisr b. 'Alī Artāh who made a peace-treaty with the people of Waddān and the people of Fazzān; he also sent 'Uqbah b. Nāfi' al-Fihrī, 'Amr b. al-Wā' il as-Sahmī's half-brother, to the land of the Nubians (an-Nūba). The Muslims met fierce resistance from the Nubians. The Muslims after they withdrew from the country of the Nubians, settled at Gīza. (Coll. UNESCO II, p. 156).

[p. 74] The Caliphate of 'Uthmān b. al-‘Affān:

'Abdalla b. Sa'd sent an army to the land of the Nūba, who sued for peace. An agreement was made on condition that [the Nūba] undertook [to pay] every year three hundred heads and [the Muslims] would ship to them an equal amount of food and drinks. Then 'Abdalla wrote to 'Uthmān about this. (ibid., p. 166).

The Caliphate of Marwān b. Muḥammad b. Marwān and the Abbasids:

Together with 'Abdalla and 'Ubaydalla, a number of their womenfolk i.e. daughters, sisters and cousins, fled, all on foot, wandering about like mad people. A man from Syria passed by an unknown girl abandoned along the way. He discovered that she was the six-year-old daughter of Marwān. He took her up and handed her over to 'Abdalla b. Marwān. The party [of fugitives] took the way towards Nubia (bilād an-nūba). The King of Nubia (ʿazīm an-nūba) received them with honour. They [Marwān’s men] had a plan to settle in one of the castles of Nubia; hoping to make it a stronghold against the enemies who are chasing them. Perhaps, they said, we can persuade them [the Nubians] to submit to us and God will give back to us a part of what He has taken away! But the King of Nubia said to them: 'Beware of those crows - and he meant the Blacks (as-sūdān) - they are very numerous, but poor. I cannot guarantee that you will be safe from their attacks. Then one might accuse me by saying: 'You have killed them'. ... They [the Marwanids] said: - 'We shall give you a written document [certifying] that we have come to your country and that you have done all in your power to allow us to be free [to leave or stay] in your country, but we, of our own will, refused to leave; and for all this we are thankful to you. Eventually, they left in the [p. 75] direction of the country of the enemy [= Abbasids]. Perhaps they met the army of the Ḥabasha and fought against them until they reached Bajāwah. The King of the Beja (ʿazīm al-buja) attacked them and they withdrew by crossing the country towards the Yemen. There were two ways open before 'Abdalla and 'Ubaydalla. A mountain lay between the two ways. They each took one way, with the understanding that after an hour they should meet again. They marched all that day, after which they decided to go back, but they were unable to do so; they went on for several days. 'Ubaydalla met a gang (mansir) of Ḥabasha and he attacked them. One of the gang struck him with a Javelin (mizraq) and he fell dead. The man who killed him took his companions as prisoners, while the Ḥabasha seized all their belongings and then released them again. They wandered about like mad people through deserts, naked and barefooted, until they died of thirst. One of them urinated in his own hand and drank of it; another urinated and mixed sand with his urine and ate it. At last, the survivors joined 'Abdalla b. Marwān, who had endured nakedness and fatigue more than the others. He was accompanied by some of his womenfolk, all naked and barefooted, devoid of anything to cover themselves. Their feet were bruised by the fatigue of the march; their lips were cracked, because they had drunk urine. At last they arrived at al-Mandib and stayed a month. The natives offered them some assistance. Then they left for Mecca disguised as porters (hammālīn) (or jammālin, camel-drivers). (ibid., II, pp. 347 - 348).

During this year [870 A.D.] a certain Abū 'Abd ar-Raḥmān al-'Umarī, rose against the troops of the Sultān. He was challenged by Shu'ba b. Harkān, the general of Ahmad Ibn Τūlūn, who fought him at Aswān. (ibid., II, p. 509).

[p. 76] From Kitāb al-Buldān (BGA VII):

From Qift you walk to the mine of emeralds (az-zumurrud) also known as Kharibat al-Malik, eight days' journey from Qift. There are two mountains, the one called al-'Arūs, and the other al-Khasūm, where emeralds are mined. There is a place called Kom aṣ-ṣābūnī and [another called] Kom Mahrān, and [also others called] Makābir and Safsīd. All these mines yield precious stones (jawhar). The shafts from where precious stones are dug are called "shiyam" in the plural, the singular being "shīma".[6] In one of these places there was an ancient mine called Birumit,[7] which was in operation in the days before Islam; the same is true of the Makābir mine.

The distance between the Kharibat al-Malik mine and Jabal Sa'īd, which is a gold mine, is one day's journey; the same to another place called al-Kalbī. Such other places as as-Sukrā, al-'Ujlā,[8] al-'Allāqī the Lower, ar-Rīfa, which is the plain (sāḥil) of the river Kharibat-al-Malik, are all gold mines. It is a three days' Journey from Kharibat-al-Malik to the gold mine called ar-Rahm.[9] There is a branch of the Balyi tribe living at Raḥm; moreover, there are Juhayna and other tribes intermingled, all traders.

The town of Esna is situated on the west bank of the Nile. Its population is said to be marīsī; from Esna come the asses called "marīsīyya".

Next [i.e. after Edfu and Biban] is the great town of Aswān (Uswān), where the traders dwell who deal with the products of the gold mines.

[p. 77] Many wares coming from Nubia and the Beja country are to be found there.

The last town of the Islamic territory in this country is a town on an island in the middle of the Nile, called Bilāq, surrounded by stone walls. Beyond it runs the frontier of Nubia, one mile distant from Bilāq. Anyone who goes to the gold mines leaves Aswān for a place called Dayqa, which lies between two mountains, thence to al-Buwayb, Bayt Ibn Zayyad, Udhayfir,[10] Jabal Ahmar, Jabal Abyaḍ, Gabr Abī Mas'ūd and eventually Wādī al- 'Allāqī which is like their great town, where Arabs and non-Arabs (ʿajam) live together: there are markets where business is transacted. They draw water from wells dug in the Wādī al-'Allāqī. The majority of the population of Wādī al-'Allāqī are Rabī'a from the Bānī Ḥanīfa, who came from al-Yamāma with their numerous families (ʾiyyālāt) and children (dhurriyya). Wādī al-'Allāqī and its environs are all gold mines; anyone who goes there is employed by the local people; merchants and non-merchants all have black slaves (ʿabīd Sūdān) employed in mining; They extract gold (tibr) similar to yellow arsenic (zarnīkh) which they melt.

From al-'Allāqī one can go on a day's journey to a place called al-Ḥall[11] thence to ʿAnb[12], then to Kammār, where traders gather to buy gold dust (tibr); in this place there are Rabī'a clans originally from al-Yamāma. It is one day's journey from al-'Allāqī to a mine called Baṭn Wāḥ; likewise to a place called Mā' as-Sakhra. To al-Ahsāb it is two days, and to a mine called Mirāb (Mibrāt)[13] - where Balyy and Juhayna clans are found - four days; to a place called 'Urba (ʿArya) and to Batha two days; from al-'Allāqī to 'Aydhāb, four days.

[p. 78] 'Aydhāb is situated on the coast (sāhil) of the Red Sea. From there people sail to Mecca, the Hejāz and Yemen, and from there traders ship their gold dust (tibr), ivory and other goods. It is a thirty days' journey from al-ʿAllāqī to Burkān (Barakāt) the remotest mine where the Moslems go to seek gold.

From al-'Allāqī it is possible to travel in ten days to a place called Dah, inhabited by a clan of the Bānī Sulaym and other clans of the Mudar tribe. The distance between al-'Allāqī and the Sunṭa[14] mine, where Muḍar and others live, is a ten days' journey; from 'Allāqī to Rifq, ten days'; from 'Allāqī to a place called S.H.S.[15], ten days'. These are the mines where the Moslems go to seek gold. (BGA VII, pp. 331 - 334).

From al-'Allāqī to Nubia, precisely the country called 'Alwa, it is about a thirty days' journey. One passes through Kubān [BGA: Kabaw] then through a place called al-Abwāb, then one arrives at the capital of the 'Alwa people called Sūba, where their king has his residence. The Muslims go thither from time to time because it is there that the beginning of the Nile flood is first reported. People say that the island of 'Alwa is connected with the Island of Sind, where the Nile joins a river called Indus, through a branch similar to the one which flows into Egypt. Aswān is the place from where people set out for the journey to the country of Nubia called Muqurra, where there is a place called Māwā. In this place resided Zakaria b. Kurkī,[16] representative (khalīfa) of his father [Wiet: "of his brother"] Kurkī, king of Nubia. From Māwā to the great town of the Nūba it is a thirty days' journey. There is the residence of the king, named ... [lacuna].[17] (BGA VII, p. 336; Wiet, pp. 191-192).

[p. 79] The Beja Country

It is a twenty five days' journey from al-'Allāqī to the land of the Beja (al-bujā) known as al-Ḥadāriba and al-Kidhubin. The town of the king of the Ḥadāriba Beja is called Hajar. Muslims go there for the purpose of commerce.

The Beja live in tents made of hides, pull out the hairs of their chins and cut the breast nipples of their young men lest they resemble the breasts of women. Their food is dhurra and other similar foodstuffs. They ride camels and fight in sitting position as if they were mounted on horseback: they throw their Javelins without missing the target.

From al-'Allāqī one goes to the land of the branch of the Beja known as az-Zanāfija, also called Baqlīn. Muslims sometimes went there for commerce. The customs of this tribe are the same as those of the Ḥadāriba. They have no God-given law (sharī'a), but worship an idol which they call Ḥājājwā. (Wiet, pp. 120- 125).

  1. The editor of Al-Maktabat as-sūdāniyya al-‘arabiyya (p. 20) notes that the word Ḥ(?)s, without diacritic dots, could be read different ways: Ḥubsh, Ḥaws (=Haussa).
  2. “Ghāna” of the Middle Age Arab geographers is today generally identified with “Koumely”, 150 miles off Lake Chad.
  3. Perhaps an alternative reading for Miṣr.
  4. A tentative Arabic script from the Ethiopian word Egziā’behēr (God). From this passage, one might guess that they were Christian (Conti Rossini, Storia d’Etiopia, p. 274.).
  5. Arabic: Bādi or Bāsaʾ (Tigre and Tigray: Batsa: Bade) is the old name of Massawa Island.
  6. Shīma is a place–name still in use in Lower Nubia (e.g. Shīma al-‘Amāliqa).
  7. Several readings are possible.
  8. Several readings are possible.
  9. Several readings are possible.
  10. Several readings are possible.
  11. Several readings are possible.
  12. Several readings are possible.
  13. Several readings are possible.
  14. Several readings are possible.
  15. Several readings are possible.
  16. Al-Maktaba, p. 18: “Qīrqī”.
  17. The editor of BGA noted that here the text is corrupt. Dr. Mus’ad, however, tentatively read the king’s name as being “Sannāl” (Al-Maktaba, p. 19).