Ibn Battuta

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[pp. 519-523]


(1304-1377 A.D.)

Abū 'Abdalla Muḥ. b. 'Abdalla b. Ibrāhīm al-Lawātī aṭ-Ṭanjī Ibn Baṭṭūṭa. Famous Arab traveller, born in Tangier, died in Fez. He dictated the narrative of his journey (""Riḥlah"") to the royal secretary Muḥ. b. al-Juzā'i al-Kalbī, at Fez about 1356 A.D.

EI (s.v.)

Tuḥfat an-nuẓẓār fī gharā'ib al-amṣār wa-‘ajā'ib al-asfār (The Present to the Onlookers from the Marvels of the Great Cities and Travels)

Ed.: Defrémery-Sanguinetti, 4 vols., Paris, 1853-58; 1869-79; F.A. Bustani, Beirut 1927. Engl. Transl.: A.R. Gibb, London 19292 (Issued by the Hakluyt Soc. 1958).

Exc.: (on Nubia): Mus'ad, Al-Maktaba (based on a 1964 Beirut edition).

T.: Mus'ad A: 0 and Gibb

[For the convenience of the reader we give a summary prospectus of Ibn Baṭṭūṭa's journeys across the Beja territory:

I. Edfū-'Aydhāb [1326 A.D.] [without crossing the Red Sea]; return to Cairo, thence to Mecca etc.

II. Judda-'Aydhāb [first crossing of the Red Sea] - Sawākin - al-Yaman, Aden, Mecca.

III. Judda-'Aydhāb [second crossing of the Red Sea], Aswān, Cairo, etc., to Far East.

IV. 'Aydhāb-Judda [third crossing of the Red Sea] - Cairo [1348 A.D.], Tunis, Sardinia, Morocco.]

[p. 520] [At Edfū] We crossed the Nile and arrived at the town of al-'Aṭwānī [opposite Edfū]; we hired camels and left with a party of Dughaym Arabs Journeying across a desert which was devoid of settlements, but safe for travelling. We halted at Humavthira, where is found the tomb of the holy man Abū-l-Ḥasan Shādhilī.<ref>During the night, the travellers were attacked in their bivouac, by hyenas (dibāgh).</ref>

After fifteen days travelling we arrived at 'Aydhāb, a large town where fish and milk are plentiful, but grain and dates are imported from Upper Egypt. The local population is Beja (bujāt), a people of black complexion; they wrap themselves in yellow sheets and wear a headband one finger broad tied round their heads. They give their daughters no share in their inheritance. Their staple food is camels' milk; they ride on dromedaries (mahārī), which they call "ṣuhub" (tawny). One third of the town belongs to the king an-Nāṣir [b. Qalāwūn] and two thirds to the king of the Beja who is called "al- Ḥadrabī". In the town of 'Aydhāb there is a mosque (masjad jāmiʿ) called after al-Qasṭalāni, a man of blessed memory. I visited the mosque and [by that] I had a blessing. In the mosque I met shaykh aṣ-Ṣālih Mūsā and the old shaykh Muḥammad al-Marrākushī who claimed he was the son of al-Murṭadā, king of Marrākush and that he was 95 years old.

On our arrival at 'Aydhāb, we learnt that al-Haḍrabī was at war with the Turks (atrāk) [= the Egyptian mamluks]; he had sunk the boats and the Turks had fled before him. As it was Impossible for us to cross the sea, we sold our provisions and returned to Upper Egypt with the same Arabs whose camels we had hired.<ref>Ibn Baṭṭūṭa went to Cairo, thence to Mecca, etc.</ref>

[p. 521] ... [At Judda] We embarked in a boat which they call "jalba". The Sharīf Manṣūr took another boat for himself and invited me to join him in his, but I refused because he had several camels in his jalba and, since that was my first voyage across the sea, I was afraid. We sailed with a favourable wind for two days; then the wind changed and we were led astray far away from the coast we aimed at; the waves overwhelming the boat soaked us; the passengers suffered from sea-sickness; we remained in this dreadful situation until we arrived at an anchorage (marsā) called Ra's Dawā'ir between Sawākin and 'Aydhāb. We disembarked and on the shore we found a hut, built of reeds, in the shape of a mosque. Inside, there were many ostrich egg-shells full of water; we drank of that water and cooked our food. There we witnessed something which was very marvellous. In an arm of the sea which looked like the mouth of a river (khawr), people were casting their robes [like nets] holding them by the extremities; when they withdrew the robes, they were full of a fish called "būrī" (mullet, Mugil cephalus), each fish one cubit in size. The people caught a great quantity of fish and roasted them.

Some Beja tribesmen came to us; they were natives of that country, black-skinned, wearing yellow sheets and a red turban one finger in breadth tied around their heads. They looked gallant, armed with spears and swords; they had camels called "ṣuhub" which they rode sitting on saddles. We hired some of their camels and journeyed with then through a desert where we saw many gazelles. As the Beja do not eat them, these animals are tamed; actually they did not run away from men.

After two days marching, we met a clan (ḥayy) of Arabs called Awlād Kāhil. They live intermingled [p. 522] with the Beja and speak the Beja language. That same day we entered Sawākin, which is an island six miles off the shore. No water is to be found there, no crop, no tree. Water is brought there in boats (qawārib); there are tanks (ṣahārīj) for storing the rain water. This island is large. Meat of sheep, gazelles, wild asses can be found; they have many goats and plenty of milk and butter, which they export to Mecca. The grain they use to make bread is called jarjūr, it looks like dhurra, but it is of a bigger size; part of it they export to Mecca.

The Sultan of the island of Sawākin, when I arrived there, was Sharīf Zayd b. 'Alī Namī; his father was the emir of Mecca and his two brothers succeeded their father in the emirate of Mecca; they are called 'Uṭayfa and Rumaytha, whom I have previously mentioned. Many Beja have rallied to Sultan Zayd because they are maternal uncles to him and he keeps an army of Beja tribesmen; his children, however, are of the stock of the Kāhil and the Juhayna Arabs.

... After that [i.e. the season of the pilgrimage, 732 H./1331 A.D.] I embarked on a "sambūq" which was leaving for 'Aydhāb. The wind tossed us to a cape called Ra's Dawā'ir. From it we journeyed overland together with some Beja across a desert, where we saw many ostriches and gazelles. In that desert dwell the Juhayna and the Kāhil Arabs who are subjects to the Beja.

We arrived at a waterplace called Maghrūr, then to another called al-Jadīd. As we ran out of our provisions and we came across some Beja who were tending their flocks, we bought meat from them. In that grazing land I saw an Arab boy (ṣabī) who told me, in Arabic, that the Beja had enslaved him; he said that for a year he had had no other food than camels' milk. In the meantime we ran [p. 523] out of the meat we had bought from the Arabs and had no other provisions. I had only a bag of dates, of the ṣayḥanī quality [from Medina] and or the barnī [dates] which I intended to bring as a present to some friends of mine. I distributed them among the road companions and we ate of them three times.

After nine days travelling from Ra's Dawā'ir we reached ’Aydhāb. As some of our companions had gone ahead, the natives came to meet us, bringing bread, dates and water. We spent three days there, then we hired camels; we left with a party of Dughaym Arabs.


From Zaghā<ref>This town, mentioned here as a West African town, has no connection with the Zaghāwa.</ref> the Nile [= Niger] flows to Tombuktū and Qawqaw, both of which I shall describe later; then to the town<ref>Here and below, the word “town” (“madīna”) means “country”.</ref> of Mūlī, in the country of the Līmiyyīn<ref>Alternative reading “Limīs”.</ref>, which is the frontier province of the [kingdom of] Malī. Then it flows to Yūfī (Nupe ?) which is one of the largest towns of the Blacks (sūdān); the Sultan of this town is one of the most powerful of their [sūdān] rulers. No white man can go there, because he would be killed before reaching that town.

From Yūfī, the Nile<ref>Ibn Battūṭa, having not personally visited the region lying between the Niger and the Nile, followed the current opinion to which the Niger was a branch of the Nile, parting from the Nile and flowing westwards until it reached the Atlantic Ocean.</ref> flows to the country of the Nūba who are Christians: thence to Dunqula, their chief town. The Sultan [of the Nūba] is called Kanz ad-dīn; he embraced Islam in the days of Sultan al-Malik an-Nāṣir b. Qalāwūn. Thence the Nile descends to ""Janādil"" (Cataracts), which is the frontier province of the ""sūdān"" and the beginning of the province of Aswān in Upper Egypt. (Mus’ad, pp. 253 - 257)