Ibn Hawqal

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[pp. 149-170]


(d. 986 A.D.)

Abū-l-Qāsim b. Ḥawqal an-Nasībī, an Arab traveller and a Shiite, who visited Nubia and the Sudan about the year 955 A.D.

Brockelmann S 1, 408; EI (s.v. Ibn Hawkal)

1. K. al-masālik wa-l-mamālik (first redaction 967 A.D.) Ed.: De Goeje, BGA 2, Leiden 1873.

2. K- Ṣūrat al-arḍ (a revised redaction of the former, about 977 A.D.)

Ed.: J.H. Kramers, Opus geographicum auctore Ibn Hawqal...Liber imaginis terrae (Arabic), Leiden 1938-39; French transl. by: Kramers J.H. - Wiet G., La Configuration de la Terre, Paris - Beirut (UNESCO) 1965.

3. A posthumous abridged redaction (with additions by the writer), 1165 A.D.

Exc.: MC 647r-654v-from 1 and from Istanbul, Library of Sultan Ahmed Köshk MS 3346 (MS dated 469 H/1086 A.D.).

T.: 1 = BGA; 2 = Kramers (= K) and Kramers-Wiet (= K-W) A: 1

[Nubia and Neighbouring Countries]

[South of Egypt] there are the Nūba, Dunqula and 'Alwa (K-W, p. 8).

The greatest empires on earth are four in number. The most prosperous and the richest in goods, where the conduct of the government, the preservation of wealth and abundance of revenues are also the best, is ... the empire of Iranshahr ... The second [= the Byzantine empire] extends up to the frontiers of the Slaves ... they are all Christians ... The third is the empire of the Sin ... The fourth is the empire of al-Hind ... It includes ... several idolatrous peoples.

[p. 150] I have not reckoned [among the empires] the Blacks of the Maghrib, nor the Buja, nor the Zanj, nor any other ethnical groups who live in those regions. In fact, whereas the firm structure of empires is based on religious beliefs, behaviour and wise institutions, and so it guarantees the preservation of wealth, those peoples possess none of these qualities but rather neglect them; therefore they do not even deserve being mentioned among such developed countries as the aforementioned empires.<ref>This passage is found in: Kitāb al-Masālik, BGA II, p. 10, almost in the same words, with the following addition: These [four] famous kingdoms increased the empire of Islam, as some frontier provinces of the aforementioned kingdoms passed to Islam.</ref> Nevertheless, a few groups of Blacks (Sūdān), who live at the edge of those justly-famed empires, have acquired some religious knowledge, a disciplined life and wise institutions so that they resemble the peoples of those empires: such are the Nūba and the Ḥabasha, who are Christians and conform to the manners of life of the Rūm. Before the rise of Islam, they bordered on the Byzantine Empire, because the territory of the Nūba adjoins Egypt, while Ethiopia (al-Ḥabasha) lies on the coast of the Red Sea. Between these peoples and Egypt there are inhabited deserts, where gold mines are found. ... On the other side they are directly linked with Egypt and Syria by way of the Red Sea. (K-W, p. 10; BGA II, p. 9s).

The territory of the Nūba has a common frontier line with Egypt, precisely with the Ṣa'īd; its second frontier crosses the desert between the country of the Blacks and Egypt; the third borders on the Buja territory and the desert which separates it from Qulzum; the last frontier falls on the impassable desert. (K, p. 15; BGA, p. 15).

[p. 151] The territory of the Buja is a narrow, long strip, extending towards the south between the river Nile and the Red Sea. The Buja dwell between the Ḥabasha and the Nūba, from the outskirts of Qos to the impassable desert<ref>More concisely in BGA II, p. 36: "Then, this [Red] Sea extends along the coast of the Ḥabasha down to the country of the Nūba, as far as the coast of the Zanj." (BGA II, p. 42).</ref>.

There are many interesting things to say about the [Buja] people, their living conditions, their rulers, their beliefs, and their alternating fortunes under Islam; as I have not found any mention of them in any history book, therefore, I shall give a summary of their history which will be appreciated by the specialists, when they are in need of it. (K, p. 16).

[The Beja [Buja]]

Leaving Qulzum on the western side of this sea [Red Sea], one moves along the edge of a barren desert where nothing grows and only sees off-shore the islands we have mentioned above. This desert is the home of the Buja, who dwell under hair tents. Their skin is darker than that of the Ḥabasha although their features are similar to those of the Arabs. They possess neither villages nor towns, nor cultivated fields; they make their living from what is imported from Ethiopia, Egypt and Nubia. In their territory - which lies between Ethiopia, Egypt and Nubia - there are emerald and gold mines, extending from the outskirts of Aswān, at ten days' journey within the territory of Egypt, to the sea, near a fortress (ḥiṣn) called 'Aydhāb. Several clans of Rabī'a tribesmen live in that desert, especially near a place called 'Allāqī; which is a place in a flat, sandy plain broken only by a few hills between this place and Aswān. The products of the mines are shipped to Miṣr. It is a mine of pure gold [p. 152] (ṭibr), without mixture of silver. The Rabī'a are the exclusive owners of this mine.<ref>The parallel passage in Masālik is: "The Buja have neither towns, nor villages, nor cultivation, apart from what is imported to them from Ethiopia (""balad al-Ḥabasha""), Egypt and Nubia. Their territory is situated between the Ḥabasha and Nubia (arḍ an-Nūba), Egypt and the gold mines. The Ḥabasha are Christians; their complexion is like that of the Arabs, between black and white; they are scattered along the coast as far as opposite Aden. The Nūba are Christians; their country is larger than Ethiopia and has more towns and villages than Ethiopia. The country is traversed by the Nile of Egypt, [which flows] between towns and villages until it reaches those uninhabited places and desert which nobody can travel across. Then it ends into the land of the Zanj, who occupy the territory opposite to Aden extending till the sea, and [on the other side] extends beyond the frontiers of Islam. Their country is as large as some parts of India in length and width. I was told that somewhere along the frontier of the Zanj, there are some cold countries inhabited by white Zanj. The Zanj country, however, is scorched by the sun, scarcely populated and little cultivated except in some places near the residence of the king.</ref>

The Buja are an indigenous people who used to worship idols and other objects which they used to consider as scared, until the year 31 [652 A.D.]. 'Abdalla ibn Abī Sarḥ, coming by sea from al-Ḥijāz, conquered the town of Aswān - a town which dates back to the remotest antiquity. On that occasion he subjected the Buja chieftainships and other rulers who were in this land and in the Ṣa'īd. The majority of the Buja embraced Islamic institutions: but they uttered the double profession of faith<ref>In the oneness of Allah and the prophetical mission of Muḥammad.</ref> only with their lips and accepted only some of the religious tenets. As they were generous and liberal in supplying foodstuffs, he ['Abdalla] allowed them freedom to carry on their own way of life. They are nomad shepherds who live in the least accessible mountains and valleys; it is impossible [p. 153] to make any estimate of their number. Thus their habits have remained the same as they were before their conversion to Islam; they practice only a few precepts of Islam. I shall tell you what I could check about them through personal observation as well as through information received from others.

Abū-l-Manī' Kathīr ibn Aḥmad Ja'dī, a citizen of Aswān, told me that Aswān had been conquered by 'Abdalla ibn Abī Sarḥ in the year 31 [652 A.D.]. He conquered Ḥīf, a place lying opposite to Aswān on the western bank of the Nile, which is also called Qaryat ash-Shaqāf. He also conquered Ablāq [Philae], a town on a rock rising out of the water in the middle of the Nile six miles from Aswān. This town, being on an island, is of difficult access. Just opposite to this town, on the eastern shore of the Nile, there are the Mosque of ar-Rudaynī and Qaṣr ‘Alīyya. Under the mosque there is a church, property of the Nūba. This building marks the frontier between the territory of Islam and Nubia. (K, pp. 50 - 51; K-W, pp. 48 - 49).

The Muslims used to overpower all their neighbours, [both] Nūba and Buja, until the year 204 [819 A.D.].

The Buja used to obtain their provisions at Qifṭ, a town not far from Qōṣ. They had a chieftain, by name Muḥā, who often came to Qifṭ for wheat and dates; he was held in great esteem there. The chieftain of the town of Qifṭ was one Ibrāhīm al-Qifṭī. The aforesaid chieftain, when he went on pilgrimage at the head of his countrymen, travelled by 'Aynūnā, which is reached after crossing the sea via the islands of Banū Ḥaddān, on the way towards Ṭalafa. He asked Muḥā, the Buja (al-Bijāwī) and his men to accompany him on his journey. Ibrāhīm knew the country very well. The Buja tribesmen said to Muḥā, their chieftain: "By all means, we must kill this Muslim who [p. 154] knows so well our country, our camps and our watering points: for we do not trust him." He tried to deter them from this project, but they prevailed and agreed to let Ibrāhīm get lost and then abandon him. He actually died of thirst together with his party. He had a young son, whom one of the Buja, having pity on him, secretly took to Atfū (Edfu); in Upper Egypt. From there, he was able to reach his family at Qifṭ, and informed them about the death of his father. The family kept this story secret telling no man. Muḥā, as was his habit, came to take his provisions, at the head of thirty prominent members of his tribe. The inhabitants of Qifṭ, gave them lodging in one of their churches (biyaʿ) and there they massacred them all. The Buja, on learning the incident, marched on Qifṭ; but the majority of the inhabitants fled The Buja raid took place sometime in the year 204 [819 A.D.]; they seized seven hundred prisoners, after a great massacre. There was, at Qifṭ, a Hasanide, a man of some authority. He went to the Buja, who surrendered to him some of the captives. [A delegation from] the citizens of Qifṭ went to Fusṭāṭ, but the government was at that time worried by other problems. The delegates remained at Fusṭāṭ seven years, always renewing their complaints.

There was in the Ḥaw'f of Egypt [Delta] a man called Ḥakam an-Nābighī, of the tribe of Qays-'Aylān, which is a branch of the Banū Naṣr ihn Mu'āwiya. He was a wealthy courageous and warlike man. The delegates went to pay him a visit and told him about their complaint. He said to them: "Bring me a letter signed by the Qāḍī and the elders of the town and I shall be with you." .They did so. He left for Qifṭ with them in the year 212 [827 A.D.]. He led a force of a thousand men of his own tribe, viz. five hundred horsemen and five hundred footmen, and carried out raids into the territory of the Buja; he spent three years in their country harrying through their [p. 155] territory and taking prisoners. His headquarters were the place which is nowadays called Mā' al-Ḥakam [the "Watering point of Ḥakam"], one days' journey from 'Aydhāb and four days' from 'Allāqī. He compelled the Buja to surrender the captives to the last man and went back to Aswān, where he stopped, then he journeyed following the river and took up his residence at Ṭawd, a town near Qōṣ. He became the lord of the town and died there. (K, pp. 51 - 52; K-W, pp. 49 - 50).


Sometime before, al-Omarī,<ref>We write al-Omarī, following Monneret. According to Ibn Hawqal, Omarī is ʿalawī, a descendent of ‘Alī, the fourth Caliph; other historians, however, say that he claimed descent form the third Caliph, Omar, hence the name “al-Omarī”.</ref> the Alide, came to seek refuge under Ḥakam an-Nābighī. The latter had given him his protection. When the authorities requested him [al-Ḥakam] to hand al-Omarī over, the host swore in the most solemn way - against the truth - that he did not know al-Omarī's hiding place. Thus, al-Omari was saved, thanks to the false oath. After some time, this same Alide came to the residence of Ḥakam, at Ṭawd, pillaged him and committed acts of violence, ignoring the generosity of his benefactor. It is a long story indeed.

After the Buja raid on Qifṭ, the town was left in ruins. Later on, when the Buja left, the townsmen came back and rebuilt the city walls of Qifṭ. Likewise, the city walls were built at Aswān and Qōṣ in the year 212 [827 A.D.] and both towns were restored to the flourishing state in which they were before their destruction. (K, p. 52; K-W, p. 50).

[p. 156] [The Campaign of Al-Qummī]

In the year 232 [846 A.D.], during the reign of al-Mutawakkil, the Buja invaded Ombo (Unbū), a town of Upper Egypt, one day's journey from Aswān.

At that time, the governor of Aswān, 'Aynūnā and al-Ḥaurā was 'Ubayd ibn Jahm, a freed slave (mawlā) of al-Ma’mūn; Ombo, too, was under his authority. He sailed from 'Aynūnā and al-Ḥaurā, landed at the end of the peninsula of Egypt and pitched his camp there. He began raiding the Buja country, killed some of them and took prisoners, recovered all the captives taken at Ombo (Unbū), and went back to Aswān and thence to 'Aynūnā. When 'Ubayd ibn Jahm, Ma'mūn's former slave, arrived there, many of his men noticed that the peninsula was rich with gold, for they discovered traces of raining activity carried out by the Greeks. Therefore, they came back to that region the next year. This [migration] coincided with the invasion of al-Yamāma by Muḥammad ibn Yusūf al-Ḥasani al-Ukhayḍir and the consequent emigration of some of the [Yamāma] inhabitants towards Egypt and towards the mine, who escaped tyranny. They numbered several thousands. In the same year, they overwhelmed some [Arab natives of] Ḥijāz who were already there. Therefore, in the year 238 [852 A.D.] two sections of the Rabī'a and the Muḍr tribes, both originally of Yamāma, were found together at 'Allāqī.

A quarrel developed between one of their men and one of the Buja, during which the Buja man insulted the Prophet - God bless him!

Al-Mutawakkil, informed about the incident, sent over a man called al-Qummī, who was a descendant from Abū Musā Ash-arī, and was, at that time, in jail for murder, without guarantor. The Caliph gave him the men and weapons he wanted, set him free and allowed him to choose whatever he deemed necessary.

[p. 157] Al-Qummī asked for one thousand men, of whom five hundred were horsemen, and ten thousand dinars as war treasury, which he was instructed to receive in Egypt. He left for Aswān, then for 'Allāqī. He recruited men among the Rabī'a, the Muḍr, and the Yaman, one thousand from each sub-tribe (baṭn). Qummī had an encounter with the Buja king (malik). 'Alī Bābā, who was at that time at the head of 200,000<ref>This figure seems grossly exaggerated [if referred to ‘Alī Bābā’s army]. Although all MSS of Ibn Hawqal give the figure, other historians have 20,000.</ref> men, with eighty thousand dromedaries. When the two armies stood face to face, the Muslims were frightened by that impressive sight. Qummī said to his men: "There is no escape! Fight for your lives and your honour and you will be victorious!" 'Alī Bābā wished to join battle with the Muslims at once, but night fell before his plan could be executed. Qummī had his camp protected by a line of iron barbed-wire entanglement (husak, "chevaux de frise"), the remains of which, together with the coffer of the war treasury (al-khizāna), may be seen at Aswān, even to nowadays. Qummī had some linen bands (tawāmīr) with words written in gold letters; he tied them to the spearheads in great numbers. At day-break he had this proclamation made: "You Buja troops! Here are some letters for you from the Prince of the Believers!" The Buja were ranged in order of battle; on seeing that, as they were curious, they left their ranks to come nearer. Qummī had the flags (bunūd) hoisted on the camels (fawālij), which were carrying the drums (ṭubūl). No sooner had the Buja drawn near the linen strips than the Zanj drums (tubūl zanjiyya) rolled. The Buja broke their ranks in utter confusion and began running into all directions. Because of this imprudence they all died, crushed by the hooves [p. 158] of their camels. They met either death or captivity. 'Alī Bābā was taken prisoner. He was standing on a hill surrounded by a defensive line, swearing that he would not move from that place until the hill itself would break down. After having captured him, Qummī took him prisoner and seized his treasure as spoils, then took him to Aswān, where he sold the whole booty for fifty ounces (ūqiyya) of gold (tibr). (K; pp. 52 - 54; K-W, pp. 50 - 52).

[The Ultimatum to Yurkī King of Dunqula]<ref>Probably the reason for this ultimatum is to be found in some alliance between the Beja king and the king of the Nūba. Cf. at-Taghrībirdī [q.v.].</ref>

Qummī sent [an ultimatum] to Yurkī, the king of the Nūba, who came to make his submission. He brought all his party to Baghdad in this year, which we have mentioned above [238 Η/852 A.D.], and introduced the two [kings] to the Caliph, (sultān). They were put up for sale by auction (nūdiya 'alay-him): the king of the Buja was awarded for seven dinars and the king of the Nūba for nine. A daily poll tax of the same amount was imposed on both of them. Qummī went back to Aswān after having obtained their agreement to pay the jizya<ref>Here the word jizya stands for baqṭ. Cf. ‘Abd al-Ḥakam [q.v.].</ref>. (K. p. 54; K-W, p. 52).

Qummī arrived at 'Allāqī, where he had left, as his deputy, Ashhab Rabī'a of the Banū 'Ubayd b. Tha'laba al-Ḥanafī. He was the grandfather of Abū 'Abdalla b. Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Abī Yazīd b. Bishr, the ruler of Muhdatha, a town situated opposite Aswān and belonging to the Rabī'a. This Abū 'Abdalla was the cousin (ibn 'amm) of Abū Bakr Ishāq b. Bishr, the ruler of 'Allāqī.

[p. 159] He [Ashhab] oppressed the people with tyrannical rule (jawr) [while Qummī was away]. Qummī, having received many complaints brought against him, arrested him, [searched his house], but found nothing he could carry away, because Ashhab, being exceedingly lavish, had depleted all his revenues. Qummī kept him in prison for a long time, then released him. Ashhab resentful for what Qummī had done to him, plotted, with some of his men, to kill Qummī. The latter, on being warned about the plot, said: - "I should like him to bear before God the responsibility for my blood, rather than I would take up on myself the responsibility for shedding his blood." Ashhab killed Qummī in the year 245 [859 A.D.]. (K, p. 54).

[The Beja Country]

Since that time [859 A.D.] the authority of the Caliph has not been recognized at 'Allāqī. After the death of al-Mutawakkil [861 A.D.], the Buja gained possession of the environs of the town and Islam lost ground. The Buja country is situated between the Nile and the sea. Traders import into their country woollen and cotton pieces and [buy] live merchandise (al-ḥayawān), such as slaves (raqīq) and camels (ibil). The farthest limit reached by traders into their country is the district of Qal'īb, where there are many streams of water, descending from a mountain called Malāḥīb. The largest of the valleys is Wādī Baraka. Between Qal'īb and Baraka there are old forests, full of trees which measure in round up to 40 or 50 or even 60 cubits. The clearings are meeting places of elephants, giraffes, lions, rhinos, leopards (nimr), hunting-leopards (fahd) and other wild game, which come there to feed in the bush, rivers and swamps.

[p. 160] At the extremity of Malāḥīb, on the east, there is a valley called Sighīwāt (Shigiwat), also rich in water, trees, bush and wild games. Near Baraka there are sub-tribes called Kadbam (Kadīm? Kadabin?), also called ʿAjāt, who are a portion of the Buja. Near the sea, they are neighbours to the Jāsa [sic! for al-Khāsa], who form numerous clans living in the plain and on the mountain.

This mountain extends from the sea as far as Dukn.<ref>The Gash Delta (m. Mustafa, al-Maktaba, p. 71, n. 1).</ref> It is a territory well cultivated with lowlands watered by the waters of the Nile; dhurra and dukhn are grown by the Nūba as well as by the sedentary Buja.

In the lands downstream of the Baraka there live many tribes, called Bāzīn and Bāriya.<ref>The Bāzīn (Bazēn) are the Cunama, dwelling nowadays in the western Eritrean lowlands between Barentū and Tessenei; the Bāriya (Baria) are today a 12,000 strong tribe, supposedly of “Nilotic” origin, living between Agordat and Mogolō in w. Eritrea.</ref> They are peoples who fight with bows and poisoned arrows and with javelins, but make no use of shields. They live both on the mountains and in the valleys, where they breed cattle and small animals and cultivate the land.

The territory between the valley of Baraka and the mountain called Malāḥīb, on the side of the territory of Islam, includes Qal’īb, Anbūrīt (Anbūdīt) and Darūrīt mountains: there is water flowing and places inhabited by the Biyūwātīka, who are Buja sub-tribes. Their number cannot be estimated because they live in the innermost parts of the deserts. Baraka is not far from the Bādi’ island<ref>See al-Ya’qūbī, note 5.</ref>, only one day's journey. It is a country [p. 161] extending about three days journey and occupied by the Qaṣ'a clans (buṭūn) who are the noblest, the richest and the most powerful among the Buja of the interior. In this part of their territory live the Mātīn, who border on the Duhrā, the Sītrāb, the Gharkāy and the Duhunt; their domain extends up to Mount Mismār.

[On the mainland] opposite Sawākin, there are the Raqābāt and Ḥandībā clans, who are serfs (khufarāʾ) of the Ḥadrabīyya and are subjects of 'Abdak. 'Abdak is the maternal uncle (khāl) of the children of Abū Bakr Ishāq ibn Bishr, the ruler of 'Allāqī. Some of these clans are under the protection to Kūk, the maternal uncle of Abū-l-Qāsim Ḥusayn ibn 'Alī ibn Bishr. 'Abdak and Kūk are the two chieftains (ra'īsān) of the whole of the Ḥadārib. This tribe has two chieftains (ra'īsān): one [to rule] all the confederates, the other to rule the [Ḥadārib] tribesmen proper. (K, p. 55; K-W, pp. 52 - 53).

The clans (buṭūn) of the Ḥadārib are divided as follows: the 'Arītīka [or 'Arbatīka], the Sūtabāru, the Ḥautama, the 'Akanbīrā, the Najirīruwā and the Junītīka. The Wakhīka and the Ḥarbīb form only one clan (baṭn). All the clans are split into hundreds of other subdivisions (fakhdh), each of which has one or two chiefmen. They are all cattle-breeders and all nomads. Their territory, including the part which is watered by rainfall and sown and that which serves as grazing land, equals in length a two months' journey, and its width is limited by the Nile and the Sea. Their winter-campings are on the sea coast and the summer-campings are in the valleys in the interior of the country, where water is found for their subsistence. In autumn, they move westwards near to the Nile, where the land has few trees, but provides rich pastures, undergrowth and water pools. They live mainly on meat and milk; the poor eat wild game, gazelles, ostriches and wild asses. They are Muslims only nominally. [p. 162] The richest among them make it their own duty to abstain from wild game and from conversance with those who eat wild game; they also abhor using the vessels of those who consider the game a permitted food; they make no use of them either for milking or for drinking. They [Ḥadārib] speak a language common to all the Buja; they are all illiterate (ʿajamiyya); some of them have an idiom of their own. Their country borders on the Nūba and the Ḥabasha, who are Christians. The complexion of the Ḥabasha is similar to that of the Arabs, between white and black. They live scattered or gathered into groups as far as the land opposite Aden. All the leopard (numūr) skins, "spotted ox" skins (julūd baqariyya mulamma’a) and the majority of skins of al-Yaman which are tanned for shoe-making, come from their region to Aden and to the coast of al-Yaman. These people are friendly (ahl as-silm) [to the Muslims] and their country is not the scene of conflict (dār-al-ḥarb). On the sea-coast in their region, there is a bay called Zaylaʿ, which is their port of embarkation for Ḥijāz and Yemen. Next, this territory borders on the deserts of Nubia. (K, p. 56; K-W, pp. 53 - 54).

[Peoples of Nubia: 'Alwa, Taflīn, Bāzīn, Maranka, Kursi [?], Ahādis etc.]

The Nubians, too, are Christians. The districts into which their territory is divided form a country larger than al-Ḥabasha and agriculture in their country is more developed than there [Ḥabasha]. The Nile of Egypt waters their towns, districts and villages: altogether the country is well populated and fertile, yielding abundant crops of dates, cereals and vegetables.

The most prosperous part of the country is the territory of 'Alwa, which has an uninterrupted chain of villages and a continuous strip of cultivated lands, so that [p. 163] a traveller may in one day pass through many villages, one joining the next, supplied with waters drawn from the Nile by means of sāqiyas.

While I was in that territory, the king was [one] named Eusebius (Asābiyūs) Karjūh, son of Jūtī and had been sitting on the throne for seventeen years; after which he died and was succeeded by his nephew (ibn ukhti-hi) [= his sister's son] Asṭābanūs, son of Yurkī, who reigns until today. It is a tradition among all the Blacks (sūdān) that on the death of a king, his sister's son takes his place, to the exclusion of any other relative, even the king's own son or any other member of the family (qarīb wa-hamīm).

The length of this territory, from Muqurra, that is to say from the extreme frontier of the kingdom of Dongola - which actually is under the authority of the lord of 'Alwa (al-'Alwī) - extends [upstreams] to the territory of the Kursī [other readings: Kursā, Kersā, Kushā], one month's journey along the Nile. Its width is the distance between the Nile and Taflīn, which requires eight days' journey towards the east. This territory is crossed by the River Sansabī<ref>Possibly the Atbara River.</ref>, a tributary of the Nile, which has its source in Ḥabasha and by the River Dujn<ref>Most probably the Gash River; Dujn is called nowadays by some Eritreans the territory between Tessenei (Eritrea) and the Atbara River. [A personal communication].</ref>, which, too, comes from Ḥabasha, and waters the district of Dujn and its cultivations.

The district of Dujn is covered uninterrupted by villages, supplied with water, forests, cultivated land and game.

[p. 164] Taflīn, situated in the middle of this valley, is also rich in villages; they belong to the nomads who come to seek pastures for their flocks during the rainy season. Their king is a Muslim, who speaks Arabic, and is a vassal of the king of 'Alwa. The inhabitants of Taflīn work only at breeding camels and cattle and do not cultivate any land. There are among them many Muslims, who originally came from many countries where this religion prevails. They are traders and often travel to Mecca and other parts. The Taflīn people are neighbours to the Bāzīn, a people who dwell in straw huts grouped into villages. They have cattle and till the land; they are ruled by their elders. In war-time, they are only foot-soldiers; their weapons are javelins and wooden pikes; they have no horsemen. They are subject to no authority and profess no religion, but only believe in one God, whose almighty power they admit and profess the necessity of obeying him (at-taslīm). The name of God - be He exalted and glorified - is among them Anna (ʿnna).<ref>This is the name for “God” in use among the Bazēn, until nowadays.</ref>

From Taflīn to the Baraka [Barka, Barca] valley it is three days' journey. I have already mentioned that the Baraka river has its source in Ḥabasha, waters the Bāzīn, heads towards the land of the Beja and flows in to the sea between Sawākin and Bādi'.<ref>See al-Ya'qūbī, n. 5. </ref>

In the upper part of 'Alwa there is a river coming from the east, which is called Ūr (Awr). In the area watered by it live the Maranka, a people related (qabīl) to the Nūba. This river flows into the Nile. Two days' distance upstream, there is the river Atamtī (Atamtā), inhabited by a section of the Nūba called Kursā (Kursī, Karsā?), a very numerous people, who settle along this watercourse and border on Ḥabasha. These rivers have a [p. 165] big discharge; they join the river of Sōba (Sūba) and then flow towards Muqurra, which is the territory of Dongola, and pass by Aswān. Some people may say that in the upper course of this river, I mean the Nile, and in the upper region of the Kursā (Kursī), one crosses the land of Tublī (Tubulā). This is the extreme limit of the kingdom of 'Alwa on the Nile. Its inhabitants have no contact with their neighbours nor do they make any commercial transaction with them. They go naked, without covering their bodies: nobody knows anything about their mode of living and their behaviour. The inhabitants of Kursā (Kursī)<ref>Al-Maktaba (p. 75), quoting Kramers’ Arabic edition, has the vowel “u” clearly noted in this instance.</ref> wear the "zifāl", a kind of loin-cloth with which they surround their body; the part of cloth which remains hanging [from the waist] they fold up between the thighs and tie up to that part of zifāl which is fixed near the nombril.

West of the Nile there is a great river which flows westward, with a great discharge: it is called the White Nile. Its banks are inhabited by a native people (qawm) related to the Nūba. Within the country of 'Alwa, there is an island the end of which is not known: it lies between the White Nile and the main branch of the Nile we have just now described. All kinds of wild game are found there: it is inhabited by Nūba, Kursā and other peoples about which it is impossible to know [more] because they are inaccessible.

To the west of this White Nile there is a race known under the name of Highlanders (al-jabaliyyūn); they are subjects to the Lord of Dongola, who rules over al-Maqurra and al-Marīs. Al-Marīs is the territory comprised [p. 166] between the frontier of Aswān and the frontier of Maqurra. Between 'Alwa and the country of the Highlanders there is a sandy desert extending as far as the country of Amqul (Amqal); it is a vast district with innumerable villages, various peoples speaking different languages, which cannot be counted and whose frontier cannot be described: they are called Aḥādis (al-aḥadiyyūn). Rich mines, producing pure gold and iron are found in their country. The western frontier of these peoples is not well known. They dress like the people of Maghrib (al-maghāriba), and make use of camels and horses, as beasts of burden; but these animals are not strong-built: they are of small size and have short hair. Their armament consists of shields (daraq) similar to the shields of the Maghrabis; egg-shaped helmets (bīd)<ref>K-W translated bīd as an adjective [white] added to daraq (“boucliers blanc”).</ref> javelins (hirāb) and swords (suyūf) of poor quality. Their warriors wear long spotted trousers (sarāwīlāt mufattaha), and their sandals (ni'āl) are similar to those of the Maghrabis. They are Christians and are subjects to the Lord of 'Alwa. They are separated from this kingdom by a distance of five days' Journey of which three days are through sheer deserts (mafāwiz).

There are two kings of the Nūba: one is the King of al-Maqurra, who is also the King of Dongola, and the other is the King of 'Alwa. The King of Dongola is under the King of 'Alwa. (K, pp. 57 - 58; K-W, pp. 53 -56)


The country of al-Ḥabasha has been ruled by a woman for a number of years.<ref>See below: Severus [q.v.], under Patriarch Philotheus.</ref> This woman killed the king [p. 167] of al-Ḥabasha whose name was al-Ḥaḍānī. Up to now he reigns as an independent sovereign over her country and beyond, over the bordering districts of the territory of al Ḥaḍānī, in the southern part of al-Ḥabasha. It is a very large country, without well-defined frontiers, with uninhabited places and deserts which it is difficult to cross. Beyond this, the country extends towards the Zanj, opposite Aden.

The whole of the territory of al-Maqurra, is under the authority of the King of Dongola. Under the rule of the King of 'Alwa there are the gold mines (ma’ādin at-tibr). The yield of these mines is higher than that of other mines already in work, yet, nobody, among these people, cares for them: These mines extend along the sea as far as the country of the Zanj. (K, p. 59).

The following passages are taken from Kitāb al-masālik (BGA II).

[The Aswān Cataract]

There are two places on the Nile which are called Janādil. The one is situated three miles above Aswān, on the frontier of Islam. It is a mountain which was cut through in order to make a way to the water. The cut, however, has been left<ref>Probably an allusion to the legend of King Naqrāwūs [Pharaoh], who straightened the course of the Nile. Cf. Maqrīzī [q.v.].</ref> so rough and steep that the water rushes between huge rocks and the boats cannot sail there because of the roughness of the place. Therefore, whenever cargoes arrive at this point, they are hauled overland till the nearest place after which the waterway is situated at three miles’ distance from the limit of the territory of Islam. The other is near [p. 168] Dunqula. The roar of the rushing water is heard miles away for one whole day and one night. (BGA II, p. 86).

The town of Aswān was, in the past, a frontier-post against the Nūba: nowadays, they live under a truce agreement (muhādanūn). (BGA II, p. 87).

[Precious Stones from the Beja Mines]

In Upper Egypt, south of the Nile [bend], there is a mine of topaz (zabarjad), in a desert off the inhabited country. The mine stretches from the island of the Banī Ḥadān to the environs of 'Aydhāb. That country belongs to the Buja and to a tribe of Rabī'a Arabs. Nowhere else in the world is another topaz mine to be found. North of the Nile [bend], there is a mountain range which continues down to al-Fusṭāṭ and is called al-Muqaṭṭam. In this mountain and near it, one can find [a kind of] stone called al-jamāhir [? another reading: khumāhan<ref>On this stone and other precious stones from Bejaland. Cf. T. Levicki, Les écrivains arabes du Moyen Age au sujet des mines de pierres précieusesAfricana 7, 1967, 49-68.].</ref> and a small quantity of beryl (billār). It neighbours on the region of the emerald (zumurrud). This mountain range extends up to the remotest land of the Nūba. (BGA II, p. 88).

[The Kharga Oasis]

Whoever journeys to the Kharga Oasis coming from the region of Nubia and Yabrīn [?] and its districts, passes through ʿAyn an-Nakhla, a place where water is found at all times, but nobody dwells there. No other water is found until Beris (Barīs)<ref>A village, still in existence, south of Kharga on the Asyūt-Kharga-Selīma track.</ref>. He who passes through it [Kharga], coming from Miṣr by way of Esna, Armant, must take his water supply from the Nile to suffice until [p. 169] Beris. He who goes thither [Kharga] from Bulnayā (? Balyanā), Akhmīm, Asyūt and Ashmūn, in the Lower Ṣa'īd, will arrive at Bīkhīt and must have his water supply from the Nile. He who goes thither [Kharga] from Aswān and the Upper Ṣa'īd passes through Dunqul, where he finds perennial water in a sandy ground which he can dig by the hand. There are many palm-trees, but no inhabitants. Whoever goes thither [Kharga] from any of these four directions crosses a valley called Dawāy and a sandy region belonging to the [tribe of] Banī Faḍāla. (BGA II, p. 91).

Where is the country of the Sūdān, which equals in length seven years' journey? Is it in heaven or under the Earth? Actually, their country is comprised within the Second Climate: it begins on the Ocean, then extends through Ghāna, then to Kūgha, then Sāma, then Gharīwā, then Kuzm [?]; it also includes a portion of the desert (mafāza) which lies between the Zanj and the Ocean, then the Nūba, the Ḥabasha and the Zanj. (BGA II, pp. 272 - 273).

[The Egyptian Oases]

The Oases are countries which were inhabited, as they had water, trees, villages and Greek Churches (ar-rūm), before their conquest [by the Arabs]. Beyond them [to West] there was a track leading to the countries of the Blacks of Maghrib; it was followed in the past to travel from Miṣr to Ghāna.<ref>See al-Ḥamdānī, note 2.</ref> Later on, this route was abandoned along it one can still see islands of palm-trees, the re-mains of human settlements, and until nowadays there are abundant crops of dates, sheep and camels which grow wild and live in caves.

[p. 170] The distance between the southernmost border of Egypt, on the Nubian frontier, and the Oases is about three days' across a hot desert. [Nowadays] travellers go from Miṣr to the Maghrib and to the countries of the Blacks across deserts without following any marked track. This was the practice until the time of Abū-l-‘Abbās Aḥmad Ibn Ṭūlūn. [Before him] travellers used to journey [to Ghāna] by the Fezzan and Barqa route; then this route was abandoned on account of what happened to some travellers (rifāq) in less than one year: the dust of sand was blown on the company and more than one party were lost; therefore Abū-l-'Abbās ordered that the track be interrupted and forbade anybody from travelling by that route. (K, p. 153; BGA, p. 90).

Between the family of 'Abdun [the ruler of the Oases] and the Nūba a peace-agreement (hudna) has been reached after [a time of] continued warfare and raids.<ref>Probably the Nubian raids under King George II, cf. Yahya Ibn Sa’īd [q.v.].</ref> This is, in a summary, their whole story. (K, p. 156).