Figure 2 Arabic manuscript attributed to Tum-Tum, showing a geomantic talisman for finding water (MS Arabe 2697, fol. 16, Bibliothèque Nationale)
traditional descent. He travelled to India to study geomancy, where he copied Tum-Tum's text into Arabic. Abu 'Abdallah Muhammad az-Zanati drew on al-Barbari's work in turn to produce one of the more complete
22 history geomancies of his time. Although az-Zanati's dates are not known, it is suspected that he lived during the twelfth or thirteenth centuries, as he is quoted by Ibn Khaldoun in the following century. Az-Zanati's works have often been reprinted in Arabic from the thirteenth century to the present day, and he stands as one of the greatest Arabic authorities on geomancy. In turn Ahmad ben 'Ali Zunbul drew his material from az-Zanati in the sixteenth century (when geomancy in Europe and rami in Islam simultaneously reached their peaks), establishing rami as an integral part of the world of Islam. Its special features are examined in the next chapter.
To return to tracing the expansion of geomancy from the Muslim world. It would seem to have occurred in three directions: firstly, Africa southwards across the Sahara to the Gulf of Guinea; secondly, via the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean to Madagascar; and thirdly, north through Muslim Spain to the rest of Europe. Geomancy migrated finally from both Europe and the Gulf of Guinea (in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) to the New World of the Americas, by which time it had lost many of its essentially Muslim features.
The migration of nomadic Arabs and the consequent spread of Islam south through the Sahara along the trade routes into the rich Equatorial Africa or present-day Nigeria, Dahomey (Benin), Togo and Ghana, is the first line of migration we shall consider.
Islam first stirred Africa out of its lethargy in the eighth century. The Berbers, who were already masters of the Sahara when the Arabs arrived, accepted Islam, and in about ad 800 drove the Tukulors and the Oulofs as far south as Senegal. In the later part of this century, almost all the black dynasties seem to have been replaced by others of northern origin, Berbers perhaps, so that in about 850 the Dya-Ogo of Diara (south of Senegal) spread from the Gambia to Aoudaghost; while the Songhai of
Dahomey later occupied Gao, and in 990, made it their capital. Likewise the Hausa of the lower Niger, whose king (circa 890) rejoiced in the Arab name, Abu Yazid. The only kingdom which escaped northern domination was the empire of Ghana, whose creation seems to have dated from much earlier. At the beginning of the ninth century, this empire of the Sahel stretched from Timbuktu to Kayes, and from the upper Niger to Hodh, and at the end of the tenth the Sarakolle occupied Mauritania, where Muslims were also numerous.
Although Islam was not formally introduced into these regions before the eleventh century, trade was active, and Arab civilization had penetrated deeply. Caravans escorted by Berbers maintained commercial links across the Sahara, and cultural contact was established between black Africa and the Mediterranean, the Arabs taking with them the habit of 'sand-cutting' or rami. The introduction of the camel greatly assisted this contact between the seventh and tenth centuries, and clothing, food, customs and textiles »pread to lower Senegal. The Sahara traffic directed towards Egypt or Tunisia used the regular tracks from Khumbi, Timbuktu, and Gao in the south, and Tripoli, Tahert and Marrakesh in the north. The salt of the Sahara, the gold of the upper Niger, the copper of Agades and the »laves of Guinea were traded for dates, coral and textiles. Later, Saladin's relations with the Muslim rulers of Bornu and Gao brought the reopening of the caravan routes from Egypt to Lake Chad and the Niger.
Communications with Madagascar via the Red Sea explain how the practice of rami made its way down the east coast of Africa to Madagascar, where it was easily adopted by the indigenous Malagasy population, between the ninth and fourteenth centuries, when Arab colonies Were set up in the north-west corner of that island.
The history of geomancy at this point closely parallels the history of the expansion of Islam, which made great progress in Negro Africa in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In the Sudan the three great empires were all Muslim. The empire of Mellé on either side of the upper Senegal and the upper Niger was formed from the old kingdom of Ghana. Its ruler from 1255 to 1270 even went on a pilgrimage to Mecca; and its architecture, in cobwork and fired brick, was influenced by the style of the Maghrib. From Egypt and Morocco also came a large number of merchants. The Mellistine empire stretched from Senegal to the south Algerian oases, and the River Niger. This was the great period of Timbuktu, a flourishing intellectual centre from which the customs of Islam spread southwards. This empire reached its highest point at the end of the fifteenth century.
At the same time several Hausa states had come into existence in the central Sudan, between the Niger and Lake Chad, the most important of them being the one centred on Kano. One of its rulers, Yeji (1349-85), was visited by Muslims from Mellé and converted to Islam.
Islam thus penetrated to the heart of Africa, so far in fact that even the Maghrib scholars of the fifteenth century did not hesitate to go to Timbuktu to consult with African scholars. It must be added, however, that only the sovereigns and upper social levels adhered to Islam; the masses remained loyal to the beliefs of their ancestors, adapting the Islamic practice of rami to their own style of worship.
In its simplest form, rami was called 'sand-cutting', which consisted in making a random number of marks in the sand or dust, cancelling them off two by two until only one or two marks are left, and from this drawing a single or double line. Repeated four times, this procedure yields one of the basic sixteen geomantic figures of rami. Sand-cutting was and is a widespread form of geomancy practised by many Islamic groups in both west and north Africa: its similarities to the Dahomean divinatory system
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