An Account of the Sultanate and Its People
A merchant’s remarkable travel account of an African kingdom
Muḥammad al-Tūnisī (d. 1274/1857) belonged to a family of Tunisian merchants trading with Egypt and what is now Sudan. Al-Tūnisī was raised in Cairo and a graduate of al-Azhar. In 1803, at the age of fourteen, al-Tūnisī set off for the Sultanate of Darfur, where his father had decamped ten years earlier. He followed the Forty Days Road, was reunited with his father, and eventually took over the management of the considerable estates granted to his father by the sultan of Darfur.
In Darfur is al-Tūnisī’s remarkable account of his ten-year sojourn in this independent state, featuring descriptions of the geography of the region, the customs of Darfur’s petty kings, court life and the clothing of its rulers, marriage customs, eunuchs, illnesses, food, hunting, animals, currencies, plants, magic, divination, and dances. In Darfur combines literature, history, ethnography, linguistics, and travel adventure, and most unusually for its time, includes fifty-two illustrations, all drawn by the author.
In Darfur is a rare example of an Arab description of an African society on the eve of Western colonization and vividly evokes a world in which travel was untrammeled by bureaucracy, borders were fluid, and startling coincidences appear almost mundane.
An English-only edition.
"In Darfur offers an interesting glimpse of a (still) neglected part of Africa, and a surprising wealth of information."
— The Complete Review
"As edited, translated, and presented by Davies, al-Tūnisī’s account is not only a rich primary source for the early nineteenth-century history of Darfur but also a literary gem marking Egypt’s dynamic and innovative intellectual history at mid-century."
— Journal of the American Oriental Society
"The translation is most readable and fluent, yet it also follows the text closely. The arrangement of Arabic and English side by side makes it extremely valuable for research, particularly for the historian, the Arabist, and for teaching purposes on the whole. If a reader with knowledge of Arabic is interested, s/he is able to consult the Arabic with ease ... This is the first published and complete English translation."
— African Studies Review
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