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Africa - Historiography

There is a considerable amount of data available on certain of these states. Historians rely heavily on the writings of Arab merchants, geographies and travellers who studied about or visited some of the Sudanic and coastal states with great regularity after 900 AD. Since there are fewer written records of most ofthe kingdoms of the interior or the forest states, however, archaeology and oral tradition must provide much of the evidence of the history of these regions.

El Idrisi, whose work, entitled 'The Amusement of one desirous of knowing all the Countries of the World,' was composed about the year 1153, has been long regarded as the first authority on questions relating to the geography of Central Africa. El Idrisi, whose work, entitled 'The Amusement of one desirous of knowing all the Countries of the World,' was composed about the year AD 1153, has been long regarded as the first authority on questions relating to the geography of Central Africa. . Like modern geographers, he seems to have had an invincible dislike to large blanks in a map; and among the expedients to which he had recourse for the purpose of filling them up, was the common one of dilating as much as possible the contiguous inhabited countries. It would be running into needless digression to point out all the contradictions in which El Idrisi involves himself by reducing distances so as to fit them to the frame in which he combines his information, or by expanding details so as to distribute them more equally.

The first peculiarity of El Idrisi that strikes the attentive reader, is his general reduction of distances in the desert. The journey from Sijilmesah to Aulil was reckoned by El Idrisi to be a journey of only forty days. This supposes (since Arguin is exactly 900 miles from Sijilmesah) a rate of 22% geographical miles a day in a straight line a rate far exceeding what is practicable on a journey of such a nature and extent. Major Rennell, in his 'Memoir on the rate of Travelling as performed by Caravans' (Phil. Trans. Vol. Lxxxi. p. 144), concludes that in Africa fourteen geographical miles and five-sixths of horizontal distance, is the mean daily rate of loaded caravans. M. Walckenaer (Recherches, &c. p. 266,) adopts fifteen geographical miles as the ordinary rate.

But the same author's reduction of the longitudinal dimensions of the Great Desert is still more remarkable. Instead of a journey of two months between Aulil and Silla, as may be inferred from El Bekri, whose measures of distance accord strictly with the results of modern inquiry, El Idrisi separates those places by a distance of only sixteen days.

The boldness here evinced in bringing together and joining in commerce countries far asunder, is constantly exhibited in the geographical speculations of an early or ill-informed age. Distances were enlarged as expediency requires; hypothesis leaps over the vacant spaces, and forcibly stretches the known portions in the opposite sides of a continent till they met in the center. Illustrations of this truth may be found in all ages. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Abyssinia, Congo, and Monomotapa were all supposed to meet together. One of the Jesuits resident in Abyssinia asserts, that salt was carried from that country to Tomboktu. The reasoning which led to this statement was, in its nature, exactly the same as that from which the Arabs inferred an intercourse between Sofalah and Yufi.





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Page last modified: 22-02-2017 16:29:05 ZULU