John H. Hanson. Migration, <i>Jihad</i> and Muslim Authority in West Africa: The Futanke Colonies in Karta. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996. xi + 218 pp. $39.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-253-33088-8.
Reviewed by John E. Philips (Department of International Society, Hirosaki University)
Published on H-Africa (March, 1998)
If anyone tells you that revised dissertations are no longer published as books, just show them this one. The author states in the Preface (p. ix) that the research which became this book was "launched" thanks to a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship. This is the only overt hint in the book that it was recently a dissertation, although it still reads very much like one. It presents a carefully detailed and balanced study of a particular problem, or more exactly three small problems. It is highly specialized, making a discrete contribution to knowledge, but not necessarily placing that contribution in a wider context. It demonstrates the author's command of the relevant secondary literature, including enough theoretical literature to impress a committee of faculty members.
It is nice to know that the reported demise of the "revised dissertation published as book" genre has been exaggerated. Whether this particular volume was worth it is another question. To adequately evaluate this work a reviewer should compare it to the dissertation on which it is based. Unfortunately this reviewer is writing from the field and from Japan, and therefore does not have easy access to the dissertation. The documentation provided with the book also does little to explain how this work differs from the author's dissertation. It fails to even mention the title of the dissertation. This is unfortunate, since readers (not to mention reviewers) might like to know how, and to what extent, this book has been transformed in the process of being made into a book.
The book's central focus is on three crises in the jihad state founded by Al Hajj Umar Tal. They took place in Nioro, a town in Karta captured by forces of the jihad during the middle of the nineteenth century. Each of them involved questions of power and authority in an Islamic state whose charismatic founder had passed away. Thus the regularization and consolidation of a revolutionary Islamic state is the problem dealt with here. This is an important problem which has implications for the study of political power and change in many times and places, especially in the Islamic world. Like any good study, this one raises more questions than it answers.
The first crisis addressed in this volume came during the time of Al Hajj Umar himself. His failure to defeat and dislodge the French from Medine in 1857 led many of his followers to question his infallibility. While Umar recruited a mass of new followers from Bundu and Futa Toro, and took his jihad into a new phase in Segu, turning away from confrontation with the French, many of his former soldiers remained behind in Karta to enjoy the fruits of their conquests there.
Hanson also includes a chapter at this point on the consolidation of the Umarian state in Karta. This consolidation involved a series of complex processes including continued immigration and settlement, and the emergence of competing economic interests with differing ideas about where the society should be headed next. The development of Karta and its economic integration with the southern Sahara and the Senegal valley provided the context for the settlement of many of the veterans of the early jihad, who had come to depend more on their families, their farms and their other interests more than on warfare and booty. To continue the military expansion of his state, Umar was forced to recruit more and more followers from Futa Toro in the upper Senegal valley. This recruitment went on (with a few interruptions) throughout the time leading up to the French conquest. The changes in the society of Karta meanwhile set the stage for the next crisis in Nioro.
The second crisis was to a large extent a repeat of the first. It came after the death of Umar and the accession to power of his son and chosen successor, Amadu Sheku. Early in 1870 Amadu traveled to Karta with a large army, having previously authorized a recruitment campaign in the Senegal valley. Several of Umar's other sons traveled to Nioro. There they became the champions of settlement in opposition to Amadu's intention of carrying the jihad to Segu, as his father had wished. Tying this crisis among the sons of Umar to the evolving society and political economy of Karta, rather than simply to the ambitions of competing brothers, is one of the most important contributions of this work. After much fighting over several years the final solution was a compromise. Amadu's brothers would remain and rule Karta, but would visit the court at Segu every year and would lead reinforcements to Amadu's armies when required to.
The third crisis was provoked when Amadu's brother Muhammad al-Muntaga, ruling at Nioro, refused to march with an army to Amadu's capital, Segu. Amadu responded by marching to Nioro and besieging it in 1884. The Umarian state never recovered from the resulting violent breach, which climaxed dramatically in Muntaga's death in an explosion of powder, a probable suicide.
Hanson has proposed a compelling answer to the question posed by Amadu's failure to attack the expansionist French military in the 1880s. Amadu's failure to get assistance from his settled followers in Karta, and his violent suppression of them, left his empire in a severely weakened state that was in no condition to confront French imperialism.
The shortcomings of this book lie in theory, not research. The main theoretical framework is Max Weber's theory of charismatic religious authority, a theory which informs many other works on Islam in West Africa these days. In the present study this theory is of less obvious applicability than in studies of the outbreaks of jihads and their early development, for the crises which Hanson studied were ones caused by situations in which charismatic authority was no longer enough, and in which religious authority was becoming regularized. Surely charisma was not Max Weber's only insight into society. Am I the only scholar nostalgic for the use of class analysis? Weber himself was not adverse to looking at the class structure of a society.
Even ibn Khaldun's insights into urbanization, settlement, and the interactions between nomadic conquerers and the settled peoples they ruled might be useful in understanding west African jihad states ruled by Fulani dynasties. The place of these jihads in the general development of the wider Islamic world at this time is also not taken up. Neither is there anything here about theories of revolution, another angle from which the jihad states deserve to be looked at. The book seems too much like a formula for a dissertation: one part literature review, two parts field work, poured into a mold off the shelf and spiced with just a dash of post-modernism.
The real disappointment for me was that the work did not seem to have important new implications or understandings that could be applied outside of the research area, i.e. that it was not widely comparative. Umar's was not the only Islamic revolution in west Africa, but it took very different forms from some of the others. How and why those different forms were taken could have been illuminated by brief glances at contrasting patterns of development of jihads in west Africa. In other jihad states the leaders sought to settle their followers, sometimes against their will. Why did leaders in this state not want to settle their followers, even though the followers were eager to do so?
This may sound like a criticism of the author for not writing a different book, but it is intended as a criticism of the author for publishing something that reads more like a dissertation than a book. Hanson's work is important, however, and should not be ignored by those studying Islam in west Africa, or those studying the consolidation of revolutions, especially Islamic revolutions, in other parts of the world. It contributes much to our knowledge of precolonial local history in one part of Africa. It is well grounded in primary sources, oral and written, in three languages. As a case study it raises interesting questions and gives much food for thought. In its present form, as a good example of local history, it might have been better published in Africa, perhaps even in a local language. This reviewer hopes that the research in the book, at least, will be published where the local people who should be most interested in it can see it.
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John E. Philips. Review of Hanson, John H., Migration, <i>Jihad</i> and Muslim Authority in West Africa: The Futanke Colonies in Karta.
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