The Latest

THE LATEST

THE LATEST THINKING

THE LATEST THINKING

The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.

Chinguetti

Coen van Wyk

Posted on May 11, 2018 14:03

1 user

A long-lost stop-over for pilgrims, a town where learning was valued, where tax was paid in valuable knowledge. A brief stop on our pilgrimage, a memory of a place where memories still live.

Chinguetti
 
The name does not say much, only a whisper of far-off exotic places, ancient histories.

Early in the Islamic history of North Africa, the caravans became a regular feature: Avoiding the tortuous geography of the Atlas mountains and the equally tortuous politics of the Mediterranean coast, Camel caravans traveled through the Sahara, stopping off at well-known towns, caravanserais, water holes.

A voyage from Southern Morocco to Mecca could take six, nine months, a year.


Of course towns levied a tax on caravans and pilgrims. One such was Chinguetti. Established around the year 800CE on the edge of the Majabat al-Koubra, the "land of great solitude," pilgrims would pause here before leaving behind the mountains and relatively fertile lands.

Near a thousand miles ahead the Niger river valley and the fabled cities of Mopti and Timbuktu waited. But the Chinguetti tax was different: a pilgrim had bring back a document, worthy of his pilgrimage, to the town. This developed Chinguetti into a center of learning, of pilgrimage as one of the holy cities of Islam.

Rocky ridge before the land of great solitude

The road to Chinguetti was hard. For a while we followed the Mauritanian Route Nationale 1, here a rock-strews maze of tracks that had my shoulders cramping. And then, the last day, an easy, hard surface road into town, in its present incarnation.
Yes, present incarnation, because it had been swallowed up three times before by the shifting sands of the Sahara. It is, again, threatened by the sands.


We had chosen a bad time to be there: high summer in the Sahara is blistering hot. Most of the townsfolk had left for balmier places along hidden watercourses. Foreigners were back in Europe, and the hotels were empty.


We camped in the courtyard of a local hotel, and went exploring. One of the family-owned libraries opened for us, and we viewed documents dating back to the time of Medieval Islamic scholars.

Texts by Ibn Rushd, philosopher and thinker, and Abu Sina, known as Avicenna, medical pioneer, hand-copied by long-dead scholars, poems, ancient treaties were produced from cardboard folders, compliments of the German Embassy, and the librarian, enthralled by Shahnaz’ interest in history and the Arabic language, recited at length.

Poetry from the past

As we left we were accosted by a group of youngsters. Not to beg, but to hear where we were from, where we were going, in short, to share our story. One insisted: we had to take a photograph of the group, so that we would not forget them.

We live here!

Chinguetti is still there: almost forgotten, a repository of long-ago lore, knowledge, memories. It is also a hidden place in my mind: where almost-forgotten memories still live, where ancient facts become real. A place where peace reigns, where the sand moves in its slow way through the blinding heat, covering things, obscuring reality, uncovering others.

Cenetery in the sands

 

Coen van Wyk

Posted on May 11, 2018 14:03

Comments

comments powered by Disqus

As global executions decline again, sub-Saharan Africa is called a 'beacon of hope'.

THE LATEST THINKING

Video Site Tour

The Latest
The Latest

Subscribe to THE LATEST Newsletter.

The Latest
The Latest

Share this TLT through...

The Latest