In Darfur: An Account of the Sultanate and Its People
Humphrey Davies (translation)
Paperback, 430 pages
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.