on 6 June 2008
West African history, prior to contact with Europeans, is bedevilled by the lack of written sources. Thus, the accounts of muslims travellers visiting the region for diverse reasons between the 8th and the 15th centuries provides a rare source of documented history on the region. In this book, selected pieces of 20 such accounts is brought together. These comprise the primary sources of what we know today about the region within that time frame. Many of the accounts are second-hand i.e the writer wrote down what he was told by the person(s) who had actually been to the region or experienced the event. However, some are eye-witness accounts, notably that of the famed traveller, Ibn Battuta, who travelled extensively in the region (to learn more about Ibn Battuta's travels in Africa, you can read "Ibn Battuta in Black Africa").
This book provides a rare insight into the history, genealogy, geography, culture and politics of several West African kingdoms as seen/remembered by eye witnesses. The accounts touch on Ghana, Mali and Kanem Bornu with most attention paid to Mali. From these accounts we learn facts like the extensiveness of the commercial relations between West Africa and North Africa, practices in the courts of West African monarchs and the quality of life in these kingdoms. Interesting stories are told- for instance of the pilgrimmage of a Malian king to Mecca and the voyage of another across the Atlantic ocean. While many details are repeated across accounts and, often, the chroniclers are more interested in the religious details, this book is still an excellent introduction into West African history, prior to European contact.