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Nada Elia - "Kum Buba Yali Kum Buba Tambe, Ameen, Ameen, Ameen": Did Some Flying Africans Bow to Allah? - Callaloo 26:1 Callaloo 26.1 (2003) 182-202

"Kum Buba Yali Kum Buba Tambe, Ameen, Ameen, Ameen"
Did Some Flying Africans Bow To Allah?

Nada Elia


Black lady fell down on the ground
Come booba yalle, come booba tambee
Threw her body all around
Come konka yalle, come konka tambee

Solomon and Ryna Belali Shalut
Yaruba Medina Muhammet too.
Nestor Kalina Saraka cake.
Twenty-one children, the last one Jake!

—Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Aunt Habiba's most popular tale, which she narrated on special occasions only, was about "The Woman With Wings," who could fly away from the courtyard whenever she wanted to. Every time Aunt Habiba told the story, the women in the courtyard would tuck their caftans into their belts, and dance with their arms spread wide as if they were about to fly.

—Fatima Mernissi, Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harlem Girlhood

Theresa wuz caught too an dey wuz brought tuh dis country. Attuh dey bin yuh a wile, duh mothuh git to weah she caahn stan it an she wannuh go back tuh Africa. . . . Theresa tun round—so . . . She stretch uh ahms out—so—an rise up an fly right back to Africa.

—Rosa Grant, interviewee, Drums and Shadows

Aching to discover his ancestry, Milkman Dead, born on the shores of Lake Superior in Michigan, retraces his aunt Pilate's steps as she was a child in the South and, stopping in Virginia, listens to the children's "song of Solomon," parts of which he understood, while others did not make sense to him. "Belali . . . Shalut . . . Yaruba?" [End Page 182] ponders Milkman. "If Solomon and Ryna were names of people, the others might be also." They are indeed the names of Africans, and one can even specify they are the names of Muslim Africans who lived in Sapelo Island off the coast of Georgia, although Morrison took some poetic liberty as she wrote the novel Song of Solomon, transplanting Belali Mohomet and his descendants to Virginia and fusing their history with that of the Ibos, to recreate the collective history of the U.S. South's Afrodiasporans.

"Bowin' to the Sun"

Decades before Morrison published Song of Solomon, the descendants of Belali Mohomet were interviewed over a three year period (between 1936 and 1939), by the Savannah, Georgia, unit of the Federal Writers' Project. 1 Despite the self-censorship they undoubtedly engaged in, as former slaves being interviewed by Southern whites, they clearly recall their ancestors following Muslim religious traditions, even if those traditions are never named, never identified as such. Among those interviewed by the Georgia Writers Project is Katie Brown, whose grandmother, Margaret, was a daughter of Belali Mohomet. Asked if she knew anything about her ancestor, Katie answered:

"Belali Mohomet? Yes, I knows bout Belali. He wife Phoebe. He hab plenty daughtuhs, Magret, Bentoo, Chaalut, Medina, Yaruba, Fatima, an Hestuh. . . Belali an he wife Phoebe pray on duh bead. Dey wuz bery puhticluh bout duh time dey pray an dey bery regluh bout duh hour. Wen duh sun come up, wen it straight obuh head and wen it set, das duh time dey pray. Dey bow tuh duh sun an hab lill mat tuh kneel on. Duh beads is on a long string. Belali he pull bead and he say, "Belambi, Hakabara, Mahamadu." Phoebe she say, "Ameen, Ameen." ( Drums and Shadows 161)
[Belali Mohomet? Yes, I know about Belali. His wife was Phoebe. He had plenty of daughters, Margaret, Bentoo, Chaalut, Yaruba, Fatima, and Hester. . . Belali and his wife Phoebe prayed on the bead [rosary]. They were very particular about the time they prayed and very regular about the hour. When the sun came up, when it was straight overhead, and when it set, that's the time they prayed. They bowed to the sun and had a little mat to kneel on. The beads are on a long string. Belali pulled the beads and said: "Belambi, Hakabara, Mahamadu." Phoebe said: "Ameen, Ameen."]

It is hard not to notice the confluence of names in Katie Brown's genealogy and that which appears in Song of Solomon, listed in the epigraph to this chapter. Both enumerate Belali Mohomet as well as Shalut/Chaalut, Medina, and Bentoo, yet [End Page 183] neither mention, in the above quotations or elsewhere, the religion associated with such names. Morrison also mentions "Nestor," Katie Brown speaks of "Hestuh," possibly the same person. The name Mohomet itself is certainly a sufficient give-away of its bearer's religion, but we are also told that Belali and his wife were not merely nominal Muslims; they practiced their religion, praying at the specific hours (sunrise, noon, and sunset), on the traditional prayer rug, and directing themselves towards the East. The timing of Belali and Phoebe's prayers is also an important clue for our present research, which seeks to foreground the preservation of Islam among Afrodiasporan slaves, for it follows the Muslim dictates, namely, the early morning prayer (salatu-l-fajr), the noon prayer (salatu-z-zuhr), and the sunset prayer (salatu-l-'asr). The devout Muslim is supposed to pray five times a day, at the above-mentioned times as well as mid-afternoon and evening. Under mitigating circumstances—generally acknowledged as travel and sickness, and which would certainly include slavery—the noon and afternoon prayers can be combined into one, performed at noon. Similarly, the sunset and evening prayers are combined into one, performed before evening. The slaves Belali Mohomet and Phoebe clearly knew their religion very well, as they prayed at dawn, noon, and sunset.

Although his great-granddaughter Katie Brown could not have been aware of it at the time of her interview, Belali had authored a "Diary" which, after much research, was revealed to consist in large part of Belali's recollections of an Islamic legal work written in Tunisia in the 10th century. Shortly before his death in 1857, Belali had trusted his manuscript, written in Arabic, to the writer Francis Robert Goulding, indicating that it was his "diary," hence the title by which it is known today. In 1931, Goulding's son donated the yet-untranslated manuscript, which he assumed was a slave narrative, to the Georgia State Library. Copies of that manuscript were promptly made and sent for translation to various scholars in the United States, England, South Africa, and Egypt, none of whom could decipher it. Finally, in 1939-1940, Joseph Greenberg showed it to Hausa Muslims in Nigeria, who recognized the text as part of the curriculum of higher Qur'anic studies in West Africa, written in a mixture of Arabic and Pulaar (a Fulani language). It soon became obvious that Belali had not written a diary or slave narrative, but reproduced, from memory, parts of the Risala, a legal Islamic work authored by Ibn Abu Zayd al Qairawani in Tunisia in the 10th century, with instructions on how to carry out ablutions and the call to prayer. 2 The manuscript is currently housed in the Georgia State Library, but in such poor condition as to make it partly illegible.

Belali's words, "Belambi" and "Hakabara" are not easily recognizable, and neither appears in Lorenzo Dow Turner's Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect, the classic study, by a black linguist, of the Sea Islanders' language. They are quite likely to be slight distortions of Arabic. Just as "Ben Ali" may have become "Belali," "Belambi" may well be a mispronunciation of "Bellahi," meaning "By God." 3 But these possible guesses at the etymology of "Belambi" and "Hakabara," like much of the Ben-Ali Diary itself, must remain in the realm of mere suppositions. 4 On the other hand, Phoebe's rejoinder, "Ameen, Ameen," with its longer second syllable, phonetically reproduces the Arabic pronunciation, rather than the English "Amen," with the short vowel "e". 5 Pheobe, we are also told by her descendents in Drums and Shadows, spoke an "African [End Page 184] language," using words such as "deloe" and "diffy" to mean water and fire. But a basic knowledge of French helps us immediately recognize the words "de l'eau" and "du feu," which are, of course, French, and locate Phoebe's origins in Francophone Muslim Africa, possibly Senegal or Mali. "Amen," however, is pronounced the same way in English and French, and only in Arabic does it have a long second syllable.

Muslims everywhere in the world are supposed to face Mecca during prayer. Katie says Belali and Phoebe "bowed to the sun," and many other interviewees commented on the fact that the Africans who were particular about prayer time faced East as they prayed. Thus Rachel Anderson of Possum Point recalls:

"Muh great-gran—she name Peggy—I membuh she pray ebry day, at sunrise, at noon, and at sunset. She kneel down when she pray an at duh en and she bow low tree times, facin duh sun." ( Drums and Shadows 141)
[My great-grandmother—her name was Peggy—I remember she prayed every day, at sunrise, at noon, and at sunset. She knelt down when she prayed and at the end, and she bowed low three times, facing the sun.]

Kneeling and prostration, each repeated three times, are part of the Muslim prayer performance. "Facing the sun," as Anderson puts it here, has generally been interpreted as facing in the direction of Africa, or even as sun worship, but one cannot rule out the other possibility, namely that they were also facing Mecca. In Daughters of the Dust, to cite another example, Viola Peazant, a Gullah woman herself newly-converted to Christianity, dismisses Belali Mohomet, her distant relative, as "an old fool," a "heathen who prays to the sun and moon." Sadly, only the utmost ignorance of the most basic concepts of Islam would fail to recognize this "orientation," yet such ignorance is commonplace in the United States. Similarly, "praying to the moon," while it may be interpreted as a "heathen" rite, actually reveals another Muslim practice: the lunar calendar, which determines when a month begins which may require special practices, the most important being fasting during Ramadan. (Another common misconception is that all Muslims must face East as they pray. Clearly, this is a Eurocentric perception. Rather, whatever their geographical location, all Muslims direct themselves towards Mecca as they pray. The direction of Mecca is known as qiblah, and Muslim homes worldwide today have a wall plaque indicating that direction. Muslims in China, Indonesia, or Pakistan, therefore, would be bowing to the West, rather than the East).

Kalina and the "twenty-one children" in Morrison's genealogy, also appear in the interviews conducted on Sapelo Island, as Katie Brown's neighbor, Julia Governor, explains:

"Muh gran, she Hannah. Uncle Calina muh gran too; they bote Ibos. Yes'm, I membuh muh gran Hannah. She marry Calina and hab twenny-one chillun." ( Drums and Shadows 163) [End Page 185]
[Hannah was my grandmother. Uncle Calina was my grandfather; both were Ibos. Yes, I remember my grandmother Hannah. She married Calina and had twenty-one children.]

Yet another Sapelo Island resident, Nero Jones, remembers Hannah and Calina as Muslims:

"I mumbuh Uncle Calina and An Hannah well. Dey mighty ole an dey bun up in duh house. Day [sic] talk lot uh funny talk tuh each udduh an dey is mighty puhticuluh bout prayin. Dey pray on duh bead. Duh ole man he say 'Ameela' and An Hannah she say 'Hakabara.' ( Drums and Shadows 165)
[I remember Uncle Calina and Aunt Hannah well. They were very old and they burned up in the house. They talked a lot of funny talk to each other and they were very particular about praying. They prayed on the bead. The old man said "Ameela" and Aunt Hannah said "Hakabara".]

In the penultimate couplet of the "song of Solomon," ("Nestor Kalina Saraka cake/Twenty-one children the last one Jake"), Morrison mentions a Muslim West African tradition that Katie Brown fondly recalls her grandmother "Magret" making on special occasions. "Magret" did not tie up her hair as Katie does, preferring instead to wear "a loose wite clawt da she trow obuh uh head lak veil and it hang loose on uh shoulduh" ("a loose white cloth that she threw over her head like a veil, and it hung loose over her shoulders," my emphasis). Margaret's husband, Belali, was African, says Katie, but "Magret" came to Sapelo Island from the Bahamas. "Magret," then, could have been a New World-born Afrodiasporan, which would suggest the passing down of Islam across generations of slaves. The Caribbean islands, however, are also known to have imported Africans, rather than "bred" New World slaves, well into the 19th century.

"she make funny flat cake she call 'saraka.' She make um same day ebry yeah, an it big day. Wen dey finish, she call us in, all duh chillun, and put in hans lill flat cake an we eats it. Yes'm, I membuh how she make it. She wash rice, and po off all duh watuh. She let wet rice sit all night, and in mawnin rice is all swell. She tak dat rice an put it in wooden mawtuh, an beat it tuh paste wid wooden pestle. She add honey, sometime shuguh, and make it in flat cake wid uh hans. 'Saraka' she call um." ( Drums and Shadows 162)
[She made funny flat cakes she called 'saraka.' She made them the same day every year, and it was a big day. When they were done, she would call all the children in, and put the little flat cake in our hands, and we would eat it. Yes, I remember how she made it. She washed the rice, and poured off all the water. She would let the rice sit all night, and in the morning the rice would be all [End Page 186] swollen. She would take the rice and put it in a wooden mortar, and beat it to a paste with a wooden pestle. She would add honey, sometimes sugar, and make it into a flat cake with her hand. "Saraka," she called them.]

Saraka is a common distortion to this day in West Africa of the word sadaqa, which means "charity" in Arabic, the language of the Qur'an. The word has been retained in various parts of the diaspora: ritual offerings are also called saraka in Grenada and Cariacou, sakara in parts of Trinidad, and saka in Brazil. An Islamic precept, sadaqa is expected of every Muslim who can afford it, even taking the guise of a by-now expected donation around religious holidays, when the solvent Muslim must give at least one full meal, or its value, to as many needy persons as the solvent Muslim generally supports (i.e. if a Muslim supports four people, they must give the equivalent of four full meals to the needy). 6 Whenever possible, it is recommended that sadaka be given prior to the festivities, so all can enjoy themselves. And it must not be "leftovers." What the meal consists of is not specified, however, and different cultures have generally contributed their own delicacies. One such delicacy in West Africa is the sweet rice cake, traditionally offered at the end of the fast in Ramadan, and which obviously has travelled well. That it has retained its religious connotations is ascertained by the fact that the distribution is accompanied by the traditional "Ameen" in the guise of thanks. Diouf points out that women in Muslim West Africa have traditionally offered rice balls on Fridays, and that this survival "represents the only recorded example of Islamic behavior specifically expressed by slave women. As slaves, as women, as Africans, and as Muslims, Muslim women did not receive much attention during and after slavery, and very little has been reported about them" (66).

Another of the Georgia interviewees, Rosa Grant, recalls her African-born grandmother, Ryna. Ryna's cultural traditions are common among Africans from the Sudan and such West African tribes as the Ewe, Jukun, Mpongwe, and Bantu, all of which believe that hair and nail clippings can be used to inflict harm on the person who inadvertently let them fall into the hands of a sorcerer.

"[Ryna] tell me dat in Africa she lib in a palmettuh house. She say dey kill animals wid a bow an arruh. . . . Eben attuh she come tuh dis country, she keep uh nail long fuh a long time. When she staht cuttin um, she alluz bun duh pieces and she bun duh combins frum uh haiah too. She say it dangerous tuh let anybody git um. Dey make cunjuh gense uh." ( Drums and Shadows 145)
[Ryna told me that in Africa she lived in a palmetto house. She said they killed animals with a bow and arrow. . . . Even after she came to this country, she kept her nails long for a long time. When she started cutting them, she always burned the pieces and she burned the combings from her hair too. She said it is dangerous to let anybody get them. They make conjure against her.] [End Page 187]

Ryna's house in Africa, the hunting her tribe engaged in, her beliefs with regards to nail clippings, as well as the food gathering she describes to her granddaughter, locate her origins in coastal West Africa. Ryna's religious observances, on the other hand, are Muslim:

"Friday wuz duh day she call huh prayuh day. . . . I membuh wen I wuz a chile seein muh gran Ryna pray. Ebry mawnin at sun-up she kneel on duh flo in uh ruhm an bow obuh an tech uh head tuh duh flo tree time. Den she say a prayuh. I dohn membuh jis wut she say, but one word she say use tuh make us chillun laugh. I mumbuh it was 'ashamnegad.' Wen she finish prayin she say 'Ameen, ameen, ameen.'" ( Drums and Shadows 144)
[Friday was the day she called her prayer day. I remember when I was a child seeing my grandmother Ryna pray. Every morning at sun-up she knelt on the floor in her room and bowed over and touched her head to the floor three times. Then she said a prayer. I don't remember just what she said, but one word she said used to make us children laugh. I remember it was "ashamnegad." When she finished praying, she would say "Ameen, ameen, Ameen."]

We must approach these recollections with extreme caution. The lacunae that dot our knowledge of Africana history are such that we grasp at what little is available to us, seeking to extract all we can from it. Is it too presumptuous to interpret "ashamnegad" as a contraction and distortion of the shahada, or profession of faith, namely "Ashadu anna la ilaha illa Allah," (I bear witness that there is no God but God) substituting the English word God (phonetically transcribed here as "gad") for its Arabic equivalent, Allah? The shahada (profession) would then be "Ashadu anna la god. . . . " Ryna's specific ethnic origins are unknown but, considering that her native language was not Arabic, and that she was repeating words she did not fully understand, it is very likely Ryna herself mispronounced the shahada. Her own speech would then have been further misunderstood, even misheard, by her U.S.-born granddaughter.

Ryna was only three when she was kidnapped and brought over, with her mother, to the U.S. Rosa Grant refers to her great-grandmother, Ryna's mother, exclusively by her slave name, Theresa. Speaking of that African woman, she says:

"Theresa wuz caught too an dey wuz brought tuh dis country. Attuh dey bin yuh a wile, duh mothuh git to weah she caahn stan it an she wannuh go back tuh Africa. One day muh gran Ryna uz standin wid uh in duh fiel. Theresa tun round—so—"here Rosa made two quick swings with her skirt. "She stretch uh ahms out—so—an rise right up an fly right back to Africa. Muh gran say she was standin right deah wen it happen. She alluz wish dat uh mothuh had teach uh how tuh fly. She try an try doin duh same way but she ain nebuh fly. She say she guess she jis wuzn bawn wid duh powuh." ( Drums and Shadows 145) [End Page 188]
[Theresa was caught too and they were brought over to this country. After they had been here a while, the mother got to where she couldn't stand it and she wanted to go back to Africa. One day my grandmother Ryna was standing with her in the field. Theresa turned around so. . . She stretched her arms out, so, and rose right up and flew right back to Africa. My grandmother said she was standing right there when it happened. She always wished that her mother had taught her how to fly. She tried and tried doing the same but she never flew. She said she guesses she just wasn't born with the power].

If Ryna was a practicing Muslim, then in all likelihood so was her mother, Theresa. This is not to suggest that inter-religious marriages did not happen in Africa, but rather one can safely assume that, if Theresa herself was not Muslim, but simply married to one, then when she was kidnapped and brought to the U.S. with her daughter, but not her husband, she would have practiced her own religion, not her husband's. Yet, alone in the land of her enslavement, Theresa touched her head to the ground at sunrise, addressing her god with "ashamnegad," and concluding "Ameen, ameen." Unable to bear slavery in the "New World," bowing to the God she adored in Africa, this Muslim woman flew away, back to her beloved homeland.

I cite the above passage to reiterate the importance of the confluence of "African" and "Muslim" folklores, and hence the need to address these two bodies of knowledge as overlapping in numerous instances. In Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South, Albert Raboteau writes that "Among the Africans who became slaves in the Americas were those, such as the Wolof, Serer, Mandinke, Bambara, Fulani, and Hausa, who were Muslim or at least had been influenced by Islam. The ancient kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay had been centers of Muslim influence in the western Sudan" (5). Raboteau then cites an unnamed 18th-century traveler who observed that "while some West African towns had mosques and though some Muslim 'Foolas and Mandingoes attend to the ceremonial duties of their religion with such strictness as well might cause Christians to blush,' yet 'they still entertain a degree of belief in the powers of witchcraft and in those of . . . charms'" (5).

The pervasive and influential presence of Islam in various parts of Africa has gradually gained greater recognition and discussion by Africanist scholars, but remains woefully underrepresented in African-American literature. Interestingly, Calina and Hannah are described by Katie Brown as Ibo, and by Nero Jones as Muslims. Obviously, Toni Morrison was acknowledging this overlap as she listed the names of Belali Mohomet's children alongside the words uttered by the flying Africans. Yet a nod of acknowledgment remains insufficient, especially if it used primarily to lend one's narrative a touch of the exotic and mysterious. This has unfortunately been the case with some of the more successful African-American creations: Morrison does not address the Muslim genealogy, and is, at best, "curiously coy" about her borrowing the stories of Belali's descendents (Austin 15); and while Alex Haley foregrounds Islam in the first part of his saga, Roots, the religion becomes reduced to the recognizable chant "Allahu Akbar" in the opening scene of the series based on the novel, but is simply abandoned after that scene. Similarly, the otherwise superb [End Page 189] movie Daughters of the Dust again opens with the chant "Allahu Akbar," and hints at the persistence of the religion in Dawtuh Island, South Carolina, until the turn of the century, but does not discuss Islam in any depth, even as we are told that "Bilali Mahomet" was the patriarch of the island community. And even the best critical literature surrounding these masterpieces contributes to the erasure of Islam, which it does not mention as one of the spiritual traditions that have safely crossed the Atlantic.

Dash's novel, Daughters of the Dust, published in 1997 and expanding on her 1989 film by the same title, also comes as a disappointment in this respect—and only in this respect, I hasten to add—for whereas the film clearly and respectfully depicts the survival of Islam among many of the inhabitants of Dawtuh Island, the novel makes only one reference, and a negative one at that, to that religion. Unlike the movie, the novel shows one solitary Muslim, Paymore Muhammat, descendent from a long line of intermediary slave-traders.

Paymore come from long line of captives. Dey been captives from de beginning. It all him people know. De work of de gatherin de captives dey pass on from one to de other. Him learn when him a lil one running in he daddy footsteps. . . . Him know how to look at de turn of de head, de bend in de back, de flash in de eye, and him could tell whether a body is good for de field or de house. (102)

Paymore is literate, but his literacy is attributed to his closeness to the "master," not to his family, or his religion, although the absolute first verse of the Qur'an is the injunction: "Iqra'" meaning "Read," and a significant number of African Muslims had learned the rudiments of reading and writing as part of their religion. 7 Yet we are told that "Paymore plenty proud of de work him do. . . . Him eat de same food as he master. Him take de same lesson as he master chilren when dey lil. Dat how he learn to read and cipher like him" (102).

None of the descendents of the Muslim slaves mention the words "kum buba yali, kum buba tambe," which appear in Morrison's "song of Solomon," as well as other versions of the myth, and which the Africans supposedly said before taking flight. 8 These are recalled, however, on White Bluff, another of the Georgia Sea islands, where Prince Sneed, an older resident, explains:

Muh gran say ole man Waldburg down on St. Catherine own some slabes wut wuzn climatize and he wuk um hahd and one day dey wuz hoein in duh fiel an duh dribuh come out an two ub um wuz unuh a tree in duh shade, an duh hoes wuz wukin by demsef. Duh dribuh say 'wut dis?' an dey say 'Kum buba yali kum buba tambe, Kum kunka yali kum kunka tambe,' quick like. Den dey rise off duh groun an fly away. Nobody ebuh see um no mo. Some say dey fly back to Africa. Muh gran see dat wid he own eye." ( Drums and Shadows 79)
[My grandfather said Old Man Waldburg down on St. Catherine owned some slaves that were not "climatized," and he worked [End Page 190] them hard, and one day they were hoeing in the field and the driver came out and two of them were under a tree in the shade, and the hoes were working by themselves. The driver said "what's this?" and they said 'kum buba yali kum buba tambe, kum kunka yali kum kunka tambe," fast. Then they rose off the ground and flew away. Nobody ever saw them again. Some say they flew back to Africa. My grandfather saw that with his own eyes.]

"Not Toubob Medicine"

Morrison's Song of Solomon is a journey back in time, chronicling the central protagonist's search for his African ancestors, who included Belali Mohomet and Medina, among other Muslims. Another Afrodiasporan search for origins, Alex Haley's Roots, opens in West Africa in 1750. And here too, as in Morrison's novel, there are references to the Islamic heritage of the enslaved Africans. Kunta Kinte's birth in 1750 in the Mandinka village of Juffure, "four days upriver from the coast of the Gambia," is seen as an omen of good fortune, because:

According to the forefathers, a boy firstborn presaged the special blessings of Allah not only upon the parents but also upon the parents' families . . .
Hastening from their beds of bamboo cane and cured hides into their rough cotton tunics, the men of the village filed briskly to the praying place, where the alimamo led the worship: " Allahu Akbar! Ashadu an lailahailala!" (Roots 1)

For Africans, however, these were the worst of times, and the young Kunta Kinte, despite his propitious birth, fell prey to the evil of slavery. And since the obvious must at times be stated, let us mention that, traumatic as the Middle Passage proved to be, it did not bring about cultural, spiritual, and religious amnesia among the slaves. Chattel on a southern plantation, Kunta nevertheless performed his Muslim prayers: "As the sun began to set, Kunta turned his face toward the East, and by the time he had finished his silent evening prayer to Allah, dusk was gathering" (Roots 173). Faint with hunger, he still would not eat pork:

The smell of the food before him hurt Kunta's stomach as much as the pain in his back. . . . Through the night, he lay drifting into and out of sleep and wondering about these black ones who looked like Africans but ate pig. It meant that they were all strangers—or traitors—to Allah. Silently he begged Allah's forgiveness in advance if his lips would even touch any swine without his realizing it, or even if he ever ate from any plate that any swine meat had even been on. (178) [End Page 191]

Later in the novel, we are told that Bell, the American-born Christian slave who later married Kunta, immediately recognized him as a Muslim, and without prompting from him prepared halal food for her future husband, never using pork in her cooking, despite the fact that this was the most common, and at times the only available animal meat in the slave community: "She never gave him any obvious meat of the pig, though he wasn't sure how she knew that" (221). Bell's cooking, in addition to revealing her unquestioning love, also shows a familiarity with the dietary dictates of Islam, a familiarity which itself indicates the existence of practicing Muslims in the United States: Bell had learned about the pork taboo while a slave on a previous plantation. Clearly, the religion had survived in various southern locales.

The pork taboo is a regional one in the Middle East, birthplace of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. According to Middle Eastern religious mythology, pigs are polluted, symbolically carrying the sins of humanity. Jesus of Nazareth is said to have rid them of this pollution, and his followers, the Christians, can now eat pork meat. But practicing Jews and Muslims still uphold the taboo. Because it is named in the Qur'an, this dietary restriction must be observed by Muslims, and cannot be pushed aside to accommodate previous traditions.

Bell is also a rootworker, as Kunta himself became aware of, when she nursed him back to health with "Allah's herbs," following the brutal amputation of his right foot in retribution for his attempt to escape.

Moving quickly and—for some reason—furtively, she covered Kunta's bared chest with a thick, steaming poultice of boiled leaves mixed and mashed with something acrid. The poultice was so blistering hot that Kunta moaned and tried to shake it off, but Bell firmly shoved him back.
When he next awakened, Kunta . . . knew that his fever had broken.
He lay wondering where that woman had learned to do what she had done. It was like [his mother] Binta's medicines from his childhood, the herbs of Allah's earth passed down from the ancestors. And Kunta's mind played back to him, as well, the black woman's secretive manner, making him realize that it had not been toubob medicine. Not only was he sure the toubob were unaware of it, he knew that the toubob should never know of it. ( Roots 209)

Devout as Kunta was to Allah, he also practiced African cultural traditions that did not necessarily originate in Islam, such as rootwork and the making of charms for good or bad luck, practices he shared with Bell and other non-Muslim Africans, and which cemented his communal bonds with other slaves in the Diaspora. While an adolescent in Africa, he had worn the amulets his grandmother had lovingly made for him. And as a slave in Virginia, he made a hand against his owner, who would have him eat pork:

Kunta managed to move his left hand far enough to scratch up a small mound of the hard dirt where the toubob's foot had been. [End Page 192] Kunta pressed his eyes shut and appealed to the spirits of evil to curse forever the womb of the toubob and his family. ( Roots 178)

In the United States, it is generally assumed that Islam is a highly regulatory religion that seeks to eradicate pre-existing cultural beliefs. Historical evidence, however, proves otherwise, for wherever these beliefs did not directly conflict with Islam, they were embraced by the new religion. Similarly, whenever religious syncretisms are studied, the assumption seems to be that African religions have incorporated "foreign" elements, while the dominant religion (Christianity or Islam) barely changed. Yet Islam, one of the relatively younger world religions, especially when compared to Judaism or Hinduism, for example, has also certainly incorporated elements from the cultures that converted to it, which were not tabulae rasae prior to their conversion, and do not today display a monolithic appearance, from Nigeria, to Iran, to Indonesia, to Russia, and China. As other scholars have noted, a creative interaction between Islam and traditional African cultures has long characterized the history of the religion in West Africa. And as it spread into Africa, Islam came into contact with traditions that coincided with its dictates, which it consequently accommodated fully or partially. (A prime example is polygamy, which Islam allowed to continue, even as it restricted the previously uncapped number of wives to four, with the additional condition that a man be confident he treats them all equally.)

Yet another example of syncretism is the making of charms and amulets, which was common among various peoples in Western Asia and Africa, and did not threaten Islam, so long as the specific charms did not conflict with that religion's dictates. On the other hand, when anything is specifically prohibited by Islam, a pre-existing cultural acceptance of it was to be eradicated. Thus Kunta, attempting on another occasion to make a fetish, had to stop short of his intentions:

Seeking some dirt preferable to that of the floor in order to make a fetish to the spirits, Kunta scraped out with his fingers a piece of reddish, hardened mud chinking between the logs. Seeing short, black bristles within the mud, he inspected one curiously; when he realized that it was a hair from the filthy swine, he flung it away—along with the dirt—and wiped off the hand that had held it. ( Roots 179)

Clearly, "African" and "Muslim" are not mutually exclusive identities: they have much in common, even if they occasionally clash. Islam spread to Africa within decades of the founding of the religion, and has been thriving there ever since. Over the centuries, millions of Africans have willingly converted to it. It is now the dominant religion in all of North Africa, and vast parts of Central, East, and West Africa. With the exception of the internecine wars of the 18th and 19th centuries—wars that affected most of West Africa, and were not restricted to "Muslim vs. animist" tensions—the spread of Islam has been peaceful, a gradual appreciation and embrace of the religion. In light of this, the dismissal of Islam as a non-African religion, simply because it did not originate there, is tantamount to claiming Christian [End Page 193] Europeans are not "genuine" Europeans, and Christianity is foreign to Europe, because it did not originate in Europe. And, of course, it facilitates the continuation of the myth than "the authentic Africans" are illiterate, polytheistic, and identify exclusively with their ethnic group, rather than a wider ranging faith. Yet, in keeping with the reductivist binarism of the U.S. classification systems, few North American scholars can reconcile African and Muslim, preferring to view them as either/or, rather than both/and identities. 9 Muslim Africans are considered "Arabized," and hence less African, although the claim that Christian Europeans are "Semitized" because Jesus was born into a Semitic culture, would be dismissed as outrageous or, at the very least, ludicrous. The underlying assumption is doubly racist, as it implies that the "authentic African" cultures were weaker, and caved in to the "bully," intolerant conqueror, Islam. Yet history shows us the opposite scenario in more than one instance. Thus Bakary, son of Biton Kulibali, 18th-century ruler of the Bambara, was deposed and killed when he converted to Islam and sought to establish a more Islamic rule in his state. And in 15th-century Kano, Crown Prince Umar, a devout Muslim, abdicated the kingship when it became apparent to him that he could not be at once a warrior chief and a Muslim. Among those noteworthy American scholars who can reconcile "African" and "Muslim" is Eugene Genovese, who writes, in Roll, Jordan, Roll, that "Southern slaves developed their own religion and turned it to good effect, but they were not able to retain such African religions as Islam or develop heavily African syncretisms capable of calling them to holy war" (591, my emphasis). Genovese minimizes the extent of Islam's survival, yet he is correct in acknowledging it as an African religion.

"Muslims, Too, Wear the Mask"

Still reeling from eight centuries of Muslim hegemony in their own country, the Spaniards were reluctant to introduce Islam into the New World. Yet they did so anyway, as they frequently traded in Sufi slaves, whom they did not recognize as Muslims veiled in mysticism. Traces of Sufi Islam, the mystic tradition quite distinct from the mainstream, orthodox religion, and which can be practiced without the outward manifestations of conventional religion, are to be found to this day in former Spanish colonies, where they tend to remain unacknowledged or, when detected, are attributed to "African animism." On the other hand, the French and English slave traders, having no immediate cause of concern with the importation of Muslims into the Americas, engaged in the indiscriminate purchase and transportation of any and all captured Africans, and thus introduced mainstream Islam into North America. This is the brand of Islam that generally withered away within one generation, for it could not thrive without a mosque, a mu'ezzin, an imam, and the requisite Friday communal prayer. Yet enslaved Afrodiasporans who knew that their ancestors were devout Muslims tended to grasp at any survival of that religion in the "New World," and gradually, if unknowingly, they too shifted towards Sufi practices, making of the latter the dominant form of Africana Islam in the Americas, as it had become in many [End Page 194] parts of Africa. Sufi Islam then merged with other hybrid Diaspora practices, including voodoo, providing the believers with the spiritual empowerment that sustained them in their enslavement.

The Catholic influences on voodoo have been documented at length, and must be acknowledged, for they are important indeed, ranging as they do from the panoply of saints/loa to the terminology of the performances. Yet an observer of voodoo ceremonies who is also familiar with Islam generally, and Sufi mysticism in particular, cannot fail to recognize the many similarities between the latter two ritual ceremonies. These are immediately obvious in the very outward appearance of the participants, who dress in white for both voodoo and Sufi ceremonies. In her classic Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, Maya Deren writes that:

Today, the regular ceremonial costume for the Rada rites consists of a white handkerchief tied around the head, and a white dress; for the men, white trousers and shirt. Everyone is bare-footed. Long sleeves are expected, unless extreme poverty prohibits this, as well as a high-closed neck, and a skirt as full as can be made from the amount of material that the person has been able to buy. This is certainly not the African costume, which may have included many immediately symbolic and local references. (195)

Quite as certainly, it is not the Catholic outfit, which is notoriously ornate, with crosses, skull caps, woven gilded damask, and vermillion or burgundy wraps or, in mourning situations, unadorned black. Islam, on the other hand, always requires of its followers to go barefoot during individual, communal, and ceremonial prayer, as well as upon entering a Muslim household—although the latter—which differs in being a recommendation, not a requirement, is not always observed. "Modest dress," whatever the outside heat, is also always required in Islam: think of the long flowing buttoned-up robes traditionally worn by Muslims in the Arabian peninsula as well as various African countries, as compared with the loose, open-neck, short-sleeved dashiki frequently worn by non-Muslim Africans. As for white, it is the only permissible color during the pilgrimage. And Sufis in particular always wear white—year round. The white handkerchief on a woman's head is closest to the traditional Islamic veil, also white—the haik, burqa, and chador more closely associated with Islamic dress today are cultural dictates, hence their variations from one region to another in the Middle East: blue in Afghanistan, for example, and black in Yemen. On the other hand, the religion-mandated plain scarf concealing the hair appears uniformly in otherwise widely-differing countries like the United States, Indonesia, and China. Moreover, the swirling dervishes always wear an ample skirt over their trousers.

Beyond the immediate visual similarities, voodoo and Sufi ceremonies feature many practices in common, including possession, trances, loss of consciousness, and dancing in concentric circles. Interestingly, the Flying Africans are not depicted as flapping their imaginary or invisible wings before taking flight. Rather, they are portrayed as spinning with their arms stretched wide before alighting, as the swirling dervishes spin before losing consciousness and achieving union with the divine cosmos. [End Page 195]

The Ring Shout, another Southern spiritual ritual, may also be a Muslim survival, duplicating the pilgrims' circumambulation of the Black Stone at the Kaaba, in Mecca, during the hajj (pilgrimage). The steps followed during the hajj are highly regulated, as they are in the Shout, with all participants dressing in the same way, and uttering the same supplications at the same time as they circle around the Kaaba, where the Black Stone (believed to be the only solid stone remaining from the Prophet Abraham's sacred edifice to Allah) now represents the spiritual center of Islam and the spiritual homeland of all Muslims. During the tawaf (circumambulation), pilgrims have to circle the Kaaba seven times (seven being symbolic of infinity), reciting a prayer in unison during each circumambulation.

Folklorists such as Harold Courlander view the ring shout as dancing in disguise. In A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore, Courlander writes: "The ring shout, a semireligious activity, preserves dance in disguised form as an aspect of religious expression. In Africa, dancing is an integral part of ritual. In the ring shout, however, any movements resembling overt dancing are prohibited" (Caption under Plate 1, facing page 298). To best show the similarity between a ring shout and the tawaf, I will need to quote at some length a description which appears in Courlander's book, which he himself borrows from the 1867 Slave Songs of the United States:

For some time one can hear, though at a good distance, the vociferous exhortation or prayer of the presiding elder or of the brother who has a gift that way . . . and at regular intervals one hears the elder 'deaconing' a hymn-book hymn, which is sung two lines at a time, and whose wailing cadences, borne on the night air, are indescribably melancholy. . . . when the 'sperichil' [spiritual] is struck up, [they] begin first walking and by and by shuffling round, one after the other, in a ring. The foot is hardly taken from the floor, and the progression is mainly due to a jerking, hitching motion, which agitates the entire shouter, and soon brings out streams of perspiration. (Courlander 365)

The Ring Shout has been generally acknowledged as an African survival because it does not feature any recognizable Christian and/or European influences. But that only begs the question—if it is indeed African, why such a strict prohibition on dancing, a perfectly acceptable part of religious rituals in non-Muslim Africa? And why not, then, attribute it to Muslim Africa? Compare the above exhortation to prayer, in Courlander's description of the Ring Shout, with the traditional Muslim call, which the caller opens with a four-fold repetition of "Allahu Akbar" and, once he has gotten the community's attention, with a two-fold repetition of each of the following lines: "Ashadu an la Ilaha illa Allah; Ashadu an Muhammadan rasul Allah; Hayya 'ala s-Salah; Hayya 'alal- falah" (I bear witness there is no God but God; I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God; Come fast to prayer; Come fast to salvation). Anyone who has ever heard such a minaret call will vouch to its haunting tone, as"indescribably melancholy" as the elder's call to a ring shout, "sung two lines at a time."

The prohibition against dancing in a Ring Shout is absolute, as illustrated in Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow, where great-aunt Cuney, an Africana ancestor [End Page 196] who transmits the history of her people's successful resistance to enslavement, is expelled from the circle when she is caught "crossing her feet":

The old woman (she had been young then) had been caught "crossing her feet in a Ring Shout being held there and had been ordered out of the circle. But she had refused to leave, denying at first that she had been dancing, then claiming it had been the Spirit moving powerfully in her which had caused her to forget and cross her feet. She had even tried brazening it out: "Hadn't David danced before the Lord?" Finally, just as she was about to be ejected bodily, she had stormed out of the circle and the church on her own. (33)

Cuney is only expelled for the one night but, proud and insisting on her innocence, she determined never to join a Ring Shout again. Instead, on certain nights, she watches from afar, filled with longing, as other members of her community on Tatem Island, just across from Beaufort in South Carolina, join in the circle, never dancing:

Some nights, though, when they held the Shout, she would go to stand, unreconciled but nostalgic, on the darkened road across from the church. . . Through the open door the handful of elderly men and women still left, and who still held on to the old ways, could be seen slowly circling the room in a loose ring. . . .
Only their heels rose and then fell with every step, striking the worn pineboard with a beat that was as precise and intricate as a drum's, and which as the night wore on and the Shout became more animated could be heard all over Tatem. . . .
They allowed their failing bodies every liberty, yet their feet never once left the floor or, worse, crossed each other in a dance step. . . .
Even when the Spirit took hold and their souls and writhing bodies seemed about to soar off into the night, their feet remained firm. I shall not be moved. (34, italics in original)

Drums were outlawed in the United States South, and Africans gradually learned to rely on string and wind instruments for their music, but these were not used in the call to a ring shout. No bells are rung in the call to a ring shout, that would indicate a Christian influence, and no horns are blown, no fiddle strummed, that would suggest an Afrodiasporan adjustment. Instead, as in Islam, it is the human voice that exhorts the devout to prayer. Adding to the 1867 description, Courlander explains:

In its customary form, the ring shout consists of a circle of people moving single file (usually counterclockwise) around a central point, to the accompaniment of singing, stamping, and heel clicking. . . . The steps are akin to a shuffle, with free foot movement prohibited, and little versatility permitted. . . . The tension generated in the course of the shout has certain approved outlets, such as ecstatic seizures or possessions, but the feet are required to be kept under control. (366) [End Page 197]

Again, the counterclockwise circling of a central point is similar to the circumambulation of the Kaaba, which very strictly prohibits dancing, while allowing for vocal utterances of ecstasy. The restraints in a ring shout, as in the tawaf, against personal innovation and initiative reappear in voodoo ritual dances, as observed by Deren, who explains why no individual dancer can digress from the established pattern:

A collective religion cannot depend on the vagaries of individual aptitude and persuasion; on the contrary, it must stabilize these vagaries and protect the participants against their own weaknesses, failures and inadequacies. It must provide the generally uncreative, often distracted individual with a prescribed movement and attitude, the very performance of which gradually involves and perhaps inspires him. ( Divine Horsemen 228)

Nevertheless, the monotony of the circling will occasionally be broken by one participant. In Sufi mysticism, this is the trance, the divine possession. In voodoo ritual dance, Deren tells us, it is "a sign that a loa [spirit] arrives."

If, in the chorus, one hears, suddenly, a single voice emerging with special tone and insistence, or if, in the crowded peristyle, one remarks, among all these bodies which move with such homogeneity, one whose movements exceed this generality, become spectacular—this is a sign that a loa arrives. (230)

While there is no disputing that the shout is indeed an African survival, one must also acknowledge that it may be a Muslim African survival, hence the prohibition on dancing, an essential part of all religious and spiritual rites in non-Muslim Africa, but which is taboo in the ring shout as it is in the tawaf around the Kaaba.

Writing about blues vocals, musicologist John Storm Roberts explains that "the long, blending and swooping notes are similar to the Islam-influenced styles of much of West Africa," and that the specific techniques of creating quarter tones that characterize blues notes are to be found "in Islamic African music and hardly at all in other styles" (197, 213). Another musicologist, Eric Charry, writes that:

As Islam took root throughout Africa it influenced and was influenced by local cultures in a variety of ways, sometimes stifling, sometimes stimulating musical expression. . . .
By suppressing certain forms of musical expression, such as certain kinds of drumming and dancing, sparking others, such as those associated with certain Muslim festivals, and lending status to certain musicians attached to Muslim rulers, the introduction of Islam has impacted the kinds of music available to African societies. (544)

Focussing on Sufism, the predominant form of Islam in various West African counties, Charry explains: "Islamic mysticism, known as Sufism, not only allows music, [End Page 198] but puts it to great use. Sufism in its broadest sense can embrace 'those tendencies in Islam which aim at direct communion between God and man'" (556). Obviously, Sufism would also have been of most use on isolated island plantations that did not have a mosque and an imam.

But Muslim African-American musicians have also continued to perform their art well into the 20th century: a significant number of jazz musicians converted to Islam in the 1950s and 1960s, including such dignitaries as Talib Daoud, Art Blakey (whose Muslim name after his conversion is Abdullah Ibn Buhaina), Yusef Lateef, Ahmad Jamal, McCoy Tyner (Muslim name: Salaiman Saud), and Charlie Parker (who took on the name Abdul Karim). 10 Aminah Beverly McCloud writes that "these musicians were major propagators of Islam in the world of jazz. . . . Some even developed their own jargon—a unique blend of bebop and Arabic" (20). Significantly, most contemporary collaborations between African-American and African musicians—whose explicit purpose is to highlight the continuities between the two cultural productions—happen primarily between African-American musicians and artists from Senegal and Mali, i.e. artists from Muslim Africa. Taj Mahal for example, first visited West Africa in 1979 and immediately became convinced his ancestors were Kouyates—a main clan of the Mande griots from Mali, where Islam has long been part of the very fabric of everyday life and culture. 11 He claims to have been irresistibly drawn to Mali and, in 1999, finally realized a long-held ambition: to play with Mali's finest musicians, including kora master Toumani Diabate. The record they produced, Kulanjan, perfectly highlights the affinities between American and Malian ways and rhythms of playing. 12 (And just as remarkably, when Euro-Americans—who do not seek their cultural and spiritual roots in Africa—collaborate with African artists, they tend to come together with musicians from non-Hausa Nigeria, the Congo, or South Africa, i.e. with musicians from non-Muslim cultures, who excel at drumming, a more "universal" phenomenon.) 13

There are five "pillars" of Islam. In order of importance, these are the shahada, or profession of faith, the salat, or prayer, the zakat, or alms-giving, sawm, or fasting, and the hajj, or pilgrimage. As we look at the enslaved Muslims in the United States, we cannot fail to be awed at how they upheld these pillars under the most adverse circumstances. These slaves never lost faith in Allah (shahadah), and they continued to pray at the right time (salat). While zakat (currently calculated at 2.5% of excess wealth) is required only of the solvent Muslim, these impoverished Africans nevertheless handed out sadaka on Muslim feast days—indeed, they recognized the lunar Muslim calendar in a hemisphere that followed the solar, Gregorian one. The fourth pillar, fasting, is relatively flexible, since Muslims are not obligated to fast if they are in poor health, engaged in strenuous work, or away from home. Yet there are records that, undernourished as they must have been as slaves, some Muslims nevertheless chose to fast. The fifth pillar, a pilgrimage to Mecca, was obviously out of the question, and it may well be that the ring shout sought to approximate it. Black linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner even suggested that the word "shout" is simply the English transliteration of the Arabic "shawt," pronounced exactly the same way. In Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect, Turner defines a shout as "a religious ring dance in which the participants continue to perform until they become exhausted" (202). Turner identifies [End Page 199] the origin of the word "shout" as Arabic, and explains: "to move around the Kaaba (the small stone building at Mecca which is the chief object of the pilgrimage of Mohhammedans) until exhausted" (202). Actually, the Arabic word "shawt," meaning a lap, refers to the first circumambulation of the Kaaba.

"To have Kunta Kinte, or one of his fellows praying to Allah while chained in the bottom of a Christian ship is an unjustified sop to contemporary developments rather than true reflection of the past," wrote novelist James Michener in his review of Alex Haley's Roots. 14 Unfortunately, Michener's derisive comment is fully representative of the hostility that has historically surrounded Islam in this country, and reeks at best of ignorance, at worst of intolerance. It is no surprise, in the climate of extreme hostility expressed above, that Islam should not just be overlooked, ignored, but indeed negated by all except Muslims—tolerance has yet to extend to Islam in this "multicultural" country. And yet the evidence is there: Muslims were amongst the very first Africans brought over to the Americas, and among the very last. No records were kept of the religion of captured Africans destined for the Middle Passage, but estimates today indicate that some 15% of them were Muslim. Islam was the second monotheistic religion introduced here, after Catholicism, but before Protestantism. While some were forced to publicly profess their conversion to Christianity, enslaved Muslims have nevertheless left a faint but quasi-uninterrupted trail, in the form of "diaries," narratives, amulets, and recordings of the Qur'an. Islam today is the second largest, and fastest growing religion in the United States, numbering approximately seven million adherents, and African-American Muslims constitute the single largest ethnic group within that religion, approximately 30 percent. Islam, then, is an African-American spiritual heritage that needs to be recognized as such.

In conclusion, I have no interest in claiming that it was only Muslim Africans who flew away, nor, for that matter, do I wish to suggest that the Flying Africans, acknowledged by all informants to be Ibos, were Muslim Ibos. I merely wish to highlight the presence, among the enslaved Africans, of a significant Muslim population. Various factors point to the fact that Muslim Africans, both orthodox and Sufi, were brought in significant numbers to the Americas. As we gradually recognize more African survivals in the Diaspora, it seems counterproductive to dismiss the spiritual and religious contributions of 15% of our ancestors.

Himself reinscribing Plato's idea, first elaborated in Phaedrus, where the Greek philosopher compares speech to writing as aide-mémoire to the living memory, Jacques Derrida avers in Of Grammatology: "Writing, a mnemotechnic means, supplanting good memory, spontaneous memory, signifies forgetfulness" (37). Yet while it "signifies forgetfulness," writing cannot fully eliminate memory. Like the sign that Derrida also acknowledged can never be completely eradicated, always leaving a trace even as it is erased, the Muslim strain in Afrodiasporan history resurfaces over and over again. A mere nod of acknowledgement of the survival of this religion—which fully empowered its practitioners despite their enslavement—is inappropriate, especially if it is used for purposes of exoticization and mystification. [End Page 200]

 



Nada Elia is author of Trances, Dances, and Vociferations: Agency and Resistance in Africana Women's Narratives and guest editor of the special issue of Radical Philosophy Review devoted to "The Second Intifada." She has also published in such journals as Research in African Literatures, World Literature Today, Comparative Literature in Canada, and Callaloo.

Notes

1. Some scholars and historians (e.g. Ronald Judy) have argued that the correct spelling of Belali's name should be the more Arabic form: Ben Ali. I disagree. At the time of the slave trade, Belali had been for many centuries a popular Muslim name in Africa, because it is the name of the Prophet Muhammed's first mu'ezzin (summoner to prayer), an Ethiopian whom the prophet freed from slavery when he converted to Islam. Whether Ben Ali was the original form of the name, which would have been bestowed upon the Ethiopian convert by the Prophet, is a moot point by the time we get to our own Belali in Sapelo Island.

2. See Diouf (127-28).

3. Only consonants, and some long vowels, are written in Arabic. Short vowels are generally omitted, except when their absence can lead to confusion with a similar word that bears a different meaning, in which case they are added as diacritics, or "accents." A simple example in English would be the syllable "bt" which, depending on which vowel is used, could produce the words "bit," "bat," and "but." When there is no room for confusion—or, in our example, when only the word "bit" exists—the vowel is completely omitted, and the reader simply pronounces the word according to local accent. This is one of the many reasons behind the wide varieties of spoken Arabic, despite a single script. (Of course, the writing of a vowel does not necessarily regulate its pronunciation, as evidenced from the British and American "tomato"). From my minimal exposure to African Arabic, I formed the impression that Africans reading (and speaking) Arabic tend to insert mostly the vowels "o" and "a" (no "i," "e," or "u"), and tend to use the same vowel for all the syllables of an Arabic word, hence the likelihood of a word such as "hakabara," rather than "hakobaro," being Africanized Arabic.

4. In Servants of Allah, Sylviane Diouf explains: "'Hakabara' is a deformation of akbar ('great' in Arabic). The complete sentence must have been Allahu Akbar Muhammadu rasul-ullah—'God is Great and Muhammad is his Messenger'" (217, 39n, italics in original).

5. Being a long vowel, the "ee" is actually written out in Arabic, hence its preservation by Muslims worldwide.

6. Sadaka remains voluntary, and must be distinguished from zakat, a mandated contribution of 2.5 percent of one's earnings, to be given to Muslim social organizations at the end of the lunar year.

7. The Qur'an is not arranged chronologically; instead, the earliest revelations appear at the end. Sura 96, "The Embryo," is recognized as the first revelation that the Prophet Muhammad received. This sura foregrounds the utmost importance of literacy for Muslims:

Read in the name of your Lord who created,
Created man from an embryo;
Read, for your Lord is most beneficent,
Who taught by the pen,
Taught man what he did not know. (96, 1-4)

8. See, for example, Virginia Hamilton, The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales (166-73).

9. See Nada Elia, Trances, Dances, and Vociferations: Agency and Resistance in Africana Women's Narratives, for a comparison of the U.S. and Caribbean classification systems, the first refusing to accommodate multiple identifications, the latter recognizing the pervasiveness of diasporic hybridity.

10. Islam is frequently associated with bebop: Muslim jazz musicians include Mur Alahi, Art Blakey, Fard Daleel, Mustafa Daleel, Talib Daoud, Ahmad Jamal, Yusef Lateef, Muhammad Sadiq, Sahib Shihab, Dakota Stanton, and possibly John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie.

11. "Mande" refers to a large group of West African ethnic groups, initially centered around Bamako (in Mali), which have spread out into coastal regions such as Senegal, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, and Ghana. Although not all Mandes are Muslim, they are heavily influenced by the Islamic culture that has characterized Mali for approximately ten centuries.

12. Hannibal Records, 1999.

13. See such representative recordings as Mali to Memphis (by various artists) and Kulanja (by Taj Mahal and Tomani Dibate) for African-American collaborations with African musicians, and Paul Simon's Graceland for a white collaboration with an African group. Additionally, white appropriation of African skills is frequently reflected in the lack of visibility of the Black musicians in the title or authorship of the product, although they are given credit inside the album, as required by law.

14. See "Roots, Unique in Time," New York Times Book Review, February 26, 1977 (41). [End Page 201]

Works Cited

Charry, Eric. "Music and Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa." History of Islam in Africa. Eds. Nehemia Levitzon and Randall Pouwels. Ohio University Press, 2000. 545-77.

Courlander, Harold. A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore. New York: Smithmark, 1976.

Dash, Julie. Daughters of the Dust. New York: Dutton, 1997.

Deren, Maya. Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti. New York: McPherson, 1953.

Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Spivak. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974.

Diouf, Sylviane. Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

Elia, Nada. Trances, Dances, and Vociferations: Agency and Resistance in Africana Women' s Narratives. New York: Garland Press, 2001.

Genovese, Eugene. Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. New York: Pantheon, 1974.

Georgia Writers Project. Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies Among the Georgia Coastal Negroes. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1940.

Haley, Alex. Roots: The Saga of an American Family. New York: Doubleday, 1976.

Hamilton, Virginia. The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales. New York: Knopf, 1985.

Marshall, Paule. Praiseong for the Widow. New York: Putnam, 1983.

Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New York: Plume, 1977.

Raboteau, Albert. Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Roberts, John Storm. Black Music of Two Worlds. New York: Praeger, 1972.

Turner, Lorenzo. Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect. Ann Arbor: University Michigan of Press, 1974.

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1080-6512
Print ISSN
0161-2492
Launched on MUSE
2003-03-24
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