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CHAPTER 4 RECKONING TIME'S PASSING About a tousand or two tousand year ago, me cannot tell to a year or two, as can neider write nor read, there was . . . The King of the Gypsies, in Henry Fielding, The History of TomJones Of course I know when the Friday mosque at Dori was rebuilt. That was 108 years ago, in the third year of the reign of Seeku Saalu. Maamuudu Sewooma, Peoukoye, 19 December 1971 IN LIPTAKO a well-versed traditionist has got to know his dates. "Look. He's a fine old man, and he knows a lot of stories," one friend confided about another, his tone then shifting from grudging praise to mild disdain, "but he does not know when any of those events happened." Western historians are no less disdainful of their colleagues who are careless with their chronologies, for negligence is a sign they have given too little heed to one of the profession's fundamental convictions that, in Moses Finley's words, "dates and a coherent dating scheme are as essential to his­ tory as exact measurement is to physics." Or as the Africanist Yves Person put it more bluntly: "No chronology, no history."1 No Western book of history comes without a buttresswork of dates. Nor do Liptako's traditions. Ali, for in­ stance, "became Liptako's first judge just after the jihad that established the emirate for eighty-seven years until it was occupied by the French."2 "It is now 155 yearssince the HomboriBe left Hombori and 148 years since they settled in Liptako."3 Aadaajo Muusa, a village head of Bouloye, "died at the age of sixty-six. That was sixty-two years ago, before the war against the Tuareg."4 68 RECKONING TIME'S PASSING Precise statements like these are apt to surprise Africanists , who in recent years have seen one author after another come to the conclusion that oral tradition and chronological exactitude seldom go together. D. H. Jones opened his fine introduction to a special number of The Journal of African History devoted to chronology with the sobering assertion that "the historian of precolonial Africa south of the Sahara is in the main concerned with cultures which took no interest in the exact mensuration of time. The professional story-tellers and the official custodians of state histories, who provide most of the oral sources, usu­ ally have only a very hazy and erroneous idea of the abso­ lute chronology of the events they relate." John Mbiti's opinion is still more sweeping and pessimistic: "Oral his­ tory has nodates to be remembered."5 Suggesting why Liptako 's traditionists have developed attitudes toward dates different from those apparently characteristic of subSaharan Africa and estimating the accuracy of their meas­ ures are the purpose of this chapter. The answers to both problems depend on working out the conceptual framework that shapes the traditionists' chronologies. A first clue lies in the way two of the men above dated events in terms of elapsed time. "It is now 155 years since . . . ," "That was sixty-two years ago. . . ." Both the Christian and the Muslim calendars are built on a base point from which their users number passing years. The Liptako calendar also has its base point, but unlike the Christian and Muslim base points immutably fixed in the stable past at Christ's birth or Muhammad's migration, the FulBe base point is in the ever-moving present. The base is "this year"(hikka). Past events may have happened last year (rawaani) or the year beforelast (rawtaani) or so many years ago. Despite their allegiance to Islam, Liptako people prefer their own calendar to the Muslim one for historical pur­ poses. Informants rarely cited Muslim dates, and these were primarily in reference to eventsoutside the emirate. I more often, but still rarely, heard references to Muslim RECKONING TIME'S PASSING 69 months. "Emir Usmaan died during Dhu al-hijja eleven years ago," for instance.6 All Ful6e know what Muslim month it is, but few recall the number of the year. Knowl­ edge of months is necessary for the proper performance of Muslim rituals; knowledge of the year is not. Christian dates seldom figured in the traditions, and when they did, it was always with reference to events since the French oc­ cupation. The Liptako term seize, for instance, is drawn from the French dix-neuf cent seize, 1916, the year that stands out in local memory as the time the Tuareg rose...


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