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A History of Race in Muslim West Africa, 1600-1960 (African Studies) Hardcover – June 6, 2011

4.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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"Bruce Hall embarked on a great project to understand why racial arguments were so common in West Africa's political contexts and yet so invisible in history books. His book is an objective and nuanced analysis of race relations. Anyone who wants to know about race relations in West Africa must read this brilliant study."
Chouki El Hamel, Arizona State University

"In this provocative and audacious challenge to the most influential paradigm of 'race' in African studies - Mamdani's 'contemporary racism as colonial legacy,' Bruce Hall posits race as an atemporal language imbued with both deep historical meaning and widespread contemporary exigency. Hall brings to his analysis not only the texts of Islamic scholars, but also the voices and views of local Songhay slave-descendants and farmers. Conceptualized in the context of the present, it draws on an enormous interdisciplinary arsenal of languages, methodologies, and theories to engage with an historical concern that spans time and space - namely when, why, and how do people 'chose' racial construction to order their lives? And with what consequences? This is African history at its best because, like the world about which Hall writes, it will take its place in the ongoing dialogue about race that extends well beyond Africa."
Ann McDougall, University of Alberta

"What makes this work so outstanding is that it is for the larger part based on local Arabic source material, which ensures that the local visions of race and society are indeed local and not inferred through an interpretation of French source material ... For many of us, reading this book will mean reconsidering much of what we thought we knew about Islam, history, and society in the Sahel."
Baz Lecocq, Islamic Africa

Book Description

This book traces the development of arguments about race over a period of more than 350 years in the Niger Bend in northern Mali. On the basis of Arabic documents held in Timbuktu, as well as local colonial sources in French and oral interviews, Bruce S. Hall reconstructs an African intellectual history of race that long predated colonial conquest, and which has continued to orient community relations ever since.
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Product Details

  • Series: African Studies (Book 115)
  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (June 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1107002877
  • ISBN-13: 978-1107002876
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,863,166 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Bruce Hall makes very clear that his book is not about race in general, as in the socio-linguistic constructs of race and fabricated identity. While Hall demonstrates an understanding of those arguments he states up front that his approach and analysis is a discussion of race in Northern Mali as it relates to religious, social and political instrumentalization. Regardless of race formation, Hall instructs the readers on how race identity framed everything from slavery, to land ownership, to Islamic identity and later independence movements.

Halls very intriguing work covers a time span form 1600 to 1960, demonstrating the "changing structures of ideas about difference" over time; distinguishing between colonial factors and pre-colonial realities. Social and political matters in the Sahel (from Senegal to Chad) are perhaps the most difficult to explain. That geographic band straddles a divide between Arab and non-Arab, Muslim and non-Muslim, pastoralist and agriculturalist and slave and master identities. Defining the source of conflict in this context is all the more difficult.

Racial identity was more than just color. Hall demonstrates this through countless source documents, colonial memoirs and local Muslim scholar writings. Identity was tied to lineage, religious practice and sometimes even, language. In one context, to be Muslim was to be light skinned; in another context Islamic identity had to conform to more "orthodox" practices, boosting credibility through Arabic language acumen. Even the "new Muslims" of Black Africa could be perceived as legitimate slave holdings due to their overt syncretistic practices, tied to pre-Islamic beliefs.
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The book quality is great but i think the information contained is biased towards emphasizing the whiteness of people that are obviously not. And i did not feel like there is any appreciation of the fact that black Africans had relationships with the middle east without any help from Arabs. There were black Muslims from the time that Islam started. The later Arab migrations only made it more widespread. It seems like no matter how deep inside of Africa we write about, if we insist that every evidence of civilization is Arab or European then our goal is not to educate but to spread opinions. After all in Ethiopia,Somalia and Sudan today there are many black Muslims that have been Muslims for centuries. You don't get that sense by reading this book. Sudan does connect to Chad and Chad connects to Nigeria. People have traveled and mingled along those routes for a long time.
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