Quoted in E.W Bovill (see Bibliography).

Born in 1483 in Muslim Granada. In 1518, the young Hasan ibn Muhammad al Wazzan al-Fasi was captured from an Arab galley by Christian corsairs (at the time, piracy was endemic in the Mediterranean). Because he had travelled widely, despite being only in his thirties, he was spared slavery and taken instead for an audience with Pope Leo X, who had acquired a commendable reputation for welcoming fresh intellectual talent into his Renaissance court (though he was later to excommunicate Luther). Leo X baptised the young Moor as Giovanni Leone, who was then given the freedom to complete his astonishing History and Description of Africa and Notable Things therein contained, published in Italian in 1526. It is still considered to be one of the most competent and indeed enduringly fascinating works on the continent's history.

Until the arrival of the French in 1912, Moroccan Jews were obliged to remove their shoes in Moorish quarters, and when passing mosques or the houses of sharifs. They were expected to yield right of way to Muslims in the street, and were forbidden to wear fine clothes or to ride horses. In addition, Jews had to pay the jizya poll tax to the Sultan for the privilege of living in the Mellah, the relatively secure ghetto within Fès Jdid's solid walls. The Moroccan Jews were also given what Arabs considered the more menial jobs; the name mellah is Arabic for salt, and was used to describe the Jewish quarters because they were given the task of salting the severed heads of criminals before they were put on public display.

Pleurez vieux paresseux des temps incohérants
Nos prétentions nous feront rire
Nous avons fait notre ciment
De la poussière du désert.

My translation. In a collection of etchings on display at the Musée National Fernand Léger, Biot, France.

Parmis tous les vêtements, que Dieu confonde le voile!
tant que nous vivrons, ce sera un fléau pour les jeunes.
Il nous cache les belles, sans que nous puissons les voir,
camoufle les villaines pour nous induire en erreur.

My translation. In René Khawam (see Bibliography).

This stanza (V.6) is taken from an anonymous translation in Cloudsley Thompson (see Bibliography). The original 17th translation is by Sir Richard Fanshawe: The Lusiads. Ed. and intro. by Geoffrey Bullough. London, Centaur Press, 1963.
    Camões is the classic Portuguese poet. The epic poem 'breathes all the zeal and aspiration of the Renaissance in its physical and social aspects and may be truly regarded as the first great modern heroic poem in the classical flower.' (Bullough).

Amnesty International has frequently expressed concern at the flouting of human rights in Morocco and the occupied Western Sahara: "since 1976 when the Moroccan army became engaged in the Western Sahara, detention camps have been established, not only for prisoners of war, but also for members of the civilian population suspected of sympathising with the Polisario guerillas... Fear of such treatment has caused many thousands to flee from southern Morocco and Western Sahara into Algeria."

Amnesty International Briefing Paper, No. 13, 1977.

A 1979 report details 're-education' programmes in several jails, including Layoune's 'Calabozo' prison. The Report of an Amnesty International Mission to the Kingdom of Morocco [in 1981] (1982), reported illegal practices which: 'have led to serious human rights violations involving the "disappearance" of large numbers of people and the deaths in custody of others...' The disappearances, torture, and detentions are detailed, alongside evidence of napalm and phosphorous bombing of Saharawi civilians, in Al Mukhtufin (the disappeared): a report on disappearances in Western Sahara, by Teresa K. Smith, in Lawless and Monahan's book War and Refugees - The Western Sahara conflict (see Bibliography). Smith concludes: 'Testimony from former disappeared persons, who subsequently escaped or were released, suggests that the Saharawis abducted are routinely subjected to imprisonment, torture and death.'
    The disappearances are nothing new. In October 1965, Ben Barka, a Moroccan nationalist leader and politician, and co-founder of Istiqlal party, disappeared without trace in Paris, presumed dead. The affair was linked to the Moroccan Minister of the Interior, and it is assumed that Barka was assassinated on orders from Rabat. More recently, international media attention was focused on Morocco's semi-secret penal colonies. In December 1991, the three Bourequat brothers - long presumed dead - were released after nineteen years of internment without trial (they had been implicated in the 1971 and 1972 coup plots against King Hassan). For eleven of these years, they were kept in solitary confinement in lightless cells at Tazmamart (a military base not far from Rich) (see Middle East Economic Digest Maghreb, issue 2, May 1991. See also Caroline Moorehead's article, The Shame of King Hassan, in The Independent Magazine, 22 February 1992).
    See also: Tony Hodges The Western Saharans; John Damis Conflict in Northwest Africa (which describes the flight of Saharawi refugees to Tindouf); John Gretton Western Sahara: The Fight for Self-Determination.
    For a pro-Moroccan view of the Western Sahara and the conflict, see Attilio Gaudio's Le Dossier du Sahara Occidental. Paris, Nouvelles Editions Latines, 1978.

In Sir Ernest A. Wallis Budge's The Alexander Book in Ethiopia. Oxford, 1933.

on y remasse de l'or en paillettes. Il fait savoir que las plus grande partie des gens qui habitent la contrée sont occupés à ramasser de l'or dans ce fleuve qui, large d'une lieue, est assez profound pour les plus grandes navires du monde.
    My translation, from the text of the secret archives of Genoa, in G. Gravier (1874). Quoted by R. Hallet (for both, see Bibliography).

My translation of a poem in Il était une fois... en Mauritanie. by Touré and others (see Bibliography). Included is a similar version of Tarkhit's story of the woman and the son.

Atâr itself was graced with the aura of a certain Captain Bonnafous (or Bonafos). In the 1920s, a decade after the French conquest of the Adrar, Bonnafous was given charge of the Atâr Camel Corps, an unenviable task given that the surrounding desert was then still swarming with unfriendly Moors determined to retake Atâr from the French. Clothed in traditional Moorish dress, Captain Bonnafous managed for almost ten years to hold out against the attempts of innumerable Moorish razzias to recapture the town. As the years passed by and his resistance remained as impassive as ever, a legend began to grow about him. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in Wind, Sand and Stars, describes him thus:

he stands there like a guerdon to be won, and such is his magnetism that the tribes are obliged to march towards his sword... There is something magnificent in the possession of an enemy of Bonnafous' mettle. Where he turns up, the nearby tribes fold their tents, collect their camels and fly, trembling to think that they might have found themselves face to face with him... Even as men who desire a woman of her indifferent footfall, toss and turn in the night, scorched and wounded by the indifference of that stroll she takes through their dream, so the distant progress of Bonnafous torments these warriors.

See Capit. V. Bonafos, Vestiges humains dans le Sahara occidental. Rev. Milit. de l'A.O.F., No. 18 (15-7-1933).

Quoted by Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-90) in Abeokuta and the Camaroons... (see Bibliography). '"Man," says the Arab proverb, "eats you; the desert does not."' (p112, vol.II).
    Burton, incidentally, is the man who first translated the Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana into English, as well as the Arabian Nights.

Ben Okri, Redreaming the World - An Essay for Chinua Achebe, in The Guardian Review, 9 August 1990.

Charles Macarthy. He met an untimely and gruesome death in 1823 (recounts Burton) through an unfortunate mistake. When under attack by Ashanti, his ordinance keeper brought Macarthy some biscuits and macaroni instead of ammunition, and as a result they were beheaded. Macarthy's body was subsequently roasted, his fat was boiled into a lump, and his heart was eaten. His brains were removed, and his skull was sewn into his uniform and then filled with gold, to become a fetish which was worshipped until at least the 1860s.

Both varieties of kola nut are extremely bitter, for they contain both caffeine and theobromine, the latter a mild narcotic used both to relax one's mind and apparently also to increase one's virility if eaten often. In Gambia, a man who cannot eat his kola nuts is only half a man, or so the guide in his flashy pants and Italian brogues will tell you. Kolas have been used in the western Sudan since the very earliest times; its twin interlocking kernels are regarded by many as a symbol of peace and friendship, used as a gift much as henna is given to Berber housewives. The older generation swear oaths over the kola. More practically, farmers eat them in the lean 'hungry season' to assuage hunger and thirst, and in the past, Fulani and Mandingo men used them to gain courage when undergoing 'Soro' (a trial of manhood by flagellation). Heinrich Barth, an explorer in the mould of Caillié, called them 'one of the greatest luxuries of Negroland'. So valuable were kolas, that Richard Jobson mentioned the fact that only fifty of them were required to buy a wife from a king. The original medicinal Coca-Cola, made from both kola nuts and coca leaves, must have been quite some drink.


Chasing the Lizard’s Tail - across the Sahara by bicycle
Copyright Jens Finke, 1996-2003

also by Jens Finke
Traditional Music & Cultures of Kenya - a multimedia encyclopaedia - fine art photography