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About The Author

Dr. Natalie Zemon DavisDr. Natalie Zemon Davis

Natalie Zemon Davis is Henry Charles Lea Professor of History Emerita at Princeton University. Her books include Slaves on Screen: Film and Historical Vision and Woman on the Margins: Three Seventeenth-Century Lives. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

photo: Ingrid von Kruse

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EXCERPT

TRICKSTER TRAVELS (Chapter 1)

Living in the Land of Islam

SITTING IN A ROMAN PRISON in 925/1519, a Muslim captive decided to write his three-part name in Arabic on a manuscript he had borrowed from the Vatican Library: al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Wazzan (figure 1). So we learn that his father was Muhammad and his grandfather Ahmad al-Wazzan. "Al-Fasi," he continued, showing his origins in the Arabic fashion, "from Fez," though elsewhere he inserted "al-Gharnati" to make clear he had been born in Granada and then brought up in Fez.1

Would that al-Hasan al-Wazzan had been as forthcoming about his date of birth. He gave only hints in his great manuscript on Africa, where he wrote that he had first visited the Moroccan town of Safi on the Atlantic coast "as a youth, twelve years old," and then again "about fourteen years later" (or has the scribe written "about four years later"?). Giovanni Battista Ramusio, who prepared the first printed edition of al-Wazzan's book, read the crucial number, either from context or from another copy of the manuscript, as "fourteen." On the second trip, al-Wazzan had carried an official message from two sultans to an important Berber from Safi, himself an officer of the king of Portugal.2

Al-Wazzan described the Berber's military actions and his tribute-collecting, which took place, according to the Portuguese authorities watching the Berber's every move, within the years 918-21/1512-14, most likely in the early summer of 918/1512.3 This puts our hero's birth to the wife of Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Wazzan in Granada about 891-93/1486-88, which fits well with other stories he told about himself.4

Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad had just a few years to take in the sights and sounds of Granada. The region of Granada fell within the ancient Roman province of Baetica, but the town itself--Gharnata in Arabic--became significant only after the Arab and Berber Muslims had crossed the Strait of Gibraltar to conquer Christian Spain in the early seventh century. In the eleventh century, Granada was the center of a little Berber principality; in the thirteenth century, as the Christians began to advance in the reconquest of Spain and overall political authority foundered in Islamic al-Andalus, Granada became the capital of a kingdom under the Nasrid sultans, a last vigorous expression of Muslim culture on the Iberian peninsula. Two decades before al-Wazzan's birth, an Egyptian visitor had found "Granada, with its Alhambra, among the greatest and most beautiful cities of Islam," with splendid buildings and gardens, and a galaxy of illustrious poets, scholars, jurists, and artists. He bemoaned the infidels lurking nearby, who had seized so much of al-Andalus.5

When al-Hasan ibn Muhammad was born, Granada was a city of about fifty thousand people--mostly Muslims, but also Jews and Christians--its winding streets increasingly thronged with Muslim refugees who had fled Málaga and other Granadan towns when they were reconquered by the Christian Castilian forces in the 1480s. His family seems to have been well established, not so elevated as the entourage of Boabdil, the Nasrid sultan of Granada, but nonetheless with some property and standing. They would have lived in one of the busy quarters on either side of the Darro River, packed with the shops of artisans and traders and interspersed with mosques, including the beautiful Great Mosque, and shrines. From there they could look up the rocky hill to the imposing buildings of the Alhambra, with its palaces, fort, mosque, fine shops, and gardens, where the sultan and his family and high officials lived in splendor.

Al-Wazzan--that is, the weigher--seems to have part of the surname of both al-Hasan's father and grandfather. They may well have been aides to the muhtasib, the important magistrate who supervised everything from morals to markets in Granadan towns; if so, they would have stood at his side at the Al-Caicería market, ascertaining the weight of bread and other necessities.6

As a little boy, al-Hasan learned his mother tongue of Arabic, and his father may have started him off already on some Spanish. Colloquial Arabic of the Granadan streets and countryside was peppered with words and phonemes of Spanish origin, reflecting interchange between Arabic and Spanish. Notables, the learned, and people of high station also spoke and read classical Arabic and often knew enough Spanish to deal with Christian traders, captives, and political agents, writing that Romance tongue in Arabic characters.7 Meanwhile al-Hasan would have overheard whiffs of conversation among his parents and relatives: about the advancing Castilian armies and Granadan resistance, about the violent struggle going on at the same time between the sultan Boabdil and his relatives, about conversions to Christianity of a few prominent Muslims, and about the increasing number of Granadans leaving for North Africa.

Perhaps Muhammad ibn Ahmad packed up his family for departure even before the capitulation of Granada; or perhaps he stayed through the terrible early winter of 897/late 1491, when hungry beggars filled the city streets, and through January 1492, when victorious Castilians replaced the crescent on the Alhambra with a cross and instituted ceremonies of Christian purification in the mosque of al-Ta'ibin. Whatever the date, Muhammad ibn Ahmad wanted to raise his family in a land where governance was firmly in Muslim hands. As it turned out, the freedom of religious practice promised to Granada Muslims by the Christian monarchs was already in serious jeopardy within a few years. The family property was sold, and the al-Wazzans joined the flow of émigrés from Granada, many of them headed toward Fez.8

Al-Hasan al-Wazzan took with him some images--glazed tiles, which he recalled when he saw the like later in a mosque school in Marrakesh; the distinctive knee-length white veil that his mother would have wrapped herself in when she walked with him in the streets and that she probably continued to wear in Fez (figure 15)--and some memories. The account of his circumcision and the feast and dancing that went with it, he must have heard from his parents, for it was the usual custom in Granada and the Maghreb to perform it on the seventh day after the boy's birth.9 The rest--the past of Muslim al-Andalus, its celebrated men and women, its poets and religious scholars, its mosques and monuments--he learned about from stories, readings, and reminiscences in another land.

Some of the Andalusian émigrés complained bitterly about their new situation: they could find no way to make a living in Morocco and wished they were back in Granada. So vociferous were they that the learned Fez jurist Ahmad al-Wansharisi rebuked them for their weakness of faith. Other emigrés thrived. The religious scholars--the 'ulama'--of Granada had long had close connection with those of Fez, and distinguished émigrés in Fez became preachers not only at the mosque of the Andalusians, but also at the city's great mosque of al-Qarawiyyin.10

Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad's family was among those that did well. His uncle, presumably part of an earlier emigration, served as diplomat for Sultan Muhammad al-Shaykh, founder of the new Wattasid dynasty at Fez that had ended two centuries of Marinid rule. This highly placed relative must have eased the transition of the al-Wazzans to their new life. Perhaps Muhammad al-Wazzan became an aide to the officer of weights and measures at Fez; perhaps he went into the sale of European woolen cloth or silk, trades dominated in Fez by the Granadan refugees. Al-Hasan's father was able to purchase vineyards up north in the Rif Mountains and rent a castle and property in a mountain above Fez, but the family's base remained in the city.11

With a population of about one hundred thousand inside its walls, Fez was twice the size of Granada, its streets frequented by Arabs, Berbers, Andalusians, Jews, Turks, and slaves of European and sub-Saharan origin. Stretching out on either side of the Fez River, the city welcomed to its markets traders from a large surrounding region, bringing textiles, metals, and foodstuffs. The call to prayer issued from hundreds of mosques throughout Fez, the centuries-old mosque of al-Qarawiyyin on the west side of the river being the most celebrated. To its lectures and library flocked students and scholars from towns and villages throughout the Maghreb. To the west of the old city was New Fez, created as a center of government two centuries earlier, with palaces, stables, and bazaars. The al-Wazzan family presumably settled on the streets rising above the east bank of the river, in the Andalusian quarter, where emigrants and refugees from across the Strait of Gibraltar had been installing themselves for centuries. There the youth al-Hasan grew up all eyes and ears for the hills, buildings, gardens, and intense life of Fez.12

His studies began at one of the many neighborhood schools, where boys were taught to recite the Qur'an from start to finish and read and write. Al-Hasan ibn Muhammad later recalled the banquet that fathers put on in Fez when their sons had learned the entire holy book by heart: the lad and his fellow pupils arrived on splendid horses, singing hymns to the glory of God and the Prophet.13

Then he went on to more advanced studies at a Fez madrasa, a mosque school. Al-Wazzan seems to have attended lectures and discussions at al-Qarawiyyin mosque and at the elaborate Bu 'Inaniya madrasa nearby (figure 16). Grammar, rhetoric, religious doctrine, and fiqh (Sunni law and jurisprudence) were the heart of his curriculum, the last interpreted by the Malikite school of law, which prevailed in the Maghreb.14

Two major scholars were enthralling their listeners during al-Wazzan's student years: the polymath Ibn Ghazi and the jurist Ahmad al-Wansharisi. The latter was then completing his multivolumed compilation of the decisions of all the jurists of al-Andalus and the Maghreb. The former was writing and lecturing on topics ranging from the Qur'an, hadith (traditions relating to the saying and deeds of the Prophet), and fiqh to history, biography, and poetic meters. From his teachers, al-Wazzan would have been introduced to major concerns of Islamic scholars in the Maghreb of his day, questions that would be of import in the twists and turns of his later life. What attitude should one take toward sects within Islam, toward Jews, toward renegades? What was one to think of the innovations--the bid'a--that could not be justified by the Qur'an and the Law? The celebrated Moroccan Sufi Zarruq (d. 899/1493) had condemned as bid'a both ascetic excess and ecstatic utterance, on the one hand, and obsessive insistence on prayer rugs and decorated rosaries, on the other; none of this had to do with shari'a (religious law) or Sunna, that is, the example of the Prophet. But were there innovations that could be accepted? What about laxities in regard to the law such as the wine-drinking in the Rif Mountains and the unseemly relation of men and women in dancing and other matters? Some of these excesses were going on in the expanding Sufi lodges and instruction centers.

Especially, how was one to define the responsibility of jihad, holy war, at a time when the Portuguese were seizing Islamic coastal towns along the Mediterranean and the Atlantic? Al-Wazzan would have heard Ibn Ghazi lecture on this, and then years later seen him, septuagenarian though he was, in the entourage of the sultan of Fez in 919/1513, when the Muslims were trying in vain to retake the Atlantic town of Asila, south of Tangier, from the Christians.15

His student years brought other experiences to al-Hasan ibn Muhammad. No longer could a student count on full financial support from his madrasa for seven years as had been the case in the past. Pious donors had set up foundations (ahbas, awqaf) to subsidize education, but these gift-properties had been ravaged by the wars among the Marinid and Wattasid rivals for supremacy in Morocco in the late fifteenth century and were now being nibbled away by the Wattasid sultan hungry for funds. Al-Wazzan supplemented his scholarship money by working for two years as a notary at the Fez hospital for sick travelers and the insane. This was a responsible post, to which he would have been named by a judge (qadi) and which required him to assess the reliability of witnesses who came before him. Years later al-Wazzan could remember the crazy inmates in chains, beaten when they were rowdy, harrassing visitors and complaining of their lot.16

But al-Wazzan still had time for student friendships, as with the brother of a holy man from Marrakesh with whom he had listened to lectures on the Muslim creed.17 And there was also time for poetry, a form of expression dear to scholars learned in the law, holy men, young men in love, merchants, warriors, and desert nomads alike. Al-Wazzan had learned poetic forms at the madrasa--important religious teachings might well be in verse--and would also have had his uncle, a skilled poet, as a model. Recitations were often held in public, a high point of the year in Fez being the poetry contest on the Mawlid an-Nabi, the Prophet's birthday. All the local poets met in the courtyard of the head qadi and from his chair recited a poem of their own composition in praise of the Messenger. He who was judged the best became Prince of Poets for the year ahead. Al-Wazzan did not say whether he ever won.18

AL-HASAN IBN MUHAMMAD STARTED traveling young. Beyond the periodic trips north to the family vineyards in the Rif Mountains and summer stays in the family's rented castle above Fez, his father took him as a boy on the annual post-Ramadan procession from Fez to a saint's tomb in the Middle Atlas, the mountain range south of the city that housed many a holy shrine. At the age of twelve, in the train of his father or his uncle, he visited Safi on the Atlantic coast, a port town buzzing with trade among regional merchants--Muslims and Jews alike--and those from Portugal, Spain, and Italy. Apart from the grains and cereals waiting to go off to Iberia, he would see the leather goods dyed in Safi shops and the bales of cloth, woven by Safi women, with the colored stripes on them prized by sub-Saharan women. Here he got his first dose of rivalry between Muslim factions under the scheming eyes and agents of the Portuguese.19

Al-Wazzan also claimed to have traveled much farther "at the beginning of his youth"--to Persia, Babylonia, Armenia, and the central Asian lands of the Tatars. Perhaps he went with his uncle on such a distant voyage to all these places, but if so, there is little sign of it in his existing writing. Could he have wanted to exaggerate his youthful adventures so as to compete, for instance, with the range of travel of the celebrated geographer-historian al-Mas'udi centuries before?20

More circumstantial is his picture of himself scouring cemeteries in the kingdom of Fez for verse inscriptions on the tombs of sultans and other dignitaries, and then in 910/1504, when he was about sixteen, presenting his collection to Mulay al-Nasir, brother of the new Wattasid sultan Muhammad al-Burtughali. The old sultan, their father Muhammad al-Shaykh, had just died, and al-Wazzan thought the epitaphs would be consoling.21 Such a gift would, of course, call him to the attention of the dynasty.

About the same time, al-Wazzan's political connections and diplomatic training were much advanced as he accompanied his uncle on an embassy for Muhammad al-Burtughali to the great ruler of Timbuktu and Gao on behalf of the new sultan of Fez. Muhammad al-Burtughali presumably wanted to assess the commercial, political, and religious situation in the important Songhay empire below the Sahara Desert. As they passed south through the High Atlas, a local chieftain, learning of the ambassador's eloquence, invited him to visit. Pressed for time, the uncle sent his nephew and two companions, bearing gifts and a newly composed poem in honor of the chieftain. Al-Wazzan presented everything with grace, read a poem he had written himself, and maneuvered successfully between his own Arabic and the Atlas Berber of his host. What admiration he received, for "[he] was then only sixteen years old." Laden with return gifts, he rejoined his uncle for the arduous and exciting trip on camel across the desert. Now he could see a procession of ostriches, going single file and looking from a distance like men riding horses on their way to attack them. Now he would have to heed his uncle's warnings to look out for poisonous desert snakes. Now he could be thankful for the wells, lined with camel hide and spaced at intervals of five to seven days' travel. Along his route were the bones of merchants who had died of thirst after their caravans had been caught in sirocco sandstorms that had covered these precious sources of water.22

A few years after his return, al-Hasan al-Wazzan embarked on traveling missions in his own right. Commerce may sometimes have been a goal: over the years he crossed the Saharan deserts and journeyed along the North African coast with merchant caravans of Muslims and Jews, and he had a keen eye everywhere he went for markets, fairs, goods, and prices. In a salt mine center in the Sahara, he once stayed three days, "the time it took to load the salt" to be sold in Timbuktu. Perhaps he was one of the sellers.23 There was also a narrow escape while he was on a trip that seems to have been for trade. A snowstorm threatened his caravan of merchants as they crossed the Atlas Mountains with their cargo of dates, returning from the desert to Fez just before winter was setting in. Several Arab horsemen invited him, or pressured him, and a Jewish trader to go off with them. Suspecting that they might rob and kill him, al-Wazzan said he had to piss and sneaked off to bury his coins. He then survived one peril after another--their stripping him in the cold for his money (he said he had left it with a relative on the caravan), two days of snowstorm closeted with his dubious escort in a shepherds' hut--and emerged to discover that most of the caravan had perished in the snow and that his money was safe where he had hidden it.24

Especially he traveled as the emissary, servant, soldier, informant, and ambassador of the sultan of Fez. Muhammad al-Burtughali, so called because he had spent his boyhood as a captive in Portugal, faced the same uphill battle as his father had to extend his power effectively beyond the region around Fez in northern Morocco. Tribal and military chieftains, Berber and Arab--a long-term presence throughout North Africa--continued their domination of many towns, mountain settlements, and nomadic communities through alliance and force. As is evident from al-Wazzan's own writing, the sultan's governors and agents in these areas could be sure neither of substantial tribute and taxes nor of the supply of horsemen for the royal army. Sometimes gunpowder and marriage alliances tipped the balance for the Wattasids. Facing serious revolt in the eastern Middle Atlas town of Debdou in 904/1498-99, Muhammad al-Shaykh had finally triumphed by marshaling eight hundred harquebusiers against the crossbowmen of the rebels. After their capitulation, the sultan married his two daughters to the sons of the repentant Zanata Berber chieftain. When al-Wazzan visited Debdou in 921/1515, the old leader was still loyal to Fez.25

Meanwhile the Portuguese were making inroads along the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, as they had been for decades. They usually started with a treaty in which a town made itself a vassal under the protection of the Portuguese king. Fortified Portuguese trade enclaves and Catholic priests followed. When the townsfolk became uncooperative and/or divided by factions, the Portuguese sent in their military force, as in Safi in 913/1507-8 and Azemmour in 919/1513. Henceforth the Portuguese planned to rule and trade under their own governors, collect tribute, seize Berbers and Arabs more easily to be slaves back home, and, as King Manuel I wrote in triumph to the newly elected Pope Leo X, win the entire kingdoms of Fez and Marrakesh for Christianity.26

The Wattasid defense against the Portuguese was sporadic and often unsuccessful. Berber and Arab tribesmen were resistant to domination from Fez in any venture. Further, every Portuguese conquest was made with support from some parties among the local Muslims and Jews, who saw at least a provisional economic or political benefit from collaboration with the Christians. Muhammad al-Shaykh himself had consolidated the Wattasid hold on Fez by virtue of a peace treaty with the Portuguese, though his son Muhammad al-Burtughali now wanted, in al-Wazzan's words, "nothing but vengeance" against the Portuguese.27

A striking example of this complicated politics is the Berber Yahya-u-Ta'fuft, a figure well known to al-Hasan al-Wazzan. In 912/late 1506, he was the accomplice of an ambitious friend in assassinating the Muslim mayor of Safi. He then prevented his co-conspirator from sharing power in the town, gave support to the Portuguese even while intriguing with their opponents, and took refuge in Lisbon when his life was in danger. Several years later he was back as lieutenant to the Portuguese governor, having been appointed because the inhabitants of Safi had requested "a Muslim to serve as an intermediary between the Muslims and the Christians" (or as al-Hasan al-Wazzan put it, because "the governor did not know the customs of the people"). Yahya-u-Ta'fuft proceeded, on the one hand, to delight King Manuel I by his military victories over Mulay al-Nasir, brother of the Wattasid sultan, and over the sultan of Marrakesh and, on the other hand, to anger the Portuguese governor by collecting taxes and issuing ordinances in his own name rather than in those of the Christian authorities. To Muslim leaders, Yahya claimed to be secretly supporting their cause and biding his time till he could attack the Portuguese; to King Manuel I, he proclaimed his loyalty. Meanwhile he built a base for himself among villages, towns, and tribesmen in the region east and south of Safi. Indeed, he issued ordinances with penalties for wrongdoing as if he were superior to the Malikite judges at Fez.28

To this powerful intriguer, al-Hasan al-Wazzan brought a message, probably in the early summer of 918/1512, from Sultan Muhammad al-Burtughali, who may well have been trying to discover Yahya's actual position in regard to the Portuguese.29 In delivering the message, al-Wazzan was also acting as spokesman for a man he called "the sharif, amir of Sus and Haha." This was Muhammad al-Qa'im, founder of the Sa'diyan dynasty and known as sharif, that is, a descendant of the Prophet. In southern Morocco--in the deserts and valleys of the Dra'a region below the Anti-Atlas, where the Sa'diyan family had got its start; in the agricultural Sus plain between the Anti-Atlas and the High Atlas; and in the neighboring Haha region along the Atlantic coast with its merchants and herders--Muhammad al-Qa'im was winning support around this privileged genealogy, which transcended the tribal networks at the basis of the shaky Wattasid power. The Wattasid sultans sought legitimation from learned Malikite jurists like Ibn Ghazi, Ahmad al-Wansharisi, and their pupils, whose religious force came through their power to imprecate and condemn. In contrast, the Sa'diyans sought legitimation from holy men of extravagant mystical practice, who predicted the coming of the Mahdi, or "guided one," to bring righteousness to the world.

The supreme example was the Sufi mystic al-Jazuli (d. 869/1465), much revered by disciples and rural lodges in southern Morocco. His remains had been carried around by one of his followers in the course of rebellion against late Marinid and early Wattasid sultans and finally buried in Afughal, a settlement in Haha. To associate himself with al-Jazuli and his spiritual and political tradition, Muhammad al-Qa'im moved his court to Afughal in 919/1513 and, when he died in 923/1517, had himself buried right next to the saint.30

Holy war against the Christians was a priority for the Sa'diyan sharif, and he was summoned to it by the local marabouts (murabitun, holy men) and the Sufi lodges, rural and, in some cases by now, urban. Trade with Spanish, Genoese, and Portuguese merchants was acceptable, but not the occupation of Dar al-Islam, the Land or Abode of Peace, by Christians. In the midst of Wattasid losses at Safi and elsewhere, Muhammad al-Qa'im could report victories against the Portuguese farther south. For this reason, the Wattasid sultan began to seek alliance with him, sending al-Hasan al-Wazzan in 918/1512 and 920/1514 with messages to facilitate joint military action. In the spring of 921/1515 al-Wazzan was part of a delegation from Fez to organize resistance with the Sa'diyan sharif against the Portuguese, then threatening the town of Marrakesh and its sultan. The troops fought together against the Christians and won.31

The Sa'diyan sharif's aspiration went beyond the ousting of the Christians, however. "Al-Qa'im," which he had added to his name in 915/1509, was part of a title: He Who Has Arisen by the Command of God. Supposedly he was hearkening to a prophecy of the great destiny awaiting his sons. Indeed, by the middle of the sixteenth century, the Sa'diyans would unseat the Wattasids in bloody battle and would become the ruling family of the whole geographical region that came to be known as "Morocco." The seizure of Marrakesh in 931/1525 by al-Qa'im's son and successor was a dramatic step forward in that venture. But in al-Hasan al-Wazzan's day as diplomat, there was intermittent collaboration between the two dynasties; in 918/1512 Muhammad al-Burtughali bestowed on Muhammad al-Qa'im's sons, former students at a Fez madrasa, the white flag and drum of the high military leader.32

Al-Wazzan not only went on missions from the sultan of Fez to Muhammad al-Qa'im but once or twice conducted negotiations for both of them together, spent time in the sharif's court, and traveled in his entourage in southern Morocco. He even did errands for him, accompanying one of his chancellors to a market in the Sus region to buy slave women from below the Sahara for his service.

Like many others in the Wattasid circle, al-Wazzan had reservations about the Sa'diyan sharif's religious style, especially his linking himself to the tradition of al-Jazuli. Al-Jazuli's disciple al-Sayyaf had rebelled against the early Wattasids and was, in al-Wazzan's eyes, a heretic who spoke against shari'a. Al-Wazzan would surely have been troubled, too, by another follower of al-Jazuli, the radiant al-Ghazwani, who spent some years in Fez around 919/1513: hearing a woman ululate in honor of Sultan al-Burtughali, al-Ghazwani reproached her shouting, "I am the sultan of this world and the next." Ultimately, al-Ghazwani would leave Fez and throw all his holy power and followers behind the Sa'diyan sharif.33 While al-Wazzan was in the entourage of Muhammad al-Qa'im, however, he would have had to keep any critical views to himself.

Most of al-Wazzan's missions and errands over the years were for the sultan of Fez.34 In two different rounds, he went throughout northern and central Morocco, visiting towns, villages, and settlements, traveling on horseback from coastline to high mountain. When he journeyed in the well-watered north, in the Rif Mountains near the Mediterranean and along the plain and northern slopes of the Middle Atlas, he could enjoy the crops of grapes, figs, and other fruit and the olives ripening over the summer. If he were caught in the late spring rains in that region, he could rejoice with the inhabitants who called it "nusu water" (water of growth), blessed by God, and saved little bottles of it in their houses. Ascending the Middle Atlas was more worrisome, for lions and leopards lurked in the mountain forests. Then there were the ravines to cross by a distant pass or bridge. Al-Wazzan especially recalled the "miraculous bridge" over the Sebou River constructed by a clever Berber community in the Middle Atlas: a sturdy basket, large enough for ten people, that was transported across the ravine by pulleys. He had enjoyed his ride until he heard about the time the basket was overloaded and passengers plunged into the river far below; "it made his flesh creep in terror."35

In some of al-Wazzan's movements he was part of a military expedition: more than once at Asila, which Muhammad al-Burtughali failed to recapture from the Portuguese; in 915/1509 at the town of Tefza, on the northern slope of the High Atlas, where al-Wazzan proposed the negotiating strategy that brought the rebellious inhabitants back to obedience to the sultan of Fez; and in 921/1515 at the Atlantic coastal town of al-Ma'mura, where the Portuguese tried to set up a fortress and were sorely defeated by the troops of Muhammad al-Burtughali and his brother. Al-Wazzan long remembered the sights and sounds of that battle, stressing the destructive force of the Wattasid cannons on the Portuguese ships. "For three days," he said, "the sea was spouting waves of blood."36

At other times he was in the entourage of Muhammad al-Burtughali or else with a delegation or on his own, bearing the sultan's letters of recommendation and instructions to see and establish relations with a certain shaykh (chieftain), town official, or local ruler.37

In the midst of his Moroccan rounds--sometime in 918/1512, after his early summer meeting with Yahya-u-Ta'fuft at Safi on behalf of the sultan--al-Hasan al-Wazzan left for the long two-month crossing of the Sahara to Timbuktu. From Safi he went down to Marrakesh, then southeast over the High Atlas and Anti-Atlas mountains to Sijilmasa, an oasis on the edge of the desert. Once a beautiful walled city and a political and economic center of earlier Berber dynasties, Sijilmasa was in the early sixteenth century a cluster of fortified settlements, each with its own chieftain, where Berbers, Jewish traders and artisans, and merchants from North Africa and elsewhere busied themselves with the trans-Saharan trade. Al-Wazzan listened to the gossip about prices and custom duties, examined the coins from local mints, and watched the Arab horsemen trying to collect tribute, until finally the weather turned right for departure of the desert caravans.38

On his first such trip with his uncle about eight years before, he had been learning the ropes of diplomacy; this time he was on a full mission of his own to the Songhay empire. Since the mid-fifteenth century, the Songhay rulers had replaced those of Mali as the dominant power in the area called Bilad al-Sudan (from sudan, blacks), the Land of the Blacks. The Mali empire, established by one of the Mande peoples, had extended from the city of Gao in the Middle Niger area all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. As the Malian power weakened and Gao slipped from its grasp, the Songhay Sunni 'Ali--"a man of great strength, colossal energy, and a butcher," in the words of a local historian--began his conquest of the Middle Niger. Now under Askia Muhammad, with his Islamic ardor and military enterprise, the multiethnic empire was centered at Gao and Timbuktu and extended west beyond the Niger River, if not to the Atlantic, and hundreds of miles east to the sultanate of Aïr (in present-day Niger), bordering on the Hausa kingdoms. Eventually Askia Muhammad's conquests went as far north in the Sahara as the lucrative salt mines of Taghaza--a twenty-day trek from Timbuktu--though during al-Hasan al-Wazzan's second visit the price of salt was still very high in Timbuktu.39

Al-Hasan al-Wazzan knew Askia Muhammad's story well: how, while a trusted governor for the Songhay ruler Sunni 'Ali, he had revolted against Sunni 'Ali's son and successor in 898/1493 and made himself king; and how a few years later, moved by devotion and the hope to legitimize his usurpation, he had made a pilgrimage to Mecca with an enormous entourage of soldiers and scholars and a copious treasure for gifts. This pious act and the debts it had incurred were still being talked about when al-Hasan ibn Muhammad made his first trip to the Land of the Blacks with his uncle in 910/1504.40

He and his uncle must also have been all ears for what the religious scholars of Timbuktu were saying about the recent visit to Gao of the stern Maghrebian scholar al-Maghili. Al-Maghili preached the strictest rejection of infidels, especially Jews, of apostates from Islam, and of supporters of takhlit (from khalata, "to mix"), here the mixing of acts and rites of unbelief with those of Islam. Having incited the Muslims of the oasis of Tuwat in the northern Sahara not only to break trade ties with Jews but also to destroy their synagogues, seize their property, and kill them, he was viewed with alarm by less purist North African rulers like the Wattasid sultan of Fez. Shortly after the desert massacres, al-Maghili went to Fez to expound his views, but he angered both the jurists and the sultan and was expelled from the city.

Undaunted, al-Maghili went south to the Land of the Blacks, where in about 903/1498 he met in Gao with Askia Muhammad, who was freshly returned from his pilgrimage to Mecca and infused with its baraka, its spiritual blessing sent from God. In a set of questions and answers, al-Maghili advised the fervent ruler on the rightful actions to take against "unbelievers" and "wrongdoers." These categories he defined very broadly: he would sanction Askia Muhammad's confiscation of the properties of Sunni 'Ali on the grounds that the former Songhay ruler had not been an authentic Muslim and had allowed polytheism to flourish; he would prescribe that Askia Muhammad free any of Sunni 'Ali's slaves who had been truly Muslim at the time of capture; and he would sanction Askia Muhammad's future conquest of lands under rulers, even Muslim rulers, who wrongly seized the property of their people.41

On his first and second trips to the Land of the Blacks, the consequences of these righteous convictions were evident to al-Hasan al-Wazzan. He could see the many captives brought back from Askia Muhammad's wars, some enslaved as unbelievers who had never been Muslims, some enslaved as the wives of men who were not true Muslims. He noted the policies of heavy tax and/or tribute that Askia Muhammad had in his conquered lands. And he observed of Askia Muhammad:

The sultan of Timbuktu is a mortal enemy of the Jews, so much so that no Jew is found in the region. And beyond that, if the sultan learns that anyone among the merchants from Barbary trades with Jews, or is in partnership with or an agent of Jews,...he confiscates all his goods and puts them in the royal treasury, leaving him scarcely enough money to get back home.42

A major task of our diplomat was surely to report on all such matters to Muhammad al-Burtughali back in Fez. Commercial ties with the Songhay empire were of central importance: textiles--some of them from Europe--copper goods, manuscripts, dates, horses, and harnesses flowed south from Fez, Marrakesh, and their regions through Sijilmasa down to Taghaza or the oasis of Tuwat to Timbuktu and Gao; gold, slaves, leather products, pepper, and other spices from the whole region below the Sahara flowed north from Timbuktu and Gao via the same routes. The sultan of Fez had to be told of anything disruptive of this trade along with information about goods and prices at the markets. The sultan also needed on-the-spot observation of political and religious life in the Bilad al-Sudan: what kingdoms had come under the sway of Askia Muhammad and how were they ruled? what was the state of the scholars and jurists? Connections between Berber dynasties and the region had been sustained for centuries, and in al-Wazzan's time there was much movement of learned men and books between Fez and Timbuktu.43

Al-Hasan al-Wazzan did not leave us his exact itinerary in the Land of the Blacks, but he did give detail on some of his stops during his second mission. At Timbuktu he seems to have had his first audience with Askia Muhammad in a palace, so al-Wazzan learned, that had been designed by an Andalusian architect two hundred years before. The main royal palace was at Gao, but like European monarchs, Askia Muhammad traveled with a large entourage of courtiers and conducted affairs of state as he went. Al-Wazzan had to kneel before him and sprinkle dust on his head and shoulders, the required ceremony of abasement "even for the Ambassador of a great prince." A century and a half earlier the celebrated traveler and writer Ibn Battuta had witnessed similar acts of reverence by subjects of the emperor of Mali and had wondered how they managed not to blind themselves with the dirt.44

All communication with the Askia, whether delivered in Songhay or in Arabic, passed through an intermediary. When al-Wazzan went to the nearby river port of Kabara, he at last enjoyed direct conversation with its top official, himself a relative of the ruler and a man whom al-Wazzan called "just," a rare compliment. While in Timbuktu and Kabara, al-Wazzan evidently met traders from the towns and settlements of Mali up the Niger and from the proud city of Jenne and its hinterland, located two hundred miles southwest off a branch of the Niger. Both areas had been captured for the Songhay by Sunni 'Ali decades before, and al-Wazzan heard much about them as he watched the Timbuktu merchants loading their small boats for their own voyages up the river. Possibly al-Wazzan had been taken to these regions with his uncle on his first visit to the Land of the Blacks, but this time he seems rather to have turned east toward the populous city of Gao, the center of Songhay rule with its rich traders and many markets. At the splendid palace, he was impressed by the great courtyard and its galleries where Askia Muhammad received visitors; perhaps the ambassador from Fez had a second audience with the emperor.45

From Gao, al-Wazzan seems to have gone northeast by caravan to Agades, the town from which the Tuareg sultans ruled their kingdom of Aïr (within present-day Niger). There al-Wazzan observed that in the wake of the Songhay military incursion eleven years before, the sultans were paying a large tribute to Askia Muhammad, but that nonetheless the royal revenues from their lands and customs duties were substantial. Al-Wazzan noted the mixture in the population: Agades was dominated by Berbers--the Tuareg elite, descendants of immigrants from the Sahara--while the countryfolk, who supplied soldiers to the royal army and raised goats and cows in the southern Aïr, were Blacks, as were the slaves.46

He must have heard, too, about the takhlit, the mixture of religious belief and practice in the kingdom of Aïr. Among the non-Tuareg were many non-Muslims, and even among the followers of the Prophet, people were continuing "to worship idols and offer them sacrifice." Interestingly enough, the Agades sultans were getting advice from the learned Egyptian al-Suyuti, a scholar much more flexible in this regard than al-Maghili. Al-Suyuti urged the sultans to rule with justice in the spirit of the Prophet and shari'a, but when asked about the making and use of amulets and charms, he commented that it was not forbidden "so long as they contained nothing reprehensible."47

Al-Hasan al-Wazzan's next major stop took him on a long trek south to the Kanuri-speaking kingdom of Bornu, and specifically to Ngazargamu, its capital city located a few miles west of Lake Chad.48 Bornu was beyond the Songhay reach. Its mai, or sultan, at the time was Idris Katakarmabi, a man remembered by al-Wazzan as well as in Bornu chronicle and epic as a successful warrior against the neighboring Bulala of Kanem, longtime aggressors. In the rhetoric of the contemporary jurist who wrote of his deeds, Mai Idris was "just, god-fearing, devout, brave [and] dauntless," a ruler who had made pilgrimage to Mecca. Al-Wazzan noted rather his cagey practices of payment and his love of display. Bornu was at the southern end of one of the least strenuous desert crossings, and Mai Idris had merchants bring him horses across it from the Maghreb. Then he made them wait for months, sometimes a whole year, until he had rounded up enough slaves from his military adventures to pay them. The traders complained to al-Wazzan about their lot, especially frustrating since at the same time gold was everywhere in Idris Katakarmabi's court: on the bowls and basins, on the harnesses of horses and the spurs of riders, even on the leashes for the dogs.49

After a month in Bornu, al-Wazzan traveled through the kingdom of "Gaoga," a mysterious region whose center historians have associated with one or another section of the present-day state of Sudan. As al-Wazzan described him, the Muslim ruler Homara ('Umar or 'Amara) lived up to his reputation for generosity, recompensing each gift made to him with one double in value. His court was much frequented by merchants from Egypt, eager for exchange, and it was in all likelihood with one of their caravans that al-Wazzan crossed the Nubian lands for one of his three visits, perhaps the first, to the country along the Nile. The trip was a dangerous one--their guide lost his way to an oasis and the party had to make five days' worth of water in their bags last for ten--but the wonders at the end of the trip were worth it.50

AL-WAZZAN EXPLORED every corner of "the great and populous city" of Cairo, but as a diplomat, he was required to discover the political moods and currents at the court of the elderly Mamluk sultan, Qansuh al-Ghawri. Qansuh had a long and remarkable tradition behind him: he was twenty-second in a succession of rulers mostly of Circassian origin, all of them Turkish-speaking, all of them starting as military slaves (mamluk in Arabic means "owned by someone"), and all of them having to renounce the Christianity into which they had been born; each one coming to power not in principle by inheritance but through maneuvers, connections, and military force. Their empire included Egypt and the Levant, the latter area being known as al-Sham (Syria) and including the Holy Land. They also claimed suzerainty over the Hijaz, as west central Arabia was called, and set up garrisons and fortresses there to protect Mecca, Medina, and other towns. Among the moneys flowing into the Mamluk treasury were profits from their control of the spice and fine wood trade with India.51

Qansuh al-Ghawri had begun as the Circassian slave of the great sultan Qaytbay and had emulated his former master in extensive building projects. Al-Wazzan was especially impressed by the marble madrasa and mosque that the sultan had constructed in 908/1502 in the hat market, with his future mausoleum nearby. The people of Cairo admired its rich decoration but also made ironic jokes about the confiscations, seizures of marble, and deflection of funds from existing gift-properties that had gone to finance it. As for the celebrated citadel of Cairo, al-Wazzan found its palaces "marvelous." There the sultan mounted sumptuous feasts and received his officials, governors, and ambassadors.52

Interestingly enough, the diplomat from Fez seems not to have been formally received by Qansuh al-Ghawri during his months in Cairo. The chronicler of the sultan's reign, Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Iyas, who gave loving detail to all such events in his journal, never mentioned an ambassador from Fez. In part, 919/1513 was a bad year for receptions. The plague had struck Cairo in Muharram/March, and many had died of it in the next three or four months. Then the sultan came down with an eye malady and did not resume his full public duties until Sha'ban/October.53 In part, it would have been difficult for al-Hasan al-Wazzan to prepare for an expensive appearance before the Mamluk ruler. When the ambassador from the sultan of Tunis was received the year before, he offered Qansuh al-Ghawri costly fabrics, fine Maghreb horses, weapons, and other precious items, worth--so the gossip went--ten thousand dinars.54 Presentation of this magnitude was required of any ambassador to the august "ruler of two lands and two seas." After his demanding year of travel through the Land of the Blacks, could the diplomat from Fez have arranged such an affair?

In any case, the Maghreb did not loom large for Qansuh al-Ghawri. Persons from the Maghreb lived in both Cairo and Alexandria--sailors, soldiers, and especially traders and their families--and in 913/1507 the sultan even had his official translator ransom some of those whom Christian pirates had seized and imprisoned in Rhodes and elsewhere. In his early years as sultan, emissaries had come to Qansuh al-Ghawri from rulers in the Maghreb with complaints about the Spanish persecution of the Muslims in Granada, and the Mamluk sultan threatened reprisals against Christians in the Holy Land if the situation did not improve. Subsequently, in 916-17/1510-11, Qansuh al-Ghawri rejoiced at Muslim gains against the Christians at Tlemcen and Djerba and mourned Muslim losses at Tripoli, but on the whole news from these regions rarely preoccupied him. Indeed, the ambassador from Tunis in 918/1512 was the only other envoy from the Maghreb he formally received during the fifteen years of his reign.55 Much more important were the Portuguese boats in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, interfering with Egyptian and Syrian commerce there, and especially the political and religious ambitions of two rulers in the East: the charismatic Shi'ite shah Isma'il Safawi in Persia and the new Ottoman sultan, Selim.56

Though al-Hasan al-Wazzan did not have an audience with the sultan, he did become informed about his high officers and administrative staff and was able to frequent the Citadel. He may well have been received by the sultan's dawadar, or secretary of state, whom he described as second in command, or by one of his subordinates. From such encounters, al-Wazzan would have learned that Qansuh al-Ghawri had sent envoys to Istanbul to congratulate Selim on his succession and negotiate a treaty of friendship, even while he welcomed in Cairo the sons of the brother whom Selim had slain to secure his office. Ibn Iyas wrote in his journal what al-Wazzan probably heard in the palace corridors: "After having done away with all his relatives, the Ottoman Sultan could now turn to the defense of his country against the Europeans." Perhaps, too, the diplomat from Fez tried to interest the Mamluk sultan's officers in the attacks being mounted against the Christians at the other end of the Mediterranean.57

BUT NOW it was time to return to his master. As he recalled his movements later, al-Wazzan must have got back to Fez sometime in Shawwal 919/December 1513. He would have much to tell Sultan Muhammad al-Burtughali about his months away. On policy matters to the south, he could certainly recommend cultivating relations with the ever-more-powerful Songhay ruler Askia Muhammad and, to the east, appealing to the Ottoman sultan Selim rather than to the aging and indecisive Qansuh al-Ghawri for help against the Christians.58

It also must have been time to return to Fez to get married or, if he already had a wife--a strong likelihood by now--to return to her and his household. High points of Amin Maalouf's novel Léon l'Africain are the women he imagines in the life of al-Hasan al-Wazzan, including a wife in Fez, already kin to him as a cousin. The writings of al-Wazzan himself give little direct help on this matter to either historian or novelist, but that our North African had a wife is a certainty. Marriage was the path for the vast majority of Muslim men and women. Very few were tempted by the high renunciation that had been favored by one coterie of early Sufis centuries before. Leading holy men of the Maghreb, like al-Jazuli, had wives and children, as had, of course, the Prophet himself. Scholars of the law, theology, and literature were eager for sons who would follow in their footsteps. The jurist Ibn Ibrahim, who listened to Ibn Ghazi's lectures in Fez at the same time as al-Wazzan, already had his first son born when he was twenty-one.59

Al-Wazzan, now about twenty-five and a faqih (scholar trained in law), would have expected to have a wife and children of his own. A young woman from a family of other Granadan refugees would have been a likely choice. His later hour-by-hour account of the making of marriage at Fez surely drew from his own experience not just from what he had seen: the notarized contract that spelled out the dowry (mahr or sadaq) promised by the husband to the wife, which included money, a black slave woman, silken textiles, fine slippers, beautiful scarves, combs, and perfumes; the garments, rugs, bedclothes, and wall-hangings that made up the wife's trousseau from her father; the bridal procession with pipes, trumpets, and drums to the groom's house; their first sexual intercourse and the display of the wife's bloody undergarment; the banquets and the dancing, the men and women each celebrating in their separate space. Maybe al-Wazzan had already had a son in these years and had basked in the festivities of the boy's circumcision on the seventh day, which he described later in detail: the coins put by the father's friends on the face of the barber's assistant, who shouted their names till the money was all collected and the baby circumcised; the separate dances of the men and women afterward. Maybe he had had to settle for a daughter, "when there was less merriment."60

We can imagine al-Wazzan approving the cooking, sewing, and spinning that he wrote was expected from a good Fez wife. We can imagine him listening to her tell what she had seen from the decorated terrace on the roof of their house, the female space to which she and other women in the household repaired from time to time. We can imagine him on hot days bathing in the pools around the interior fountains in their house, as did his wife and children--a memory he carried with him years later. We can imagine him watching his wife garb herself for going out to the streets as he himself described the custom at Fez--her golden bejeweled earrings and bracelets well hidden under a veil and her face covered with a cloth with space only for her eyes.61

Having a wife and family did not, however, prevent a man from traveling for extended periods of time, though he had to provide for her maintenance while he was away. The celebrated Ibn Khaldun had married in his native Tunis for the first time by the age of twenty; his activities as political adviser, judge, diplomat, and scholar took him to Tunis, Fez, Granada, Biskra, and Cairo among other places. Sometimes his wife and children joined him; other times he sent them to live with her brothers in Constantine. In his autobiography, he recorded his "extreme affliction" when she and some of his children drowned in a shipwreck on the way to live with him in Egypt.62 Ibn Battuta left his native Tangier in 725/1325 at the age of twenty-one for twenty-four years of travel variously as pilgrim, student, judge, political adviser, diplomat, and curious observer. His strategy was to marry women along the way, starting with the daughter of a fellow pilgrim as they crossed Libya. In Damascus, he married the daughter of a Maghreb scholar, and repudiated her three weeks later. In the Maldive islands, he took four wives, the number permitted him as a Muslim, but they too were shed not long after.63

Did al-Wazzan ever acquire a wife for a time on his travels? One wonders when one reads his report of the Saharan town of Touggourt, some four hundred miles southwest of Tunis. Its prosperous artisans and notables were hospitable to foreigners, as was its young and generous shaykh 'Abdulla, with whom he lodged. The inhabitants would "more willingly give their daughters to strangers than to local men, and as dowries, they give properties to the husbands of their daughters, as is the custom in many places in Europe." Perhaps, attracted by the welcoming atmosphere and the possibility of having a date grove for a time (this in contrast to Fez and the usual Islamic practice, where the dowries went from husband to wife), al-Wazzan married and, when he was ready to leave, used the thrice-said formula of repudiation (the talaq) and went on his way.64 Such a liaison is amusing to think of but is much more conjectural than a marriage at Fez, the ordinary step for a young Muslim faqih like him.

Apart from domestic activities after his return from Cairo, al-Wazzan also resumed his diplomatic and military rounds in Morocco, including the missions to bring about collaboration with Sharif Muhammad al-Qa'im against the Portuguese. Al-Wazzan's tales of the energetic new Sultan Selim would have fallen on willing ears, and presumably they led to al-Wazzan's next mission. Muhammad al-Burtughali, rejoicing in his summer victory over the Portuguese at al-Ma'mura in 921/1515, sent al-Wazzan out of the kingdom once again, now as his envoy to other rulers of the Maghreb and then to the Ottoman court at Istanbul.65

THE BERBER DYNASTIES of the central Maghreb--the one based at Tlemcen and the other at Tunis--had even more trouble than the Wattasids in maintaining control over the tribes and towns within their kingdoms at this time. Algiers had a ruler of its own, currently an Arab tribal chieftain, and various towns along the Mediterranean coast simply tried to govern themselves. But two new actors were changing the balance of power in the region and were surely the occasion for al-Hasan al-Wazzan's embassy. The Spanish, hoping both to defend Christianity and to get a slice of the lucrative trade with the Sahara, were capturing towns along the Mediterranean shore, collecting tribute from their occupants and building fortresses in which to install their powerful artillery. Already in 903/1497 they had seized Melilla from the territory of the sultan of Fez. By 916/1510 the pirate-trained Pedro Navarro and other captains had delivered to King Ferdinand a string of places on the coast: all the way from Peñon de Velez on the west (a rock-island across from Badis, which the Spanish fortified and which is still contested today between Spain and Morocco) to Bejaïa in the middle to Tripoli in the east. Facing this, the ruler of Algiers agreed to pay tribute to Ferdinand and surrendered an island across from the city to be used as a Spanish fortress. The next year the Zayyanid sultan at Tlemcen acknowledged Ferdinand as his suzerain.

Resistance to the Spanish was led by 'Aruj Barbarossa and his brothers, Muslim pirates from Mytilene. With the support of Sultan Muhammad ibn al-Hasan of Tunis, 'Aruj conducted profitable attacks on merchant vessels from his bases at La Goulette, above Tunis, and the island of Djerba--sharing the take with the sultan--and fought the Spaniards at every turn. At Djerba in 917/1511 he repelled a Spanish assault, with much loss of life on the Christian side, a victory that we have seen Qansuh al-Ghawri celebrating in Cairo. It was surely this situation--the continuing advance of the Spanish, the capitulation of his fellow princes, and the success of 'Aruj--that led the sultan of Tunis to send his ambassador to Cairo, though he seems to have returned empty-handed.66

By the time the sultan of Fez dispatched al-Hasan al-Wazzan to these parts, 'Aruj and his brother Khayr al-Din had tried and failed to recapture Bejaïa from the Spaniards, 'Aruj losing an arm in the process, and were planning further attacks. Muhammad al-Burtughali evidently instructed his envoy to touch all bases. The Zayyanid court at Tlemcen was an essential stop. There al-Wazzan was received by Sultan Abu 'Abdulla Muhammad, who gave audience only to "the most important courtiers and officials." But the diplomat from Fez also noted how angry the local merchants were at the customs duties their sultan had introduced in the wake of his submission to the Spanish. These and the tribute they had to pay the Christians were soon to lead to a revolt against the sultan's successor and the seizure of the town by the pirate 'Aruj.67

Algiers was another essential stop. There al-Wazzan could hear all the details of the capitulation of the local prince to King Ferdinand, for he lodged with the man who had been ambassador to Spain for the negotiation. Here, too, he heard much grumbling about the tribute paid to the Christians, especially among the Andalusian refugee community. Several months later, after King Ferdinand's death in 1516, the townsfolk invited 'Aruj Barbarossa into Algiers to end their subjection to Spain: 'Aruj killed their Arab ruler, declared himself amir, and had coins minted in his name. "And that was the start of the rule and kingdom of Barbarossa," commented al-Wazzan.68

Actually, as al-Hasan al-Wazzan told his story, he met 'Aruj several months before this triumph at Algiers. Aided by troops from the sultan of Tunis, 'Aruj was making a second try to recapture Bejaïa, and al-Wazzan visited him as he besieged the Spanish fortress. The attack failed, and 'Aruj set up a new camp in the nearby settlement of Jijel, where, said al-Wazzan, "the inhabitants gave themselves to Barbarossa of their own will." During the siege, the ambassador from Fez seems to have come to some kind of understanding with 'Aruj, because within two years, once he and his brother had established their political bases, the pirate-prince sought an alliance with the Wattasid sultan for a common front against the Spanish. The seeds for this agreement must have been sown in the meeting with al-Wazzan at Bejaïa in 921/1515. Al-Wazzan left with a mixed assessment of 'Aruj: he was "arrogant and brutal" in murdering the local Maghreb rulers, but his military force against the Spanish was impressive and his moderate tax policy toward his new subjects praiseworthy.69

The last diplomatic stop was the "great city" of Tunis. As he had at Cairo, al-Wazzan visited madrasas, mosques, markets, and baths, but his duty was at the court, whose elaborate official staff he got to know well. For two centuries the Hafsid sultans of Tunis had been celebrated for their patronage: they allied themselves with Malikite jurists; they encouraged the study of hadith in mosque and madrasa; they welcomed scholars and artists to their court. As for al-Hasan al-Wazzan, he admitted that the present sultan, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan, bestowed "some benefits" upon him, but he found the ruler too sensual and self-indulgent, surrounding himself with his slaves, his women, and his musicians and singers. That their melodies showed a strong influence from al-Andalus seems to have made no difference to the Granada-born diplomat.70

On the political front, al-Wazzan may have left the court with another uncertainty. The sultan of Tunis had authorized piracy against Spanish ships and sponsored the anti-Spanish campaigns of 'Aruj Barbarossa, but as 'Aruj extended his own political kingdom, the pirate began to look worrisome. One Hafsid prince turned for help to the Spanish. Might the Hafsid sultan himself follow suit?71

Sometime in 922/1516 al-Wazzan took a boat to Istanbul. Presumably the sultan of Fez was hoping to establish relations with "the Great Turk Selim" and count on better support against the Christians.

THE BALANCE OF POWER in the eastern Mediterranean had shifted since Qansuh al-Ghawri had sent an envoy in friendship to Selim during al-Hasan al-Wazzan's earlier visit to Cairo. Selim had not, after all, "turned to the defense of his country against the Europeans," as Ibn Iyas had predicted. Rather he had sent military forces against Shah Isma'il of Persia, whom he accused of threatening to "abolish Islam and exterminate the Muslims," a greater danger than the Christians. Qansuh al-Ghawri, Sunni though he was, had refused to take sides in this quarrel between the Sunni in Istanbul and the Shi'ite in Tabriz; he hoped the war would bring disaster for Selim and Isma'il both. When news came at Ramadan 920/October 1514 of the Ottoman's stunning victory over Shah Isma'il, Qansuh al-Ghawri rightly feared that Selim's next move would be against his own lands. In 921/1515 the Ottoman sultan did indeed invade the Mamluk's vassal state in southeastern Anatolia, sending Qansuh al-Ghawri, as proof of his success, the heads of the appointed ruler and his vizier. "What are these heads being sent me?" Qansuh al-Ghawri asked Selim's envoy indignantly. "Are these the heads of European princes?"72

By the time al-Hasan al-Wazzan arrived in Istanbul, Selim and his armies had moved into Syria, turning their superior artillery against the Mamluk troops of Sultan Qansuh al-Ghawri himself. In Istanbul al-Wazzan could hear that Selim's spies had intercepted secret messengers from Qansuh al-Ghawri to the "heretic" Isma'il. In Istanbul he could hear of the disarray of Qansuh al-Ghawri's troops and the treachery of one of his lieutenants during the battle at Marj Dabiq north of Aleppo in Rajab 922/August 1516, and of Qansuh al-Ghawri's heart attack and death on the field once he realized all was lost. And in Istanbul al-Wazzan could hear of Selim's sweep through Damascus down to Gaza and of his entrance into Cairo in triumphal procession in Muharram 923/January 1517. The 267 years of rule of the slave-sultans had come to an end.73

During Selim's absence from Istanbul, the ambassador from Fez would have been received by one of the viziers whom the sultan left behind and/or another palace official. Al-Wazzan did not gave details of these conversations and ceremonies, but they surely must have prepared the way for the overtures toward the Wattasids that the Ottoman sultan began not long afterward.74

Al-Wazzan then decided to observe the transformation of Egypt firsthand and left by boat for Cairo. He may not have arrived early enough to see the four-day slaughter of inhabitants and Mamluks that started on 8 Muharram 923/31 January 1517. But he witnessed the Ottoman janissaries (elite military slaves) pillaging the treasure of popular sanctuaries, such as the tomb of Saint Nafisa, and looting many private dwellings, despite Selim's prohibitions. He would have learned about the summary trial, imprisonment, and execution of Mamluk officials. In the mosques he would have heard Selim's name replacing Qansuh al-Ghawri's, as the preachers called for the blessing of the ruler during the Friday sermon. In the streets, he would have heard the women ululating from their windows when Selim processed through Cairo. He would have noted the marble being dismantled from the palaces at the Citadel so that Selim could take it back to Istanbul and use it for a madrasa to be built exactly like that of Qansuh al-Ghawri, which al-Wazzan had much admired in his earlier visit. He would have heard about the many important people to be deported to Istanbul: religious judges and government officials, great merchants, including traders from the Maghreb community, leading Jews, shopkeepers, and carpenters and masons to construct the new madrasa. Selim had just come from overseeing arrangements for their departures from Alexandria in Jumada-l-Ula/June, when al-Wazzan encountered him at Rashid (Rosetta). Al-Wazzan said he and the sultan were both admiring the beautiful baths there.75

The diplomat from Fez seems to have regarded all these events with mixed feelings. He was to say later to his Italian captors that he had been "celebrating the [sultan's] victories in Syria and Egypt," but his brief references to the Ottoman takeover of Cairo in his Africa manuscript were somber.76 Perhaps he had a formal meeting with Selim or one of his officials at Rashid. In any case, the Ottoman-Wattasid connection had been established.

Selim returned to Istanbul in Sha'ban/September, leaving a governor of Egypt behind him. Around this time, al-Hasan al-Wazzan seems to have embarked on a boat trip up the Nile to Aswan, stopping at many places along the route. On the return trip, he disembarked at Qina, a prosperous town located on the Nile at its closest point to the Red Sea. From there, as al-Wazzan pointed out, merchants and pilgrims crossed the desert to the port of al-Qusayr and then took boats south on the Red Sea to the ports nearest Mecca and Medina.77

And this is just what he did himself. Qina was an especially appealing stop for Muslims from the Maghreb on pilgrimage to Mecca: buried there was the ascetic 'Abd al-Raim, who had been born near Ceuta in Morocco in the late twelfth century and, after years in Mecca, had become one of the most venerated saints of Egypt. Ibn Battuta visited his tomb during his stay at Qina, and al-Wazzan surely did the same, curious about the cures claimed to be accomplished by those who prayed and walked around it.78

From Qina, al-Wazzan wrote, "the author went through the desert to the Red Sea, which he crossed to arrive on the shore of Arabia at the ports of Yanbu and Jeddah." From Yanbu, al-Wazzan would have gone on to the holy town of Medina, where he could visit and marvel at the Prophet's tomb, his mosque, and the cemetery with the remains of the heroes of early Islam. To get from there to Mecca, he apparently went back to Yanbu and then by sea to Jeddah, only a few miles from Muhammad's birthplace. If he was hoping to perform the Hajj, that is, the greater pilgrimage with its fixed date, he would have arranged his arrival so as to make his seven circumambulations of the Ka'ba, the sanctuary of the Black Stone, on 8 Dhu-l-Hijja 923/23 December 1517. During the next five days he would have followed the prescribed movements, prayers, and rituals appropriate to this center of the divine presence in the world. Possibly he thought of the diplomatic possibilities of his stay and tried to arrange an audience with the sharif Barakat, whom Sultan Selim had approved as ruler of Mecca not long before.

Surely he would have seen the hundreds, if not thousands, of pilgrims who came on the annual caravan from Cairo down the east coast of the Red Sea. The celebrated Egyptian pavilion, or mahmal, carried by a camel was at its head, representing now the Ottoman victors. Groups from the Maghreb and the Land of the Blacks were often part of the Egyptian caravan, and al-Wazzan may have greeted some of his fellow countrymen (and countrywomen) among them even in this turbulent year.79

Perhaps al-Hasan al-Wazzan joined their caravan for the return to Cairo: the pilgrims who arrived there on 28 Muharram 924/10 February 1518 complained that hunger, illness, death of camels, heavy rain, and attacks from the Bedouins had troubled their passage.80 Perhaps al-Wazzan took another route entirely, crossing the Red Sea again or traveling in Felix Arabia. He may even have gone to Istanbul once again. He has left us no clues. All we know for sure is that in the summer of 924/1518, he left Cairo and boarded a boat to return to his master in Fez.

AL-HASAN IBN MUHAMMAD AL-WAZZAN'S diplomatic activities and court service required him to speak, listen, and write well and to know the gestures for courteous deference, banqueting, and gift exchange (figure 21). He would have had to keep a keen eye for shifts in rules and tastes as he traveled across Africa and the Near East and improvise his behavior accordingly. Many of the forms of diplomacy resemble those described in the autobiography of the Maghreb jurist, diplomat, and historian Ibn Khaldun, written more than a hundred years before. Others, such as the increased importance of papers of identification, may have emerged more recently. Al-Wazzan himself failed to have adequate papers on him in crossing an Arab toll-station south of Sijilmasa, where all Jews had to pay a special fee: to distinguish himself from the many Jews in his caravan, he recited Muslim prayers. Ordinarily he had a letter of safe conduct or other identification drawn up by the chancellor of Sultan Muhammad al-Burtughali.81

Al-Wazzan sometimes traveled with an entourage--there were nine people plus servants on his delegation to Marrakesh in 921/1515--and sometimes only with a servant or two. The Wattasid sultan could pretend to little more, in contrast, say, to the king of France, who sent his ambassador to Sultan Qansuh al-Ghawri in Cairo in 918/1512 with an entourage of fifty persons. The ambassador from Tunis was received at the Mamluk court the same year, with no entourage worth mentioning in Ibn Iyas's journal.82

On his travels, al-Wazzan might stay with a local notable, imam (prayer leader), faqih, or holy man, or simply at a hotel for strangers, if there was one. In a town on the slopes of the High Atlas, a prosperous émigré from Granada insisted on lodging him as a fellow Andalusian, along with his eight companions and their servants; on the land route from Tlemcen to Tunis, al-Wazzan sometimes had his servants put up tents for the night. Once arrived in a location where he hoped for a formal meeting with the ruler or an important officer, al-Wazzan would usually be lodged by his host, either at his own residence, as in his youthful visit to the chieftain in the High Atlas and in his later meeting with Yahya-u-Ta'fuft, or at a place arranged by the ruler, as in Algiers, where we have seen him staying at the home of the former ambassador to Spain.83

Then the diplomat had to to seek audience with the ruler. Every court had its special officer of etiquette. "The sultan [of Fez] has a master of ceremonies," wrote al-Wazzan, "who, when the sultan is holding council or an audience, sits at his feet and arranges the placement and speaking order of the visitors according to their rank and dignity." He encountered similar figures at Tlemcen, Tunis, and Cairo; at the court of Askia Muhammad in Gao and Timbuktu, the koray-farma--"the one in charge of the whites"--specialized in relations with Arabs and Berbers and envoys from the Maghreb.84 From such a person, the ambassador would learn, if he did not already know it, the gestures of deference required before the ruler: a mere kiss of the hand for an Atlas chieftain, a kiss on the ground underneath the feet of the sultan of Fez, three deep bows and kissing the ground in front of the rug of the Mamluk sultan at Cairo, kneeling and sprinkling dust on one's head before the Songhay emperor in the Land of the Blacks.85 Of course, the dress of the ambassador and his entourage at the audience was of the utmost importance, attesting to the dignity of his own ruler and to the respect shown to the ruler approached. Ibn Iyas noted in his diary the garb of diplomats received by the Mamluk sultan when it was especially splendid, and an elegant robe was a frequent return gift to a departing diplomat.86

Gift exchange might begin even before the audience, as the ruler sent food to the ambassadors. Ibn Battuta was disappointed with the paltry food brought to him as a "hospitality gift" from the sultan of Mali back in 753/1352; the French ambassador and his party in Cairo in 918/1512 were immediately sent several sheep by Sultan Qansuh al-Ghawri, to which they responded by return gifts of goslings, chickens, butter, sugar, honey, and fruit.87 Al-Wazzan remembered long afterward the exchange that took place when his uncle sent him to the chieftain of a mountain in the High Atlas. From his uncle al-Wazzan gave his host a pair of stirrups, ornamented in the Moorish style; some handsomely fashioned spurs; two silk cords, one peacock blue, the other sky blue, worked with gold thread; and a beautifully calligraphed manuscript, freshly bound, of the lives of the saints and holy men of the Maghreb, a genre much appreciated in the region.88 He also presented his uncle's poem extolling the chieftain and read aloud his own poem as "a little gift in words." The chieftain reciprocated with eight hundred gold coins, three slaves, and a horse for the uncle; fifty gold coins and a horse for al-Wazzan; ten gold coins for each of his two servants; and a promise for more gifts to the uncle on his way back from Timbuktu.89 Presumably this encounter built up good will also between the sultan of Fez and the mountain chieftain.

Gift exchange established a frame of courtesy and amiability for the conveyance of messages that were not always as welcome as these poems of praise. In Cairo in 920/1514, the Ottoman ambassador was giving Qansuh al-Ghawri furs, velvets, silver vases, and male slaves, while his official letter brought disturbing news about Sultan Selim's military adventures.90 Al-Hasan al-Wazzan may well have carried unpleasant messages along with gifts when he was visiting certain of al-Burtughali's subject chieftains or rival rulers in Morocco.

Whatever the content of the diplomatic message, it had to be expressed and written in an elegant language and presented with gracious style. Formal letters were drawn up by the chancellor's office in Fez, often on paper colored in the reddish or pinkish hue so appreciated in the Maghreb. Using the elevated phrases customary in addressing persons of importance, the letters were also punctuated with religious invocations from start to finish. Once the message had been penned in the best Maghrebi script, the "faithful chancellor" (as al-Wazzan called him) authenticated the letter with a formula inherited by the Wattasids from earlier dynasties, and the sultan himself signed with his distinctive monogram (tughra) of overlapping or interlaced letters. The letter was then sealed by the chancellor and folded tightly so as to conceal its contents.91

Al-Hasan al-Wazzan was not himself associated with the chancellor's office, but he had spent several years as notary for the hospital for the insane and was expected to write letters frequently during his diplomatic missions. Indeed, at Tefza in the High Atlas in 915/1509, al-Wazzan--with the approval of the sultan's captain--forged a letter in the name of the sultan of Fez in order to persuade rebellious townsfolk to cease their disobedience to the sultan's commands.92 Thus, he was familiar with the conventions of epistolary and diplomatic language and calligraphy in all their complex beauty.

Formal correspondence and dispatches were almost always couched in the highly prized, centuries-old "rhymed prose" (sadj'), a rhythmic language without fixed meter, but with assonances, alliterations, and occasional rhyme. Ibn Khaldun gave examples of such diplomatic correspondence in his autobiography and wrote it himself; in answering one letter from Granada, he said that he did not dare resort to sadj' this time because he could never equal its author in the art.93 Al-Wazzan undoubtedly wrote his diplomatic letters in rhymed prose (indeed, he was still using sadj' in writing important letters in Arabic in Italy), while the metered verse he composed and declaimed to rulers in the course of his visits took the form of al-madh, that is, the Arabic panegyric.94

Throughout his travels, his language of oral address was Arabic, known to some rulers and to all faqihs like himself wherever he went. Though spoken Arabic varied somewhat from town to countryside and from one region to another, al-Wazzan seems to have managed without a translator. The repeated exchanges of travel, trade, and diplomacy seem to have given men like him the flexibility to adapt their idiom. Only when he was in the Rif Mountains could he have used the local Berber tongue, which he would have picked up during stays at his father's vineyards.95 For towns or courts where the authorities knew only other Berber languages (these varied considerably among themselves and in the extent to which they included Arabic words) or sub-Saharan tongues, al-Wazzan communicated through a translator. Men who could function as interpreters were surprisingly widespread: a secretary translated al-Wazzan's panegyric for the High Atlas chieftain while he listened to the young man recite; an interpreter traveled with the tribal leader of the nomadic Sanhaja in the Sahara and translated for al-Wazzan and his companions when they were treated to a desert banquet.96

Al-Hasan al-Wazzan was proud of his skills of expression, savored good poetry whenever he heard it, and made fun of envoys he found incompetent. He recalled the day when a ruling chieftain of a populous mountain region in the Anti-Atlas sent the sultan of Fez, his "great friend," one hundred black slaves, ten eunuchs, twelve camels, a giraffe, ten ostriches, sixteen civet cats, ambergris, musk, six hundred oryx skins, dates, Ethiopian pepper, and more. Accompanying these ample gifts was an ambassador who was "short, fat, very black, and barbarous in his language." The letter from the chieftain was awkwardly expressed "in the style of the ancient orators," and even worse was the ambassador himself delivering his speech. Everyone present did his best not to laugh, though the sultan still thanked the ambassador graciously and received him and his large train with courtesy.97

The life of an ambassador was not merely one of ceremony, oratory, and astute observation. It could involve intrigue, danger, and disloyalty. Ibn Khaldun recounted that his services as counselor, secretary, ambassador, and judge had been solicited in flattering invitations from competing rulers from al-Andalus to Syria, and that he had sometimes switched sides, a risky business that at least once led to imprisonment. Matters could be worse in al-Wazzan's day. In 921/1515 ambassadors from the Mamluk court in Cairo were afraid to take an unpleasant message to Sultan Selim lest he kill them. The next year, as Selim prepared for his invasion of the Mamluk lands, he put Qansuh al-Ghawri's envoy in irons, then sent him back clad in humiliating garments and riding an old nag.98

Al-Wazzan certainly heard about such episodes and also observed abrupt switches of allegiance within the Islamic political world, including turns for help to a Christian ruler. Whether tempting offers came his own way he does not say. At the very least he performed services for Muslim rulers other than the sultan of Fez. We have already seen him buying slave women for the Sa'diyan sharif back in Morocco, but here is a service of greater moment that he rendered for the Zayyanid sultan of Tlemcen.

A holy man had set himself up as a shaykh in a plain about a two-day ride from Tlemcen. Surrounded by his wives, concubines, and progeny, he taught his many disciples special names by which to address Allah in daily prayer. (Evidently he was following the practice of certain Sufi masters, who through grammatical or etymological wordplay made additions to the Ninety-nine Divine Names revealed in the Qur'an or accepted in Islamic tradition.) In return, his followers tilled his lands, herded his animals, and showered him with alms. None of this money ever found its way to the tax coffers of the Zayyanids, however, and furthermore the saint's growing reputation, said al-Wazzan, "was making the sultan of Tlemcen tremble." This was the kind of religious leader who would favor the anti-Christian struggle and political pretensions of the pirate 'Aruj against the compromising sultan. Al-Wazzan went to visit the holy man for three days and concluded reassuringly that he was nothing but a "magician" with very little to teach.99

NORTH AFRICAN AMBASSADORS WERE NOT always strictly scheduled, and al-Wazzan sometimes interrupted his missions for other activities. On at least two occasions, he acted as ad hoc judge, or qadi, in communities lacking an arbiter, deciding cases by the Malikite school of law favored throughout the Maghreb. Though not formally named a judge by the sultan, al-Wazzan would have been traveling with a certificate, or ijaza, from his law professor, affirming that he had studied certain books with him and authorizing him to teach them to others. This document or his evident quality as a faqih was good enough for the villagers in a remote settlement in the High Atlas Mountains. They would not let him leave until he arbitrated their disputes and recorded their acts; after nine days sleeping on the bare ground, he was rewarded with onions, garlic, chickens, and an old goat, which he had to leave behind. In a town in the kingdom of Tlemcen, where neither the sultan nor the warring Barbarossa had provided an officer, he spent two months judging cases, enjoying both the honor with which he was received by the inhabitants and their generous payments. Then, remembering his loyalty to his Fez master, he went on to Tunis.100

Al-Wazzan's travels opened up paths of discovery in every direction. On an early trip during his "unbridled youth"--presumably on his way to Timbuktu with his uncle--he tried to ride a desert ram from one of the herds of the Sanhaja Berbers and managed to stay on for a quarter of a mile.101 More soberly, he continued his youthful quest for epitaphs in the kingdom of Fez itself, marveling at and recording those of the Marinid sultans and their spouses at their mausoleum in Chella close to Rabat (figure 17). He scrutinized Latin inscriptions on ruins in the hills near Tunis, deciphering them with the aid of a local Sicilian convert to Islam. He was sorry no one could help him make sense of the inscriptions and pictures on some ancient medallions found near cemeteries farther south.102

Then there were libraries to enjoy, owned by his hosts along the route: in a Berber hill town in the Haha region west of Marrakesh, the many chronicles of African history belonging to a wealthy notable; in Algiers, the hundreds of Arabic manuscripts purchased recently in Valencia by the town's envoy to King Ferdinand. The prayer leader in another Haha town, himself an Arab, kept al-Wazzan in his house for almost a month reading aloud an Arabic manuscript on rhetoric.103 And we can only imagine what riches he may have seen among the manuscript collections at Timbuktu and the great madrasa libraries of Cairo.

Everywhere al-Wazzan took part in discussions, asked questions, and listened to answers. Years afterward he recalled a conversation in Aït Daoud, a mountain town at the western end of the High Atlas. Descendants of Jews who had converted to Islam, the townsmen were immensely learned in the law and debated questions late into the night, such as the one he witnessed: was it licit to sell ahbas (as awqaf were called in the Maghreb), charitable trusts funded in perpetuity, for the needs of the people? Al-Wazzan, who already regretted the Wattasids' seizure of these endowments from the Fez madrasas for their military needs, followed this High Atlas argument with interest.104

For information about political and local events of the past, al-Wazzan was insatiable. From ex-disciples of al-Sayyaf in Haha, he sought details on the teachings and scandalous life of that fifteenth-century rebel against the Wattasids: al-Sayyaf had become a tyrant and was slain by one of his wives when she found him sleeping with his step-daughter. From participants in political strife in Safi, al-Wazzan learned that their quarrel had begun when the daughter of the qa'id (mayor, governor) became enamored of her father's opponent, and it ended when the Portuguese took complete authority over the divided population. The story would go into one of his later writings "to show how party spirit and a woman can bring ruin to the land, the people, and the religion of Haha."105

Al-Wazzan was also curious about matters of every day. In a town on the Atlantic, he learned from an elderly Jew that the reason there were so many dead whales on the beach was not because the biblical Jonah had been vomited up at that spot, the local explanation, but because there were sharp reefs two miles out to sea. In the Atlas Mountains he heard tales of the marvelous Sarmak plant, which when eaten enhanced men's prowess at sexual intercourse. Indeed, men had an erection and young women lost their virginity just by passing over the plant. (Al-Wazzan had his doubts, saying that the story was made up to conceal the penetration of a real penis.) In the desert of Dra'a he discussed the price of different kinds of dates; in Timbuktu, the brisk trade in manuscripts from the Maghreb; in the market at Gao, the price of slaves; in a town on the Nile, the tax paid to the sultan for the right to have a sugar manufactory, with its many wage-workers. From a busker in Cairo, he found out how he had taught his camel to dance to the sound of a tambourine.106

Whether on a mountain horse-trail, a desert caravan, or a vessel crossing the Mediterranean, al-Hasan al-Wazzan always had books and writing materials in his pouches. Indeed, studying and recording while on a rihla, a voyage, was an old and important Islamic tradition. Late at night on a boat going up the Nile to Qina, al-Wazzan was in his cabin "studying by candlelight" long after everyone else was asleep.107

All this ended in the summer of 924/1518, when the boat on which he was returning from Cairo to Fez was attacked by Christian pirates and he became their prisoner. His life of travel and voracious curiosity was to go in a new direction.

TRICKSTER TRAVELS Copyright 2006 by Natalie Zemon Davis

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