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Ibn-Hawqal, the Cheque, and Awdaghost

Nehemia Levtzion
The Journal of African History
Vol. 9, No. 2 (1968), pp. 223-233
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/179561
Page Count: 11
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Abstract

It is generally accepted that Ibn-Hawqal crossed the Sahara and visited Awdaghost in 951/2 to be the first Arab geographer who reached the gates of bilad al-Sudan. This is inferred from what he says about a cheque he saw in Awdaghost. A critical analysis of the references to this cheque suggests that it was a bill of debt owed by a trader from Sijilmasa resident at Awdaghost to another trader from Sijilmasa. The transactions between the two were part of the trans- Saharan trade, with one partner resident at Awdaghost and the other at Sijilmasa. The bill must have been held by the creditor, whom Ibn-Hawqal could have met at Sijilmasa. It was from this man that Ibn-Hawqal recorded the information about the ruler of the Sanhaja in the southern Sahara, and probably also about his relations with Ghana and other Sudanese polities. Another valuable piece of information, about the abandoned route from Ghana to Egypt, was collected in the oases of Egypt. Also, the detailed list of Berber tribes inhabiting the area between Tadmekka and Air could have been obtained in North Africa, rather than at Awdaghost, because communications in the Sahara were more frequent between north and south than between west and east. Ibn-Hawqal's description of the Sahara is stereotypic and adds nothing to what earlier geographers had to say, and the same applies to his words concerning Awdaghost itself. Towns and kingdoms in the Sudan mentioned by Ibn-Hawqal had already been recorded earlier by al-Ya'qubi, Ibn al-Faqih and al-Mas'udi. For a traveller who crossed the Sahara, Ibn-Hawqal's information is rather poor, but if he collected his information north of the Sahara, as this paper suggests, his labours as an inquisitive geographer are praiseworthy.

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