Thursday, 29 October 2015

Stealing the Way to Mecca: West African Pligrims and Illicit Red Sea Passages 1920s - 50s

Stealing the Way to Mecca: West African Pligrims and Illicit Red Sea Passages 1920s - 50s

سرقة الطريق إلى مكة المكرمة: الحجاج من غرب أفريقيا والطرق الغير  المشروعة لترحيلهم عبر ساحل البحر الأحمرالارتري  ١٩٢٠ - ١٩٥٠ 

A 2015 article by Jonathan Miran

West African participation in the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj) grew considerably throughout the first half of the twentieth century. This article examines the causes and consequences of failed British and Saudi efforts to channel, regulate, and control the trans-Sahelian flow of pilgrims and enforce a regime of mobility along the Sahel and across the Red Sea. Focusing specifically on Red Sea ‘illicit’ passages, the study recovers the rampant and often harrowing crossings of dozens of thousands of West African pilgrims from the Eritrean to the Arabian coasts. It examines multiple factors that drove the circumvention of channeling and control measures and inscribes the experiences of West African historical actors on multiple historiographic fields that are seldom organically tied to West Africa

.....John Morley, a British colonial officer who had served in northern Nigeria (1937 - 1941) before taking up service with the British Military Administration of Eritrea (1941 - 1944), was openly moved when soon after his arrival in Northeast Africa he encountered a group of Hausa pilgrims in the port of Massawa, more than 3000 kilometers from home. In his diary, he reminisced about their surprise at meeting a European who could speak their language and recounted the trials of a group who had arranged to be smuggled out of Eritrea and into the Hejaz on the other side of the Red Sea. After having paid a boat owner/smuggler a large sum of money, the pilgrims set out to sea. Some hours later, they landed on a lonely shore in the dead of night ‘but when the day dawned and the dhow had gone they found they had been marooned on an uninhabited island, where they all died of thirst except for one man who by some miracle escaped and returned to Massawa to tell this tale’.

In a similar vein, C. S. Grisman, another British official who spent some time in Eritrea in 1947, also described the all too frequent ghastly episodes in which smugglers deceived pilgrims who tried to illicitly cross the Red Sea. He lamented those pilgrims who had ‘travelled from Lake Chad through swamp, forest, scrub and desert right to the shores of the Red Sea at Massawa, only to be cheated by the Arab captains of dhows and ferry boats, who took their passage money, then deposited them, ignorant and penniless, some fifty miles south along the Eritrean coast’.  This article sheds light on a little known aspect of the broader phenomenon of the west African pilgrimage to Mecca.


جون مورلي، وهو ضابط الاستعمار البريطاني الذي كان قد خدم في شمال نيجيريا (1937 - 1941) قبل أن ينقل للخدمة مع الإدارة العسكرية البريطانية من إريتريا (1941 - 1944)،  بعد وقت قصير من وصوله في شمال شرق أفريقيا واجه مجموعة من الحجاج الهوسا في ميناء مصوع، وأكثر من 3000 كيلو متر من بلدهم. في مذكراته، قال انه متذكر عن دهشتهم إلى لقائهم للأوروبي الذي يمكن التحدث بلغتهم وسردو تجربتهم ان مجموعة كانت قد رتبت ليتم تهريبهم من اريتريا إلى الحجاز على الجانب الآخر من البحر الأحمر. بعد أن دفعو  لمالك قارب/ مهرب مبلغ كبير من المال، اخذ القارب  الحجاج إلى البحر.و بعد بضع ساعات، تم انزالهم  على احد الشواطئ  في جوف الليل ولكن عندما بزغ فجر اليوم كان القارب ذهب وجدوا أنه قد تقطعت بهم السبل على جزيرة غير مأهولة، حيث أن جميعهم ماتوا من العطش إلا لرجل واحد  نجا بمعجزة، وعاد إلى مصوع  ليروي هذه القصة

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