Abu Bakr Al Sadiqa “Narrative of the Scherife of Timbuctoo” 1834
The narrative of Abu Bakr al-Sadika also known as Edward Donlan, came into being after British magistrate, Robert Madden while at a Jamaica market happened to see al-Sadika write his name in elegant Arabic. After talking with him, Madden asked Sadika to write a narrative of his history. al-Sadika’s narrative, which appears on page 126 of Madden’s travel journal, A Narrative of Twelvemonths Residence in the West Indies (1834), continues for four and a half pages. And though physically bound to Madden’s text, it is written in a very different voice. The difference is also partially due to the fact that Sadika wrote the narrative in Arabic, and then translated it into English while he read it aloud to Madden. In a note Madden explains that “the [narrative] was written in Arabic. The man speaks English well and correctly for a negro, but does not read or write it. I caused him to read the original and translate it word by word; and from the little knowledge I have of the spoken language, I can safely present you with this version of it as a literal translation” (130).
al-Sadika made at least three copies of his narrative. In addition to the version in Madden’s text, al-Sadika also wrote his narrative in Arabic while on board a ship to London after his manumission (Wilks 156). A third version, again written in Arabic, was translated, this time into French and English by G.C. Renouard, a French cleric. The second version, which Renouard saw, has been lost (Wilks 156). The two versions seen and written by Renouard were almost identical, and were slightly more detailed than Madden’s version—on the order of adding names of individuals and towns (Wilks 156).
Rather than provide narration of his experiences as a slave—the details of which he had discussed with Madden at their first meeting—al-Sadika chooses instead to describe his training as a scholar of the Koran; his home culture, capture and eventual enslavement in Africa; and his understanding of the tenets of Islam. Unlike other narratives, “al-Sadika’s was not directly linked to proselytizing sympathizers to wide political issues such as the abolition of the slave trade or emancipation of the slaves” (Handler 29). Although his narrative shares certain features with abolitionist discourse—such as drawing on the rhetoric human rights—it foregrounds its connections to other discourses, namely that of Africa and Islam. Furthermore, in describing his travels, al-Sadika presents an image of an urbane, cosmopolitan Africa, one that challenges the prevailing image of Africa as a collection of ‘uncivilized’ tribal villages. He also details the social and political complexity of African societies, documenting the dissolution of complex societies engendered by the slave trade.
(Nicole Aljoe — Northeastern University, 2013)