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Sat, 02.19.1498

Mahmoud al-Kati, Writer born

Al-Kati's Chronicle

*On this date in c 1498, Mahmoud al-Kati was born.  He was a Black African historian and Soninke writer. Mahmoud al-Kati was born in Timbuktu, Mali.  Al-Kati was a member of the Soninke tribe who learned to read and write Arabic, the language of West African scholars in his time.

Travel to Mecca. 

As a member of the Soninke tribe, al-Kati was a descendant of the rulers of the ancient Ghana Empire and shared this lineage with Askia Muhammad the Great, ruler of Songhai from 1493-1528. When al-Kati was twenty-five, he became a member of Askia Muhammad’s staff. In 1495 al-Kati went with the emperor on his hajj to Mecca. Askia Muhammad stayed in Mecca and Cairo for two years, during which al-Kati observed and wrote about the events and people they encountered. Scholar. After they returned from Mecca, al-Kati became a doctor of Islamic law at Sankore University in Timbuktu. 

Tarikh al-Fattash. 

The word tarikh may be translated as “presenting oral traditions,” which al-Kati did. He began writing Tarikh al-Fattash (image) in 1519 when he was 51. Though he is said to have lived to 125, he did not complete the work. His sons and grandsons, who were also scholars, continued recording the history of the Songhai Empire and Timbuktu until about 1665. No original manuscript of al-Kati’s history has survived, and in extant copies, it is often difficult to distinguish his observations from commentary by other writers.

He did use some texts by contemporary Arabic scholars, but he also wrote many original works based on unwritten historical sources. Living through most of the sixteenth century, when the Songhai Empire was at its peak—al-Kati recorded the histories of the rulers and the powerful Empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai, covering their geography, towns, and cultures over the centuries. Mahmoud al-Kati, the first West African scholar to write an essential history of Western Sudan, Tarikh al-Fattash (The Chronicle of the Seeker After Knowledge), died on September 1, 1593.


African World Press

J. F. A. Ajayi and Michael Crowder, eds., The History of West Africa, second edition, two volumes (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976, 1987)

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