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The region of Senegambia was known for its rich history with archaic states that predated the Westphalia modern state. The archaic states were organized through a very stratified social system based on caste that defines each groups through birth. Islam came to the region through trade therefore, it was not the religion of the majority but rather a minority, and it was going to be the religion of the majority until the coming of French colonization. With the coming of colonization a new element was added to the picture and the social order is going to be changed with the popularity of the Sufi Murids in contrast with the aristocracy that lost its legitimacy due to its link to the colonizers. The research paper will analyze the organization of the archaic states by comparing them to the Sufi orders in terms of aspects that changed and those that persisted within the new order. The comparison will be based on the Book "God Alone is King": Islam and Emancipation in Senegal as well as the movie Guimba the Tyrannt that portrays the king of Pre-colonial kingdom of Sitikali in Mali. The first part is devoted to the organization of the archaic states, the second to the arrival of Islam and the last one to the changes brought by the Murid orders.

The Organization of Archaic States during the Pre-Colonial Period

An important aspect of the pre-colonial archaic states is the stratification of the society through two groups: guur and neeno.[1] The former are those who had right to land while the latter belong to the unfree class, who are dependent on the guur for work, in other words they are craft people. Within these two groups it exists further distinctions. First in the Guur group there are three more groups: the buur who are the nobility, the ceedo who are the warriors and the baadoolo who are the peasants. Second, in the neeno group there are: blacksmiths, jewelers, weavers, woodworkers, leatherworkers and griots. This social system was preserved and kept in order by banning the marriage from both classes.[2] The relation between those groups is not only based on economic benefit per see but also on social and political roles.[3] For instance, regarding the griot although deemed from the low class, are highly important as they represent the "the intellectual of the Wolof court"[4] their basic occupation is to follow their master in order to witness and flatter by signing about them through a poem.[5] The reason for choosing a song has to do with its easiness to remember. They regard themselves as the "guardians of honour"[6] . In the Malian kingdom of Sitikali , the griot Coulibaly accompanies Guimba to witness his actions, the basic purpose of the griot is like the media today as it was the only reliable source for the people to get information about the deeds of his master. Therefore they have an important role of producing legitimacy to a particular rule and in keeping the history of the events.

The Ceddu class is "the professional warriors of the Wolof courts"[7] they are defined as powerful entities in the apparatus of the state as they served as warriors and are known for their habit of drinking, pillage and violence.[8] In contrast to the baadoolo who had no power as they predominately work on agriculture. The buur maintained their power through the distribution of "lands and titles as rewards for noble birth and loyal service."[9] In the Wolof kingdom it was the military that has the upper hand as the kingdom is "dominated by a military aristocracy,"[10] due to their power, warfare was prevalent as it was a source of their livelihood. They profited mostly from the triangle trade through the Atlantic Ocean by selling slaves in exchange for weapons, clothes, liquors and wine. In addition to the Europeans, they also engaged in trade with African countries.[11] For instance, Morocco during the reign of king Ismail exchanged salves for horses, basically ten salves for a horse to the extent that L.A. Webb stated that the number of slaves sold to Senegal through the Sahara and North Africa was more than the Atlantic one.[12] This economic reliance of the ceddo on slave trade meant that they no longer depended on the buur, who owned land, additionally the slaves were more regular than land in terms of their revenues; this meant that warfare is a means of their life as it allowed them to get slaves while peace is not good for their style of life. In the Sitikali kingdom in Mali, the warrior class did not achieve this status due to its dependence on the buur but they also owned guns which they got through trade with Europeans.

The horse is an important part of the Wolof kingdom as it is describe as "Cavalry States,"[13] however "Wolof armies depended on firearms far more than on horses."[14] But still it was a symbol of nobility.[15] Likewise, in the Pre-colonial kingdom of Sitikali in Mali, horses served the same purpose with Guimba having the one with the finest bridle and saddle as he is the king.

In the kingdom of Sitikali in Mali, the same pattern of stratification is apparent. The king and his son abused their powers by having sex with any women from the kingdom. Jangine was promised to marry Kani, who belonged to the Diarra family but the son reneged from his decision and wanted her mother Meya instead. The problem occurred when the father of Kani refused to divorce his wife to be married by the son of Guimba, Jangine. Because he was of a noble lineage therefore he had the power to refuse otherwise he would have divorced her out of his will. He sought refuge among the society of Godon hunters headed by Seriman that ousted the legitimacy of the king eventually through the counter magic used by Kani. Both Seriman and Guimba are of the same kin based on the hunter brotherhood and the fact of owning horses shows their noble lineage.

The tyranny of the aristocracy was rooted in the fact that the kings were abusing their powers. For instance, the government of Kajoor in case its takings cannot afford it to obtain liquor, gun and clothes resorted to not only take the possession of their people but also to enslave them.[16] Just like the buurs in the Wolof kingdoms, Guimba was also a tyrant who ruled his kingdom in a despotic way. He traces himself to the lineage of the nobility; he was cruel to the extent that in his court he beats the person who loses in the wrestle.

The Arrival of Islam

The Wolof interest in Islam has to do with political and religious reasons, because the Sereer did not recognize the system of caste.[17] The coming of Islam created a new class called sëriñ "a teacher, someone who could read and teach the Quran,"[18] the Marabout became powerful and achieved autonomy for their cities. The deal was that "the titled clerics were expected to aid in the defense of their territories and serve as the intermediaries between their communities and the monarchy. In exchange, the monarchy granted the Muslims dominion over the land they controlled and the populations who inhabited it."[19] The monarchy wanted to win the support of Muslims and the Muslims accepted to be autonomous and to not contest the monarchy so that they could carry on their education, the major cities built by Murid are: Darou-Salam, Touba, Mbacke-Bari.[20] The Muslim set up their autonomous cities as a reaction to the continuous warfare indulged by the ceddu which entered the kingdom into civil wars. The relation between the ceddo and the new class of sëriñ was based on giving gifts such as cattle, land and slaves for the sëriñ in return for rituals and legitimacy for the ceddo,[21] what made the Muslims autonomous is their exemption from taxation, neutrality and freedom from enslavement.

However, the Muslim represented a challenge to the monarchy as they asked for Islam law to be followed mainly in response to the drinking aspect of the ceddo and their reliance on violence as a way of living.[22] Due to the failure of Islam rebellions, many Muslims turned into peaceful way of resisting the ceddo instead of jihad, a resistance that is going to dominate the area of colonial period.[23] Although Amadu Bamba was repulsed by the lack of adherence to Islam practices by the Wolof society in addition to their involvement in old habits that predated Islam, "The Murid order rejected the Jihad of the sword"[24] and instead focused on a peaceful resistance to both the aristocracy and the French colonization.

The magic is an important aspect that shows how Guimba controlled his kingdom to the extent that when he chased Kani, the daughter that his son is supposed to marry, seeking refuge with the hunters that hosted her father. A couple of hunters followed him but he succeeded in making an eclipse through his magic. His magic was a strong weapon against his opponents even when they also used magic. However, Kani was able to use magic on him and to deprive him of his legitimacy. In Wolof kingdom the use of charm can be seen through the relation between the ceedo and sëriñ which was based on exchange of gifts for charms (teere).[25] Regarding the practice of Islam in the kingdom of Sitikali, it can be seen through the utterance of such words as besemellah and merhaba in the movie Guimba the Tyrannt. But it was not respected, as people were drinking in public and even the wife Kani suggested that she could marry any man who is brave regardless of his religion inferring the possibility of the hunters of Godon, who were not Muslim, to marry her.

The Changes brought by the Murids

The sëriñ are going to be an important group by the coming of French of colonization that outlawed slavery, therefore depriving the ceddo from their source of income while the sëriñ had land, education and trade as sources of income. Ceddo became redundant as the basis of their economy was lost; in contrast the Buurs were useful for the French to rule Senegal indirectly. Buurs became French educated and served the colonization by collecting taxes and helping with the recruitment of soldiers. However, by being associated with the French the buur were no longer popular among their people and therefore lost their legitimacy. As a result, The French educated aristocrats was attacked both from the citizens as "feudal exploiters and tyrants."[26] And as it is affirmed by James F. Searing, "the French reforms accelerated the triumph of Islam that was already evident by 1903, when Amadu Bamba was arrested and exiled for a second time to protect the prestige of Mbakhane Diop, the son of Lat Joor"[27] just like in 1895. The second time he was sent to Mauritania more particularly to the Sufi leader of Qadiri order, Shaykh Sidiyya Baba who was not an opponent of French rule. The French thought that by sending him to Mauritania he would support the French rule, but it did not work.[28]

The sëriñ is the class that benefited most more from the colonization as they gained legitimacy, especially in rural areas; although they did not resist the colonizer through armed resistance, at least they offered intellectual opposition to the colonization in contrast to the buurs. The Murid concentrated in the rural areas[29] mainly in the region of Bawol,[30] those Sufi orders attracted not only the peasants and slaves but also some segments of the ceddo and buur, a fact that foreshadows the collapse of the old order of the archaic states. Murids emerged as a unified force under Amadu Bamba who became popular among the people due to his non- association with either the aristocracy or the French. His independency was resented by both the French which forced to exile three times as well as the aristocracy as it threatened their status quo and legitimacy.

The new relationship brought by the Murids in contrast with the pre-colonial monarchies can be seen through the sëriñ and their followers:

The sëriñ provided religious direction for the community, education, theoretical protection from enslavement, and a hope for paradise in the afterlife, in part due to the presence of baraka (Islamic grace or blessing) in the body and teachings of the sëriñ. In return, his followers, whether students or peasants, contributed their labor or part of their harvests to the marabout's household and accepted his authority.[31]

Therefore, even though the social order changed it remained the same as both peasants and students have to contribute through labor to the Murids. "The Murid order was not a "rebirth" of the aristocratic party, but a new incarnation of Wolof Islam"[32] and "the aristocrats and ceddo who joined the order did not define its meanings."[33] What made the order attractive for various social classes in Senegal is not only rooted in its independence from the French rule but also to its abandonment of the caste system as "the new social order was based on communal self-reliance and hard work, turning its back on the distinctions of class and birth that dominated the old regime."[34][35]Moreover, although the mass support of the Murids comes from two classes: the peasant and slaves, inclusion of all the classes regardless of their past strengthened the order; as it is stated by James F. Searing: "the new order was for all, even those with a dubious past."[36] For instance, shaykh Ibra Fall, a converted ceddo from the court was allowed in the Murid order but his duty is going to differ from the other followers, as the basic rule of the order is not to give education to everyone but rather to associate the work of a particular follower according to his caste in the old regime. For instance, the griot following the order could change their mission from being the bard of the court to using "his life story to illustrate the idea that work can better than study."[37]

The Murids do not recognize the violent path to freedom but rather through peaceful resistance, they only recognized "the jihad of the soul,"[38] this fact distinguished Ahmed Bamba from Mabba that used slaves in war.[39] War is not accepted by the Sufi order because the jihad of Mabba ended up corrupting Muslims as he allied with Lat Joor[40] "the last independent king of the Wolof Kingdom of Kajoor."[41] Furthermore, the conversion of the ruling family in Senegal did not let the conflict between the aristocracy and Muslims to vanish as the portrayal of the converts from Lat Joor family are portrayed "to teach lessons in humility"[42] and "the new dependency is a punishment for past misdeeds."[43] Another meaning that is embodied behind the conversion of the buur is the generosity of the Murids and their ability to forgive.[44]

The arrest of Amadu Bamba showed the fear of both the Buur and Ceedo of the growing popularity of the Murid orders among the peasants that threatened their status quo of being the rulers and in fact the arrest of Amadu Bamaba could not have been facilitated without the ceddo and buur. As it is stated by James F. Searing, "Wolof chiefs in Kajoor and Njambur engineered the arrest of Amadu Bamba."[45] Moreover, the French resisted the Murid because they "constituted a state within a state"[46] by having the peasants work for them and compete with them in peanut production.[47] But, the French protest was not based on the fact that Murid is a "deviation"[48] that is exploitation of the peasants in the name of religion but rather it was a manifestation of the protests of the ceddo and buur. As it is affirmed by James F. Searing, "French hostilities to the order echoed the protests of established Wolof elites, who lost control over migrants. It also echoed the hostility of French merchants, who saw the self-sufficiency of Murid villages as a detriment to French commerce."[49] Thus, the Murid order was response to the peanut production and the loss of legitimacy by the aristocracy which made the social order fall to the benefit of the Murid. The new social order did not depart from the feature of the old order so the peasants and slaves that fled from the harsh conditions under which they worked went to work for new masters, however this time the servitude is voluntary.


During the pre-colonial archaic states the stratification of the population through caste was enforced through birth and the ban on mixed marriage. By the coming of Islam the new class of sëriñ appeared and challenged the legitimacy of the buur and ceddo through their neutrality and independence from the colonizers. Therefore, Social organization has been Islamized as the sëriñ became powerful by attracting not only peasants and slaves but other classes as well. However, the relationship that existed during the period of archaic states remained the same as the basis of the Murid-disciple relationship is based work in return for education. So, politically, the Murid took the legitimacy from the buur and ceddo, economically achieved self-sufficiency which allowed them to have autonomous cities and socially, many aspects of the pre-colonial monarchies were changed to adapt to the new order of Murids such as the possibility of inter marriage between the castes.


    Glover, John. Sufism and Jihad in modern Senegal: the Murid order. mBoydell & Brewer Limited: Suffolk, 2007.

    Searing, James F. "God Alone is King": Islam and Emancipation in Senegal. (Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann), 2002,

    Sissoko, Cheick Oumar, dir. Guimba, un tyrant, un époque (Guimba the Tyrannt). With Falaba Isaa Traore, Baba Mousa Keita, and Habib Dembele. Kora Films an dKino Vidoe, 2004.