Malê Rising

Near Birnin Kebbi
April 1840

The man in the center of the hollow square was five and a half feet tall, although his stocky build and graying hair gave the impression of someone much larger. On his cheeks and lips were the tribal scars of a Fulani, on his back the tattered remnant of what had once been a military uniform, beneath it the brand of a runaway slave.

He’d been a soldier once, and more than once. He was still a Fulani, and would always be. A slave… no, never again that.

His name was Paulo Abacar. He’d had another one once, given him by his parents, and sometimes he thought he could remember what it was. But they’d died when he was very young, and the name he’d got from his master would do.

His eyes surveyed the Sokoto river valley, taking in the eleven thousand men who stood in his path -- the army of the Sultan of Sokoto. Around him, arrayed in two squares, were the men who had followed him to this war. They numbered barely half as many.

“Don’t worry too much,” he told the lieutenant who stood at his side. “They’re brave men, warriors. But they aren’t soldiers.”

The lieutenant had heard such things from him before. “We’ll find out soon enough.”

He nodded, fingered the portrait of Dessalines in his locket, and thought of other wars. It had taken him some time to find the first one. When he’d run away for the third time -- the time he’d made it stick -- he’d sailed on an British merchantman. He was eighteen then. He’d been twenty-three when the ship landed at Lisbon, the week after the Portuguese uprising began. Portugal had needed soldiers, and they took him.

He’d spent the next six years fighting up and down Portugal and Spain. He met the Spaniards who fought the guerrilla, and learned their language and their tactics. Later, when Britain had supplied officers for the Portuguese army, he’d learned the same things from them.

And at the end of it all, he’d gone home.

He’d been a sergeant at the end of the war, with a Portuguese warrant, and they’d let him keep it in Brazil -- even made him a lieutenant in the creole militia. Those were the years of hiding -- hiding his faith, concealing the fact that he’d once been a slave. The years of going to church openly and praying to Allah in secret. The years in which he’d learned to read, and studied history and politics.

Then had come the year of his second war.

It was the Malê who’d started this one -- the Muslim slaves. He was a Malê himself, he supposed, although most of those who had that name were Yoruba. But slaves didn’t often bring creole officers into their confidence -- even officers who’d once been slaves themselves -- and he hadn’t learned of their plans for revolt until very late.

The Malê rebellion was cursed as all slave revolts were -- cursed by bonds of loyalty, by slaves who warned their masters to escape the conflagration. It was pure chance that one of the whisperings made its way to Paulo, and from there to the other creole and mulatto soldiers.

The company had argued about it through the night, and come to blows half a dozen times, but when the revolt spilled into the streets the next morning, most of them had joined it. That had been the day of victory -- the day they’d stood off a cavalry charge, the day they’d seized the barracks and palace, and with them the city.

But after that had come the days of defeat. The government had brought a draft of troops in from the countryside before the Malê could rally it, and although they’d fought street by street, they’d been pushed out of the town. That was when Paulo had taken command, leading them to the mountains, fighting the guerrilla as the Spaniards had taught him.

Those were the hard years, the years of privation and attrition, but other slaves heard of them, and some came to join them. Enough did so, eventually, that the government had made them an offer: come down from the mountains, and there would be ships to take them to Africa.

Paulo’s officers had been sure it was a trap, like the French had set for Toussaint. He’d agreed, and sent the governor’s envoy back with an answer: the Malê would come down if they could keep their weapons, and if fifty officers went with them as hostages.

He hadn’t expected that the governor would accept.

A thunder came from the hills behind him, and his train of thought was broken. A moment later, case-shot from the Malê six-pounders hit the Sultan’s ranks. They were almost in range of the three-pounders inside the squares now, and the crews were making ready to fire.

What had he been thinking of? Oh, yes, the return to Ouidah. The Male hadn’t been the first to do so. There were many in Ouidah who wore European clothes, ate feijoada and celebrated Carnaval -- one of them, de Souza, had even become viceroy to Dahomey’s king.

Paulo didn’t want to be one of them. They were Christian, for one thing, but that was a minor objection compared to the fact that they were slave-traders. Where was the spirit of Toussaint and Dessalines in them? Where were the Rights of Man and Citizen?

Those had been the years of service in King Ghezo’s army, the years of planning, the years when Paulo’s desire to return home had become something more. Why should the Malê join the slavers, or stand helpless before them? Why, instead, should they not build their own nation, one that slavers would not dare assail?

And so they’d pooled their pay, mortgaged their labor, scraped enough to buy powder and a few battered cannon. It had been arduous labor to get them here -- up roads that were little more than tracks even in the dry season, past the Yoruba cities that had closed their gates despite Paulo’s assurance that he meant them no harm -- but cannons, muskets and Malê had come at last to this place.

To Sokoto. To the Fulani caliphate, united a generation ago by a great scholar but already growing decadent and corrupt under his grandson. To a land of poets and warriors, one that would combine the service of God with the Rights of Man, one that no slaver would dare assail -- if the Malê could rule it.

They would have to conquer it first, but Paulo knew how. The British had taught the Portuguese the ways of modern war, and the Portuguese had taught the Brazilians -- and all three had taught him.

The Sokoto horsemen, the ones who'd come through the case-shot, were very close now -- almost in musket range. Some of them were firing, and although the range was long, Paulo's soldiers were starting to fall.

"Allah and the Malê!" he shouted. "Danton, Toussaint and Dessalines!"

At "Danton," the first rank of men in front of the squares, and as many of those on the sides who had a field of fire, went to their knees. At "Toussaint," the second rank aimed over their heads. And at "Dessalines," the second rank fired.

Men and horses went down in front of the square, and the field was full of smoke and cries of pain. Those behind found their advance blocked by their fallen comrades as the first rank stood to fire its volley in turn. That was the terror of the hollow square: it made its own rampart of dead and dying men.

But still the cavalry came on, hoping to break through the squares by sheer weight of numbers before the second rank could reload. Their charge had been blunted by the six-pounders and the musket volleys, and their formation was scattered, but there were still many of them, and they came at the corners with lances leveled. The Malê, bayonets fixed, waited.

The lines met. In two places, holes were torn in the Malê ranks. Paulo rushed men from the rear of his square to close the gap, hoping that the officers in the other square were doing the same. If the Sokoto horsemen could hold their breach, if he thinned the rear ranks too much, if the enemy was still numerous enough to ride around and attack in force where the square had been weakened...

But they weren't. The square held, and another volley shattered the charge. The cavalry milled for a long moment and sheered off to regroup.

Twice more they charged, and twice more the square held. The Malê had the field.

Paulo looked back toward the hills where the six-pounders stood and the camp where the women and children waited. Today they would bury the fallen as God intended. Tomorrow they would march. In three days they would be at Sokoto's gates, and in six they would be its masters. And on the seventh day...

Let the slavers know fear.
Open Encyclopedia

The First Sokoto Republic was a short-lived state that existed in the Sahel during the middle 19th century, chiefly among the Fulani and Hausa. Founded in 1840 by an army of Malê who had been deported from Brazil, in what is sometimes called the "Jacobin jihad," the Republic occupied the western half of the pre-existing Sokoto Caliphate as well as several of the surrounding emirates. It is frequently compared to other "freedmen's republics" such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Gabon, but was established by the freedmen themselves rather than an outside agency; the closer comparison to its founding may be the contemporaneous Great Trek of the Afrikaners. Unlike the Boer republics, however, the First Sokoto Republic was an explicitly ideological state, with its charismatic leader attempting to combine Islam with the radicalism of the French and Haitian revolutions. Although the Republic lasted little more than a decade, it was to have a profound social, religious and military legacy...
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Please don't be lazy like me and take months to update this. This is without a doubt one of the most badass openings to a TL that I've seen on this site, and on top of that, it's about Africa. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the Male will combat the incoming Europeans, and the culture that will come out of this is going to be really interesting.

Awesome job so far. Subscribed.
Interesting. I'd never heard of the Malê guys before, but now I'm intrigued!

Some basic background here -- and yes, they did idolize Dessalines.

In OTL, the Malê revolt was defeated in a day, and many Muslim slaves were deported to West Africa afterward. There are still recognizable remnants of Afro-Brazilian culture in Togo and Benin, and a number of prominent families in those countries have Brazilian ancestry. At least one scholar who has studied the Afro-Brazilians has speculated that, if they'd had sufficient time and colonial authorities hadn't interfered, they might eventually have formed a coherent state.

In the ATL, the Malê are deported to Africa as a relatively intact force, and they have a leader who's both charismatic and radical. The country they're conquering has about half a century before Europeans come knocking on the door. Any attempt to re-create the French Revolution (even an Islamized French Revolution) in the Sahel emirates is, of course, doomed, but some of the ideas being introduced will stay for the long haul.
Please don't be lazy like me and take months to update this. This is without a doubt one of the most badass openings to a TL that I've seen on this site, and on top of that, it's about Africa. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the Male will combat the incoming Europeans, and the culture that will come out of this is going to be really interesting.

I can't make any promises about frequency, because I have other projects (both creative and professional), but I'm planning to follow this one through, because it's an idea I've been kicking around for a while. And I've got plans for the Malê, never fear.
Ahmadu Odubogun, Faith and Ferment: Sahel and Sudan in the Nineteenth Century (Ibadan Univ. Press, 2005)

… Paulo Abacar is one of the enigmas of nineteenth-century Africa, right down to his name, which is neither Brazilian nor Fulani although it may be a corruption of “Abu Bakir.” His account of his early life, insofar as it can be verified, seems at least to be truthful: the magistrates’ archives in Bahia reflect his punishment as a runaway slave, his service in the Peninsular War and the Salvador militia are attested by military records, and many purchase documents on behalf of the Malê community in Ouidah bear his signature. But since he did not write of these times until many years after the fact, and since his incomplete accounts were given through the lens of his subsequent ideological development, we can only guess at what his formative influences and political turning points actually were.

We are, likewise, left to make many guesses about what the Malê represented and what their place in the cockpit of the mid-nineteenth-century Sahel really was. The impact of the Malê revolution was debated in the drawing-rooms and council chambers of the day, and is no less a matter of controversy now, made all the more poignant by the ironic symmetries between the Malê and the forces they opposed.

Much has been said about the parallels between the First Sokoto Republic and the Voortrekker states, with some academic and nationalist historians insisting that the Malê conquest was simply another form of colonialism. Abacha, for instance, has argued that the Malê were essentially “black Europeans,” deracinated and de-indigenized by their experience of slavery, who sought to impose Western ideas on an unwilling native population. Others, while not going so far, have equated the Sokoto Republic with Liberia, Sierra Leone and (to a lesser extent) the French experiment in Gabon during the 1850s-80s, characterizing it as a settler state in which a creole elite set itself up as rulers over a tribal hinterland.

The truth is somewhat more complicated. To be sure, the Malê were colonial to an extent, their hagiographers’ arguments notwithstanding. The campaign of 1840 was a classic colonial war, pitting a better-armed and organized Malê force against numerically superior but ill-equipped and undisciplined Fulani cavalry, and it was studied in British and French military academies as a model for their own colonial expeditions. And the Republic’s political reforms were inspired more by the European Enlightenment and the Continental revolutionary tradition than by anything indigenous to the Sahel.

At the same time, however, the ideology of the Malê was not colonial: in fact, it was quite the opposite. The Malê conquerors saw themselves as liberators, and their declared mission was to build an African society strong enough to withstand and suppress the slave trade -- a mission that, with time, expanded into general resistance to European imperial rule. They did not consider the conquered population their inferiors -- they were quite aware of the sophisticated urban society that they took over -- and took pains to incorporate Hausa, Fulani and even northern Yoruba notables into their administrative structures. A substantial minority of the Malê, including Abacar, were Hausa or Fulani themselves, and the others had no qualms about marrying into the local population and adopting many of their customs. The hybrid Malê culture that would develop in Sokoto, although detribalized and marked by scattered Brazilian cultural survivals, would not have been entirely alien to a peasant or townsman of the preceding century.

And just as importantly, any facile equation of the Sokoto Republic with settler colonialism must ultimately rest on willful ignorance of one of the Malê’s other ironic symmetries: the parallels between Abacar and the Sokoto Caliphate’s founder, Usman dan Fodio. Fodio was a poet, a scholar, an educated man who had a sense of ideological currents in the wider world and who wanted his nation to secure a place in that world. His religious and political reforms were advanced for their time and place -- among other things, he favored education for women and flirted with a national system of primary schools -- and his campaigns lifted the Fulani from an oppressed population to a ruling one. Fodio’s jihad was a revolution rather than a simple conquest.

So, too, was Abacar’s. Like Fodio, he disliked the trappings and pomp of state, and refused all titles. Like Fodio, he was a passionate religious thinker as well as a political one and, although unlettered in jurisprudence, engaged in a systematic search for theological precepts and historic events that opposed slavery and supported democratic liberalism. His religious life-work was, in essence, to create an Islamic language of freedom and democracy, much as the religious anti-slavery movements in the United States and Britain were creating a Christian one. And this was helped by the fact that, like Fodio, Abacar was a poet -- he published several volumes of written work during his tenure as Sokoto’s leader, some based on notes he had made during his militia service in Brazil and Ouidah, while others represented his mature political thought. Several of his hymns are still used as rallying cries by political movements in West Africa and the African diaspora.

Abacar was certainly not unaware of these parallels. He admired Fodio the man, and always referred to the Caliphate’s founder with the honorific shehu. He took power from Fodio’s grandson only to marry his granddaughter, and retained several of Fodio’s students to tutor him in Maliki and Hanafi jurisprudence, ensuring that his own religious reforms would be, in most respects, consonant with Fodio's. He also kept many of the shehu’s administrative reforms, although opting for a more centralized and populist system as opposed to indirect rule of autonomous vassal cities.

Which leads, in turn, to the inevitable parallels between Abacar and another of his personal enemies, Napoleon. He may have fought for Portugal against the French emperor, but he was ultimately captivated by the revolutionary principles that Napoleon espoused, and by the Napoleonic model of spreading liberalism through conquest. And just as Napoleon’s ideas, although foreign and even abhorrent to the ruling classes in conquered Europe, took root and sprang forth again in the revolutions of 1848, Abacar’s emancipation theology would one day find adherents among the Toucouleur, the Wolof and even the Yoruba -- the latter two of which, through their experience with the slave trade, may well have been more receptive to the urgency of his message than was the Hausa-Fulani heartland. The southern Yoruba cities would be Islamized by persuasion where they had not been by conquest, and in those polities, where there was no pre-existing religious establishment, Malê theology would fall on virgin soil.

But all that was far in the future in the late spring of 1840, when Abacar found himself in command of the Sokoto Caliphate’s capital but in a decidedly precarious military and political position. Almost at once, the new republic faced daunting challenges: reinforcing their army, replenishing their supply of ammunition, dealing with resistance from rebellious Hausa emirs and the Fodio dynasty’s remaining strongholds in the east, reconciling the urban merchant-artisan class and the religious schools to their rule, setting up a functioning government, and forestalling foreign invasion. The Republic’s initial formative years, roughly from 1840 through 1844, would be shaped by the ways that Abacar and the Malê responded to these challenges.
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This looks utterly fascinating.

I'll be very interested to see how this pans out, and what becomes of the Sokoto Republic.

I have a sneaking suspicion that our liberated slaves will very soon find themselves in the type of ethical pickle that led to so many other returning slaves throwing their lots in with the slavers.
This is looking incredibly original. The Sokoto Republic as an African "Japan" (i.e. a "barbarian" land that modernizes while staying true to its roots), perhaps?
This is looking incredibly original. The Sokoto Republic as an African "Japan" (i.e. a "barbarian" land that modernizes while staying true to its roots), perhaps?

Hmm - doesn't look like it from the way it is described - after all, it does say it only lasts for a decade. But I suspect European colonizers are going to have a much tougher time in west Africa than OTL...ideology is often almost as important as firepower.

Looked it up, and there is indeed an Ibadan University Press - oldest University in Nigeria, dating to 1932. I wonder if it is founded earlier in this TL?

Thanks, all.

I have a sneaking suspicion that our liberated slaves will very soon find themselves in the type of ethical pickle that led to so many other returning slaves throwing their lots in with the slavers.

The Malê state will run into all kinds of difficulties, and will eventually be overwhelmed by them -- as noted in the encyclopedia entry a few posts up, it will only last a short while. On the other hand, it's called the First Sokoto Republic, which suggests that there will be a second one somewhere down the line. The Malê may end up having more cultural influence after their temporary loss of sovereignty, when at least some of the ethical problems subside.

This is looking incredibly original. The Sokoto Republic as an African "Japan" (i.e. a "barbarian" land that modernizes while staying true to its roots), perhaps?

Not the Sokoto Republic itself -- it will be gone by the end of the 1850s -- but some of the neighboring cultures which are influenced by it will follow this pattern. I've dropped a couple of heavy-duty hints as to who one of those cultures will be.

The successor states, and the Hausa-Fulani-Malê heartland, won't be able to forestall colonialism entirely, because their power imbalance vis-a-vis Europe is much greater than Japan's. However, as Bruce said, their resistance will be much more effective on both the military and ideological levels. Much of West Africa in this timeline will experience a different kind of colonialism, more akin to India or the Middle East OTL, which will give them much more control over their modernization and development. The post-colonial map of Africa will also look much different -- and don't count out effects on the African diaspora.

Looked it up, and there is indeed an Ibadan University Press - oldest University in Nigeria, dating to 1932. I wonder if it is founded earlier in this TL?

It probably will be -- Yoruba and education are like ducks and water, and will be even more so in this timeline. Its antecedents, curriculum and political history will be somewhat different.
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Already subscribed, now reading avidly!

Clearly West Africa can't quite pull a Meiji--they are much closer to European centers of power for one thing, much too easy for them to batter. For another, I don't know precisely how to characterize and objectively measure technological advancement, but I do think Late Shogunate Japan, despite centuries of policy-imposed stagnation, was more advanced than West Africa. Though perhaps not dramatically. I'm putting more weight on "So near the United States!" than "So far from God!" side of the equation.

Though it's not the USA that's the culprit here--y'all know what I mean.

But yes, I see the potential for West Africa to come out all this much more like India, or even China.
August 1840

He’d never imagined that he might love her.

He’d had to marry, of course, and he’d had to marry into a powerful family. Marriage was peacemaking, marriage was alliance, and sometimes he regretted that God allowed only four. If he could make peace for the Malê by wedding every unmarried woman in Sokoto, he would do so.

But he’d assumed that a wife would be no more than that: a token in a political transaction, honored as God meant wives to be, but not what the poets sang of. He hadn’t expected a life companion, someone to share his private moments, talk to him gently in Fulfulde and Arabic, listen to his dreams, turn pensiveness into laughter. Still less had he expected this from Usman dan Fodio’s granddaughter: Aisha, the descendant of the shehu and his concubine Maryam.

“Why?” he’d asked her once, early in their marriage. “Why did you stay in the city, and not leave when the sultan did? Why did you marry me and not call me your enemy?”

“Because you freed the slaves,” she’d answered.

He’d wondered at that for a moment, and then remembered who her grandmother was. “Half the people in the city hate me for that,” he’d said.

“Even they know that you were inspired by God. What else would make someone do such a thing? And you’ll find, I think, that they don’t hate you.”

“Why not?”

“Because they see something of the shehu in you. And because you have pulaaku.”

Pulaaku. He’d heard that word as a child, maybe from his parents, and he certainly knew what it meant now. Fulani chivalry, Fulani ethics – it was a word that defied translation. Stoicism. Pride. Discipline. Austerity. Intelligence. Respect. Self-sufficiency. All these things were pulaaku, and all were in him as well. Maybe he’d never ceased to be Fula, despite all his travels and the strangeness of his tongue.

Pulaaku is respect for custom, and I’ve turned the customs upside down.”

“The bad ones, yes. My grandfather did the same – overturn the bad, hold closer to the good. Move closer to the sunna. God is above custom, and you are inspired by Him.”

That had been two months ago, on the first day of the rains. She was with him now, sitting across from him in an elaborately wound turban and a flowing patterned gown. He was reading, puzzling through the Arabic text that his tutor had given him.

Fulfulde hadn’t been hard to learn. There was much of it in the dialect of the Malê slaves, mixed in with Portuguese and the other languages of West Africa; while unmixing could be tricky, it at least started with something he knew. Arabic was different – he had to learn it as a child would, and the alphabet could be as difficult as the words.

But what words they were! He’d been taught by the marabouts in Bahia, and while they could quote from the Koran, neither they nor he had ever read it. Its words were lyrical, and he tried to drink them in, memorize them, discern the words with which God had written the Rights of Man and Citizen – for that, surely, was God’s creation as much as the sunna were.

She was singing softly as he read, a song that explained the sura he’d been assigned for the day’s reading. “One of the Nana’s?” he asked.

“Yes.” Her aunt, the Nana Asma’u, the shehu’s daughter, had written a poem for each sura, so that even the illiterate and uneducated could know what God commanded. And why not? Hadn’t he learned the same way, long ago in Brazil when he was a slave?

But Aisha was far from illiterate. She was educated like all the women in her family, and she knew the Koran by heart as well as the jurisprudence of the Maliki school. And, most intoxicating of all, the precepts of the Qadiriyya Sufi school, of which the shehu had been a great teacher.

“Thought must be free,” she said, guessing – as she always seemed to do – what was on his mind. “We must be free to understand God. Only God can limit human freedom.”

Only God can limit human freedom. Was there any better reason why the slaves must be freed, not only here but in all the world?

“Inshallah,” he answered.


“Is there word of the sultan?” he asked.

“In Adamawa, with the shehu’s commander,” said Amilcar Said, the chief of the Malê officers. “You shouldn’t have let him go.”

“Will he come, when the rains stop?”

“He’ll need time to raise an army. He may come this year, he may come next. But he’ll come.”

“And the emir in Gwandu?”

“The shehu’s nephew will fight us. Yakubu Nabame – the old emir – will help us, but he has no army.”

Paulo sighed. “We’ll need arms and powder. Do we have sulfur?”

“There were some in stores, and I’ve gone to the merchants. They sold us enough to start the powder works. But as for more… we’re the ones who took their slaves.”

“That’s not negotiable,” Paulo said, his voice rising.

“I know. But can we do as the British did, make the slaves stay for a few years? It could make things easier.”

“No. That was only slavery under another name.”

“Even Toussaint made the freedmen go back to the plantations, when the country needed food…”

“In Haiti, the slaves were the majority. Without them, the country would have starved.” It was not Paulo who answered but the Nana Asma’u – she, too, had stayed. She’d sat at the shehu’s council table and at that of his son and grandson; now, she was sitting at the same table with the man who’d taken their empire. Paulo had never talked to her about Haiti, but he wasn’t surprised that she knew; she was shrewd, and she would learn what she had to learn in order to take his measure.

Now, he was grateful for her support. “The Nana is right. I won’t brook it.” He exhaled. “Go to the merchants, and tell them we will pay them for their slaves.” There was enough in the palace treasury for that, especially if Amilcar bargained hard. It was regrettable – the slaveholders deserved nothing, and treasure spent redeeming slaves couldn’t be spent buying arms or paying soldiers – but it would at least be put to a holy purpose.

“That might be enough,” Amilcar said, nodding. “It should certainly be enough to keep the city from coming down around our ears before the rains stop. Although it won’t shut up the Hadj Atiku…”

“I told you, he can preach what he wants.” The Rights of Man weren’t fair-weather principles, to be applied only when convenient, and besides, if he silenced every imam who thought him an apostate, how many would be left?

Amilcar shook his head. “If you don’t arrest him now as a seditionist, you’ll have to kill him later as a rebel, and many others with him.”

“That will be his choice, then – and if it happens, there’ll be a crime to punish him for. He’s committed no crime now.”

“As you say. But it isn’t going to help us with the imams or the other city-states, if they know that we’ll take their slaves as well as their cities.”

“And the slaves themselves?”

“They’re coming to us,” Amilcar admitted. “Even in the rains, they’re coming. And they’ll fight.” It was something he hadn’t considered, and he looked halfway to conceding the point.

“Any other enemies I should know about?”

Paulo was smiling, but Amilcar’s answer was serious. “El-Hadj Umar Tall,” he said, naming a western Fulani king who was married to another of Usman dan Fodio’s daughters. “He’s promised to fight us.”

“He’s far away, in Futa Jallon…”

“But he can rally the western Fula. Including the ones much closer to us.”

“The western Fula won’t fight me,” said Nana Asma’u.

For the second time, Paulo was grateful that she, too, had decided that his freeing of the slaves was a divine inspiration. She was the senior member of the shehu’s clan still living, and her support meant that the women of the family had acclaimed him as the sultan’s successor. In some countries, that would mean little, but in this one, it counted for a great deal. Especially since…

“Your jajis,” he said. “Where are they now?”

The jajis were the order of female teachers that the Nana had founded, wandering through the land to teach Islam to Fulani and Hausa alike and train other women as teachers for their villages. There were some of them among the Malê even now, teaching the women and children, and no doubt learning how to sew Brazilian stitches and cook feijoada in exchange.

“They’re all over, as they always are.”

“What are they teaching, in the cities to the west and south? Will they teach that the slaves must be free?”

The Nana looked at him evenly. “Did you think I would wait?”


That night, he and Aisha lay together on the rooftop, letting the night breezes caress them as they had done for each other not long before. “Only God can limit our freedom,” he repeated. “Will he keep me from bring freedom to others? Will he limit me?”

“He will not,” she answered. “He is with you. I have faith.”
This is beautiful stuff.

And I like how an Islamic (and to be sure moderate, but revolutionary at least in the European context for the times) feminism seems to be integral to this particular Islamic revitalization. Abacar is integrating all the best aspects of the Western liberal/progressive movement right into the roots of Islam--in his view, and with some justice, he's finding them there. From his point of view, the Western progressives are somewhat less benighted than the reactionaries there.

These ladies, his wife and her aunt (and I like how she's the one who makes it legal!) are his Khadijas.
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To elaborate a little more, this is the kind of thing that might well make the ideals of this movement take deep root and keep and coming back long after the overt first steps are checked and crushed.

It could be for instance that while whoever crushes the first Republic takes care to wipe out the "heresy" or "sedition" or whatever they call it among men, they either don't think or can't manage to wipe it out among the women. So when it comes back, it comes back from the mothers of the new generation.

Now I've read a bit about Nana Asma’u's jajis. I wonder if a decade of the Sokoto Republic will result in the incorporation of a lot of the best the West had to offer (in terms of both political progressivism, such as Abacar's principled refusal to exercise prior restraint or even censorship of mere ideas and arguments on a dissident, and perhaps Western science and technology--pragmatically and critically integrated to be sure!) in her teachings and the subsequent teaching and presumably scholarship of her followers. And how many wild cards that will stick into the deck!
This is beautiful stuff.

And I like how an Islamic (and to be sure moderate, but revolutionary at least in the European context for the times) feminism seems to be integral to this particular Islamic revitalization. Abacar is integrating all the best aspects of the Western liberal/progressive movement right into the roots of Islam--in his view, and with some justice, he's finding them there. From his point of view, the Western progressives are somewhat less benighted than the reactionaries there.

These ladies, his wife and her aunt (and I like how she's the one who makes it legal!) are his Khadijas.

The Sokoto Caliphate produced a number of remarkable women. Usman dan Fodio stood out among the teachers of his time for supporting women's education and involving them openly in affairs of state, and his wives and daughters tended to be as literary and reformist as he was.

The Fodio dynasty also seems to have understood, at a gut level, that the way to Islamize their Hausa subjects (who were still semi-pagan at the time of the 1804-10 jihad) was to go through the women -- teach the women Islam, and they'll raise their children Muslim. To reach the Hausa women in this way, a corps of women teachers was necessary, and this teaching order ended up educating both Hausa and Fulani. Its message wasn't what we'd call feminist -- some of Nana Asma'u's poems in OTL were admonitions to women to mind their place -- but it gave women a role far beyond what they had in traditional society and, to an extent, beyond what they have now in much of the region.

In this timeline, of course, the jajis will teach more than Islam. They'll be a source of cultural cross-fertilization, teaching the Malê and learning from them at the same time, and also spreading Malê ideas everywhere the Republic controls. Abacar will take what he's given and run with it, and as you have guessed, the jajis will be one of the ways that his religious and cultural reforms will put down roots and grow. They'll also help preserve the idealism of the early Republic in the times to come when Abacar and others will be hard put to keep it, and will have an influence that long outlasts the state.