The Journal of African History

Research Article

Ibn-xs1E24awqal, The Cheque, and Awdaghost

Nehemia Levtzion

It is generally accepted that Ibn-xs1E24awqal crossed the Sahara and visited Awdaghost in 951/2 to be the first Arab geographer who reached the gates of bilād al-Sūdān. This is inferred from what he says about a cheque he saw in Awdaghost. A critical analysis of the references to this cheque suggests that it was a bill of debt owed by a trader from Sijilmāsa resident at Awdaghost to another trader from Sijilmāsa. The transactions between the two were part of the trans-Saharan trade, with one partner resident at Awdaghost and the other at Sijilmāsa. The bill must have been held by the creditor, whom Ibn-xs1E24awqal could have met at Sijilmāsa.

It was from this man that Ibn-xs1E24awqal recorded the information about the ruler of the xs1E62anhāja in the southern Sahara, and probably also about his relations with Ghana and other Sudanese polities. Another valuable piece of information, about the abandoned route from Ghana to Egypt, was collected in the oases of Egypt. Also, the detailed list of Berber tribes inhabiting the area between Tadmekka and Air could have been obtained in North Africa, rather than at Awdaghost, because communications in the Sahara were more frequent between north and south than between west and east.

Ibn-xs1E24awqal's description of the Sahara is stereotypic and adds nothing to what earlier geographers had to say, and the same applies to his words concerning Awdaghost itself. Towns and kingdoms in the Sudan mentioned by Ibn-xs1E24awqal had already been recorded earlier by al-Yaʻqūbī, Ibn al-Faqīh and al-Masʻūdī. For a traveller who crossed the Sahara, Ibn-xs1E24awqal's information is rather poor, but if he collected his information north of the Sahara, as this paper suggests, his labours as an inquisitive geographer are praiseworthy.