The Suwarian Tradition Among the Dyula
Until the mid twentieth century, the extent of a person's religious learning and the degree to which he was expected to demonstrate this learning in his own pious behavior corresponded ideally to the circumstances of his birth—as a mory or tun tigi , a member of a scholarly lineage or not. It was admittedly meritorious, though hardly obligatory, for individual tun tigi , particularly old men, to emulate mory standards of piety. Scholars were responsible for establishing these standards of piety, both because their command of Arabic gave them access to the written texts that furnished the necessary guidelines of behavior and because they were expected to set personal examples of piety for others to follow. There was a
tendency for scholarship to be a hereditary occupation. Whole clan wards, or a section of a large clan ward, might specialize in scholarship in any given community. In this way, each village tended to have a few, usually quite small, specialized scholarly families. Nonetheless, any Muslim man might choose at any time to pursue his studies at an advanced level and accede eventually to the status of karamogo.
In any case, accession to the status of scholar involved the conferring of a second pedigree, intellectual rather than hereditary. This isnad was very much like a genealogy. The Dyula words for teacher and pupil are karamogo fa and karamogo den , literally "scholar father" and "scholar child." The authority of a scholar ultimately derives from his possession of such a pedigree, which places him in a line of teachers and pupils. If one examines any such isnad , one notices that the line of teachers extends literally all the way to God, the ultimate source of knowledge and moral authority. Beneath God, a number of angels are also listed as teachers and pupils, after which this knowledge is transmitted to humankind in the person of the Prophet. The name of Malik ibn Anas (A.D. 715–95) is also on every such list among the Dyula, as they all belong to the Maliki school of jurisprudence. More important, the Dyula isnads all converge on the name of al-Hajj Salim Suware in the fifteenth century. The line of transmission from Malik to al-Hajj Salim—a bridge of six to eight centuries—is clearly abbreviated, as it contains only six names, including two identifiable ninth century scholars: 'Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Qasim of Cairo and 'Abd al-Salam Sahnun of Qayrawan (Wilks 1968). The convergence of isnads on the person of al-Hajj Salim is by no means a peculiarity of the Dyula of northern Côte d'Ivoire; his influence was so decisive in a belt that runs from Guinea (Hunter 1977, Sanneh 1979) to northern Ghana (Wilks 1968) that it is perfectly reasonable to identify a "Suwarian tradition" in West African Islamic scholarship.
This widespread convergence of isnads conveys a symbolic message about the nature of knowledge and the authority derived from its possession. God and the angels are the
ultimate source of knowledge and moral authority. However, in terms of this-worldly geography, knowledge stems first and foremost from the Hijaz (from the Prophet to Imam Malik), then derivatively from Arabic-speaking northern Africa (Cairo, Qayrawan), and finally from the person of al-Hajj Salim, before diverging into various lines. In short, if the Arabic-speaking world is the ultimate earthly source of knowledge, access to this knowledge is mediated by a regional tradition of scholarship; it is not acquired directly at, or closer to, its source.
The Haidara scholars of Kadioha and Boron are a case in point. The Haidara are universally acknowledged in the region as sharifs, direct descendants of the Prophet. A putative Middle Eastern origin is not at all unusual among the Dyula. Various clans privately claim descent from one companion or another of the Prophet, admittedly without providing any genealogical evidence, or have oral traditions about the dealings of their "ancestor" with the Prophet, and how in one way or another they were loyal Muslims from the very beginning. Such claims symbolically anchor the clans in space (the Hijaz) and time (the Prophet's lifetime), but they are not socially relevant for regulating interclan relationships. Unlike such stories, the Haidara claim falls into the domain of common knowledge. Even so, the Haidara isnads also converge on al-Hajj Salim: although they can effectively claim a direct hereditary link to the Prophet, their intellectual pedigree, like that of everyone else, hails from West Africa and from al-Hajj Salim.
Al-Hajj Salim's scholarly activity was centered on the town of Jagha in the Western Sudan, but his influence was greatest along the southern fringes of the Manding trade network, and corresponds to the period of the disintegration of the old Malian empire. This was a region in which such Manding-speaking Muslims as the Dyula lived as a minority among various groups of "unbelievers." The tradition of scholarship founded by al-Hajj Salim stressed the religious coexistence of these two categories, Muslims and unbelievers, with, as we
have seen, the attendant separation of religion and politics. It would be a serious misconception to label this tradition as "pacifist," however. Warfare, whether with Muslims or unbelievers, remained a distinct possibility. Rather, the Suwarian approach was neatly mirrored in the Dyula distinction between the hereditary categories of tun tigi and mory , those whose business was ideally warfare and politics and those whose business was ideally religious scholarship. Relations between the Dyula and their "pagan" neighbors might range from open hostility to active alliance, but in no case was religion a deciding issue. The Suwarian tradition not only fostered the development of relatively peaceful coexistence between Muslim minorities and their neighbors, but also sanctioned the existence of different hereditary categories within the Muslim community itself, making outward piety an obligation for some Muslims, especially scholars themselves, but only an ideal for others.