My wife Catherine and I first stumbled into the neighborhood of Koko in 1972. We had just arrived in the town of Korhogo, in northern Côte d'Ivoire, where I was looking for a field site to conduct research for a dissertation on the Dyula, Muslim traders who have been living as a minority in the region for several centuries. My intention had been to study contemporary patterns of trade. As' the title of my first book—Traders without Trade— might suggest, my plans had to be revised, if not entirely scrapped. I wrote my dissertation on the subject of marriage, a practice that, unlike trade, was not on the decline.
Whether I chose to study trade or marriage among the Dyula, I could not afford to ignore Islam. Religion is central to fundamental Dyula notions about their own identity: to be Dyula is to be Muslim. For example, I witnessed attempts to introduce a new, and in principle a specifically Muslim, wedding ceremony among the Dyula. At the same time, a controversy was raging among Muslims in Koko about whether (among other points of dispute) one ought to pray with arms crossed or outstretched. While the controversy had no obvious bearing on the subject of my research, it was difficult—and would have been foolish—to ignore it.
In short, I had a general interest in Islam among the Dyula, if only because it was a critical feature of Dyula culture and society, one that—as Jack Goody, my supervisor at Cambridge, rightly hammered into my skull at every appropriate occasion—I had better not, at the peril of my doctorate, if not my soul, disregard. But I also had several quite specific and puzzling questions to answer. Why would anyone bother trying to introduce a new wedding ritual? Why—more to the
point—would anyone agree to have it performed, thereby adding to the already considerable expenses involved in weddings? Why did it matter so much to virtually everyone in the community whether one prayed one way or the other?
However interesting these questions seemed, they were relatively far removed from the highest priorities on my research agenda: determining patterns of trade in the region in the nineteenth century as best possible, or understanding the bases for the heavy Dyula preference for in-marriage, for example. Beyond this, my ethnographic interests tended to be broad rather than focused. I was trying to understand who the Dyula were, what they did, and why. Islam was only one part, albeit an integral one, of the picture.
It was the process of writing about the Dyula, in the form of a dissertation, and later of articles and a book, of attempting to formulate this "picture" of a society in words, that focused my attention increasingly on Islam. Both the thesis and the book attempted to understand the Dyula in historical perspective, and centered, in one way or another, on processes of change; the word change appeared in the (entirely different) subtitles of both the thesis and the book. Islamic issues were a part of these processes of change. Dyula were acutely aware of important ways in which their practice of Islam had changed within living memory. What else were questions about whether or not to adopt a new wedding ceremony, or whether or not to pray in a different posture, if not questions about "change"? Of course, Islam was hardly the only domain in which change was taking place, and Dyula were just as acutely conscious of many (perhaps not all) of these other changes, too.
Still, it was while I was writing my accounts of change that I had the acute sensation of an occasion manquée , a lost opportunity, as far as Islam was concerned. This sensation had to do with Muslim sermons, delivered, in Dyula, on a variety of occasions, but most frequently in connection with funerals. I had, in the course of my residence in Koko, attended a number of such sermons, just as I attended any other kind of public ceremony. Anthropologists, by and large, attend other
peoples' ceremonies as assiduously as they avoid their own. At the time, the sermons tended to last until the early hours of the morning, owing less to the stamina of the preacher than to the frequency of interruptions. I usually excused myself before the conclusion. In fact, I was often invited to record the sermon on my cassette recorder. I recorded snippets of sermons on a few occasions, but by and large I declined such invitations. I was, quite frankly, not all that interested in what was going on. On occasion, either the scholar preaching or members of the audience expressed mild disappointment when I declined to tape a sermon. My few attempts at taping sermons, on the other hand, met with unanimous approval and instant cooperation on the part of everyone involved.
After I returned from the field, as I was writing, I looked back with horror at what I had done, or rather, not done. I had been offered "data" on a platter, and I had turned it away. The sermons would have been "mine" for the taping. When I wanted to ask who was married to what kind of cousin, whether they had ever been divorced and how many children they had, alive or dead, people were suspicious and sometimes frankly unwilling to cooperate. There were sound reasons for such suspicions. Forced labor had only been abolished in France's African colonies in 1946; older people associated census taking and other attempts to "count heads" with the process of establishing quotas for recruitment. People were naturally puzzled about my reasons for collecting survey data of any kind, and quite reasonably wanted assurances that it would not be used against their interests. Taping sermons, on the other hand, fell within the purview of normal human behavior, the kind of activity whose motives are so obvious that no sensible person would think of questioning them. I resolved that when I returned to the field, I would tape sermons and use them as a vehicle for better understanding Islam among the Dyula.
For a variety of reasons, personal and professional, I did not actively pursue the possibility of such a return to the field for a decade. I was spurred into action when colleagues of
mine at the Program of African Studies at Northwestern University—John Hunwick, John Paden, and Ivor Wilks—decided to apply to the National Endowment for the Humanities for a multi-year grant to study "the changing role of the 'ulama' in Africa." My plans for research among the Dyula fitted the rubric perfectly, and I jumped at the chance to associate myself with the project.
Specifically, my intentions were to collect and analyze sermons in order, broadly, to examine the relationship of their content to their context. Briefly, I hypothesized that the religious preoccupations of Dyula Muslims in town would be somewhat different from those of the people in the surrounding villages. To the extent that sermons might provide a vehicle for understanding the preoccupations of the audience, as well as of the preacher, they might shed light on such differences. In 1973, I had the impression that such differences were to be found. When I returned in 1984 for a stay of about a year, I was quickly convinced of the contrary: that variation reflected the different styles, if not idiosyncrasies, of preachers much more than any clear distinction between town and village. My earlier impressions were probably mistaken. However, it should also be noted that the availability of cassette recorders and their use in disseminating taped sermons throughout all of Côte d'Ivoire had vastly increased in the course of a decade. Arguably, the popularity and easy availability of such cassettes has contributed to a relative standardization of style and content, erasing differences I might have been able to measure in the past.
One way or the other, I concluded that there seemed to be little point in chasing down sermons in villages, and that I should concentrate my research in town, in Koko. In fact, while I continued to tape sermons and to borrow tapes from the collections of Dyula friends, I began to question how much they were really telling me about Islam in Koko. I never doubted the soundness of my original premise, that the sermons reflected real preoccupations of both the scholars and their audience, but I felt that other, equally real preoccupations were, for whatever reason, left out; that the sermons,
taken by themselves, constituted a very incomplete—perhaps even somewhat distorting—image.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that the very act of taping the sermons was in and of itself extremely useful. I developed an unchallenged reputation as the most pious unbeliever in all Korhogo. My regular attendance at sermons, tape recorder in hand, made it clear to scholars and to their audiences that I was specifically interested in, and serious about, learning about Islam and matters Islamic. Scholars were always happy to have their sermons taped, though, this time, I usually found five or six other cassette recorders taping the sermon at the same time as mine.
I had no need on this second trip to establish my identity. In 1972, Catherine and I had been the only Europeans living in Koko (for nearly two years) among Africans. Koko is a close-knit community, and even after a decade, far more people remembered us than, I regret to admit, we ourselves remembered. The fact that we came with our two daughters this second time made us more human. In 1972, we had constituted a puzzling couple, not because we were childless, but rather because we were apparently quite content to remain so for the time being. Now that we had children, we were on our way to becoming fully adult in a culture where, in some contexts, fifty-year-old men may categorize themselves as den-misen , "infants." Once I recovered a passable level of fluency in Dyula—a process that, to my surprise and delight, took only about a month—I could speak with virtually anyone in the community without needing either an interpreter or an introduction. I was able, most particularly, to interview, people, and specifically Muslim scholars. Such interviews, where I set out to ask specific people specific questions, tended by and large to be relatively informal and openeded. I did not record these interviews on tape, a process that makes me feel uncomfortable and that would, unlike the taping of sermons, have constituted a highly unconventional and conceivably unsettling use of tape recorders.
It is important to point out that most of the people I interviewed were also people I saw regularly, sometimes almost
daily, in a variety of contexts. I knew them as friends and neighbors—people I would chat, joke, and sometimes quarrel with—rather than merely as "informants." More important, I also saw them interacting with one another. These days, anthropologists have become self-conscious about the influence that their very presence may have on the situations they are presumably "observing." This self-consciousness is sometimes quite justified, but sometimes it can be carried too far, paradoxically inflating the anthropologist's sense of his or her own importance. People in Koko would talk with, joke with, complain about, and argue with one another without necessarily paying undue attention to my being there. My presence was not, I suspect, more disturbing than that of many other visitors—and among the Dyula there are always visitors around. I was "around" too often and too long for people to put on a show for my benefit.
Within this framework of the flow of everyday life in Koko, I participated in, or was privy to, a multitude of "conversations." Unlike "interviews," I did not set the agenda for conversations. They happened. Sometimes my presence was incidental; sometimes, people were specifically speaking to (or with) me, or concerned to include me in a wider discussion. Like all normal conversation (and sometimes even, I daresay, interviews), they were highly context-related. Consequently, they were sometimes in French, sometimes in Dyula. Many Dyula—particularly, but not exclusively, men—are fluent (often highly fluent) in French. French colonial policy, largely continued after independence, dictated that all formal schooling, even at the most elementary levels, be conducted entirely in French. French is—along with Dyula—very much a lingua franca in Côte d'Ivoire. I happen to be a native speaker of French, and even if I pride myself, all things considered, on as good a command of Dyula as might reasonably be expected, many Dyula are far more competent in French than I am in their language. When one or several people fluent in French were specifically speaking with me, conversation normally tended to be in French. It is equally true that many Dyula, indeed virtually all Muslim scholars, have a
very limited command of French, and would invariably speak with me in Dyula. It is an anthropological convention (or fiction?) that fieldwork be conducted in "the native language." It should be clear from certain passages of this book that this was not always the case, but it would be equally misleading to conclude that my fieldwork was conducted exclusively in French. At any rate, French is not a foreign language for me or, in important respects, for many Dyula.
These conversations, in French and in Dyula, provided me with insights into Islam among the Dyula that I could have gotten neither from sermons nor from interviews. A chance remark often suggests new ways of looking at phenomena, challenging complacent certitudes about what one is looking for or likely to find. The insights such remarks provide are, by their very nature, unsystematic. One cannot seek them out; rather, one must be open to them, receptive to the implications of what people have to say, of how they react, not so much to the questions one sets out to ask, as to the many concrete situations that constitute the ebb and flow of everyday life and, as part of that, of everyday religion. I have learned as much from stray sentences as from whole sermons. Both are part of Dyula discourse about religion and its importance in everyday life.
The picture I have attempted to present here of Islam among the Dyula of Koko is consequently, if not unsystematic, at least not entirely systematic. Rather than constituting a series of steps in a logical argument, the various chapters represent my attempts to come to grips with specific issues I find central to or puzzling about Islam among the Dyula of Koko. Taken together, they are not intended to form a complete picture—as if such a thing really exists—but rather represent parts of a process of understanding the religion of people I have come to know relatively well and about whom I have come to care, personally, a great deal. The chapters grow out of the concrete questions I felt I had to ask myself, questions stemming from remarks, from attitudes, from actions, questions like the ones I have already mentioned. Why invent a new ceremony? Why might people come to blows
about praying with crossed arms? To the extent that these questions grow out of conversations, they reflect Dyula pre-occupations about Islam, and not simply my own.
This book would never have been possible without the cooperation, patience, and generosity of Muslims, scholars and lay persons, young and old, men and women, especially in Koko but also in other parts of Korhogo, as well as in villages in the region. I owe a heavy debt of gratitude to all of them, consider many of them as friends, and love some of them deeply, as family—my adoptive Cisse elder brothers and sisters, who took us in in 1972 and have ever since been unwavering in their support and their affection.
This second trip to the field, for the duration of the academic year 1984/1985, was made possible by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and by a leave of absence from North-western University. I am deeply grateful for the generous assistance and cooperation I received in Côte d'Ivoire from the University of Abidjan, and especially from Moriba Toure and Félicien Dédi Séri at the Institut d'Ethno-Sociologie. In Korhogo, I was most fortunate to be able to benefit from the fellowship and advice of Father Pierre Boutin. His personal library of works, published and unpublished, on Korhogo and its region is unsurpassed anywhere. I am also grateful for the friendship and support of other colleagues of mine who were in Korhogo at the time: Nicole Sindzingre, Albert Kientz, and Marcia Tiede.
After our return from the field, I was privileged to receive an invitation to present a paper to a conference, organized by the Committee for the Comparative Study of Muslim Societies of the Social Science Research Council, on "Movement and Exchange in Muslim Societies." Participants were to compare societies in two distinct parts of the world, and in the first version of what is now chapter 4 of this book, I elected to contrast Koko with Java. In the process, I spent two months reading and thinking about Islam in Indonesia, about which I knew virtually nothing. Although I can now claim to know at least a little, I was mercifully spared the em-
barrassment of further pursuing, much less publishing on, the subject. Nonetheless the experience turned out to be invaluable, precisely because it wrenched me away from specifically African (or "Africanist") preoccupations and forced me to confront more global issues concerning Islam. It was really in the process of writing that paper that the idea of this book took shape. I am particularly grateful, not only for having had the opportunity to participate in the conference, but for the comments and encouragement of my colleagues on that and subsequent occasion, and especially those of Dale Eickelman and James Piscatori, the editors of Muslim Travellers: Pilgrimage, Migration, and the Religious Imagination , which grew out of the conference.
I am also indebted to my colleagues at Northwestern, especially Ivor Wilks, John Hunwick, Karen Hansen, and Caroline Bledsoe, as well as to Barbara Metcalfe, the editor of this series, to John Bowen, and to Charles Stewart for their suggestions, their criticism, and, most of all, their support. I have presented versions of many of these chapters at various scholarly meetings and seminars, and cannot begin to list, much less thank individually, all those whose comments have helped me see more clearly. If, in spite of everything, I have not seen clearly enough, it is entirely my fault and not theirs.
In the department of anthropology at Northwestern, Andrea Dubnick and Michael Culhane helped me with the manuscript at every stage, not least by patiently guiding me through the steps of using a word processor. Kim Hirschman generously volunteered to prepare the kinship diagram in chapter 6, as well as another diagram that has since disappeared from the text. Through the good offices of my colleague John Hudson, Elizabeth Hoog kindly drew the map.
Lynn Withey, at the University of California Press, has been invariably helpful and encouraging.
I apologize to all those whom I have not mentioned by name, but whose assistance, encouragement, and kindness have helped make this book possible.