’Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di

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’Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di

1569-circa 1655



West African Writer. ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di wrote Tarikh al-Sudan (Chronicle of the Western Sudan), the second important history of West Africa by a native of the region. Al-Sa’di was of Andalusian descent and a learned citizen of Timbuktu. He said he wrote the book because of the sad events he saw during his childhood, a period in which the Songhai Empire was often at war with Morocco. His history was published in about 1650 in Arabic, the literary language of his day.

A History of Triumph and Defeat. In the preface to his book al-Sa’di described “the ruin of learning and its utter collapse” under the Moroccan invaders, who completed their conquest of the empire in 1591:

And because learning is rich in beauty and fertile in its teaching, since it instructs men about their fatherland, their ancestors, their history, the names of their heroes and what lives they lived, I asked God’s help and decided to set down all that I myself could learn on the subject of the Songhai princes of the Sudan, their adventures, their story, their achievements and their wars. Then I added the history of Timbuktu from the time of its foundation, of the princes who ruled there and the scholars and saints who lived there, and of other things as well.

Other information in Tarikh al-Sudan includes early traditions and legends of ancient Ghana and Mali.


J. F. A. Ajayi and Michael Crowder, eds., The History of West Africa, second edition, 2 volumes (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976, 1987).

Basil Davidson, with F. K. Buah and the advice of Ajayi, The Growth of African Civilization; A History of West Africa 1000-1800, revised edition (London: Longmans, 1967).

Nehemia Levtzion, Ancient Ghana and Mali (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).

Patricia and Fredrick McKissack, The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songbay: Life in Medieval Africa (New York: Holt, 1994).

Mary Penick Motley, Africa, Its Empires, Nations, and People (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1969).