Skip to main content

tv   American Artifacts Omar Ibn Said Collection  CSPAN  May 19, 2019 6:00pm-6:43pm EDT

6:00 pm
john dean was running the cover-up. it did much worse. >> watch the entire class this sunday at 8 p.m. and midnight eastern on the presidency. you are watching american history tv only on c-span3. 2017, the library of congress acquired a one-of-a-kind manuscript. a diary of a slave written in arabic. up next, a collection of documents bearing the name of omar ibn said. deeb, here at the library of congress. i'm here to tell you about this fantastic acquisition the library has made in 2017. it is only now available to the public digitally on our website.
6:01 pm
we would like to show you the items themselves and talk about them. the core of this collection is the omar ibn said biography. fact.ography, in it is written in arabic. it was a biography written in a31 by a man who was enslaved couple of decades earlier. he was asked to write his autobiography, which he did. >> you asked me to write my life. i'm not able to do this because i have much forgotten my own, as well as the arab language. neither can i white very grammatically or according to the true idiom. so, my brother, i bake you not manlame me because i am a of week eyes and a week body. this autobiography has been well known.
6:02 pm
for the last all most 200 years, its existence has not been known. it is not a mystery. it has been passed on for -- from hand to hand. it has been at certain times owned by people and disappeared from everyone's of you and then it reappears. owner was an african-american collector of documents.d historic he bought it at an auction in new york at the swan gallery. this was in the early 1990's. he took it a round. he realized it was important in changing the image that people have of who the people were that they had brought in as slaves.
6:03 pm
importance, and he wanted that autobiography to get greater attention. in 2002, we at the library of congress organized a conference on globalization. one of the conferences was on islam and america. basically, we were trying to find out who were the first muslims who came to america? what were the different ways of muslims who came to america? africant wave was the slaves who were brought in who were muslims. so, there is probably something like perhaps 10% to 15%, it is a guess, of the people brought in from west africa were muslim. 2002, when we made the
6:04 pm
congress -- the conference on islam and america, he was one of the people who was invited. he brought with him this autobiography and he showed it to us. it was the first time with the library saw it and most of the people in the audience had never seen it or heard about it. they had no idea about it. so, he brought it to the front and his was the first talk. beard: one of the most important islamic artifacts is a manuscript written by omar ibn said. this is a frontage slide of the manuscript which you can take a look at after the conference. it is in the display case here. was in and of itself a revelation. we all admired the manuscript. he said then in 2002, the manuscript should be at the
6:05 pm
library of congress because it of america.g to all itchy available for all americans to see and to read. we all agreed and said yes, of course. but he was not ready yet to sell we were not ready to buy it yet. we did not have the funds. from 2002 through 2017, the manuscript was on the road. it went to various universities, institutions, it has been on the road for a long of a long time. then, derrick beard fell sick. he thought he was going to die and he wanted this manuscript to be here. so, he got in touch with us and it isd, this manuscript, up for sale. our africa specialist on west
6:06 pm
we have to to me, get it. i said i agree, but where will you find the money? she said oh, we are going to find the money. for several months, we went a greatnd the library with us but it was an important -- an important manuscript. get theught we should money toward the end of the year when we have end of year funding. so our acquisition office came up with the money. sotheby andted with eventually we purchased it. now, omar ibn said was a scholar. he was born in what is now -- betweenqueathed
6:07 pm
the rivers of senegal. is one of the most important tribes of west africa. today, the number is about 14 million people. born in this region. school,up, and went to we have to assume it was one of the mosques where he learned to read and write in arabic. but, in his autobiography, he having spent over 25 years studying. >> my name is omar ibn said. betweenplace is futor, the two river spirit i thought numbers -- i thought knowledge under my own brother.
6:08 pm
i continued my studies for 25 years, then returned to my home where i remained six years. ms. deeb: we're not quite sure what he was studying, but we do know he was studying with mentors. this is quite the traditional way of studying in both the middle east and in africa at that time. you had mentors. you went on and studied with scholars. was expansive. he must have spoken at least two or three languages. region in which there was war, tribal warfare. this is not uncommon. a certain point, at the age , he was caught during a tribal conflict.
6:09 pm
he speaks about a large army having come in. >> became to our place a large army who killed many men and took me and brought me to the thet sea and told me into hands of the christians who bound me and sent me on board a great ship. we sailed upon the great see a month at a half. we came to a place called charleston in the christian language. there, they sold me to a small, weak, and wicked man called johnson, a complete infidel who had no fear of god at all. ms. deeb: we know from our scholars that he probably went out on the part of st. louis on the saint -- on the ship and sailed across to south carolina, to charleston. he was obliged to do hard work. he says, i am a small man, a weak man. it is not the work for me. so, he runs away. again, this is what he writes in his biography. >> i am a small man and unable to do hard work so, i fled from
6:10 pm
the work -- from the hand of johnson and after a month came to a place called fayetteville. i saw some great houses, churches are to all the new moon into a church to play. rode off to the place of his father and informed him that he had seen a black and in the church. a man named hunter and another with him on horseback came, attended by a troupe of dogs. they took me and made me go with them 12 miles where they put me into a great house from which i could not go out. i continued in the great house, which in the christian language they called jail 16 days and nights. ms. deeb: apparently, he starts writing on the walls. what was he writing, we are not sure. it might have been a prayer asking god to help him. but, whatever it was, it drew the attention of the jailer, who then eventually calls on the carolina tonorth
6:11 pm
come and see this person who is in jail, but seems to be writing on the walls and seems to be a respectable man. so, the governor and his governor come to the jail and they meet with him and eventually they take on omar ibn said to the house of the brother of the governor of north where he eventually spends the rest of his life. it is this story that he tells in his book. it is very brief. his autobiography is brief, but it is written in a way that humanizes the experience of being caught, of being enslaved. who,hen of finding people although he is enslaved and in the house, who respect him.
6:12 pm
highly admiring of the family he has been put in. ye people of north carolina, people of south carolina, people of america, all of you, have you among you to such men as jim owens and john allen's? these men are good. what food they eat, they give to me to be. as they close them selves, they close me. a permit me to eat the gospel of god, our lord, savior, and king. ms. deeb: he is offered at a certain point to go back to , andal, or to west africa chooses to remain in america. to christianity and there are records of him going ,o church, reading the bible but he also impresses everyone
6:13 pm
around him. a famoussaid becomes in his own lifetime. their articles written about him. there are people coming to meet with him, who praise him. inre are people interested what he is thinking, asking him to write this autobiography. so, it is a new way of looking at really what happens to some of the people who are brought into the united states. us that the tells story that we usually hear about slavery is much more complex in terms of the people who are brought in, and in terms of the people who are here. now, with respect to the rest of the collection, this becomes part then
6:14 pm
of a larger collection. abolitionist, the ,ounder of the american society theodore dwight, who decides he wants this autobiography to be made known to others in america. the conceptualng framework, if you want, of people at that time about who they were enslaving, who they were "civilizing." he is basically saying you better find out about islam, about west africa. this is an introduction, if you want, to the study of i
6:15 pm
slamo-west africa. he really wanted people to know about the history of the region. so, he sends this autobiography who number of missionaries were in the near east at that time, one of whom is very well ofwn, daniel bliss, founder what is now the american university of beirut. at that time, he was -- it was a college. he knew arabic, he spent years in lebanon, in fact there is a whole street in lebanon called daniel's bliss -- daniel bliss. another colored missionary, somehow or other
6:16 pm
related to yale university, who senseo an arabist in a that he knew arabic, studied islam, and he was a missionary in the near east as well. those two men begin translating, if you want, the autobiography. some of the documents that we at the library acquired are part of their correspondents between theodore dwight and people like whoel bliss and isaac bird, by there, fascinated manuscript, wanting to translate it. writes towight also
6:17 pm
the presidents of library is -- presidents of liberia what they think of this miniskirt. they say yes, we are very , inliar with arabic writing liberia some of the indigenous people are also writing in arabic. some of the people who are freed from the united states and who went back to west africa are writing and they are writing in arabic as well. collections unique brings to the library a whole array of things, the core of which is the autobiography of omar ibn said. ar example, we have fascinating document here which men, writtengin of
6:18 pm
decker whommed of the way history the world was created. this is an example of the manuscript in arabic, and this an example of the translation of this manuscript. it is an absolutely original, unique item. -- he writes a book about how the world evolved. it is a mixture, if you want, of , ofmic conventions
6:19 pm
christian, biblical stories, and of some african stories as well. -- he speaks about seven ,eavens, he talks about one god ,ut also brings some women important women who don't appear either in the bible or in islam and seem to be more part of african beliefs. you find an absolutely fabulous description of origins of the world. as you know, every country, every nation and the world has these original ideas of how the world was created and who were the major figures in it. so, we have here a document
6:20 pm
which is completely unique. i have never seen a document that describes the origin of men in the same way. it combines muslim believes, christian beliefs, and also indigenous african beliefs. and it is aated too product of this omar ibn said, because with his autobiography, a lot of people got interested and started saying, there are others who are writing. the others are either in west africa, or left the united .tates and went to west africa among the items that we acquired s, items written by people who spoke arabic and
6:21 pm
they are part of this collection. we are not quite sure how they came to be part of this collection. my guess again is that it probably came from liberia, written by muslim scholars as well. but, this particular item is an of a common practice. theeas this one, the one on origin of men is quite a unique document, this one come on the other hand, is a magic square. it is more a talisman. it is written in arabic and it is a square. of so ist is a prayer god, so it begins, in the name of god, the merciful and
6:22 pm
compassionate. basically, it asks god's protection for camels. why camels? well, because west africa is very close to the sahara desert. apart from the shore, you move from west africa in turn of the come inside, and you are in the sahara. that went on between the north and the south of west africa, but between west africa , and certainly the middle east, and more particularly the arabian peninsula, there was trade. the trade was by caravan. the caravans were driven by the camels. so, the caravans had to be protected. they were the lifeline between different regions of west
6:23 pm
africa. those caravans carried goods. africa was always very wealthy, very rich in terms of gold, materials, cotton materials, traded withand they the arabian peninsula and drove goods from there, such as coffee and other goods. of course, with the goods came the books, medicine, ideas, came islam. what was important in the travels across the desert was the camel. without the camel, people would die. because, it is a camel that theied, transported merchandise. it was a camel that provided even meat that provided
6:24 pm
shade during long travels. longe who traveled distances in the sahara could be attacked by other wandering tribes, by thieves, and robbers. they could -- there could be sand storms. the livelihood of the people in that region who were traitors, -- trad errser traders depended very much on the camels. in arabic, there are 75 or 80 words for the camel. baby camel, mother camel, camel sitting, camel sitting, camel a hugeg, there are number of ford's because the camel was essential to the people in the desert. prayer and itly a shows the square with the middle is a station where all the
6:25 pm
camels made and that they go off in different directions to the trade posts. so, you have the prayers around , mayng them good travels god help you and protect you, but rather than focus on individuals, this is a talisman to protect the animal itself. unusual, buts not it is a wonderful representation that we have here. where omar sense of ibn said came from. that is the important thing. these documents all provide a autobiography.he
6:26 pm
it gives us a sense that he came from an area of scholarship. you have scholars writing. it also came from an area where there was business and trading. he does speak about being himself a wealthy man. to there i came christian country, my religion was the religion of mohammed, the apostle of god, may god have mercy upon him and give him peace. i walked to the mosque before daybreak, washed my face, head, hands, and feet. i prayed at noon, prayed in the afternoon, prayed at sunset, prayed and the evening. i gave owns every year. seeds, milk, rice, wheat, barley. -- i went on pilgrimage to mecca as all did who were able. ms. deeb: you realize he was a man of wealth. he was probably emergent.
6:27 pm
-- probably a merchant. it gives a sense of the people who lived in west africa. those who were eventually caught and brought into the united states as slaves. hip -- a wholee civilization behind them. went back hundreds of years. it is not difficult to understand it because, after all, they belong to a monotheistic faith, they did business. by translating the works, making those works available, you in a way begin to rewrite history. they were not what was often described as people that were taken in who had no religion, they were pagan, no civilized nation, etc. that is not the case. , thisore, omar ibn said
6:28 pm
little biography is able to make us think in a different way. history.s realize the history of that period. so i was very excited to see that when we brought in students , high school students, they looked at that and said i didn't know that. was just a whole journey of learning about something we had no background knowledge about omar ibn said. i was very surprised to hear a lot of the things i heard including how there was such a large population of muslims who were brought to this country. i'd never heard a voice from that population before. ms. deeb: but this is what history is about. rediscovering a history that has fully.lly been written we have some scholars who have written about it and we actually on february 5 and has writtencholars
6:29 pm
extensively on that. her own great-grandfather is from senegal and was a great scholar of that region who himself had been a major scholarly institution to teach about islam, but also about astronomy. >> you also had and the united states this idea that the muslims who are not african, that they were arabs who had .een taken by mistake arabshose muslims, those despised the rest of the africans. thesere were sometimes attempts at putting people one against the other. ms. deeb: we did a podcast, and the lady from
6:30 pm
saw in thet she , i saw and she said muslim scholar from senegal. what i can say is that i see a man with great dignity, and at very sure of himself, very confident. very confident in a way almost as if he had a mission to tell and toabout his past inform others about who he is, not only for himself but for all the people behind it there are a number of intriguing things in this autobiography. to say auld like me few words about why think it is intriguing, one thing is, he never gives us his full name.
6:31 pm
omar ibn said simply means omar the son of said. had, from his own autobiography in number of sons. but who? he never gives us his family name. although he talks about his father and mother, he never talks about a personal family, wife, children. again, the question is why. it's a i'm again personal opinion, that he was protecting his family by not giving a family name, he was protecting them. i not speaking about wife, children, whatever, he was protecting them. he did not want probably that they suffered the fate that he suffered himself. he comes to the united states and never gets married. he has no progeny. the again the question is why.
6:32 pm
others did. he did not. autobiography has a interesting parts to it. converted to have christianity, to have gone to church, to have read the bible. .e speaks about christ he speaks about christianity in positive terms. and yet, when he starts his autobiography, he begins with a verse from the carranza. he gains with a chapter of the carranza. a chapter that has 33 versus. it is written from memory, i guess. i wanted to check how good his memory was, because you have to remember, he was from west africa. he was not an arab.
6:33 pm
arabic was not his first line which. of course, he learned arabic and wrote in arabic. after all those years, 1831, he was writing in his 60's, since he was born in 1770. he was already 61 years old at how much can you remember from what you learned in school? and the koran to see how accurate he was. it was remarkable. he remembered 33 versus, which is the length of the written work of that chapter. .e wrote it completely there is only one for us he seems to or three lines appeared the rest, he remembers the whole thing. why did he put that first?
6:34 pm
it means that chapter of in arabic, it also has the concept of ownership. he chooses, of all the chapters in the koran, the chapter on ownership. chapter, the statement of those who do not learn from their mistakes. if those who do not learn from their mistakes are punished. those who learned, who are guided by the wisdom of god go to heaven. saying,most as if he is just by this choice of first, ownership in islam is god's only . we do not own anything. the only owner is god. and he owns the whole of the universe. but, no individual has the right to own and therefore, in other
6:35 pm
words he is not saying that he is saying you do not have the right before god to own another person. this is the message that comes to me as i read through the work although it never says that. it simply says those who will learn will be rewarded, those who do not learn will be punished. i think he sees himself through as work as a really missionary to some extent. bringing the truth to the world through his writings. again, this is something that scholars have to work on. there are a lot of interesting questions with respect to the collection and with respect to the autobiography. called in arabic
6:36 pm
in terms of the style of these of writing. a style it is simply the style of the writing. the words are in arabic. this is more square, thicker in lines than the arabic written written in egypt or syria or saudi arabia, which is more slanted. it is in the style written for writtenin manuscripts in morocco and nigeria, and mali. it is a specific style did a beautiful one, but quite distinct. this is a very distinctive style
6:37 pm
of writing. but, completely intelligible to anyone reading it. there is no mystery in terms of the meanings or in terms of the words or the structure of the sentences. just the design. arabic calligraphy is for decorative. this is why you find it on walls and designing of walls on mosques, palaces. you see it on designs of plates and pottery and ceramic and copper. the designs are very often calligraphic designs. signis simply a special which is very distinctive of north and west africa. here is that thing it is a miracle that it survived
6:38 pm
for 200 years. it traveled at it went from hand to hand. people thought it was important enough to carry it on. were probably others written by people who were enslaved but this is the only manuscript in in thewritten by a slave united states. it is the only one. now, someone might find something and please contact the library of contact -- the library of congress and tell us that you found a main if you sent many script. but there may have been others. the chances are that there were others. that there were many others, but only this one survived. so, it is this story.
6:39 pm
it is as if for 200 years it has been carried and moved from one to the next to the next generation. each one thinking it is important that people know about it. understand that in africa, people had a long and ancient civilization. that there was a written culture and people were scholars. that there were businessmen, that there were warriors and a whole fabric of society. which often in the tail that is told, the history that is written, seems to disappear. so, this brings it to life. it tells a story which is absolutely vital to our understanding of what africa was like 200 years ago. the moment i believe you come i
6:40 pm
will take a paper and get everyone signing off. i am chief of division until the end of the day and that i go into oblivion. i have to say that i have a satisfactionmplete of a job well done, completed, and finished. i was starting to retire a year ago, but i decided to extend my stay here until this collection was made public and the job was completed. when one decides to retire, at least when i decided to retire, there were things that i needed to complete. this was certainly one of them. i wanted this collection to be made available to everyone. it was as if it was an end of the journey for this collection. it was on the road for 200 years and finally it had come home to the library. this belongs to the american people because it comes from taxpayers money.
6:41 pm
so, everyone has contributed one way or another to the purchase of this collection. this is why it had to be here. it had to read here because it belongs to everyone and everyone could come and look at this and use it. use the website and digital collection and download stuff. they can download the whole manuscript from the website if they wish. so, when it came home, it was my time to say goodbye and to say, now i am on to do other things. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] starting memorial day, may 27, all we can prime time, c-span has coverage of commencement ceremonies. featured speakers include
6:42 pm
representative elijah cummings former georgia house minority , president donald trump, and supreme court associate justice sonia sotomayor. commencement coverage of memorial day at 8 p.m. eastern on c-span. watch online anytime at and listen on the free c-span radio app. this weekend, american history tv joins our spectrum cable partners to showcase the history of milwaukee. from themore video current tour, visit we continue with our history of milwaukee. >> we are taking a harley-davidson motorcycle tour of milwaukee to the walkers point neighborhood where a music


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on