The "Narziguas", Forgotten Protagonists of Saharan History

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This article discusses the processes leading to an almost complete exclusion of some populations native to the western Sahara from oral tradition and historical writing. I will consider the Arabization of this context and its implications in the formation of contemporary identities, when evidence suggests precisely their complexity and non-linearity. In order to assess this argument I will look attentively at a mid-sixteenth-century letter sent to Lisbon from the Arguin castle, off the Saharan coast. This document should prove particularly important as the population depicted there as the main interlocutors of the Portuguese in the region—the "Narziguas"—is nowadays excluded from most historical accounts. The reading I propose of this letter explores the possibility of a Narziguas leadership in the coastal western Sahara prior to the seventeenth century; in this manner, questioning some of the well-established Arab-centered historiography and oral tradition. It is also argued that Islam has been ideologically and genealogically used as a privileged instrument in the recon figuration of the region's social landscape.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: March 1, 2011

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