The Passport to Paradise gallery highlights the bold, visual images found all over Dakar by focusing upon the urban visual culture of the Mourides, a Senegalese Sufi movement centered upon the life and teachings of a local saint named Sheikh Amadou Bamba.

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An Introduction to the Boubacar Barry Collection

The Futa Jalon has long been the center of economic, political and educational activity for the "far west" of West Africa, stretching from the Ivory Coast in the southeast to Mauritania and Mali in the north. Located in the mountains of today's Guinea Conakry, mountains which give rise to the major rivers of West Africa (the Niger, the Senegal and the Gambia), the Futa became an Islamic state (using the expression Almamate, from "imam") over the course of the 18th century as Fulbe (Fulani) lineages mobilized their supporters against a variety of Mandinka chiefdoms who had dominated the area. In the 19th century the Almamate dominated trade over a much wider zone, acquired large numbers of slaves for agricultural and pastoral production, and became an important Islamic educational center. The "imam" or Almamy had considerable power at the central level, but competed constantly with provincial leaders. The most powerful and influential of these was the Alfa or governor of Labe, on the northern side of Futa close to today's Senegal and Guinea-Bissau.

Muslims from the "far west" went to Futa Jalon for Islamic education of various kinds. Al-Hajj Umar went there in the 1820s for the Islamic sciences and the study of an emerging Sufi order, the Tijaniyya. When he returned there in the 1840s, he attracted his own students from Freetown, Sierra Leone, and other locations. The best known educational innovations occurred in the Labe area, where a number of teacher-scholars developed ajami literature. Ajami refers to the use of the Arabic alphabet to write a non-Arabic language - in this case Fulfulde or Pulaar, the language of the Fulbe people. The initial motivation for this was pedagogical: to provide instruction through recitation to the non-literate or less literate members of the community (women, slaves, pastoralists, for example). Over time the Labe pedagogues developed a "classical" literature which celebrated the achievements of the Almamate and the virtues of Islam and islamization and was performed in many settings. Alfa Ibrahima Sow, a Guinean scholar living in France, has given visibility to this literature in such published collections as La Femme, La Vache, La Foi and Chroniques du Fouta Djalon. A French scholar, Gilbert Vieillard, has left an invaluable collection of ajami texts at the research institute (IFAN) in Dakar.

The leading figure in collecting and publishing historical materials on Futa Jalon is Boubacar Barry, Professor of History at the University of Dakar. A descendant of one of the two branches of the Almamate, Barry has taught and conducted research from his Dakar base since the 1960s. In addition to his volume, Bokar Biro published in the Ibrahima Kake series in French, English and Pulaar, he has collected an enormous range of sources critical to understanding this critical area. The texts in this small gallery are but a sample of these materials, and have been scanned by the technicians at WARC, the West African Research Center. Three of the five which we offer here come from French explorers who became intensely interested in Futa Jalon in the late 19th century. The Barry collection is extremely important, even more as a consequence of the impossibility of conducting research in Futa Jalon during the Sekou Toure presidency of Guinea (1958-84).

Sampling from L'Institut Fondemental d'Afrique Noire (IFAN)

Phil Curtin Collection

Collection Boubacar Barry

Collection Charles Becker: Recherches et documents sur le Sida

Photographs from “Passport to Paradise’: Sufi Arts of Senegal and Beyond

Mosques of Bondoukou

Futa Toro, Senegal and Mauritania

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