Brazil Unearths a 14-Century Muslim to Teach African History to Children

Ibn BattutaIbn Battuta, a Moroccan Muslim scholar and traveler who lived in the 14th century and spent 30 years of his life traveling and talking about his travels on the African continent is going to be a character for the teaching of African History at schools in Brazil.

The Ministry of Education (MEC) should distribute still this year, teaching material using Ibn Battuta. It will be included in a video documentary, called “Viajando pela África com Ibn Battuta” (Traveling around Africa with Ibn Battuta), a teacher’s book, a student’s book and a site.

They were elaborated by historian José Rivair Macedo, from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), with funds granted by the MEC.

According to information disclosed by the ministry, the video, book and booklet should be made available on the MEC Portal and at TV Escola by June. The material will be printed and the film reproduced for distribution by the end of the year.

The idea is for them to serve as subsidies for lessons about Africa. “Rebuilding Ibn Battuta’s trip to Mali seemed a different proposal for the teaching of History, as it is a different focus from the traditional one, a change in the form of eyeing the Old World,” said Macedo.

In the film, amidst interviews, images and historical information, Ibn Battuta narrates part of his impressions of the trip he took, between 1352 and 1353, crossing a region of the Sahara Desert, then known as the Mali Empire. The area currently includes countries like Mauritania and Nigeria, as well as Mali itself.

Protected by the sultan of Morocco, Ibn Battuta traveled with a caravan seeking gold, salt and slaves for a period of two months. “The report by Ibn Battuta is the only eye-witness of the period of splendor of the Mali Empire. Other Arab writers wrote about the African kingdoms, but they did not travel there,” said Macedo.

The site should include stretches of the memoirs of the travels of Ibn Battuta, recorded by poet Ibn Djuzzay, including information about the graves of tradesmen and poets found en route, snake hunters and meetings with Sudanese travelers.

In one stretch, he speaks about the djinns of the desert: “In the desert there are many evil djinns. When the guide of the caravan is alone, they show up and play with him, attracting his attention, guiding him away from his route or to death, as there is no visible route or point of reference, just the sand that moves constantly in the wind,” said the traveler.

The author of the teaching project is originally from the state of Paraná, but was brought up in São Paulo. He has been at the UFRGS, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, since 1993. At the institution, he teaches History of the Middle Ages, with special emphasis on research on the Iberian Peninsula.

“But since 2001, I have been interested in matters related to Christians and Muslims. I published some academic articles on the matter and, on coming across a report by Ibn Battuta, it seemed I would have an opportunity to explore such a fascinating and rich text as that of Marco Polo, who is an icon in the West,” he explained.



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