Friday, January 22, 2010

Ibn Battuta changes his mind about a tundra journey

Ibn Battuta. He would've definitely had to change the camel for a team of husky dogs if he had decided to go, after all.

Below is a short excerpt from an article by Samar Attar on medieval Muslim and Arab accounts of travels to northern lands. In this section, Attar refers to Ibn Battutah, a 14th c Muslim Moroccan Berber traveler and explorer. Part of Battutah's writings of his 30 years and 113,000 miles of travels were translated into English in 1929, Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354. Just as Scheherazade's stories go on and on and never die, so too Battutah's travel narrative continues to travel. Battutah had a desire to go and experience the tundra, but changes his mind. Too bad! I would've liked to read what this traveller from the South would've had to say about the north:

"Another fourteenth-century Moroccan traveler, Ibn Batutah (1304-1377), offers a new account about certain Nordic people in what he calls the Land of Darkness. Ibn Batutah's narrative differs widely from that of Ibn Hawqal and Ibn Rustah. Here there is no mention of the name Rus, or the city of Artha, or Arthan, or of the killing of foreigners. The emphasis in Ibn Batutah's narrative is on the inhospitable and unfriendly nature of certain people in the Land of Darkness towards foreigners and strangers. According to this account, these people seem to lack any desire to socialize with the Other even in essential matters such as trade. The Land of Darkness is defined as a vast treeless plain of arctic regions. It is distant from Bulghar forty days.

Here is what Ibn Batutah in his book Tuhfat al-Nuzzarfi Ghara'ib al-Amsar wa 'Aja'ib al-Asfar says:
   I have heard about the city of Bulghar and wished to
visit it to see for myself what is mentioned about the shortness
of its nights and days. I have asked the Sultan to send someone
with me on my journey. The distance was about ten days from
his city. He did. I had someone to take me there and bring me
back to him. We arrived there during Ramadan. Just as we had
the sunset prayer we ate our meal. Then the Mu'azzin called
for the evening prayer. We prayed and soon afterwards it was
dawn! Days also become short in another season. I stayed in
that city for three days.

I had wished to enter the Land of Darkness. One can
go there from Bulghar. The distance is forty days. Then I
changed my mind. I had to take lots of provisions and the
journey was not really worth it. One had to travel in small
carriages pulled by husky dogs. This tundra is covered with
ice. No foot of any human or animal can stand there. The dogs
have nails which manage to clutch to the ice. Only strong
merchants who own one hundred or so carriages are the ones
who travel there. They had to take along food, drink and wood,
for there is no tree, or stone, or anything in these regions. The
guide is the dog who had crossed this land several times. It is
valued about one thousand dinars. The carriage is tied to its
neck. There are other three dogs as well. Other carriages
pulled by dogs follow. If the main dog stopped they would all
stop. No one would mistreat this dog or beat it. Food is given
first to the dogs, not to humans. Otherwise dogs get angry and
leave people to die in this tundra. (17)"
A more contemporary representation of Ibn Battuta, found in a shopping
centre in Dubai.
I think this Ibn B would have had no lack of Finnish or
Russian women warming up to him in the cold snowy night of the tundra....


Ari said...

Mr. Ibn Battuta may have heard before his travel that some inuit people have very honourable traditions like housewifes must keep their guests warm at nights. Michael Douglas cannot travel to those areas at all without his Viagra-pills.

20th Century Woman said...

I have friends in Alaska who raise sled dogs. They will be very interested in this piece. I wonder whether there is a book on the history of sled dogs.

Merche Pallarés said...

I'm back!! I see I have lots of homework to do reading all your recent posts...
He certainly looks like a Hollywood actor. Hugs, M.

northshorewoman said...

Ari, it does seem that Michael Douglas needs more shots in his face and other parts of his body to continue to function as "Michael Douglas the movie star."

20th c woman, I am sure there are many books about the history of sled dogs. One place to look for history is to research the history of the multiple indigenous groups of the circumpolar north, and not specifically sled dogs. There is also some depressing history there, like the shooting/culling of massive numbers of the dogs of the Inuit by Canadian police to encourage the Inuit to settle.

Merche, welcome back. Isn't it interesting how our ideas about someone changes depending on how that person is represented visually? Visual imagery is laden with social meanings and these 2 divergent representations of Ibn Battuta make that clear.

tasteofbeirut said...

My aunt who has lived in Denmark (she married a Norwegian) for the last 50 years would tell me that to get Danes to loosen up she would have to give them a lot of aquavit!
PS: Talking about handsome Arab actors, did you know Omar Sharif is actually a Michel Harfouche and is a Lebanese, Greek-catholic I believe! My granddad played bridge against him at tournaments in Egypt.

northshorewoman said...

taste of B, there is no end to the interesting people and stories in your family history!

The Arab world needs another cross-over artist with star power like Omar Sharif. Of course, there is Kathem el Saher, but he's a singer and not accessible to English speakers. But he makes a good ambassador of culture, that's for sure.