Western and Central Sudan, 1800–1900 A.D.

  • Western and Central Sudan, 1800–1900 A.D.



Factional disputes at the religious center of the Islamic world help change the course of history in West Africa when Wahhabi fundamentalists capture Mecca (1803) and Medina (1805). Their virulent opposition to mystical Sufism, the dominant form of Islam practiced in western and central Sudan, galvanizes African Sufis and strengthens the position of the Sufi orders Qadiriyya and Tijaniyya in sub-Saharan Africa. The responsibility to spread Islamic precepts among nonbelievers drives a wave of jihads that result in the formation of large-scale theocratic states stretching from the southern Sahara to the coast of present-day Guinea and the forests of northern Côte d’Ivoire. The importance of these movements to the cultural and artistic history of western and central Sudan cannot be overstated. Large-scale migration of populations fuels the stylistic development and exchange of sculptural forms as well as the consolidation of ethnic identity in reaction to foreign influences, while competing Islamic ideologies energize debates over urban design and religious architecture. This period also witnesses the imperial encroachment of France and, to a lesser extent, England and Portugal in the region. French military forces open central Sudan to European travelers, who leave documents describing urban centers such as Jenne and Timbuktu. By the end of the century, Senegal emerges as France’s most productive and populous colony, with important mercantile centers located at Dakar and Saint-Louis along the coast.


“Western and Central Sudan, 1800–1900 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=10&region=afu (October 2004)