Medina Baay is a neighborhood on the northeast corner of Senegal’s peanut capital of. Before being incorporated into the city, it was an independent village founded in 1930 by and his disciples after they left the Ñas family’s headquarters of . It still almost has the feel of a village, with its red dirt roads predominantly Njolofeen population, most of whom are related to most of each other. This profile includes broader information about the city of Kawlax and its various neighborhoods. Of particular importance to the history of Medina Baay are four other neighborhoods: , founded in 1911 by Baay’s father, , and now constituting much of ’s city center; , an area south of Medina Baay which was already inhabited by Séeréer-speaking Gelwaar when Baay Ñas arrived; , an area West of Medina Baay that, although densely populated today, originally served as fields and orchards for the residents of Medina Baay; and , north of Saam, where the Gelwaar royalty who controlled the area lived.
Many of the details of the foundation of these places are discussed in my personal profiles onand , and this profile serves mostly as a framework for organizing data about other figures and events that do not fit into those personal profiles. In other words, this profile does not contain all my data on Medina Baay or Kawlax but complements information already written elsewhere and should be read in tandem with other profiles. Eventually I intend to work all these profiles into a more integrated history, and the current purpose is simply to organize the data into subjects.
: Founded 1911
The family and many disciples of Baay Ñas and Allaaji Abdulaay Ñas for more details), and was founded in 1911, directly after ’s return from his major trip to . He had just received an ᵓijāzah ᵓiṭlāq and, according to his posterity, been appointed as the khalīfah of the Tijāniyy order for all of Sub-Saharan West Africa (as-Sūdān al-Gharbiyy). Thus, while prior to his Gambian exile he had been the major religious figure throughout most of Saalum, at this point Allaaji Abdulaay’s sphere of influence extended to other parts of West Africa as well. The Tijāniyy order should not be compared to something like the Catholic Church in which a cardinal has clear jurisdiction over everyone within a clearly bounded geographical area, and therefore other Tijāniyy leaders had no obligation to become his disciples or to visit him, but in any case, the zāwiyah in Lewna soon became a center not only for Allaaji Abdulaay’s own disciples but drew an international mix of visitors.had been living in Kër Sàmba, Gambia, since around 1902, when Baay Ñas was born (see profiles for
As I discuss in my profile of, Lewna was not the only base for Allaaji Abdulaay and his followers. When they returned to Senegal, they adopted as their summer home, as Lewna was part of a salty city and was not suited for farming. Many of the family members and disciples would leave Lewna during the rainy season, spending as much as half the year in Kóosi or other surrounding villages. Lewna remained a predominantly Njolofeen village, and its inhabitants maintained their strong ties with their various villages of origin and continued to intermarry with residents of Njolofeen villages throughout and beyond Saalum.
Foundingand : c. 1930
The troubles that led to Baay Ñas’s profile). This section serves to tell about some of the other people and events involved in founding Medina. (“Medina” is an abbreviation for Medina Baay and does not refer to .) I include in the same discussion because it was founded by the same people and at roughly the same time.and his disciples leaving and founding are described elsewhere (see
Accounts disagree on who exactly controlled the land that would become Medina Baay and over who authorized Baay to settle there. All accounts I have heard agree that Medina was an uninhabited and uncultivated wilderness, although long-standing Gelwaar villages existed nearby:(for a long time the capital of the Séeréer kingdom of Saalum), Coofog (sometimes pronounced Coofat), and Kër Mbàbba Njaay (now Medina Mbàbba). Nearly all Njolofeen and Saalum-Saalum disciples of Baay insist that the French were the only ones at the time with the authority to authorize someone to settle on uninhabited ground and that permission from the ruling Gelwaar was not needed. This argument gives credence to the belief that the Islamic revolution was completely successful in overturning traditional authority and that the French were only able to reverse the situation through superior firepower.
The sons of the Gelwaar who were the traditional authorities at the time, however, have told me that the Gelwaar still controlled the land and that Baay Ñas asked their permission to settle there. The son of Mbàbba Njaay, who was the head of the village that would become Medina Mbàbba, told me that Baay stopped at their village on his first night of exile from Lewna (Njolofeen accounts agree with this much) and that at that time he asked for and received Mbàbba Njaay’s permission to settle in what is now Medina Baay. He also says that their village was called Medina at the time and that Baay’s settlement was named after it, and the founders of each settlement were added to the names to distinguish them. (I have not found anyone else who agrees with this version of events, and those who accompanied Baay say this makes little sense because the Gelwaar were not thoroughly Islamized at the time and would not likely give a village a Muslim name.)
The sons of Gadel Mbóoj, who was head of Coofog at the time, says that Baay sought his permission and that the land belonged to the people of Coofog. But they say that during the first few years he refused to seek their permission to be there, and that this led to some tension—not because they disapproved of his being there but because his refusal to ask permission undermined their authority. Elders in Medina tend to agree that the land they settled was traditionally under the control of Coofog and not Kër Mbàbba Njaay, although they say that the Coofog leaders were no longer in control of anything beyond their own village and that only the French had this power. They attribute their authorization to settle to the commandant de cercle Blocard.
In truth, the eminently diplomatic Baay very likely sought the authorization of all these parties, knowing that regardless of who held jural authority he would need their blessing in order to build a peaceful community. In fact, he may not have realized the importance of seeking this permission for some time, as is suggested by the Mbóojeens’ claims that he did not seek their permission. They interpret this to mean that he was squatting without any permission at all, whereas he may have understood that he was authorized to be there because he had received French authorization, which was all his father needed to settle Lewna.
Several elders recounted the story of how Baay Ñas finally won over Gédal Mbóoj by giving him a very expensive horse and even more expensive accoutrements, knowing that Gelwaar are particularly fond of fine horses. They say that he and his entourage immediately converted when the gift was given. Gelwaar accounts minimize this gift and say that the turning point was not a gift but Baay’s simple recognition that he needed their authorization to live there.
The names of these neighborhoods are significant. The original name is simply “Medina,” named after Al-Madīnah al-Munawwarah (“The Illuminated City”), Muḥammad’s final resting place after his exodus from Makkah, the city of his ancestors. The link between the two is made explicit in Baay Ñas’s poetry, which likens his exodus to Medina to that of Muḥammad. Baay Ñas is not the only African leader to draw this parallel, and numerous villages in Senegal founded by Islamic leaders are called Medina for similar reasons. Even Tayba Ñaseen, Baay Ñas’s birthplace, derives from one of the epithets of Madīnah: Ṭayyibah, or “Pleasant.” “Baay” was appended to distinguish this Medina from others. The name can also be construed in Arabic to mean simply “the city of Baay” (madīnat Bāy).
Usmaan Kebbe, son of Àjji Màkka Kebbe, the first neighborhood head of Saam (discussed in the next section), says the original mosque in Medina (which was not a Friday mosque) was built in 1931, and that his father was responsible for setting up the poles and woven reed mats used for its walls and roof.
Baay Ñas’s first pilgrimage was in 1937 (this part will be elaborated in the profile of Baay Ñas).
The early days of
Like Medina, Shām,” the Levant or Greater Syria, the part of the Holy Land similarly located to the northwest of the Arabian Madīnah. Religious poetry and public speeches treat these names simply as parallels between Baay Ñas and Muḥammad but as indicative of a mystical identity between the two. The practice of indexing mystical unity through place names is very common in this movement as it is in other Islamic movements. The dune west of that houses the village’s Arabic school is also called Shām, in a double reference to the holy land of Medina Baay and the holy land of the Middle East. Similarly, residents in Caameen Sanc say the name they originally gave their village was Medina Caameen, reflecting both their consideration that they are a spiritual extension of Medina and the fact that they similarly left their ancestral village, , because of tensions between the Taalibe Baay and disciples of .1 Place naming practices closely mirror practices of naming children after close relatives or eminent people as a sign of respect, to the point that the namesake’s nickname or title often becomes the new place’s official name. (For instance, Tayba deriving from a nickname for the Arabian Madīnah, and nearly all of Baay Ñas’s sons’s names deriving from nicknames of Muḥammad.)’s name has a religious origin. Located to the northwest of Medina, “Saam” is the Wolof pronunciation of “
Until the 1960s, Saam was not a residential neighborhood but an area for family and communal orchards and, to a lesser extent, fields. Much of Medina is located on or near the saline floodplain of the Saalum River, and only the land to the west, including Saam and Coofog, was and is cultivable. Many Medina Baay residents today have fond memories of picking mangos, cashew fruits, and wild fruits such as new and sump in Saam. Baay assigned his disciple Àjji Màkka Kebbe to lead a team of disciples in planting trees and in digging a grid of wells every 100 meters. The trees were planted early enough that many adults in Medina today believe that the mangos and cashews were already there when Baay arrived, although the older residents agree that these trees were planted on the order of Baay (and in any case these trees are not indigenous to the region).
Àjji Màkka Kebbe
Although the majority population in Medina was Njolofeen, several Saalum-Saalum were prominent in village administration and leadership. Allaaji Abdulaay Kebbe, more commonly known as “Àjji Màkka” (another variant of al-Ḥājj, from his namesake, ), whom Baay Ñas assigned to oversee planting orchards and digging wells in Saam, was the grandson of an immigrant from Mali whose family had been integrated into the Saalum-Saalum population. According to his son, Usmaan, Àjji Màkka’s father, also named Usmaan, was a muqaddam of and the main religious authority in the village of Kebbe Mbudaay. After Allaaji Abdulaay died, he went into seclusion and repeated wirds in order to receive guidance on which of Allaaji Abdulaay’s sons had inherited their father’s “light” (note that the question was not who his khalīfah was—this is a separate question—although it is notable that the narrative ). He was shown a vision that made it clear that he should go to Lewna and find his new leader sitting under a particular tree. He went to Lewna and found Baay Ñas sitting under the tree reading the Qurᵓān. He became a disciple of Baay Ñas at that time (even though this was before the Fayḍah), and because he was the leader of the whole village and no one contested him, the whole village became de facto disciples of Baay Ñas.
When Baay Ñas came to Kebbe Mbudaay to trace the grounds of the mosque that was to be built (it is common practice when preparing to build a mosque to invite the highest authority possible to trace the grounds), Usmaan gave àddiya.”his young son as an offering (“
Outsiders have tended to view àddiya (hadiyyah) in terms of economic exchange, and in this light some might be tempted to assimilate giving away one’s son in this fashion as enslavement. It is common in this region for a mother to “give” (may) her child to a relative, either because the relative has the resources to give the child a better upbringing or because the relative has no children of her own. In this case, the child typically refers to the adopted relatives as parents, although the child does not change his or her last name and the identity of the child’s literal parents is no secret. A number of other children were similarly given to Baay, their parents hoping both to improve their children’s social opportunities and to have their children render service to Baay as they would have rendered service to their own parents. Each child was assigned to one of Baay Ñas’s wives and would associate with that wife’s children as if they were full siblings. Some of Baay Ñas’s sons told me they spent years in the same household with some of these children before figuring out that they did not actually share the same mother. Thus, giving one’s child to a leader as àddiya represents a sacrifice for the parent of the labor that child would have performed on in their house or fields, an honor and an actual gift of the child’s productive capacities to the leader, and potential social mobility for the child.
Àjji Màkka Kebbe thus grew up in Baay Ñas’s house and moved with Baay from Lewna to Medina in 1930. He continued to live in Baay Ñas’s house after he married his first wife and had his first two daughters. In 1952, seeing that the Medina’s population was quickly expanding, Baay assigned him to become the village head in Saam, which was less than a five minute walk away from Baay’s house. Many new residents were given plots of land both in Medina, which expanded from its originally small dimensions into the new sub-neighborhoods of Daaru Raxmati and Faas Ahmat Tijaan (both officially part of Medina). Many incoming disciples also moved into Saam, gradually replacing its fruit trees with houses and ultimately planting Indian niim trees in their stead. Today very few of the Àjji Màkka’s trees and wells are still operational. In contrast to Medina, which has maintained an almost completely Taalibe Baay population, Saam was between several expanding neighborhoods: to the east was Medina; to the west was the Murid settlement of Ndooroŋ, founded by Sëriñ Bashiiru Mbàkke; and to the south were several Kawlax neighborhoods whose expansion had more to do with Kawlax’s growing commercial importance than with any religious group. While the east side of Saam, separated from Medina only by the railroad, has remained predominantly Taalibe Baay, on the whole Saam’s population reflects the convergence of these originally distinct populations.
Àjji Màkka’s family built a house on the railroad, facing Medina. After his death, his oldest son took his place as neighborhood head. The fact that the son of the man Baay appointed as neighborhood head signals that even though the neighborhood is largely a secular neighborhood like any other urban neighborhood, its history as a Taalibe Baay settlement is still recognized.
1. This original name is little known among outsiders, and the name given the village by outsiders, Caamen Sanc (“Settlement of the Caameen”) is the one that has stuck, although village leaders are trying to get people to call it “Sanc Caameen” for certain administrative reasons.
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