Section Nine

  • Oumelbanine Zhiri


Hasan Ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan, better known as Joannes Leo Africanus, was born in the Muslim Kingdom of Granada just a few years before it was conquered by the Christians in 1492. His family left Spain for Morocco when he was a small child; there they found a high social status and were close to the royal court of Fez. Hasan, from a very young age, had the opportunity to travel extensively, often as an ambassador to the Wattasid Sultan Muhammad. His travels led him to visit all the countries of North Africa, the Sahara desert, the sub-Saharan countries of West Africa, Egypt, Arabia, and Turkey. He was returning from a mission to Istanbul in 1518 when his ship was attacked in the Mediterranean sea by Christian pirates, who captured him and gave him to Pope Leo X. He spent one year in the Castel Sant’ Angelo, a fortress just outside Vatican City, and converted to Christianity; he was baptized in Saint Peter of Rome by the Pope himelf, who gave him his names, Joannes Leo de Medici, but he is generally called Leo Africanus. In Italy, he taught Arabic and wrote a number of books, many of which have not been found.1 The most famous of these texts is a geographical opus about Africa. The manuscript was completed in March 10, 1526; an editorialized version of it was published for the first time in 1550. We know next to nothing about the rest of his life, not even if he stayed in Italy until his death, or if he went back to North Africa.


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  1. 2.
    The most comprehensive edition of the surviving documents is P. E. H. Hair’s Sierra Leone and the English in 1607: Extracts from the Unpublished Journals of the Keeling Voyage to the East Indies, Occasional Paper No. 4 (Freetown: Institute of African Studies, University of Sierra Leone, 1981)Google Scholar
  2. 3.
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© Ivo Kamps and Jyotsna G. Singh 2001

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  • Oumelbanine Zhiri

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