You asked me to write my life.
January 14, 2015 6:38 AM   Subscribe

My name is Omar ibn Seid (pdf, 163 kb). My birthplace was Fut Tûr, between the two rivers. I sought knowledge under the instruction of a Sheikh called Mohammed Seid, my own brother, and Sheikh Soleiman Kembeh, and Sheikh Gabriel Abdal. I continued my studies twenty-five years. Then there came to our place a large army, who killed many men, and took me, and brought me to the great sea, and sold me into the hands of the Christians, who bound me and sent me on board a great ship and we sailed upon the great sea a month and a half, when we came to a place called Charleston in the Christian language. There they sold me to a small, weak, and wicked man.

Omar ibn Said was born around 1770 in Futa Toro (now part of Senegal) and enslaved and brought to the United States in 1807 - just before the abolition of the slave trade. As well as his autobiography, ephemera connected to him include a copy of the Lord's Prayer he wrote in Arabic script (explained by a letter in the Wilmington Chronicle in 1847), two portraits, and his Arabic New Testament.
Omar Ibn Said's narrative, especially his conversion to Christianity, was used by his contemporaries in support of several causes including the importance of Christian conversion and the American Colonization Society, which organized former slaves to colonize Liberia. He was also notable enough that North Carolina University wrote an article about "the venerable coloured man whose name stands at the head of this article" in 1854.
In a faded photograph of the nineteenth-century Cumberland County jail, the squat assemblage of thick walls and barred windows stands like a child beside the more imposing courthouse that dominated the public square of Fayetteville, North Carolina. On the day in 1810 when an escaped slave found himself standing in front of these two buildings, the local authorities pushed him toward the former without hesitation. As far as his captors were concerned, runaways had no right to expect due process or legal protection. Even if he had been given the chance to plead his case, he would have found it impossible. Inside a courtroom, he would have understood neither the words spoken by the judge nor those within the book upon which he might have placed an oath—swearing hand. He was no stranger to laws, but his were found in another scripture, formed of another tongue.
You may also be interested in:

- A Muslim American Slave: The Life of Omar Ibn Said, edited and with an introduction by Ala Alryyes (chapters require academic access). Book review. "Ibn Said's "Life" is not a customary slave narrative and does not follow the prototypical themes—the search for literacy and freedom—made famous by the autobiographies of escaped slaves, including Frederick Douglass. Then again, the manuscript, unlike most slave narratives, was not published to inspire the Northern abolitionist movement. The intended audience was Southern slave owners. Members of the colonization movement hoped to influence planters to free their slaves by showcasing the intellectual talents of men like Ibn Said. "

- Fayettville, NC's Omar Ibn Sayyid mosque

- An Interesting Narrative. (pdf, 323 kb)
Biography of Mahommah G. Baquaqua, a Native of Zoogoo, in the Interior of Africa. (A Convert to Christianity,) With a Description of That Part of the World; Including the Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants, Their Religious Notions, Form of Government, Laws, Appearance of the Country, Buildings, Agriculture, Manufactures, Shepherds and Herdsmen, Domestic Animals, Marriage Ceremonials, Funeral Services, Styles of Dress, Trade and Commerce, Modes of Warfare, System of Slavery, &c., &c. Mahommah's Early Life, His Education, His Capture and Slavery in Western Africa and Brazil, His Escape to the United States, from Thence to Hayti, (the City of Port Au Prince,) His Reception by the Baptist Missionary There, The Rev. W. L. Judd; His Conversion to Christianity, Baptism, and Return to This Country, His Views, Objects and Aim.
Written and Revised from His Own Words, by Samuel Moore, Esq., Late Publisher of the "North of England Shipping Gazette," Author of Several Popular Works, and Editor of Sundry Reform Papers and Mahommah G. Baquaqua.
My father, (says Mahommah) rose every morning at four o'clock for prayers, after which he returned to bed, at sunrise he performed his second devotional exercises, at noon he worshiped again, and again at sunset.

- North American Slave Narratives, collected by UNC's Documenting the American South project.

- The Transatlantic Slave Trade, In Motion (autoplays sound).
posted by ChuraChura (6 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Additionally, Backstory with the American History Guys has a segment about Omar Ibn Said.

Via TheProudAardvark.
posted by ChuraChura at 6:39 AM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Thanks for posting this! I heard the Backstory segment on Omar Ibn Said and was fascinated -- this will definitely be some great reading.
posted by ourobouros at 7:01 AM on January 14, 2015

Omar ibn Said's narrative, in both Arabic and English, with an introduction and annotations by Ala Alryyes, is included in The Multilingual Anthology of American Literature. A Reader of Original Texts with English Translations, edited by Marc Shell and Werner Sollors, which is well worth getting if you're interested in this kind of thing—there are texts in Massachusett, Lenape, Polish, Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew, "Germerican"... well, it's a treasure trove. (And used copies start at $0.76!)
posted by languagehat at 8:52 AM on January 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

Fantastic post. I got nothing else to add but my fav wasn't enough praise
posted by MangyCarface at 9:12 AM on January 14, 2015

The things you never know about your own geographical area. Amazing!
posted by chainsofreedom at 10:10 AM on January 14, 2015

I just saw a law review article titled Antebellum Islam that discusses Omar Ibn Said.
posted by interplanetjanet at 11:22 AM on January 14, 2015

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