I’m currently in the process of reading, writing and researching Muslim travellers of the past and therefore stumbled upon something really interesting.
Whilst many incidents and travel books point towards European travel writers and their contribution, it’s almost difficult to find the contributions Africans and Asians made in travel writing.
The book ‘Other Shores – 1500 Years of African & Asian Travel Writing‘ does a superb job in bringing together stories and accounts from Asian and African travel writers. Tabish Khair, calling the collection of accounts an anthropology, goes onto say, ‘it sets out to illustrate that the world was “mapped” by non-European peoples as well, and that many of these peoples left behind travel accounts’.
These travel accounts help clarify and maybe bring light to some of the claims made by European travel writers. One of the hot topics in discovery is the idea that Columbus discovered America. However Khair (2006) tells us that ‘one may or may not agree with some (Islamic) scholars who locate the “discovery of America” in, say, the claim of the Muslim historian and geographer Abul-Hasan Ali ibn Al-Hussain al-Masudi (871-957) that during the rule of Abdullah ibn Muhammad in Spain, a navigator, Khashkhash ibn Saeed ibn Aswad of Cordoba, crossed the Atlantic and reached an unknown territory (“Ard Majhoola”). One might or might not accept the evidence that Leo Weiner offers in Africa and the Discovery of America or Van Sertina in They Came Before Columbus to suggest that Africans had sailed-among others, via the Moorish connection-and settled on the continent long before Columbus “discovered it”‘.
The point is, alternative traditions and travel accounts have contributed vitally towards the definition of travel writing we have in front of us today.
There were books by Persians and other Asian languages which are still used today for those researching geography, history and the genre of travel writing. Many books on the topic were written by Indians from the 18th century onwards, not only in English, but also in other Indian languages such as Malayalam, Bangla (Bengali), Urdu, Hindi and Persian.
Some famous African and Asian travel writers include, Ibn Jubayr, al-Idrisi, Zheng He, Al-Abdari, Musa Mansa, Umar ibn Said, Ibn Batutta, Ayuba Suleiman Diallo and Esteban.
To learn more about African and Asian travel writing accounts, consider reading ‘Other Shores – 1500 Years of African & Asian Travel Writing‘ by Tabish Khair.