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From Tetouan to Mali, the curious adventure of Moroccan merchant Abd Salam Shabeeny

Abd Salam Shabeeny is a Moroccan merchant who spent most of his life roaming Africa and the Middle East. His narrative was at the heart of a book that attracted British readers in 1820.

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Muslims merchants in Timbuktu. / Ph. DR

He is one of the few Moroccan travelers who documented his voyages in Africa and Europe. A native of Tetouan, a city that lies along the Martil Valley, Hage Abd Salam Shabeeny was a merchant who roamed Mali, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, before sailing to Germany and then England.

His adventures and vivid descriptions were grouped in an account entitled «An Account of Timbuctoo and Housa, territories in the interior of Africa» (1820). The content of the book was orally communicated by Shabeeny to James G. Jackson, a foreign merchant who lived in Mogador. It also contained «letters descriptive of travels through west and south Barbary, also fragments, notes and anecdotes, by J.G Jackson».

Shabeeny’s account made mention of his years as a young traveler. His «narrative is filled with snippets about the life and times of a North African Muslim caravan merchant – who was part of the mercantile global economy of the period that included the Middle East, North and West Africa, southern areas of West Africa, and Europe», wrote history platform Dianabuja.

From Timbuktu to Housa

Indeed, Abd Salam Shabeeny left Tetouan, when he turned 14, accompanying his father to West Africa. In fact, Shabeeny traveled to Timbuktu in Mali where he stayed for «three years» before «proceeding to Housa (Hausa, Nigeria)», recalled «The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, Etc, Issues 154-206», (Henry Colburn, 1820) in a review of Shabeeny’s narrative.

After staying in Housa for «two years he returned to Timbuktu, where he resided seven years» before returning to Tetouan, added the British literary magazine, stressing that the Moroccan merchant’s journey from Morocco to Mali was performed in 1787.  

In Tetouan, being «in the twenty-seventh year of his age», Shabeeny decided to embark on another trip, heading east. He left the north of Morocco as a «pilgrim and merchant, with a caravan for Egypt to Mecca and Medina (Saudi Arabia)», wrote the London Literary Gazette journalist.

The same magazine recalls that on his return to the Kingdom, Shabeeny «established himself as a merchant» in Tetouan. In his native town, he had a wife and children but his sojourns were extended this time to Europe.

Captured in Belgium and freed by the British

In his account, Shabeeny made mention of his trip to Germany. He left with three friends to Hamburg «in order to purchase linens and other merchandize that were requisite for his commerce». But once in Germany, things took a different turn, according to the same book, which suggests that Shabeeny was «confined forty-seven days in Ostend».

«On his return from Hamburg in an English vessel, he was captured and carried prisoner to Ostend (Belgium) by a ship manned by Englishmen», the British magazine explained. The Moroccan merchant was then taken to England, after he was released by a British consul called «John Peters».

Shabeeny and his friends were sailed by «the English captain to Dover against their inclination, and proceeded to Gibraltar with their goods : This was in December 1789», the same source added.

His good and sometimes-scary adventures were thoroughly narrated in his account that attracted British readers, who wanted to know more about Africa through Muslim merchants. In his account, Shabeeny was in owe of the scenery he saw while traveling in Africa and in Europe.

He was interested in the huge forest that bordered Timbuktu, the great Nile in Egypt, the very tall trees in England and the attire of men and women in Mali and Nigeria.

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