Barasisi: The Legend (MS 210010b)

Material Information

Barasisi: The Legend (MS 210010b)
Series Title:
Hichens Collection : Utenzi wa Barasisi
Alternate title:
Barasisi the legend
Added title page title:
Legend of Barasisi
Added title page title:
The Legend of Barsisi [sic]
Hichens, William, -1944 ( Author, Primary )
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
11 f.
Paper ( medium )
Typescript manuscript : In black type


Subjects / Keywords:
Swahili poetry ( LCSH )
Islam ( LCSH )
Legends ( LCSH )
Kiswahili mashairi
Essays ( LCGFT )
Spatial Coverage:
Africa -- Eastern Africa -- Swahili Coast
-9.633997 x 39.778998


The author of this essay comments on the legend of the monk Barasisi generally and on the Utenzi wa Barasisi. ( en )
General Note:
Date of Composition: circa 1935 AD (circa 1354 A.H.)
General Note:
Languages: English (Roman script)
General Note:
Extent: 11 leaves
General Note:
Incipit: The legend of Barasisi (the Arabic becoming Barasisi in the Swahilicised form) is associated by early Islamic tradition with Quran lix, 16
General Note:
See also SOAS University of London manuscript MS 210011b
General Note:
VIAF (name authority) : Hichens, William, -1944 : URI
General Note:
Africa -- Eastern Africa -- Swahili Coast
General Note:
The Hichens Papers were donated to SOAS on 17 July 1967
General Note:
Publication information: Harries, Lyndon. 1964. The legend of the Monk Barsis -- a Swahili Version. African Language Studies 5: 17-33.
General Note:
Publication information: Knappert, Jan (ed). 1964. Utenzi wa Barasisi wa Saidi bin Abdallah Masu’udi. Swahili 34 (2): 28-37.
General Note:
Publication information: Knappert, Jan. 1999. A Survey of Swahili Islamic Epic Sagas. Lewiston, New York; Queenston, Ontario; Lampeter, Wales: Edwin Mellen Press; pp. 39-41

Record Information

Source Institution:
SOAS University of London
Holding Location:
Archives and Special Collections
Rights Management:
This item is likely protected by copyright. Its status has yet to be assessed.
Resource Identifier:
MS 210010 ( SOAS manuscript number )
MS 210010b ( SOAS manuscript number )


This item has the following downloads:

Full Text
(Barasisi) (the legend) II
The legend of Barsisa (the Arabic becoming
Ba ra a is i in the Swa hilioised form), is associated by early
Islamic tradition with (japan lix,16, "Like the devil when
he saith to man, Be thou an infidel] and when he is become
an infidel, he aaith, /eriiy I am clear of thee, for I fear
God, the Lord of all creatures.'1 But the story is older
than Islam, though its pre-Islamic history is not clear. It
appears to have been taken over from Jewish legendryj it is
reputed to have been related by Ibn Umama as from the lips
of the Prophet] and at least from the early IXth century
down to recent times it has been recounted in the works of
numerous Moslem authors until it has become current through-
out the Moslem world and, penetrating into Europe by trans-
lation and otherwise, it has formed the source of at least
one romance of modern authorship.
Of the man Bare sis i little is known except that he is
reputed as a religious devotee, some say of Israelitish
origin, others of Syrian] that he lived as a recluse
imured in his devotions, or that he was the leader of a
devout school, his followers numbering "more than six
thousand, whose multitude amazed the angels," and that, for
sixty years or more his piety had withstood the wiles of


Satan whose final triumph in Bere s is i1 s downfall the legend
relates. The Arab is n authors recount the story with variant
detail upon the same theme and copies of at least three works
containing versions of the legend, el-Muatatraf, Majalis-al-
Saniyy and Arba'in Hadis, exist in the archives of mosques and
in private ownership on the Bwahili coast. It is from such
a source, probably Arba'in Eadis, that Sayyid Abdallah Masu'ud
drew his material, as he avers in st.6 of his poemi-
Bwene ehuo makutubu kie lug ha ye kisrsbu,
Ma mi yakanijibu hapenda kuwandlkia.
1 possess a book written in the Arabic language,
Ana it impels me with desire to write to you of it.
His Swebili version adheres closely to Arabic sources. Satan
espying Barasisi's piety, assembles his myrmidons and from
amongst them despatches one, Baidhi, to betray the monk. He
visits Barasisi disguised as a devotee, vies with him in
devotion and teaches him a prayer which, Baidhi claims, will
cure the sick. He then causes a young woman to become siezed
of an evil spirit, upon which calamity her brothers seek the
advice of a diviner, whom they find in Baidhi disguised, who
sends them to Barasisi, saying that only he can cure their
sister. Barasisi objects that he knows nought of medicine,
but Baidhi, again disguised, intervenes end overrules the
monk's protests, and effects that the brother* bring their
sister to live with the monk that he may cure her. At first
he fails to exorcise the spirit, but is urged to further

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effort by Baidhi, when the girl in her frenzy prostrates
herself before the monk who succumbs to the solicitations
of her possessive evil spirit, none other than Baidhi, and
falls to her seduction. Then, the shame of his sin and
of his ward's condition overwhelming him, Saras is i is again
visited by Baidhi In disguise, with the advice that to
conceal the sin the girl must be murdered, her brothers
to be told that the demon possessing her had spirited her
away. The girl is thus killed and buried, but Baidhi,
leaving a clue at her grave, hastens to acquaint her
brothers, by means of dreams as they sleep, of their
sister's true fate. They visit B*resist, the crime is
revealed and the monk is hailed before a judge, again
Baidhi disguised, and, after being reviled for his
spostacy, Bares id'i is put to death.
From its wide diffusion over a long period, of time,
the story would seem to have had a strong appeal elsewhere
is the Islamic field; but it seems never to have gained
popularity amongst the Swahili. Io manuscript copies of
the Swahili version have been found to exist either in
Mombasa or Larau, nor was the poem known there to native
authorities otherwise well versed in their national
literature, except for the irabic versions aIready mentioned
From that it is not necessarily to be assumed that
Sayyid ibdallah's utenzi marks the introduction of the

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'iiodS 10 , -1:, ^o.-ij a- a/'S^ad ic .--raLicau
"si . iaiaaaH il -do v^i"! .d+sf tyiX a'a-aj'ia
ffl^s rv:o'i;vi 'misii J aaaa Sri
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kmi§x$smi woie*** oid^i- ^dX a el jq^cx ^nt-ininiil
t^uas'? d 'cJ rjfi888^0^1 Xc0 sx'Xi Jadt irrct^I
^di c Jaa aeajni trij a' UIIsfcrfA 'ivaa-......

legend to the Swahili; the story may have had earlier oral
currency, but its imfarailiarity on the Coast does not
support that view and there is no evidence that it existed
in Swahili form prior to Sayyid Abdallfth'a composition in
the early part of the AlXth century.
The theme of this utenzi may account for it being little
known. The frequent mention of evil spirits, as understood
in the terms shaitani, lb lis, pepo, must have restricted, if
not prohibited, its recital at social and other gatherings
where stories are customarily read aloud for the entertain-
ment of the company. But in a land where it is recognised
as of daily occurrence for people to be harmed, distressed
or siezed by evil spirits, where malignant and mischievous
jinn eavesdrop at the huts, lurk in the palmgroves, roam
the dark night streets and lay in wait for unwary wayfarers
in markets, on the seashore, along bush-trails, in fruit
gardens, even on the very threshold of the home; and where
not only jinn, but wizards and witches practising fearful
mysteries in league with these same jinn, may be amongst
the passershy, even in the company assembled, it is both
unsafe and unmannerly to speak of evil spirits. The recital
of a work making frequent mention of them could not fail to
alarm fear in 30me and affront susceptibilities of others
in a Swahili audience; it would, indeed, be an unusual
gathering at which some of those present had not themselves

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to 4s XX** .fete* t* te***
a m m : r atoto ^ fototo* -tot
iiml ui ^Jtoaato a^a atoto* to t si^to I
lo aay to i* w* ,'fff*
toto^ an stosja ato Jon
a %rn ^iii aa ^tei tt
aa a n , ^
aan ax a* a a ^toto*' .to
e-4 na a- toa mdt a yxifci a

experienced onee or oftender the rigours of seizure by an
evil spirit. The poem assumes that such a condition, as
well as the steps to be taken for its diagnosis and cure,
are matters of common knowledge; as they are throughout
the Islamic Bast, with the Swahili and amongst the majority
of African tribes. The legend has thus been adopted into
Swahili without obvious African impress unless this be
found in the manner of Barasisi's execution, death by
spearing, as expressed by the now almost obsolete verb
kufumaniwa (st.214). The Arabic versions noted above agree
that he was bound to a tree and left to death by exposure.
Pre-Ialamic paganism no doubt accounts for the sadistic
theme of the legend, for although the Quran holds murder
and fornication as heinous sins of the first degree, yet
the denial to the monk of repentance, emphasised in some
versions, is in ill accord with Quran xxv.71 and ii.160
and still less with xii.87, "for none despairs of Allah's
mercy except the unbelieving people."

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jm 3$rxl M!$ vo si-EXe srcxuH si hp-Uwimol
ooico r:i 5a si at eoasi.iaqe* to inoa Hi cJ Isimb Hi
Hi Hi Oils 11.V1.0 Jim! ii -1:0:0 Hi oil oHmoi smv
'deli A 42 siie^sH mox 0 ol" V8. ixx rfiiw mHHHji He
H. nLq0 gaiveiI edm;- -013 Joa0xa v0s

\ (Baraaiai) Footnotes. (the legend)
1. Cf.Sale,§: The Koran, p.406. Some Commentators refer
this passage as applying (a) to man in general or (b) to
the story of how the devil misled Aba Djahl at the battle
of Badr (Quran,viii,&Q.), or to the leni Bainuqa whom
Muhammed plundered and drove into exile (Muh.Ali, Quran, lix,
16,n.); but according to Prof. D.B.Maodoneld in Fncy. of
la lam, 1.667 ,s.v .lar^ iqa "the older exegetical tradition
prefers" reference to the Barsisa legend,
Bnoy. Islam, supra; and this is held by literate opinion
in Fast Africa, according to Kadhi Ali al-Amxn who says, "the
legend is amongst those taken over by the Arabs from the Jews
who were converted to or professed Islam." See footnote 8.
Ai-Baihaki, al-Kitab al-Mehas in-al-Masevi, ed. Br F.
Schwally, Giessn,1902.
4. Abl-al-Bazzak ibn Baramaa (A.B.211A.B.826) in his 11-
Djam, appears to be the first author recording the legend;of.
Snoy.Islam supra.
5* For bibliography and chronology see Enoy.Islam,I.p.667 seq.
Gcldziher,1. in Die Legend vom ESnoh Barsisa gives three
versions of the story and it has been elsewhere treated; see
note 9.

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aea j&^lae'xj eied&esle .y-^d' s;.ut Si "ye Xfotz -id ic mois*.

7. Lewis, M.G.j Ambrosio, or the Monk.
8. In Irba'in Bad is Barsisi is referred to as of the Bani
9. Buttner, Q.G.: Anthologie der Suahelie Litteratur, Berlin,
1894, briefly refers to "a .poem about Barsisa, a Syrian monk
and local saint" giving no details; and Bartman M. Der Islam
isohe Orient Beriohte und Forschungen, 1.2? seq., found the
legend localised in the Syrian province of Aleppo.
10. As in Arbein Badia and this Utenzi.
11. As in Al-Mustatraf and Ma ja 1 is -a 1-aa niyy, in which,
also, Baraaisis disciples are said to have been able to
raise themselves into the firmament "like birds" to the
amazement of the angels; but Allah said, "Be not amazed; for
all his piety his end will be evil and he will die the death
of an infidel." lblis, overhearing these words, departed to
betray the monk. In the Arba'in Had is version, as in the
lltenzi, Iblis determined of bis own accord to encompass his
12. Xbshaihi (Muhammad bin Ahmad al-Ibshaihi) Al-Muatatraf,
(a miscellany of prose and verse from classic autnorsj
Cairo,A .F. 1292 (/,0.1876);
Ma jalis-al-Ssniyy,
Arha'in Bad is, (Forty

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18s The belief that evil spirits, demons, Jinn, can
assume human form is widespread in northern Africa, Of.
isstermarok, B.,: Pagan Survivals in Euhlamaedan Civilisation,
London,198?, "They (the jinn) often look like men; smong the
people of the raarket-plaoe, for instance, there are numerous
jinn disguised as human beings. Many a man has, by mistake,
married a female jinn or jinniye, Very frequently the jinn
shew themselves in the guise of en animal." The Swahili,
while accrediting the existence of numerous kinds of spirits,
lot all ma 1 ignant, (Ingrams ,f .H. "Zanzibar, its history and
People", London, 198?, mentions twenty different kinds), do
not appear to share the belief that spirits appear in human
shape, but in monstrous form, such as the half-man or kinyan -
kela, or else that, like pepo, the spirits which commonly
cause possession, they re invisible, ierner,A.: Myths and
Legends of the Bantu, London, 1984 gives instances. In
Swahili stories jinn which assume human guise would seem all
to Asiatic mythology, while Swahili spirits are essentially
Bantu in form and behaviour. Thus, in. Lsmu and elsewhere
owls are associated with evil spells and children falling
sick in the 6th,7th,8th and 9th months of the Swahili year
are said to be "seized by an owl" (kuahukw.e bumu); charms and
fumigation are used as a cure and scarecrows are fixed on
the house roofs to frighten owl* @iay.

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14. oee Lane, E.ft'.s Manners and Customs of the Modern
Egyptiona and lesteraarok,!. op.oit. It is commonly held
is Islam (and elsewhere) that prayers, spoken or written,
can avert sickness end evil spirits. Prayers and often
ineanted during exorcisms, or may be written on paper, in
soot or lampblack on a plate, and either burned or washed
off and swallowed as a specific. Maajr Swahili wear a
charm (hirisi) consisting of a written Quranic passage, to
avert the evil-eye and the attentions of jinn.
15, The symptoms of seizure vary considerably but are
usually manifested in women by a sudden hysterical outburst
and in men by violent or brooding dementia. No satisfactory
medical diagnosis or expalanation of "possession" as one
finds it in Africa seems yet to have been advanced. It
may be induced and indeed is sometimes deliberately sought
by persons who desire to effect contact with the spirit
world. See Beech,M.I.H., Aids to the Study of Klawahili
js^xikixgg^x London,n.a. (1912) pp.lM seq.; Graster,
The Spice Island of Pemba, London,pp. and Junod,E.Ph,
Lea Gas de Possession et 1'Exoroiame ohez leg Yandau, in
Africa, vol.?Il,p2T0 seqq., and Ingrams, op.cit.; Stigand,
Land of Zinj, London, 191?,p.124 seq. lichens,1 African
Demon Dances, in Discovery, Vol. p. and iestermarck,
- op.oit.
lh. Sicknesses of various types are attributed to super-

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iciezleifss ol .tl tesnru-b fneloiv ycf ai
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............................ ......... ......-............

natural influences and the aid of e diviner (mgangs is
falski) is sought to diagnose them, Various methods of
divination are used (for which see the authorities noted
in n.15 above) including kupiga ramli, s in this utenzi,
a method making use of marks made in sand upon a hoard, or
17. During exorcism the spirit is said to mount to its
victims head and, there seated, converse with the exorcise^
cf. Beech, op.cit.
18. Dreams are commonly interpreted aa the visitations
of spiritsj see Lane, op.cit; and ferher, op.oit.
19. It is customary for Bwahili households to close their
doors at iQ.p.m. (4.a.m. Swahili time) and not to open them
to or answer callers after that hour since it is common for
people to roam the streets by night end knock at people's
doorsA kinysmkela (half-men spirit) is said to have
caused many deaths at iindi, Tanganyika Territory, in 1916
by so doing; and a warning on the custom is given by Mwana
Kupona to Binti Sheikh in at.46 of her Utendi (q.v.,p. )
fa la sikae ndiani sae ya *ne ikes is.
Bo not loiter by the way when the fourth hour has
* *
20. See Beech, op.cit. and Ingraas, Glister, &o. op.cit.
21. Execution by binding the victim to a tree, to die of
exposure and attacks by birds and insects was the method $
applied by some Bantu tribes, e.g. the Aniramba of Tangan^k

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, nl ato a* va isuhn ay a, a X 3C
sod or! toto to aa 3 to yd oar si J a a
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Territory to punish "raiadoctors11 (usually chiefs whose
tribal responsibility it was to intercede with Mb a la, the
rain-god) for failure to "bring" rain.
22. In the Maja 1 ia-al-aaniyy, Mustatraf and other versions
the devil outvies Bareiaa in fervour of devotion and advises
the monk that the way to greater piety is to commit a crime
and then seek repentance. Of. Quran, xxv,71 and ii,160. The
monk is thus induced to visit a drinking-ho use, where he
falls to the wiles of a woman and murders her husband who
catches them flagrante delicto. In several versions the
monk is offered escape from the death penalty if he will
bow in worship to Satan, which he does, whereon the dev il
triumphantly reviles him and leaves him to his doom, This
is so in the Irba'ia Had is version, but has not been taken
into Sayyid Abdallab'g utenzi. v XI wm:) B5r dajaxq qiC-JI-WT
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