What a German explorer wrote about Comorian Scholar Ahmad bin Sumayt

Ahmed ben Aboubakar ben Suméit

He was three years old, when Otto Kerstan, a German explorer met his father, the Aboubakar ben Abdullah ben Suméit, in 1864 at Itsandra Mdjini (Ngazidja Comores). His father Aboubakar ben Sumeit is from Shiban city in Hadharmout (Yemen) and grandfather of Al Habib Omar ben Ahmed ben Aboubakar ben Sumeit.

Here’s what the German explorer reports in a work published in Germany between 1869 and 1879:

′′Of all the people I know here [Itsandra Mdjini], the Honorable Sharif Said Abubakari ben Abdallah ben Sumeit was the most dear to me, we immediately established a friendly relationship.

By the way, he was the most distinguished individual in the city for his wealth and education. True to his filiation with the prophet, he lived strictly by Islamic laws, but at the same time was tolerant of practitioners of other confessions and was freely speaking to me about religious subjects. Like all those Arabs who are not landowners, he was a merchant. He owned various goods: cotton and coconut cords, cereal and livestock, goods from India, Arabia and Europe.

Whether he was a wholesale dealer, he nevertheless sold me little things I needed, provided me with tea, coffee, milk and butter; he even asked his wives to make me food Arabs whenever I desired. When he learned from my guide, Hammadi, who was from his family, that I didn’t own much money, he voluntarily offered me support and asked me to express all; and he told me not to only accept goods on credit , but also borrowing money; I could repay it to its business partners when I returned to Zanzibar. I was delighted with this selfless offer, as I had to do with limited means for an indefinite period.

Said Abubakari visited me with his son, a lovely little boy of about six years old [it’s Zayn ben Aboubacar ben Sumeit, Ahmed’s older brother, who died very young]. The little one was very clean and well dressed, and portrait on his chest a half moon silver medallion fixed to horns, as an ornament or maybe to display his class; it quickly becomes very close to me and will prove very wise throughout my stay.
Our name is Rafiki (friend). The boy was pleased with it; however, the father wanted to know my real name. I tell him my name in Arab fashion: Otto ben Fridriko ben Kersten (Otto, son of Frédéric, Kersten family); he wrote it down and later always called me by my last name, as it is custom in Europe, while all the other Arabs and Souahelis I know here always spoke to me at their own discretion: usually Boina or sir, often Boina mgodo or Boina mkuboi (great sir), depending on whether it was me or the Baron who was head of the housework, or in a strange mix of tongues, like Dakitari Kideitschi (German doctor).”

Written by Said Bakar Mougné M’kou

Photo credit: Abdourahman Said Hassane, In the footsteps of Comorian Culture.
Source: Indian Ocean Studies, Back to Source Comorian and Malagasy Documents. III. Page 365-366, Inalco, No. 53-54, 2015.

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