Sufi City: Archetypes, Land Art and Suburban Subdivisions in Touba, Senegal
Eric Ross, Assistant Professor of Geography, Al Akhawayn University, Ifrane, Morocco explores the mystical underpinnings of the modern holy city of Touba, Senegal, in this presentation.
Wednesday, April 02, 2003
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM
10383 Bunche Hall, 10th floor
Los Angeles, CA 90095
Touba is the Muslim holy city founded in 1887 by Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacké (1853-1927), the Sufi who established the Mouride brotherhood. The city is a recent creation; its construction was initiated in 1926, and the Great Mosque was inaugurated in 1963. Since that event, Touba has grown at a rapid pace. With approximately 500,000 inhabitants, it is Senegal’s second largest city, after Dakar. In most key respects, the urbanization process in Touba is significantly different from the patterns usually found elsewhere in Senegal and Africa. First, since its inception, the city has remained under the complete control of the Mouride brotherhood – to the virtual exclusion of the state (the city of Touba has autonomous legal status within Senegal). It is the brotherhood which has planned, promoted, and developed Touba, according to its own cultural, social, economic and political structures. Secondly, the urbanization process in Touba, including such fundamentals as distribution of land and water, management of markets, building and running of schools and hospitals, etc., has involved a multiplicity of agents and actors operating within the brotherhood’s complex hierarchy of lineages and associations. As a result, Touba’s urban morphology is marked by these unique processes.
Touba has been built up around the symbol of the Tree. Touba (Tûbâ) is the name of the Tree of Paradise in Islamic tradition. This cosmic, celestial and paradisiacal tree articulates Islamic conceptions of righteous life on earth, divine judgment and access to the Hereafter. Touba actualizes this construct; it is a local manifestation of a universal archetype. Moreover, the Tree archetype underpins much of the city’s layout. Rather than through the more usual media of poetry or prose, the creative imagination of the city’s Sufi founder has expressed itself in a work of land art. Main elements of Touba’s configuration, from the vertical and horizontal alignment of its monumental center to its encircling ring road, impart meaning to those who experience it. Finally, today, as the city sprawls in all directions across the countryside, the Tree archetype continues to guide urban planning decisions, most notably in the central squares of Touba’s many suburban neighborhoods, which invariably reproduce an arboreal model of community building long established in Senegambia.
Refreshments will be served. Parking is available for $7 in parking structure 3.
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Sponsor(s): African Studies Center