Monday, October 31, 2011

Almohad Tribalism

My current book project is focused on the incorporation of the genealogically organized societies which Middle Eastern Studies still calls "tribes" into the state structures of agrarian empires, specifically that of the early caliphate. My argument is that this process of incorporation depended as much of tribal ways of doing things as on state powers to coerce and entice. In his recent book on the Almohads in 12th century North Africa, Allen Fromherz came to a similar conclusion:
"The rapid formation of the Almohad hierarchy was made easier by the fact that there were pre-existing mechanisms and traditions for forming larger alliances within the tribes themselves. Alliances were based on power. Depending on the strength of the sheikh or tribal chief, some tribes were stronger than others. Not all tribes were purely isolationist in nature. Intermarriage and a confluence of tribal identities probably produced a vague sense of Masmuda identity even before the rise of Ibn Tumart. Ibn Tumart used a combination of military action, co-option of tribal traditions and tribal leaders, and persuasive indoctrination to transform this vague sense of unity into a solid government and army."

Incidentally, Fromherz is the author of a biography of Ibn Khaldun that just came out in paperback.

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