Friday, November 6, 2009

Leo Africanus Blog 2

This week's readings again taught us more cultural and societal norms in the 15th century in Spain and Morocco through the journey of Hasan, Leo Africanus. These readings describe some major changed in the lives of Hasan and his family; the adjustment to Fez, Morroco after fleeing from Spain, Hasan's grandmother dying, Hasan's first experience at school, and the marriage negotiations for both Hasan and his sister, Miriam.
The first major event, the death of Hasan's grandmother, really demonstrates the sociology of the family at this time and place in history and gives us a glimpse into the culture of 15th century Morroco. The most striking thing for me was when it says on page 102, "Death is a celebration. A spectacle". Although this is also the case in some Western traditions I believe this practice is more common in the Middle East. Yes, the family mourns for the loss, but they look at death as a celebration of the deceased life. This is reiterated when Astaghfirullah preaches, "Too often, at funerals, I hear men and women believers cursing death. But Death is a gift from the Most High, and one cannot curse that which comes from Him". Additionally, the emphasis and importance of religion in this culture is again revealed. In the description of the death and ceremonies after, you can also see the people's longing for their old home, Granada. Many times the phrase "Granadas of Fez" is mentioned in conjunction with a "good death" or a "peaceful life". It is palpable that Hasan's family and friends miss their homeland.
Another important point in these readings is the obvious maturity of Hasan, now a twelve year old boy. Not only going to school and meeting new people, but his experience with the lions and death proves this. He comments on life, and uses the lions as a metaphor. He describes them as the bravest of all animals, but then in the conclusion of the chapter, he says, "At the age of twelve I still believed that as between beasts and men the former could do the most damage". He is showing his maturity in thought process.
Yet another staple of the culture in this time period, was the arranged marriage. The negotiations between Hasan and his father, both about his marriage and his sister's demonstrate the tradition of the time. Marriage was an opportunity to make connections in society, gain wealth and allies, and to protect one's family; in this way the opinion of the engaged usually did not matter. We see this in both Hasan and Miriam. Hasan's father is willing to give his daughter away even though he knows that the man has a history of violence against women. The idea of marriage was completely different then compared to now. Overall, I really enjoyed the book again this week. The prose is a great way for us to learn about this time period and its culture and to enjoy reading at the same time.
The only questions I have are: what do people today think about arranged marriages? There is an argument that because of the extremely high divorce rate in the US something is off with the institution of marriage. Some argue that arranged marriages last longer and have more happiness. What is your opinion on this?


  1. I dont believe so. I believe arranged marriages are political and that they are carried out for both families to gain something from the other that they are missing. I do believe that they last longer because they are forced upon a person and in order to keep what each family gained the marriage has to last.

  2. That's a really interesting question, but while arranged marriages might last longer, I do not believe that I could ever be truly happy. I could never imagine giving up love for a politically or otherwise arranged marriage. I do not know if I believe that the divorce rate is associated with the institution of marriage, but I more feel that people rush into it. and I completely agree with you about this weeks reading being interesting, and I like learning about the culture through books like this one.