INTRODUCTION


Offered here is an English translation of the Sudan portion of Theodoro Krump's Hoher und Fruchtbarer Palm-Baum des Heiligen Evangelij (Augsburg: Georg Schulter & Martin Happach, 1710). The present version is adapted with minor modifications from the Hambata edition of 1979, in turn derived from the copyrighted text of 1974. This work may be reproduced in whole or in part on the sole condition that the source and translator be recognized.

Theodoro Krump's account of Sinnar between 1700 and 1702 is in many respects the most important single written source concerning the precolonial history of the Sudan. In addition to invaluable testimony about the structure and functioning of the Funj government before the fall of the Unsab dynasty, Krump contributes data of unparalleled quality on the organization and conduct of the trans-Saharan caravan trade, the commerce in slaves, Sudanese medical practices, Sudanese relations with Ethiopia and a wide array of often unexpected vignettes of daily life.

Krump should be cited by virtually every historian of the precolonial Sudan--but he is not. This may in part result from the physical and linguistic inaccessibility of his book, a rare volume composed in an idiosyncratic phonetic rendition of South German dialect reinforced at critical points with material in Latin--not the language of Cicero but the living tongue shared by early eighteenth-century Catholic churchmen from France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Yugoslavia and Palestine. Some of Krump's medical prescriptions are given in "Welsch," meaning Italian. All but the most polyglot of readers of the original Palm-Baum would need to consult a battery of dictionaries.

A second impediment to scholarly appreciation of Krump probably lies in the lamentable fact that he is neither a gifted writer nor a particularly pleasant traveling companion. The Palm-Baum is not about the Sudan (or any other land) but about Krump himself; it staggers under the weight of endless self-centered repetition and wallows in a bottomless morass of sanctimonious self-pity. The translator considered the possible merits of a greatly abridged version in which only materials immediately relevant to consideration of the Sudan would appear. This idea however was rejected on the grounds that in many cases the full implications of Krump's statements about the Sudan do in fact require the presence of the whole written context. A few long digressions on topics irrelevant to the Sudan have been excised, as have passages concerning natural history that clearly derive from bestiaries or other European literary sources rather than observation.

Theodoro Krump did not have to answer to the Commissars of Political Correctness who censor multicultural discourse in the west today. He was a fully committed Catholic Christian who never doubted that others were doomed to Hell. Yet he never hesitated to praise Sudanese Muslims when they exemplified virtuous qualities, nor did he belittle, minimize or take for granted the courtesy, patience, forbearance, generosity and good will bestowed upon him by many of his hosts. Krump loved his home in Europe and often compared the Sudan unfavorably to it. But in contrast to many European writers of later years he could in no way afford to be patronizing; European culture of his day might well fear and oppose the world of Islam, but was hardly in a position to look down upon it. Thus Krump knew that it was his charms, not those of the Nubian caravaneers, that calmed the desert sandstorm; his relics cured disease while those of the Muslims around him did not. As for Krump's European medical expertise, his cupping-glass was not to be distinguished in principle from the cupping-device of the Sudanese, and he did not hesitate to adopt Sudanese cauterization techniques when his companion's illness required them. He came to enjoy marara well enough that he prepared it at home after his return to Germany. The less pleasant aspects of Krump's attitude toward the Sudan are probably in the end more accurately to be attributed not to arrogance, but to fear. Considering the mortality rate among Krump's companions, who could deny the merits of this concern?

Krump's discourse reveals him to be a man of little imagination or sophistication concerning society and politics; his blunt and straightforward comments record what he himself experienced and what informants he trusted told him. In those cases where Krump introduces Arabic words, they are easily recognizable and do in fact mean what he says they mean. If one is willing to pass lightly over long passages of sermonizing and self-pity, the material concerning the Sudan itself exhibits substantial credibility.

The Palm-Baum, in broad terms, is organized chronologically and follows a journal format. However, not all the entries are strictly in sequence, and in a few cases the page numbers of the original 1710 edition, given below in brackets at intervals, do not appear in the expected order.

One of the virtues of the on-line format for publication is that it invites interaction from readers. The translator heartily welcomes any and all feedback concerning this project. Typographical errors and infelicities of translation and expression will be corrected upon notification of their existence. Comments and responses about the substance of the account would also be welcome, and as these accumulate a new unit may be added to the project to present them to future readership. In this way the translator's shortcomings in many fields may be corrected by the collective wisdom of the readership. Please make submissions through the link given below:

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