On a rainy day in Leiden, or the Shaibanids
Today we had a lecture given by a Cambridge professor, Charles Melville, on some Shaibanid manuscripts from Biruni Institute in Tashkent. The Shaibanids, as I have just learned, were a dynasty ruling the Transoxania after the Timurids. We are somewhere in the beginning of the 16th century.
I must confess the exact extend, chronology and succession of several branches issued from the great nomadic conquest is still a conundrum for me. I should take a spare notebook, draw a neat diagram of all the movements and connections, and spend several travels or waiting periods in its exclusive company. I suppose I am not an exception; movable nomadic frontiers are universally rebel to the Western mind, just as those of the Fulani world in Africa; on my page dedicated to them, I quoted Gayatri Spivak lamenting on comparative literature's ignorance of their migrating identities. Certainly, the slave trade brought them closer to the United States, and that's why this unexpected, even if episodic, visibility. Till the present day, as far as I know, there has been no public intellectual's voice claiming for better knowledge and understanding of Central Asia. I could be shameless and impenitent of my ignorance.
But in fact, the Uzbek world is connected to mine. It forms roughly the greater Perso-Islamic universe, that I actually do not ignore at all. At least, not impenitently. It means something to me when I am told that these books are roughly modelled after Firdausi's Shahnameh (my personal orthography differs from the norm currently adopted in English texts, which is a testimony of a long intimacy, dating back, in fact, to those remote Polish public libraries that possessed a translation of this book, under the title of Księga królewska, made by Władysław Dulęba and published in 1981 as a part of the prestigious, hard cover Bibliotheca Mundi, that was emblematic of the opening toward the world that Poland lived at the end of the communist era). And it means something to me when I am shown a rather clumsy, unsophisticated miniature representing Nasir ad-Din Tusi in his observatory in Maragha. Somehow, the Central Asian history of science penetrates my mind easier and quicker than does proper Uzbek literature.
Nonetheless, here it is. Neither very attractive nor striking - that was at least how the Cambridge professor presented it - but with some jolly pictures in it. "Jolly" is what he's called them.
Certainly, those Uzbek miniatures have very much the look of a provincial school, far from the mind-boggling excellence of properly Persian or Ottoman ones. They seem rough, derived, lacking technical skill, striking by featureless surfaces where more inventive mind would have placed a profusion of picturesque details. But here they are.
The first one is Tarikh-i-Abu'l-Khair Khani, by Mas'ud ibn Uthman Kuhistani. By the sheer amount of Google results, I deduce that manuscript is not as unimportant as it might seem. A universal history narrating the lives of prophets and rulers up to Genghis Khan, Timur and his successors and finally the Shaibanids. Illustrated with miniatures representing people conversing on carpets stretched in the middle of flowery meadows, hunting scenes, battles.
The other one is Fathnameh, by Mulla Muhammad Shadi, much harder to google up. A poem on heroic deeds of the ruler, culminating in the siege and capture of Samarkand in 1501.
And this is my today's approach to the Uzbek. I put the pelicans in the header, because I believe they live - or used to live - on the shores of the Aral Sea.