Wāḳwāḳ (6,149 words) Tibbetts, G.R.; Toorawa, Shawkat M.; Ferrand, G.; Freeman-Grenville, G.S.P.; Toorawa, Shawkat M.; Tibbetts, G.R.; Toorawa, Shawkat M.; Shawkat M. Toorawa
, waḳwāḳ, wāḳ wāḳ, wāḳ al-wāḳ, al-wāḳwāḳ (a.), a name, possibly onomatopoeic, of uncertain origin, found in mediaeval Islamic geographical, zoological and imaginative literature. One of the most mystifying place names in the geographical literature, it refers variously to an island or group of islands, inhabited by a darkskinned population who speak a distinct language; a people or race; and a tree producing humanfruit. There is also the cuckoo bird, onomatopoeically known as Wāḳwāḳ.
1. The island or islands of Wāḳwāḳ.
There are many stories connected with it but none ¶ of them help to identify the place with certainty and there is no suitable equivalent toponym. European scholars have equated Wāḳwāḳ with nearly every island and peninsula in the Indian Ocean, and some with places in the Pacific. The general impression is that Wāḳwāḳ is a coastal country (arḍ,bilād) or island (d̲j̲azīra) on the shores of one of these oceans.
Ferrand’s summary of the material in the 1st edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam was extremely full but Ferrand took his texts too literally. Reducing Wāḳwāḳ to a definite two locales, and equating these with Madagascar and Sumatra, is perhaps going a little too far. After all, both places were adequately provided with names by most geographers and both were well known to the Arabs. Moreover, they were certainly aware of the distinctions between the Zand̲j̲ and their neighbours and would consequently not have mistaken the Zand̲j̲ for Malagasy or Bushmen populations (Ferrand inEI1, IV, 1108).
Nevertheless, the texts do require careful examination, with note taken of their chronology. Thus al-Masʿūdī deserves particular credence for both his early date and also his being the only one of the Arab geographers actually to have visited Zanzibar and to have been well informed about the East African coastlands; and other early sources, as well as al-Masʿūdī, such as Ibn al-Faḳīh and Buzurg b. S̲h̲ahriyār (see below) do refer to an African Wāḳwāḳ (however it is spelt).
The island of Wāḳwāḳ has been given many identifications by European scholars over the past two centuries. Habicht, in his edition of the Thousand and one nights in 1825 (i, 299), decided on Japan. Langlès (Voyage de Sindbad, 147) thought it was the islands of Southeast Asia. Reinaud (Introduction to La Géographie d’Aboul-Feda, 1840, pp. cccv, cccxv) favoured Africa, i.e. Madagascar. De Slane, in his translation of the Prolegomena of Ibn K̲h̲aldūn (i, 95 n. 3), believed it to be the Seychelles, but Rosenthal in the notes to his translation (i, 99 n. 29) thought that the context pointed rather to Madagascar or the East African coastlands; Ibn K̲h̲aldūn himself probably had as litde idea of its position as any of the European scholars.
The appearance of Buzurg b. S̲h̲ahriyār’s Ad̲j̲āʾib al-Hind in 1883 almost doubled the amount of information available to help scholars better identify Wāḳwāḳ. Devic himself (Buzurg, tr. 169) said that Wāḳwāḳ most probably belonged to the neighbourhood of the Malayan Archipelago but that it was too vaguely defined to be able to identify precisely. Lane (Arabian Nights, 1247 n. 32) held similar views, and suggested that Wāḳwāḳ was “All the islands which they (sc. the Arab geographers) were acquainted with on the East and South-East of Borneo”. De Goeje reverted to the Japan theory on the basis of Ibn K̲h̲urradād̲h̲bih’s text, stating that the connection with Africa was only the fault of Ptolemy, while Ferrand attempted (Madagascar et les îles Uâq-Uâq, in JA , 489-509) to prove that it was Madagascar and that the Far Eastern one was due to Ptolemy. Later (Les îles Râmny, Lâmery, Wâkwâk, Komor des géographes arabes et Madagascar, in JA , 450-506) he discovered that some passages must refer to the Far East, probably Sumatra, and finally (Le Wâqwâq, est-il le Japon?, in JA , 193-243) he proved that there were definitely two Wāḳwāḳs, sc. Madagascar and Sumatra. Thus Ferrand intimated that the Wāḳwāḳs are the two areas of Malay culture on each side of the Indian Ocean and that the attack on Ḳanbalū, described by Buzurg (ʿAd̲j̲āʾib al-Hind, ed. al-S̲h̲ārūnī, 142-3;Captain Buzurg, tr. Freeman-Grenville, 103; Tibbetts, Arabic texts ¶ on South-East Asia, 171 n. 14), was a description of a Sumatran expedition to the African coast.
Ferrand’s views were validated in J. Faublé and M. Urbain-Faublée, Madagascar vu par les auteurs arabes avant le XIe siècle, in Studia, xi (1963), 445-62. Viré (see below) has argued for an Indian Ocean-wide identification (as has Miquel, Géographie humaine, ii, 511-13). More recendy, Allibert has argued for an approach that incorporates information from imaginative literature (see below), and Toorawa (see Bibl.) for one that brings the Mascarene islands into Wāḳwāḳ’s fabular cartography. In actual fact, all the theories seem to be right, although the less definite they make their identifications, the better. The theories of Devic and Lane, who make Wāḳwāḳ some ill-defined place in Southeast Asia, and those of Viré and Allibert, who find evidence for Wāḳwāḳ in several places on the Indian Ocean littoral simultaneously, appear to be the most defensible.
(b) The waters around the Wāḳwāḳ islands
The usual names given to the waters around Wāḳwāḳ were Baḥr al-Hind and al-Baḥr al-Hindī [q.vv.] the “Indian Sea”, Baḥr al-Zand̲j̲ [q.v.] and the less common Baḥr al-Ḥabas̲h̲ī, the “Sea of the Blacks”, and Baḥr Fāris [q.v.], the “Persian Sea”. The uncertainty about this sea’s name is underscored by the very name of the waters further south into which the Baḥr al-Hind appears to melt: the Baḥr al-Ẓulma (or Ẓulumāt) [see al-baḥr al-muḥīṭ], the “Sea of Obscurity”. Al-Idrīsī writes that “In it are a number of islands, some of which are visited by merchants, others of which are not by virtue of the difficulty of access, the [terrifying] power of the[ir] waters [for navigation], the unpredictability of the winds, and the savagery of their peoples who maintain no contact with any of their known neighbouring populations” (Opus geographicum, ed. Cerulli et al., i, 87). Mariners driven off course were said to be tossed forever in this sea, said to join al-Baḥr al-Ziftī, the “Black Sea” or “Sea of Pitch” in Northern Asia, reminiscent of the “Gravelly Sea” described by Mandeville in his Travels (The tales of Sir John Mandeville, tr. Moseley, Harmondsworth 1983, 169). Indeed, one scholar has corresponded certain of Mandeville’s descriptions with those of al-Idrīsī (C. Deluz, Le livre deJehan de Mandeville. Une géographie du XIVe siècle, Louvain-la-Neuve 1988, 75-86).
(c) Two Wāḳwāḳs?
The first author to speak of two Wāḳwāḳs is Ibn al-Fakrh (A.D. 902), referring to “Wāḳwāḳ al-Ṣīn”, “the Wāḳwāḳ of China”, and “Wāḳwāḳ al-Yaman”, the Wāḳwāḳ of Yemen” (Ibn al-Fakrh, at 55, page references here and elsewhere to G. Ferrand, Relation de voyages et textes géographiques arabes, persans et turcs relatifs à l’Extrême-Orient du VIIIème au XVIIIème siècles, 2 vols. with continuous pagination, Paris 1913-14, with actual translation of the texts in question given in the book, repr. Frankfurt 1986). Little interpretive attention has been paid to Yemen as a possible location as other sources speak either of great sailing distances or of its being “south of ʿIrāḳ”. Ferrand equated this Wāḳwāḳ of the South with al-Masʿūdī’s Wāḳwāḳ near Sofāla, which he claims as Madagascar (see EI1 IV, 1105); but there is no clue that Ibn al-Faḳīh’s Wāḳwāḳ was in Africa. Judging from the number of texts placing Wāḳwāḳ in Southeast Asia (see Ferrand, Le Wâqwâq, est-il le Japon?), there is no reason why this should not be the location of Wāḳwāḳ. It is possible that Ibn al-Fakrh, confused by the conflicting statements that he had before him, came to the conclusion (as did Ferrand) that the only solution was that there was more than one Wāḳwāḳ. Until the time ¶ when the Ptolemaic theory of the eastern extension of Africa came to confuse the topographical picture of South Africa and Southeast Asia, Ibn al-Faḳīh is the only author who produces more than one Wāḳwāḳ.
- (G.R. Tibbetts and
- Shawkat M. Toorawa)
Mediaeval geographers and travellers mention Wāḳwāḳ in connection with East Africa in a confusing number of ways. Thus these sources state that the isles of Wāḳwāḳ are situated in the Larwī sea which washes the western coast of India and the lands inhabited by the Zand̲j̲ (al-Yaʿḳūbī, at 49). The Wāḳwāḳ of the south is different from that of China (Ibn al-Faḳīh, at 55). The lands of Sofāla [q.v.] and of Wāḳwāḳ are situated in the extremity of the sea of the Zand̲j̲ (al-Masʿūdī, at 108). The land of Wāḳwāḳ is contiguous to that of Sofāla; there are two towns in it, D.d.w. (Dārū? Waru? [see Daunicht, 190-1]) and B.n.h.na (Nabhana?), miserable and sparsely populated (al-Idrīsī, at 183). The town of D.g̲h̲d.g̲h̲a (Dag̲h̲dag̲h̲a?), inhabited by a hideous and deformed dark-skinned population, is next to the land and island of Wāḳwāḳ (ibid., at 184). Wāḳwāḳ is situated in the land of the Zand̲j̲ (Ibn al-Wardī, at 425), to the east (= south) of Sofāla on the same southern (= western) shore of the Indian Ocean which extends without interruption to the end of the tenth section of the first clime, at the place where the Indian Ocean flows out of the Encompassing Sea (Ibn K̲h̲aldūn, at 460). The islands of Wāḳwāḳ are near the last islands of Dībād̲j̲āt al-Dum (= the Laccadives and Maldives [q.vv.]) (Buzurg b. S̲h̲ahriyār, at 586). The Wāḳwāḳ of the land of the Zand̲j̲ is vast, fertile and prosperous (Ibn al-Wardī, at 425). The gold of Wāḳwāḳ of the south is of inferior quality compared with that of the Wāḳwāḳ of China (Ibn al-Faḳīh, at 55). There is much gold in the Wāḳwāḳ of the land of the Zand̲j̲ (al-Masʿūdī, at 108; Ibn al-Wardī, at 425). The natives of the Wāḳwāḳ of the land of the Zand̲j̲ have no ships, but the merchants of ʿUmān come to trade with them and get slaves in exchange for dates (Ibn al-Wardī, at 425; cf. also al-Idrīsī, at 183). They know neither cold nor rain (Ibn al-Wardī, at 425). Of all these authorities, only al-Masʿūdī actually visited the East African coastlands, as was noted above, section 1(a). What he writes stands out from other confused items of information (his account of the Zand̲j̲ gives many examples of his accuracy, including Bantu words which are recognisable as such); he realised that Sofāla and the Wāḳwāḳ were below, i.e. south of, the Zand̲j̲ country, in a region where one today finds speakers of click languages.
However, as Tolmacheva (The African Wāq-Wāq. Some questions regarding the evidence, in Fontes historiae africanae, xi-xiii [1986-7], 9-15) has asserted, in spite of the great number of Arabic texts (and the often derivative Persian and Turkish ones) that speak of Wāḳwāḳ, very few speak of an African connection. In her important re-interpretation of al-Masʿūdī’s account (Murūd̲j̲, § 847), Tolmacheva sees no direct evidence for an (African) Wāḳwāḳ connected to Sofāla and the Zand̲j̲ She believes that although al-Masʿūdī’s words seem to place the Zand̲j̲ capital in Wāḳwāḳ, the only explicit statement concerning Wāḳwāḳ in this passage is that it is located in the farthest reaches of the sea, possibly but not unambiguously the Sea of the Zand̲j̲ For Tolmacheva, the presumption of a link between Wāḳwāḳ and the Zand̲j̲ accounts for al-Idrīsī’s erroneous link, and for all subsequent mediaeval and modern placement of Wāḳwāḳ in Africa. This is corroborated by the fact that al-Masʿūdī traveled ¶ to both the East and to East Africa, and yet never mentions two Wāḳwāḳs, nor a “southern” one. He also at no point characterises Wāḳwāḳ or its inhabitants. Against her arguments, however, is the undoubted fact that al-Masʿūdī does mention an East African Wāḳwāḳ.
With regard to the references to the ard al-Wāḳwāḳ in Arabic literature, Tolmacheva has source-critically divided these into three groups: (1) al-Masʿūdī (Murūd̲j̲, i, 233, hi, 6-7 = §§ 246, 847-8, see also Pellat’s indices, vii, 750); (2) al-Idrīsī, whose accounts are partly derivative from, but give greater precision to, al-Masʿūdī’s accounts, and who is the “true generator” of a specifically African Wāḳwāḳ—yet who was, it must be admitted, entirely dependent on informants, unlike al-Masʿūdī (on al-Idrīsī, see now the translation by Viré); and (3) the weakest group, comprising the late, often redundant compilations of Ibn al-Wardī, al-Ḥimyarī, Ibn Saʿīd al-Mag̲h̲ribī (in spite of the originality of some of his material), and even Ibn K̲h̲aldūn’s passing remarks, all of which are derivative from al-Idrīsī’s accounts.
According to al-Idrīsī, Wāḳwāḳ is the fourth and southernmost of the divisions of the eastern African coast. Like the name of his first division Bilād al-Barbarā or Barābara (perpetuated in the northern Somali town of Berberā [q.v.]), the word Wāḳwāḳ might be the onomatopoeic rendering of the name for click-speakers. Of the towns mentioned by al-Idnsi, B.n.h.na could be the modern Inhambane in southern Mozambique, the present Portuguese spelling of which would be better represented in speech by Nyambana, or the Moluccan Amboina. If it is true that identifications of Wāḳwāḳ with East African coastal toponyms, or indeed any toponyms, rely on linguistic and ethnonymic arguments rather than on textual ones and must always be treated with prudence, such linguistic and ethnonymic arguments cannot be disregarded.
(e) The Wāḳwāḳ attack on Ḳanbalū
A question to be resolved is the attack by Wāḳwāḳ ships on Ḳanbalū in A.D. 945 mentioned in the sources. Buzurg b. S̲h̲ahriyār’s description of the attack by a fleet of 1,000 ships may be regarded as literary hyperbole. It was quite possibly made from Sumatra or Java, but this does not prove, of course, that Sumatra was Wāḳwāḳ. To the inhabitants of Kanbalū the attackers came from an unknown island in the east beyond the range of their knowledge. Recent archaeological excavations now also support the argument that Ḳanbalū was Mkumbuu on the island of Pemba, where, significantly, a 10th-century mosque has now been located. It would have held some 600 worshippers, suggesting that in its heyday it was by far the largest and most important trading centre yet discovered in eastern Africa. Ferrand was right in dismissing de Goeje’s suggestions that these ships were Japanese, but his proposal that they were Sumatran, based on philological arguments, is rivalled by Madagascar, where the language, Malagasy, is related to Indonesian ones, and where outrigger canoes, ngalawa, were used in numbers (and still are; but they are too small to have carried sufficient food and water for a voyage across the Indian Ocean). Very recently, Fāṭimid coins, as yet unpublished, have been recovered in Diego Suarez bay at the northern tip of Madagascar [see further madagascar].
It thus seems that, on the whole, Wāḳwāḳ referred to a country just beyond one’s reach in the general direction of the east. Thus it appears as a well-populated land east of China, about which one heard ¶ stories but which was never really reached in any numbers. Similarly, it is applied in Southeast Asia to some island a little off the usual path of Arab traders. Thus stories of islands a little off the route, as well as a few legendary tales, became attached to Wāḳwāḳ. As new ground was explored, Wāḳwāḳ retreated eastwards, always to be the last island in the east until Sīdī Čelebi in the 10th/16th century was able to place it anywhere but south of the islands of Timor. Daunicht (Der Osten nach derErdkarte al-Ḫuwārizmīs, Bonn 1970, ii, 172-274) has made a fascinating case for identification with the Moluccas, Irian Jaya, and northwestern Australia (where three Islamic coins from Kilwa have been found, in company with tamarisk trees, not native to Australia).
- (G. Ferrand-
- [G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville and
- Shawkat M. Toorawa])
One group of stories relating to Wāḳwāḳ is based on a passage from Ibn K̲h̲urradād̲h̲bih (69-71) where he places Wāḳwāḳ east of China and says it is a country producing much gold, mentioning golden dog chains (? leads) and monkey collars. This is one of the standard stories passed down from author to author. The ingenuity of the natives and the fact that it was a prosperous country east of China caused de Goeje to identify it with Japan (Le Japon connu des arabes, 295). De Goeje’s identification was based partly on the description given by Ibn K̲h̲urradād̲h̲bih and partly on his identification of the word Wāḳwāḳ with an early Chinese name for Japan, Wo-kuo, in Cantonese Wo-kwok, of which Wāḳwāḳ is an acceptable rendering. The description of the people of Wāḳwāḳ, given in one passage of Buzurg’sʿAd̲j̲āʾib al-Hind (ed. S̲h̲ārūnī, 135), where the great size of the towns and islands is mentioned, is even more reminiscent of Japan. Although Ibn K̲h̲urradād̲h̲bih’s story is the only original one mentioning the prosperous country, there are several texts which state that Wāḳwāḳ is east of China. Some are merely quoting from Ibn K̲h̲urradād̲h̲bih but others add a littie.
In his 4th/10th-century encyclopaedia, the Mafāṭīḥ al-ʿulūm, al-K̲h̲wārazmī (ed. Van Vloten, 217), writes that Kandiz is the most easterly town in the world and is situated at the extremity of China and Wāḳwāḳ. He describes the world as a bird, with China as its head and Wāḳwāḳ beyond it. Ibn ʿAbd al-Ḥakam (d. 257/871) describes the world as a bird inFutūḥ Miṣr wa ’l-Mag̲h̲rib, ed. C.C. Torrey, New Haven 1922, stating that the right wing is ʿIrak, beyond which is a people called Wāḳ, and beyond whom another called Wāḳ Wāḳ, and beyond them people known only to God (19), disassociating Wāḳwāḳ from China. The story of the world as a bird is a very common one in Arabic literature and very early appears as a story from ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ in Ibn al-Faḳīh and Ibn ʿAbd al-Ḥakam. It is obvious that, at this very early stage, Wāḳwāḳ was regarded as a land not simply in the extreme east but at the edge of the known.
(g) Southeast Asia
Another group of stories mentions a primitive people with whom the Arab sailors trade. Stories of this kind give locations for Wāḳwāḳ in Southeast Asia, mentioning it in connection with Zābad̲j̲, Ḳumār or Ṣanf. Such stories come mainly from Buzurg b. S̲h̲ahriyār’s ʿAd̲j̲āʾib al-Hind and from other writers who copied this work. They have the appearance of sailors’ tales. The ship in the first story (Buzurg, 8) comes across al-Wāḳwāḳ on the way to Zābad̲j̲ or in the direction of Zābad̲j̲. In a similar tale found later in the same work (190), it is between Sribuza and China. ¶ In yet another case it is beyond the end of Dībād̲j̲āt al-Dum (the Maldives) (Buzurg, 163). The Muk̲h̲taṣar al-ʿad̲j̲āʾib of Ibn Waṣīf S̲h̲āh (38) also prefers to put Wāḳwāḳ in Southeast Asia; in one place it makes it the home of a Māhārād̲j̲a and in another “in the Sea of Ṣanf” (Čampa) (39). In the latter account, it has been mixed up with a story about a volcano which, according to other authors, is definitely about Southeast Asia. Al-Bīrūnī, from whom one would expect a clear account, says Wāḳwāḳ belongs to Cambodia (Ḳumār), and mixes earlier accounts of Wāḳwāḳ and Ḳumār so that, in spite of his unrivalled knowledge of India, it is certain that he had no clear idea himself of the location of Wāḳwāḳ. These stories about primitive peoples could equally well refer to the coast of Africa where such peoples could be found.
(h) The Indian Ocean littoral
Viré, who believed the word Wāḳwāḳ to be onomatopoeic, and who relied in part on Ibn al-Faḳīh (tr. Massé, 9) and his identification of three (pace Viré), not just two Wāḳwāḳs, posits that Wāḳwāḳ definitively refers in all instances to small-statured, dark-skinned populations that inhabit three distinct areas on the Indian Ocean littoral: the Akkas and Negrillos in Africa, the Negritos in Malaya in Southeast Asia, and the Lapons, Samoyeds and Manchus in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of northern Asia (Viré, 35 n. 1). More recently, Allibert (Wakwah végétal, minéral ou humain?Reconsidération du problème, in Études Océan Indien, xii (1991), 171-89), whose research has focused on the Wāḳwāḳ tree and its human-fruit (see below), has persuasively argued for a Southeast Asian location of both the tree and island(s).
Allibert, taking his lead from the observations of Miquel and Bremond (Milk et un contes de la nuit, Paris 1991), has attempted to demonstrate that islands of women in geographical and imaginative literature and the islands of Wāḳwāḳ are one and the same thing (L’Île des femmes dans les récits arabes, in Études Océan Indien, xv, 261-7). This is consonant with Allibert’s call for an integrated and coherent approach to the Wāḳwāḳ issue. He shows, to his mind unequivocally, that the fruit of the Wāḳwāḳ tree is the Southeast Asian coconut and that Wāḳwāḳ is thus the vehicle of an ancient mythology inscribed in the story of the human-fruit and woman-island. The evidence for his argument is, like Ferrand before him, primarily linguistic, but has virtue. He reflects at length on the rānd̲j̲ of al-Masʿūdī, which he ties to various accounts in the geographies about palms and coconuts. He goes on to explain the mythological dimension by making the equation, “botanical reality + animal or human and/or geographical reality = mythical term”, which for him translates into: “coconut palm + Austronesian population = Wāḳwāḳ fruit”.
2. Living organisms bearing the name of Wāḳwāḳ.
One early story usually connected with Wāḳwāḳ mentions a tree named Wāḳwāḳ with fruit having a human appearance (a coconut, divested of its coir, has “eyes”), and another early story a strange race who utter the cry “Wāḳ,Wāḳ!”
(a) The “race”
In an early story which appears in its full form in Ibn Waṣīf S̲h̲āh (26), a kind of animal is mentioned which from the description appears to be a baboon. The name wakwak or wahwah is given to a species of gibbon in Malay, for it is an onomatopoeia for its cry, just as it could be for the bark of a baboon. In his EI1 art., Ferrand showed that wak-wak orvak-vak ¶ is a name given by the Bantus to baboons and to Bushmen.
(b) The tree
The tree with the human-fruit first appears in Arabic in the K. al-Badʾ wa ’l-taʾrīk̲h̲ of al-Muṭahhar al-Maḳdisī [q.v.] (89) at the end of the 4th/10th century. Here we have a short note saying that the tree was called Wāḳwāḳ and grew in India. A fuller account of this tree is given in Buzurg (65-6) (quoting Muḥammad b. Bābis̲h̲ād), where the tree is not named but is stated to come from the land of Wāḳwāḳ. However, the story itself must have been common in the Near East, for it appears much earlier in a Chinese text, the T’ung-tien of Tu Huan, which was written between A.D. 766 and 801 and is of Middle Eastern provenance. According to this work, the story was told to Tu Huan’s father, who had been captured and taken to the Middle East, where he stayed between 751 and 762, as a story emanating from Arab sailors, who sailed toward the West. The story given by Tu Huan resembles that of Buzurg almost word-for-word, except that the tree in his account bears a crown of small children instead of fruit with human faces. Hence, in spite of the more factual representation of the story given by Buzurg in the ʿAd̲j̲āʾib al-Hind, the “little humans” seem to be part of the original story. The story is given throughout by many writers, but is embellished in various ways. The “little humans” on landing on the ground are said to utter the cry “Wāḳ, Wāḳ”, which seems an alternative version borrowed from the second tale. A full version is given in the 6th/12th-century K. al-Ḏj̲ug̲h̲rāfiyā written in Spain. The story is also given in one version of Friar Odoric’s travels (Sir Henry Yule and H. Cordier, Cathay and the way thither, London 1915, ii, 138-9). It differs in detail, but only in as much as the Arabic accounts differ from each other. In Ibn al-Wardī’s 9th/15thcentury account, the women-fruit cry out praise to the Creator (al-K̲h̲allāḳ). This is reminiscent of an account about ʿĀʾis̲h̲a who, on her deathbed, is reported to have wished she were a leaf or a tree uttering the praises of God (Ibn Saʿd, viii, 51).
There is a very early attestation of a tree the fruits of which are corporeal in Arabic. In Ḳurʾān, XXXVII, 60/62, 62/64, mention is made of the tree of Zaḳḳūm, with heads of demons where fruit should be. This motif would have been known to all the authors writing about the Wāḳwāḳ tree. The possibility that this description informed the many later accounts of the Wāḳwāḳ tree cannot be excluded. Al-D̲j̲āḥiẓ had mentioned that the Wāḳwāḳ are the product of a cross between plants and animals and is cited by al-Damīrī, Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān al-kubrā (Cairo 1336, ii, 123) to that effect.
In his account, Marwazī (Sharaf al-Zamān Ṭāhir Marvazī on China, the Turks and India [=Ṭabāʾiʿ al-ḥayawān], ed. and tr. V. Minorsky, London 1942, 60, cf. 160, writes: “I have read in the Kitāb al-Baḥr (“Book of the sea”) that in the island of Wāq-Wāq, where ebony grows, there is a tribe whose nature is like that of men in all their limbs, except the hands, instead of which they have something like wings, which are webbed like the wings of a bat. They, both males and females, eat and drink while kneeling. They follow the ships asking for food. When a man makes for them, they open these wings and their flight becomes like that of birds, and no one can overtake them.” This account is noteworthy both for its conflation of tree, human and bird, and for its evocation of the bat, waṭwāṭ in Arabic.
Eva Baer, Sphinxes and harpies in medieval Islamic art, ¶ Jerusalem 1965, has catalogued examples of Wāḳwāḳ tree motifs in mediaeval Islamic art, and writes that the earliest depiction is to be found on a slab attributed to one of the G̲h̲aznawid palaces but probably datable to a little later (66-8, figs. 82-6). She observes also that the decorative designs reflect the talking or Wāḳwāḳ tree of the Alexander Romance. It is widely found in manuscripts of the “Wonders of the World” genre, especially the works of al-Ḳazwīnī. This talking tree is the transformed oracular Tree of the Sun and Moon which is reputed to have told Alexander of his approaching death (see Phyllis Ackerman, The talking tree, inBulletin of the American Institute for Persian Art and Archaeology, iv/2 , 67-72). In an Old French poem on the legend of Alexander, young women are born with and wilt with the flowers of a tree: they cannot leave the shade of these trees without dying (see King Alisaunder, ed. Smithers, Early English Texts Society, Old Series, ccxxvii (1952) and ccxxxvii (1957), and the unpublished Anglo-Norman Roman de toute chevalerie on which it is based).
The Wāḳwāḳ tree is described, and depicted, in the introductory passages to the first Ottoman work describing the New World, the anonymous 10th/16th century Tārīk̲h̲-i Hind-i g̲h̲arbī (T.D. Goodrich, The Ottoman Turks and the New World. A study of Tarih-i Hind-i Garbi and sixteenth-century Ottoman Americana, Wiesbaden 1990, 58). This account relies in large part on al-Ḳazwīnī and, although it does not place the tree in the New World, gives the impression that it is to be found there (see Toorawa, Where women grow on trees. An Arab-Islamic tree in the New World, forthcoming).
The tree also makes an appearance in the Turkish shadow-play tradition, scholars of which have attributed its origin to the legend of the tree whose fruits are shapely women. But, as I. Başgöz (The Waqwaq tree in the Turkish shadow-play theatre Karagöz and the story of Esther, in A. Levy, The Jews of the Ottoman Empire, Princeton, NJ. 1994, 552-3) points out, it appears rather to be inspired by the execution by hanging, from a particular tree (Platanus orientalis), of Janissaries in 1826, in a re-enactment of an earlier such execution (1066/1655-6). The latter became known as “the vakvak incident” (waḳʿa-i̊ wāḳwāḳiyye). Başgöz shows further that another possible source is the final act in the story of Esther and Haman in the Old Testament (554-5). A comment made by Ewliyā Čelebi in his Seyāḥat-nāme (The intimate life of an Ottoman statesman, Melek Ahmed Pasha (1588-1662), tr. R. Dankoff, Albany 1991, 74-5) is contemporary, but apparently unrelated. He notes that dead celalis lying beneath the trees of a meadow “ador[n] the plain like the Tree of Vakvak”.
The tree was long ago identified as the ʿus̲h̲ar (Calotropis syriaca) by de Goeje, when he connected Wāḳwāḳ with Japan. The story does appear in Japanese literature, but almost certainly comes from the Chinese of Tu Huan, which again comes from the Arabs, so it cannot be used to strengthen de Goeje’s theory. The description given by Buzurg’sʿAd̲j̲āʾib al-Hind resembles that of the ʿus̲h̲ar, which is a tree of the Middle East and Africa. Ferrand claimed that this tree could not be the ʿus̲h̲ar and suggested the Pandanus tree on philological grounds, for it is called vakwa in Madagascar, thus using it to strengthen his own Madagascar theory. The fruit of the Pandanus may bear little resemblance to the fruit of the story but is attested in a Filipino story of related interest.
An argument might, in fact, be made for identifying Wāḳwāḳ with the Philippines. In addition to its numerous islands, “dark”-skinned population, and ¶ distinct language (actually several dozen), there are in Philippine mythology creatures reported to be prettyfaced, fair-skinned maidens who drape their wings over the branches of trees in the heart of the jungle while they sleep out the day, their long hair thrown over their faces (M.D. Ramos, Creatures of Philippine lower mythology, Quezon City 1990, 127). They are called aswang in Tagalog, Bikol and several other languages, and wakwak in Surigao. In one account, the aswang/wakwak is depicted as tying a skirt round her when flying, and “beating her buttocks with a magical pandanus streamer” (Ramos, 128, citing B. Malinowski, Argonauts of the Western Pacific, New York 1961, 242). The wakwak are said to live in trees, and to call out “Kakak! Kakak!” (Ramos, Creatures, 133, citing F.X. Lynch, An mga Asuwang. A Bikol belief, in Philippine Soc. Sc. and Hum. Rev., xiv (Dec. 1949), 420) or other similar sounds.
- (G.R. Tibbetts and
- Shawkat M. Toorawa)
There is a convincing piece of evidence that Wāḳwāḳ is simply the name given to the conceptual limit of the known world in the statement made by Ḥasan al-Baṣrī’s eventual guide, the S̲h̲ayk̲h̲ ʿAbd al-Ḳuddūs, in the Thousand and One nights—Ḥasan is trying to reach Wāḳwāḳ in order to get back his wife who has fled to her home with their two sons (Lane, The Arabian nights’ entertainment, 796): “My son, relinquish this most vexatious affair; you could not gain access to the Islands of Waqwaq even if the Flying Jinn and the wandering stars assisted you, since between you and those islands are seven valleys, seven seas and seven mountains of vast magnitude.”
There is a similar quest for a spouse in the 8th/14th century Sīrat Sayf b. D̲h̲ī ϒazān, when King Sayf is urged by his wronged and distraught wife to pursue her and her son: ‘“You seized me first, then afflicted me with grief and deserted me to take other women. But what has been has been. If you have any valor and resolve, and if you truly love me, then pursue me to the City of Maidens in the islands of Waq al-Waq.’ With that she clasped her son beneath her garment at her breast and vanished through the air ...” (The adventures of Sayf Ben Dhi Yazan, an Arab folk epic, tr. L. Jayyusi, Bloomington 1996, 241). Lane noted the similarities between the Thousand and one nights’ story of Ḥasan and the Bird-Maiden and the romance of Sayf b. D̲h̲ī Yazān, in particular the beautiful women with wings of feather who fly like birds (Lane, 1246 n. 16).
In one Persian tale, the fruits of a tree ripen, fall to the ground, mature into men’s heads, and then one of the fruits greets the king respectfully (see The Palace of the Mine Pavilions [Bodl. ms Caps. Or. A. 4.], in The three dervishes and other Persian tales and legends, tr. R. Levy, Oxford 1947, 160).
Ibn Ṭufayl’s [q.v.] description in his philosophicalallegorical tale, Risālat Ḥayy b. ϒaḳẓān (ed. Saʿd, Beirut, 117), famously speaks of an island below the equator where people are born without mother or father, and where there is a tree which bears women as fruit. This is analysed by F. Malti-Douglas, Woman’s body, woman’s word. Gender and discourse in Arabo-Islamic writing, Princeton 1991, 85-96.
Yāḳūt, a systematic recorder of geographical information, observes that Wāḳwāḳ is only to be found in fables and superstitions (k̲h̲urāfāt) (Muʿd̲j̲am al-buldān, ed. Wüstenfeld, vi, 936). This appearance in fables and superstitions has extended, seven centuries later, ¶ even further than Yāḳūt could ever have imagined; thus the Islands of Wāḳwāḳ now appear as a “card” in the Arabian Nights “expansion” of a fantasy game called “Magic”.
Just as it provided material for Ibn Tufayl and for “Magic”, so too has Wāḳwāḳ been used in modern Arabic literature. In what might at first appear to be a more traditional appropriation /appearance, it figures in a 1975 short story by the Moroccan writer, Mustafa al-Masannawi, Abdullah Samsa in Waqwaq Island (in M. Shaheen, The modern Arabic short story. Shahrazad returns, London 1989, 114-18). This post-modern, Borgesian-Kafkaesque tale, divided into ten numbered sections of unequal length, and accompanied by five appendices, evokes Wāḳwāḳ in a number of ways. In section three, a description is quoted from The great Pharaonic encyclopaedia, and section seven consists of “An extract from a radio broadcast from the Island of Waqwaq”. In 1997 the Palestinian poet ʿI. al-Manāsira published a volume titled Lā at̲h̲iḳu bi-ṭāʾir al-waḳwāḳ, Jerusalem 1999 (title poem, 20-32).
Finally, one may invoke the contemporary Egyptian colloquial expression il ḥāga-di ma-tiḥṣal-s̲h̲ walā fī bilād wāʾ il-wāʾ “these things don’t happen, not even in Wonderland”, which makes of Wāḳwāḳ a place of wonderment somewhere beyond the horizon (M. Hinds and El-Sayyid Badawi, A dictionary of Egyptian Arabic, Arabic-English, Beirut 1986, 921).
(Shawkat M. Toorawa)
Bibliography(in addition to references in the article): Ferrand’s articles are reprinted in Études sur la géographie arabo-islamique, ii, Frankfurt 1986. See also the collection of other studies of his in Études sur la géographie islamique, Frankfurt 1986. MJ. de Goeje, Le Japon connu des Arabes = Excursus F, in P.A. van der Lith, Livre des merveilles de l’Inde, 295-307
G.R. Tibbetts, A study of the Arabie texts containing material on South-East Asia, London 1979, Appx. 1, Wāqwāq
Buzurg b. S̲h̲ahriyār, Livre des merveilles de l’Inde, ed. Van der Lith, Fr. tr. L.M. Devic, Leiden 1883-6
Eng. tr. G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville, Captain Buzurg ibn Shahriyar of Ram Hormuz. The book of the wonders of India,mainland, sea and islands, London-The Hague 1981, 39, 101, 103
idem, Some thoughts on Buzurg ibn Shahriyar al-Ramhormuzi: the Book of the wonders of India, in Paideuma, xxviii (1982)
K. Aajā’ib al-Hind, ed. Y. al-S̲h̲ārūnī, London 1990
H.N. Chittick and R.I. Rotberg (eds.), East Africa and the Orient, New York 1975, with numerous relevant articles
F. Viré, L’Océan indien d’après le géographe Abu Abd-Allâh Muḥammad Ibn Idrîs al-Hammûdî al-Hasanî dit Al-Šarif AL-IDRISI (493-560 H/1100-1166). Extraits traduits et annotés du «Livre de Roger», in P. Ottino (ed.), Études sur L’Océan indien, St. Denis de la Réunion 1979, 13-45
S.M. Toorawa, Wâq al-wâq. Fabulous, fabular Indian Ocean (?) island(s), in Emergences, x/2 (Dec. 2000) 387-402
and recent information on excavations on Pemba and Zanzibar kindly supplied by M.C. Horton.
- (G.S.P. Freeman-Grenville,
- G.R. Tibbetts and
- Shawkat M. Toorawa)
4. As a zoological term.
Here, wāḳwāḳ, waḳwāḳ and waḳūḳ are onomatopoeic masc. nouns denoting a member of the Cuculides family of birds and imitating their cries (Fr. “coucou”, Eng. “cuckoo”, Ger. “Kuckuck”); the pl. ought to be waḳāwīḳ, but this is never found in the texts. With this general name, members of the Cuculides (waḳwāḳiyyāt) also have numerous local names, according to region: ḥamām ḳawwāl, ṭāṭawī, ṭakūk, ḳawḳal, kukur, kukum, kunkur and hūhū. The Arabic-speaking lands distinguish ¶ five species of cuckoo: (a) the Common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), with two sub-speciesC.c. canorus and C.c. telephonus; (b) the Great spotted cuckoo (Clamator glandarius); (c) the Pied crested or Jacobin cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus), with the sub-species C.c. serratus; (d) the Collared cuckoo (Cuculus torquatus); and (e) the Largeheeled cuckoo (C. senegalensis aegyptius).
BibliographyDamīrī, K. Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān al-kubrā, Cairo 1937, ii, 390
A. Malouf, Muʿd̲j̲am al-ḥayawān, Cairo 1932, 77-9
E. Ghaleb, al-Mawsūʿa fī ʿulūm al-ṭabīʿa, Beirut 1936, ii, 648
F. Hue and R.D. Etchecopar, Les oiseaux du Proche et Moyen Orient, Paris 1970, 394-5. (It is surprising that neither D̲j̲āḥiẓ, Ḥayawān, nor Ḳazwīnī, ʿAd̲j̲āʾib al-mak̲h̲lūḳāt, mention the cuckoo under any one of its names.)
Cite this pageTibbetts, G.R.; Toorawa, Shawkat M.; Ferrand, G.; Freeman-Grenville, G.S.P.; Toorawa, Shawkat M.; Tibbetts, G.R.; Toorawa, Shawkat M.; Shawkat M. Toorawa. "Wāḳwāḳ." Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs. Brill Online, 2013. Reference. CORNELL UNIVERSITY LIBRARY. 22 August 2013 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopaedia-of-islam-2/wakwak-COM_1334>