MORIMEN.

I’ve just learned a term so marginal it’s not even in the newly revised M section of the OED, but useful enough to occur frequently in books about West Africa: moriman, plural morimen (sometimes written “mori man,” “mori men”). It refers to people in Sierra Leone who earn a living from writing Arabic charms for magical amulets, and of course I wanted to know its origin. Assiduous googling made it clear that mori is a Mende word for ‘Muslim’ (morimo or moremo is “Muslim/mori man”), but the only suggestion I could find about its origin is in a footnote on page 211 of The Mende Language: Containing Useful Phrases, Elementary Grammar, Short Vocabularies, Reading Materials (London: Kegan Paul, 1908) by F. W. H. Migeod (available at Archive.org): “Mori, corruption of Moor, means magician, or Arabic charm writer, etc.” Now, Moor goes all the way back to Latin Maurus ‘inhabitant of North Africa,’ so it’s not unthinkable (as dear Prof. Cowgill used to say) that some related form is the source of the Mende word, but I have no idea whether it’s plausible. Anybody know? And for that matter, does anybody know what kind of a name Migeod is, and how it’s pronounced?
Update. Lameen says in the comments: “One plausible etymology proposed derives it from Arabic mu’addib …, and that would fit well with the Fulani form moodibbo ‘teacher’ …. However, I would also consider deriving it from a Berber form like Tuareg əmud ‘pray’, since Islam reached the area mainly via Berbers.”
Addendum. A quote from Robert Launay and Marie Miran, “Beyond Mande mory: Islam and Ethnicity in Côte d’Ivoire,” Paideuma 46 (2000), p. 66: “In its most restricted sense, the word mory (or mori) refers to an Islamic scholar, and [sic] individual whose religious learning entitles him to authority in that domain…. Much more generally, mory were all those persons who, by virtue of their hereditary membership in certain lineages, were expected to conform rigorously to Sunni standards of piety: regular prayer five times daily, fasting during the month of Ramadan, abstinence from forbidden foods and alcoholic beverages, etc.” Unfortunately, they don’t say anything about the etymology, but it’s useful to have the alternate spelling and the definition.

Comments

  1. What about the influence of Spanish (or Portuguese)?
    Moro, means Muslim or the inhabitants of northern Africa. And after 1492 “moriscos” were the converted muslims of Al-Andaluz who stayed after its rendition.

  2. Trond Engen says:

    does anybody know what kind of a name Migeod is, and how it’s pronounced
    No, sorry. But do you think the famous discoverer O. Migeod might be a relative?

  3. Several German Migeods pop up on the Intenet, with the name pronounced the usual German way. Like the former owner of this East Prussian landmark, Monopol Otel.

  4. J.W. Brewer says:

    In another Migeod book on the broader theme of “The Languages of West Africa” he says that there are remarkably few identifiable Portuguese-origin loanwords in the local languages (the example he gives is Twi, but Mende ought to fit the same general regional pattern if he had good grounds for the claim) considering how dominant the Lusophone presence along the coast had been in earlier centuries. On the other hand, it is at least possible that in the subpart of West Africa relevant to Mende the Portuguese had already arrived by sea before Islam arrived overland, so the classic we-need-a-loan-word-because-we-don’t-have-an-indigenous-one phenomenon could have happened. But you’d also want to know what the words for “Muslim” etc. were in the language of the further-inland ethnolinguistic group (perhaps Fulani, if you trust wikipedia) via which Islam first reached Mende speakers, and the words in the ethnolinguistic group via which Islam reached that group etc.

  5. marie-lucie says:

    If wonder if Migeod could have been originally a regional French name. Migeot (pronounced as if “Mijot”) is an unmistakably French name. The ending written -ot (pronounced [o]) is very common, but a regional variant written -od also exists, as in the name Monod (pronounced [mono]). Many French people emigrated to Germany in the 17th and 18th centuries in order to escape the persecution of Protestants (called Huguenots) ordered by Louis XIV, and never came back.

  6. Several German Migeods pop up on the Intenet, with the name pronounced the usual German way.
    How do you know how they pronounce it? And what is “the usual German way”?
    If wonder if Migeod could have been originally a regional French name.
    I was wondering the same thing. But how would an Englishman a century ago have said it?

  7. Migeod was British, not German.

  8. SFReader says:

    I think I solved the Amur problem!
    μαυρός or ἀμαυρός is an ancient Greek word meaning “dark”.
    It’s clear that Ivan Moskvitin, a man of sudden depths, discovered that the river is called Dark River by natives and simply translated it into Greek ;-)))

  9. what is “the usual German way”?
    LH, I just looked up the very first Cyrillic string which occurred to me (Мигеод), assuming that Cyrillic tends to be phonetic (although exceptions and outright mistakes happen of course)

  10. Soninké, the language of probably the first West African state to come under Islamic influence, uses moodi “marabout”. Since Soninké is spoken rather far inland, I doubt that Portuguese influence would be relevant.
    One plausible etymology proposed derives it from Arabic mu’addib (http://www.soninkara.org/2011/10/27/organisation-sociale-soninke-les-marabouts-les-mangu-et-les-komo.html), and that would fit well with the Fulani form moodibbo “teacher” (http://lego.linguistlist.org/entries/967911). (Yes, that Arabic word is where Frank Herbert got the idea for “Mu’ad-Dib.”)
    However, I would also consider deriving it from a Berber form like Tuareg əmud “pray”, since Islam reached the area mainly via Berbers.

  11. The perfect person to weigh in! Thanks, Lameen, and I hope the OED is taking note in case they ever decide to add the word.

  12. marie-lucie says:

    the Fulani form moodibbo “teacher”
    That must be where the name of the first president of Mali, Modibo Keïta (in the French-based spelling), comes from.

  13. Trond Engen says:

    How would a derivation of Fulani moodibbo from Tuareg əmud look?

  14. Trond: I don’t have a full account for that at the moment, but it would assume that the Soninke form is closer to the original. (Soninke doesn’t allow final consonants, so the -i would be epenthetic.) The -o is certainly a Fulani noun class suffix; to fill out this etymology, we’d need to find a suffix that could be the source for the -bb-.
    The main thing that made me suspicious of the mu’addib etymology is that I’d never come across mu’addib used as a religious title in Arabic, but apparently it is attested in Sufi contexts sometimes, so my suspicion may be unjustified.

  15. Trond Engen says:

    Thanks, Lameen. I’m all about general idea rather than exact knowledge, so that’s exactly the kind of answer I hoped for.

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