Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Roberta L. Wollons

Second Advisor

Kibibi V. Mack-Shelton

Third Advisor

Julie P. Winch


Revelation and Concealment is an examination of the life and works of Omar ibn Said, an Arabic-literate Senegambian enslaved in the United States from 1807 until his death in 1863. Ibn Said authored several Arabic-language manuscripts during his enslavement that vividly evidence his Muslim faith and literary life, and yet these writings are cryptic because they consist almost entirely of quotations from the Qur’an and the Bible. Ibn Said’s voice consists almost entirely of revelation, words from the Muslim and Christian holy books, but this voice represents at the same time a concealment of a first-person narrative self. Ibn Said was likely in his thirties when he was transported to the United States, and he would have lived through dramatic social and political developments during his early life in the Imamate of Futa Toro. By considering educational norms in Futa Toro, as well as the political, military, and commercial forces at play during Ibn Said’s years there, Ibn Said’s writings can be better understood than they have been in the literature to date. A rigorous contextualization of these writings with Ibn Said’s American milieu will supplement this effort. By reading Ibn Said’s words against the world out of which they came, Ibn Said can be identified as an individual reacting not to “slavery” writ large but to specific travails and opportunities. Ibn Said passed as a Christian during four decades of his enslavement in the United States, and through his ingenuity he not only preserved a measure of personal dignity through his faith, but he also crystallized that faith in writings that still survive. Ibn Said’s legacy speaks not only to the two characters—external and internal, performative and experiential, public and private—that he sustained, but also to how the sustaining of dual selves was a main theme of the society in which he was enslaved.


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