"The Alchemist" by Paulo Cuelho is a classic work of particular importance for people of African heritage. It is about a boy who dreams of a hidden treasure located in Africa. It is an intriguing dive into human conditioning and behaviour developed through the journey of life. It demonstrates how our response to adversity can shape our future. The profundity of it is housed in its simplicity.
The main character, Sadiki, and the people he meets are easily identifiable in our families and friends today. The biggest take away for me was that at our core lives an inner knowing that is connected to the origin of the world. When we are young, we have the strongest connection. As we age, we can get distracted by temporary setbacks, or unwillingness to step outside of our comfort zones. Though the story is a familiar theme, it was most impactful because the setting was not, and therefore somehow quickly engaged my imagination to explore Sadiki’s world.
My quick browse surprisingly revealed several references to the Moors. While I am no expert on the Moors, I am familiar with the classic book, “The Moors in Spain” by Stanley Lane-Poole, which was written in 1886. The cover of that book depicts a stunning painting created in 1878 by Eduard Charlemont, who was an Austrian (1848 - 1906). “The publishers of “The Alchemist”, Black Classic Press, are to be commended for selecting a cover reflective of the same timeframe the author lived (see picture below).
The picture shown above is worth 100,000 words. A bearded Black Man donning what appears to be silks, linens and weaponry standing in a confident and striking stance inside the meticulously carved “Alhambra” is jaw dropping. From the introduction of “The Moors in Spain,” John G. Jackson says,
Who Were the Moors?
"The word Moor literally means Black so the Moors were the Black people.“
This is the perfect powerful image to accompany the cover of the book. It helped me to better imagine the world of Sadiki. “The Alhambra” is a fortress built by the Moors, located in Granada, Spain which is a 5 hour shuttle bus ride from the outskirts of Andalusia.
Young Sadiki is living among the Moors in Andalusia, the setting for “The Alchemist.”
Moorish references in “The Alchemist”:
“Andalusia,” has alternate spellings of Andalucia and Andaluza. It is located in Southern Spain where the Moors are known to have ruled for almost 800 years. It is the area closest to the Northern coast of Africa, has high cliffs as does Africa, and, is a “strategic gateway between Europe and Africa.” The coastal area is known as “The coast of Light.” Only the waterway known as the Straight of Gibraltor separates Andalusia (Southern Spain) from Africa.
Gibraltor was known to the Moors as “Gebel Tarik“ after Moorish Govenor Tarik ibn Ziyad (also spelled Tariq). He was an African Govenor of Mauritania that led an army of 6,700 African soldiers along with 300 Arab translators to the area. His army built a fortress in the immediate area around the large limestone rock in the 8th century and used it as a home base in preparation for battle.
The limestone Rock of Gibraltar is 1398 feet high which is almost equivalent to a 100 story building. Its sheer mass made it a great observation point to survey oncoming attacks. The castle/forte covers approximately 35 acres, and was built in 889 CE. https://youtu.be/ZSyfREGVqIQ. According to Lane-Poole, the Moorish kingdom was known for its literature, Art and science. Students flocked from France, Germany and England to learn from Math, astronomy, botany, philosophy from the Moors.
The “Tarifa” Moorish mention now known as “Tarif” is a port also located in Andulasia referenced in “The Alchemist.” It was named after another African/Moor named Tarif ibn Malik according to, “When We Ruled” by Robin Walker. Tarif ibn Malik was one of the commanders under Tariq ibn Zayak who the Rock of Gibraltar was named after.
I don’t mean to bog you down with too many historical facts, but I just want to build out the setting with present day landmarks that you can google or even visit to totally immerse yourself in the story.
It is important to pause here to mention that the Arab invasion of North Africa occured in 639 AD which led to rampant spread of Islam. Therefore, almost 100 plus years later,
Breathing a Sigh of relief
The Moors and their castles are a fascinating site to imagine for sore eyes overly soaked in the traumatic time of enslavement. Reading about a time when African people prospered stimulates and ignites new possibilities knowing that greatness is also part of our history.
The proud statuesque Black man on the cover of the “The Moors in Spain” alone commands a foray into his world, and “The Alchemist,” provides a tantalizing literary entranceway to explore more.
As a side note, I found in my research that there’s even an Andalusia, Alabama https://www.cityofandalusia.com/ ! Also, Chicago has a restaurant named after the Alhambra Palace in Andalusia. https://alhambrapalacechicago.com/gallery-portfolio/
The Alchemist after quickly reeling us into the story with the quest of Sadiki to follow his dreams, we meet a merchant who has led a life stifled by setbacks. Sadiki shares fresh ideas that inspire and change the merchants life.
At various points along his journey, Cuelho drops breadcrumbs about how to develop inner guidance. Sadiki is one who is accustomed to following his first mind, hunches and intuition. There’s a beautiful quote about in:
Intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it’s all written there.
This is a beautifully written statement to ponder and roll over in the mind and validate.
When “The Alchemist” comes on the scene, we have already been primed for surprises but next level is met eye-to-eye when he challenges Sadiki to a task that seems impossible. Finding a way out of no way, we are dazzled with the creativeness he demonstrates to at least try to meet it head on.
As I perused the pages, it became fun for me to imagine if I were a part of the world described and how I could better connect with the signs and feelings that are being given along my journey. Cuelo dares to penetrate the spiritual realm by drawing correlations between natural happenstance with upcoming decisions that Sadiki has to make. This may have been why the book was banned in 2011 by Iran. While Iran did not cite a reason, it seems that in that part of the world,
The psychological impacts of teaching about a period in Black History where we were at the helm, in lead roles and well respected could have earth shattering effects particularly for people of African heritage. I love that “The Alchemist” speaks matter-of-factly about the Moors almost making it commonplace, which increases the curiosity and wonderment about who the Moors are.
For people of African heritage, I think it is healthy to seek out literature that paints our homeland in a positive light. In the main character’s quest and desire to seek treasure in Africa is the epitome of following the light emanating from our continental origins. I invite the reader to come and explore a possible path travelled by the Moors.
I highly recommend “The Alchemist.” You may want to even read with while listening to some music geographically fit for the occasion. https://youtu.be/kMgMAGu0w2k . Afterward, to delve deeper into Moorish history, check into Stanley Lane -Poole’s work, The Story of the Moors in Spain.”
Book List on the Moors
As always, I appreciate that you have read through this blog post. I hope that you’ve become curious to read The Alchemist and more books by Paulo Cuelho or books on the Moors. We ask that you consider purchasing your books from our Black owned bookstore, Afriware Books, Co. If there is a title you’d like to purchase that is not mentioned here, or could not be found on the website, feel free to email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org