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Literature: Malê Rising
"Knowledge without action is arrogance"
Paulo Abacar, putting Imam Shafi'i's maxim into practice.

No, the map isn't joking. That is a real (fictional) African republic. In the 19th century.

A timeline where theologies are mixed, empires are liberal and Darkest Africa gets turned on its head.

Impossible? Think again.

Malê Rising is an extended Alternate History story/essay by Jonathan Edelstein on AlternateHistory.com. The premise is that the Malê Revolt of 1835, a rebellion of Muslim slaves in Bahia, Brazil, is slightly more successful; the revolt is still defeated, but the Malê survive to carry on guerrilla resistance in the mountains and eventually win passage to West Africa as an intact force. In 1840, they establish a republic in the lower Niger Valley based on the Islamic liberation theology of their charismatic leader. Nearby, a deposed sultan begins to develop a separate Islamic theology in reaction to the new republic.

These two forces, though subtle at first, shall affect the world in ways either side had never imagined.

By 1900, shortly after a Great War between a British-North German-Ottoman alliance and a Franco-Austrian-Russian bloc, the influence of the Malê has made itself felt, subtly or otherwise, throughout the Islamic world, Europe and the Americas, as new ideologies form and conflicts arise that are inspired by or in reaction to them.

One of the more beloved timelines in AH.com, it has won numerous praise from readers for the amount of detail written, the style of Jonathan's narrative writing and the fact that almost all the narrative characters (both good and bad)are written as humans, rather than loud-pieces.

The timeline can be read here, with a comprehensive list of posts here for those who don't want to sift through the discussions.


Historical characters appearing in Malê Rising include:

WARNING: Some spoilers are unmarked due to the elaborate nature of this timeline! You have been warned!

Tropes appearing in Malê Rising include:

    open/close all folders 

    Characters and related tropes 

  • Badass Pacifist: Aiza Khalid and the women of Java.
  • Born Into Slavery: Paulo the Elder and the Malê; most of the politicians in post-Civil War South Carolina.
  • Camp Gay: Believe it or not, Theodore Roosevelt, though he's much more than that. See Manly Gay below.
  • Church Militant: The Papal Legion, a Catholic army during the Great War.
  • December-December Romance: Usman and Sarah, after both are widowed.
  • Evil Colonialist: Zig-zagged in so many ways in this timeline, with colonial masters ranging from real sympathetic characters to heartless exploiters.
    • One notable figure is Dietmar Kohler of Sud-Kivu, a ruthless German warlord who carved out a piece of territory for himself in the Great Lakes region during the Great War, but soon grew to love his new African home.
  • Generational Saga: The Abacar family in Sokoto and Ilorin; Souleymane and Chiara's family in Paris.
  • Going Native:
    • One of the Romanovs ends up becoming the empress of Ethiopia by choice. The Tsar wasn't happy.
    • Dietmar Kohler, the warlord of Sud-Kivu who bears more than a passing resemblance to Kurtz.
    • Sarah Child hasn't, but the masters of the Raj think she has.
    • After The American Civil War, former Confederate general James Longstreet's journey eventually takes him to the Ottoman Empire, where he serves in the Great War and converts to Islam. Upon returning to the US, he becomes a key ally of Harriet Tubman and her efforts to help African Americans living under Jim Crow.
  • Heel Realization: Rudyard Kipling has one after witnessing the atrocities committed by the British during the Indian War of Independence. As a result, he writes a retort to his most famous poem, stating that Britain had proven itself unfit to carry the White Man's Burden.
  • I Have No Daughter: Mentioned in passing. The Tsar warned Anastasia of being disowned if she were to marry Prince Tewodros of Ethiopia. They married anyway, and the Tsar disinherited her.
  • Jeanne d'Archétype: Mélisande, Prophet-Queen of Rwanda
  • Just the First Citizen: Paulo Abacar the Elder, albeit less dictatorial than most.
  • Last Stand: Ibrahim Abacar during the Great War, in Saragarhi.
  • Manly Gay: Theodore Roosevelt, with swimming, running and adventuring under his belt, among other things. He may dress up as Empress Eugenie, but he will kick your ass hard if you insult him for it.
  • Messianic Archetype: Samuel the Lamanite of Eastern Congo sees himself as this. American Mormon missionaries disagree.
  • One-Shot Character: Most of Jonathan's narratives feature a lot of people whom only appear in that narrative alone.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Paulo the Elder and Aisha; Usman and Adeseye.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Not so much evil, but more of a difference in thought; Rebecca Felton was a white supremecist who disapproved of slavery and lynching not because it was morally wrong, but because she thought it would corrupt the whites' morals.
  • Richard Nixon the Used Car Salesman: Somewhat inverted. Due to the circumstances of the Great War, both Jules Verne and Leo Tolstoy become the top leaders of their respective countries (France and Russia).
    • Harriet Tubman is a member of Congress from South Carolina and later even governor. When she's already 100 years old..
    • Leon Trotsky is a follower of Baha'ullah and fought for the Ottomans during the Great War.
    • Tippu Tip is now the elected sultan of the Omani Empire, which is ruled from Zanzibar and includes Anglo-Omani Tanganyika.
    • Played somewhat straight with Theodore Roosevelt. He doesn't become President, but he was very influential in keeping America neutral during the War. Also, he's gay.
    • As of the latest update, Arthur Conan Doyle is now writing vampire fiction while working as a doctor.
    • the Marie that pioneered radioactivity had quite a life in this world, going from being a Polish resistance fighter to a schoolteacher in Kazembe.
      • Can we just say that this timeline has a lot of characters that are just different and yet still awesome?
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Anastasia Romanova and Napoleon VI, to name a few. Granted, they may not ride to the battlefield, but they did cause a lot of change in respective for their time and place.
  • Walking the Earth: Andras Weisz and his men definitely qualifies. Captured by the Ottomans and sent to the Upper Nile, he and his men escaped their captors and for three years traversed across war-torn Africa to return back to their native Hungary only to find out that Austria-Hungary had been defeated.
  • Warrior Poet: Paulo the Elder and Ibrahim. Usman and Paulo the Younger also had dreams, but theirs were more pragmatic and political.
  • Wartime Wedding: Merjema Ahmetović and Milan Mihajlović, on the battlefield under Austrian fire.

    Events and General Tropes 

  • Alternate History
  • All Nations Are Superpowers: The world in this timeline never stops being multi-polar.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name:
    • The Imperial Party in Britain isn't quite that bad, but it's close, viewing the Empire as a source of tribute and (failing that) plunder with which to rebuild the British economy after the Great War. Things come to a head when India revolts as a result. Their homefront policies aren't much better, with their militant racism and anti-feminism, bitter crackdowns on unions, socialists, and other dissidents, and overall subversion of Britain's democratic institutions.
    • invoked After the Great War, many Catholic nations, starting with Belgium and later including Portugal, Ireland, and several South American nations, witness the rise of what people in OTL would call "clerical fascism", though Word of God is hesitant to use the F-word to describe it; terms like corporatism, fraternalism, and simply "the Belgian model" have been thrown around, and he's also compared it to a Catholic form of Islamism. These nations are often progressive on economics and race, in keeping with Catholic conceptions of social justice and the idea that all Catholics are equal before God (the Pope has even denounced nationalism as a sin for this reason), but also very reactionary and authoritarian on other social and cultural issues, and they're usually very far from being liberal democracies.
      • Portugal eventually democratizes and loosens up its cultural controls in the 1940s due to pressure from the colonies and the examples of liberal, prosperous France and Germany not far away. No word on the other countries, though.
    • Natal after the Indian War of Independence. It secedes from South Africa and becomes a white supremacist pariah state where the black majority lives in conditions of virtual slavery, with the deposed — and bitter — ex-King of Britain finding his way there. One poster compared it to an inverted Draka, one that was more pathetic than anything, and by the 1940s it's facing significant rebellions, eventually falling in 1945 due to a combination of internal revolt and an invasion led by the UK, South Africa, and India. Jamaica undergoes a similar experience after Imperial Party sympathizers take over, though it only lasts a few years after the fall of the Imperial Party in Britain.
    • The Jim Crow states of the American South. While the Carolinas and Mississippi managed to resist it, the existence of those states and fear that black people in the rest of the South will look to them as an example caused the remaining Jim Crow states to crack down even harder on their black populations, censoring media and restricting black churches and schools in ways that not even OTL's Jim Crow system dared to do. This is part of the reason why TTL's Civil Rights Movement both came earlier and saw substantially more bloodshed.
  • A World Half Full: Overall, the ratio of well-run nations, colonies, and dominions versus Third World imperial hellscapes is substantially better than it was in OTL at this point in history. That's not to say that this world hasn't seen its fair share of disasters; the Great War, for instance, was in many ways even more brutal than OTL's World War I, what with West Africa being another major front in the fighting, and Indian independence and African-American civil rights were achieved with far more violence for all involved. However, Word of God and several readers have noted that, by this world's more humane standards, human rights tragedies like Natal and the Congo that would've been par for the course in OTL's colonial world are instead seen as disasters because they stand out that much from the norm.
    • That said, the 1940s earn the sobriquet of "the Bloody Forties" for a reason. The Omani Empire in East Africa breaks up and plunges into chaos, leading to the region's population declining by over a quarter in ten years due to massacres, starvation, and emigration (in some areas, more than half the population is dead). During that same timeframe, Russia and China slug it out in a bloody war that lasts longer than the Great War and, with 35 million dead on both sides, sees more casualties.
  • Balkanize Me: Large parts of Africa, but curiously enough, not so much the Balkans.
    • Argentina did not make it through the Great War in one piece, nor did Austria(-Hungary) (though the latter is still a monarchy).
  • Conspiracy Theorist: The rebellions that afflict the Omani Empire just after it sides with Ethiopia in the Nile War become intense fodder for such people, with many people suspecting that Egypt, Ethiopia's enemy, had instigated the rebellions in order to hurt the enemy alliance.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Once Britain, South Africa, and India start actively supporting the native Africans in Natal's bush war, things go downhill for Natal in a matter of weeks.
  • Darkest Africa: Not in this world. Africa is much more a part of the geopolitical world of the nineteenth century than historically, and for the most part, it is seen as such.
  • Dirty Communists:
    • Nixed with the advent of Tolstoyist Russia. However, it is still far to early to tell if another country takes up the mantle...
    • The "Red Twenty", a twenty-year period of left-wing electoral dominance in France after the Great War, may or may not be this depending on who you ask. It's still democratic, and quite progressive and open, but the political mainstream grows unfriendly to non-socialist points of view, and cronyism ensures that supporting the government is all but necessary to get ahead in society. It eventually comes to an end after the government moves too far towards authoritarian state socialism and pisses off even their fellow socialists (particularly the more anti-state syndicalists and communalists) and social democrats, who join with the conservatives in bringing them down.
  • Draft Dodging: NOT a wise thing to do in Imperial Russia. Military officers would burn your entire village down if you do so (although joining the army would be an all-in-all death sentence as well). This was one of the reasons why Imperial Russia during the Great War slid closer and closer into a...
  • Dystopia: with massacres, labour camps and conscription of women and families.
    Anastasia Romanova: No one told us of the starvation. No one told us of the peasant families taken from their villages, the men to the front and the women and children to the factories and mines. No one told us of the massacres, the spies, the prisons and the dark basements. There was evil done in our name which will be on my soul forever, and we knew none of it.
  • Enemy Mine / Strange Bedfellows:
    • An example that could only happen in Malê Rising: Postwar France — while still an Empire — is a bit more socialist than before and has plans to turn more of its colonial peoples into French citizens. A section of parliament disagreed and declared a new French State in southern France and Algeria. Suddenly, there were socialists from Spain volunteering to fight for the French Empire while Papal Legionnaires fought for the opposing French State.
    • The gaucho republics and Argentina might hate each other to bits, but both sides will drop their guns if they found out their homeland of Italy gets invaded.
    • Some of the Voortrekkers of South Africa ended up living in partnership with traditional African kingdoms (and in some cases marrying into them). This would lead to a few strange consequences during the Great War.
    • During the middle of the Great War, a British and French naval squadron (who were enemies at that point) found themselves honoring a treaty to help Hawaii against an American-backed coup.
    • For all her white supremacist views, Rebecca Felton agreed jointly with the American Peace Party about not getting involved in the Great War, which led to her rubbing shoulders with figures such as Theodore Roosevelt and Harriet Tubman. Yes, THAT Tubman.
    Samuel Clemens: Now there are some strange bedfellows.
    • Towards the end of the "Red Twenty", a radical socialist party comes to power in France with the aim of rebuilding the economy with a program of public works. Their downfall comes when, in addition to pissing off French conservatives (who had been pretty well pissed at the government for over a decade at that point), they also piss off the workers' cooperatives with their attempts to impose state control of the economy. This is the final straw that convinces the moderate leftists to join the right in handing the radicals a crushing electoral defeat — and with it, preventing the French left from becoming completely discredited by them.
    • The above happens in reverse in Britain, where the electoral coalition that brings down the fascist Imperial Party is composed of the socialist left and moderate liberals on one hand, and more old-fashioned conservatives who loathed the Imperials' modernism, disdain for tradition and aristocracy, and abuse of the colonies (believing that the White Man's Burden isn't just a slogan) on the other. Furthermore, the institution that delivers the killing blow to the Imperials, having remained one of the few parts of British society to not get taken over by them... is the House of Lords, guaranteeing that the left-leaning post-Imperial government won't touch their power. (Of course, by this point the Lords had become the "voice of the Empire", having accumulated a lot of non-white peers from the colonies over the prior couple of decades, so it's not as associated with the British Old Money... the elite, yes, but not necessarily the white elite.)
    • Despite having fought a bitter war of independence from them, India eagerly joins Britain thirty years later to invade Natal. Part of it is the persecution of Indians in Natal, and part of it is the prospect of getting revenge on the last of the Imperial Party bastards responsible for making the Indian War of Independence as bloody as it was.
  • Full-Circle Revolution: Tolstoyist Russia, after its founder's death, soon turns back into the same oligarchy that it had emerged as a revolution against. Following the Sino-Russian War, between the demands of trade unions for cooperation with the war effort and the rebels who embody the regime's founding ideology far better than the regime itself does, popular pressure is once again rising.
  • Fictional United Nations: The Consistory whose (full) membership in not limited to states or nations.
  • Good Republic, Evil Empire: Played with a lot.
    • The empires of Britain, France, and the Ottomans have started to pick up characteristics of a federation with France being in the lead, even though it was one of the instigators of the Great War. By the end of the conflict, these three empires would further twist this trope to oblivion.
      • France under the Red Twenty underwent a significant cultural and social revolution, integrating more and more Africans into the metropole — all while remaining formally an empire. After their downfall, the subsequent government changed France further into an Imperial Federation, with a female Napoleon (the VI, aka Empress Marianne) as its ruler.
      • On the other hand, Britain under the Imperial Party in the 1910s falls into this perfectly. It completely bungles what had been a promising development for a more equal empire badly enough that it very quickly leads to the Indian War of Independence.
      • The Ottomans underwent a revolution and became a decentralized federation, though it is plagued near-continuously by opposing or diverging interests from within and without.
    • The Brazilian and German empires, and the Dutch in the East Indies, are forced to accept democratic characteristics due to compromise and internal (as well as external) pressure.
    • Imperial Russia started out so-so, but degenerated into a crapsack autocracy that exemplified this trope during the Great War, finally blowing out by the Russian Revolution. The peasant-socialist government that followed is considerably more benign, though not perfect, especially after Tolstoy's death.
    • The Republic of Hungary is not a good place to be. Especially if you're a Jew or a socialist.
      • That's actually the rest of Hungary. The Republic is the part where it's unhealthy not to be a socialist. It doesn't last.
    • Downplayed, but still very present in the war between the Russian Republic and Chinese Empire.
    • The Abacarists believe this; Paulo the Elder argued that the world had too many kings. He still was one, more or less, although he'd spit in your eye if you told him that.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: For the most part. There aren't any unambiguously bad guys in the Great War; even Imperial Russia has good people on its side.
    • It should be noted, though, that sometimes Jonathan's style of writing gives the impression of people and events being less bad than they are. This is not a bad thing.
  • Interfaith Smoothie: The Buganda of Lake Victoria, when confronted with any outside religious faith, would syncretise them with traditional tribal beliefs and incorporate them into their own. No matter what faith you choose, the Buganda will ruin it for you.
    • Say rather, the Baganda will improve it for you.
  • Loophole Abuse: Belloism preaches withdrawal from politics in order to obtain maximum spiritual freedom. Many Belloists respond by redefining "withdrawal" and "politics."
  • Mêlée à Trois: After the Great War, Irish secular nationalists, Catholic nationalists, leftists and unionists clash with each other and the British in Ireland.
    • The Hungarian civil war.
  • Named Weapons: "Anastasias", for short-range rocket batteries used in the Great Nile War. Apparently Empress Anastasia of Ethiopia's defense of Gondar lent the Ethiopians to use the name.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Surprisingly, the Germans fill in the counterculture niche in this timeline with the Wandervögel, youths who looked toward an idealized past in response to all the stuffiness and modernity of 1910s-1920's Germany.
  • No Blood for Phlebotinum: Unfortunately, one negative consequence of Africa industrializing and modernizing early is that problems of resource depletion and environmental destruction also arise early. Case in point: the Nile War, fought between Egypt and Ethiopia over rights to the waters of the Nile, which by the mid 1930s has grown increasingly strained as both nations divert water for their own farms and factories. It's been implied that this war will not be the last.
  • Peace Conference: The peace conference of Washington which ends the Great War. Also the setting for one of the TL's more interesting narratives.
  • Scrapbook Story: Most of the timeline is written and seen through character POV's, historical literature, poems, fiction and even an in-universe movie script.
  • The British Empire: The Malê have been supported by it, fought it and been part of it at various times.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized:
    • Hungary after the Great War.
    • The Great Rising in South Carolina.
    • The Indian War of Independence: no quarter asked or given on either side.
    • The end of Jim Crow in the American South through Constitutional amendment in the 1920s leads to ethnic violence almost on the order of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, with black and white militias alike engaged in bloody fighting throughout the South. Worse, white Americans outside the South are divided over which side to take, with some viewing the white Southerners as a bulwark against black barbarism and others viewing the black Southerners as justly fighting for their human rights. It takes a terrorist bombing by white supremacists in Washington, DC that kills over three hundred people (including four Congressmen) to get the federal government to act.
  • Right Wing Militia Fanatic: The white supremacists who bomb the Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) Parade in Washington, DC, killing four Congressmen and over three hundred others, feeling that the nation was being turned into a "mongrel republic". This is the final straw that convinces the rest of the US to intervene in the Southern Troubles on the side of the African Americans.
  • Underground Railroad: A thing both before and after the Civil War. The harsher crackdown of Jim Crow laws on black southerners reopened the old routes, sending books and supplies in while transporting people out.
  • Vestigial Empire:
    • Imperial Russia. Before the the Great War, she was the largest land empire on Earth. After that, it was nothing more than a tiny province/colony in the Horn of Africa. That doesn't mean the Romanovs are gone, though...
    • After the Indian War of Independence, King Albert of Britain is forced to abdicate due to his support for the Imperial Party. He finds his way to Natal, which is still ruled by unreconstructed Imperial supporters who refuse to recognize his replacement as the legitimate monarch.
  • White Man's Burden: Used as justification among the Great Powers during the Brussels Conference. The results were mixed.
  • Won the War, Lost the Peace: The British Empire experiences this after the Great War.
  • World War III: The "Second Great War", while still unfought as of 1950, holds a similar place in the popular imagination once people start realizing just what the newly-tested atomic weapons are capable of. One such scenario is presented in a dystopian book by that title, written by a pair of disaffected generals, one Russian and one Chinese, after the Sino-Russian War. While civilization isn't destroyed in their scenario like it is in so many others, it is sent back to the nineteenth century, with over ten percent of humanity dead.


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