Flora Louise Shaw Lugard.

A tropical dependency : an outline of the ancient history of the western Sudan with an account of the modern settlement of northern Nigeria online

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The territory of Ghana proper was bounded, Edrisi tells
us, by " Mazzawa on the west, by Wangara on the east,
by the desert plains of the Soudan and the Berbers on
the north, and on the south by the pagan countries of
the Lem-lems and others." Mazzawa must be taken to
represent the territory which was the seat of the Desert
Kingdom, a country over which Melle was soon to extend
its authority. Of Wangara Edrisi gives the following
description : " From the town of Ghana to the frontier
of Wangara is an eight days' journey. This latter country
is renowned for the quantity and the quality of the gold


which it produces. It forms an island of about 300 miles
in length by 150 in breadth, which the Nile [Niger] sur-
rounds on all sides, and at all seasons. Towards the
month of August, when the heat is extreme and the Nile
overflows its bed, the island, or the greater part of the
island, is inundated for a regular time. When the flood
decreases, natives from all parts of the Soudan assemble
and come to the country to seek for gold during the fall
of the water. Each gathers the quantity of gold great or
small which God has allotted to him, no one being entirely
deprived of the fruit of his labour. When the waters of
the river have returned to their bed every one sells the
gold he has found. The greater part is bought by the
inhabitants of Wargelan, and some by those of the extreme
west of Africa, where the gold is taken to the mints, coined
into dinars, and put into circulation for the purchase of mer-
chandise. This happens every year. ... In Wangara
there are flourishing towns and famous fortresses. Its
inhabitants are rich. They possess gold in abundance,
and receive productions which are brought to them from
the most distant countries of the world." Like the in-
habitants of Ghana, they wore mantles and veils. They
were entirely black. The whole of the country owed
allegiance to Ghana, in the name of whose sovereign the
Khotbah was read and government was carried on.

The change of dynasty in Ghana between the eleventh
and twelfth centuries altered little, therefore, in the habits
or prosperity of the country. It serves principally to
illustrate the alternating rule of black and white sovereigns,
which was apparently accepted without difficulty in the

It was perhaps rather in the other political event of
the campaign to which allusion has been made than in the
substitution of Berber for native rule in Ghana that a
prophetic eye would have seen the little cloud destined
some day to overspread the fair horizon of Ghana's future.
This was the foundation of Timbuctoo by the Tuaregs in
the year 1087.



It was indeed a fine movement of historic fate which
caused the conqueror of Ghana to become the instrument
of the foundation of Timbuctoo. " The prosperity of
Timbuctoo," says the author of the Tarikh-es-Soudan,
who was himself born in that town in the year 1596, "was
the ruin of Ghana." Before the great days of Timbuctoo,
Ghana, he tells us, "was the centre of the Soudan."
After the rise of Timbuctoo all was gradually transferred.
Timbuctoo drew to itself not only the wealth but the
learning and enlightenment of the civilised world, and
became the home of all that was " pure, delightful, and
illustrious " in the Soudan. But the days of Timbuctoo's
greatness were not yet ; queen of the Soudan, as she was
afterwards proudly to become, she was born, if not in a
manger, yet under circumstances nearly approaching to
the lowest conditions of humility. Abou Bekr was not
himself the founder of the town. The Tuaregs of his
train, to whom were allotted for their occupation the por-
tion of the desert opposite to the most northerly reaches
of the Nipfer, would seem to have chosen the site some
nine years after his death. They were, like all the nomads
of the desert, a pastoral people, and used to feed their
flocks in the summer season upon the northern or left
bank of the Niger. They never crossed the river to
the Soudan side, but withdrew in the autumn and winter
months to the interior uplands of the desert. The spot
on which Timbuctoo now stands was the extreme limit
of these summer wanderings. At first they had only an
encampment there ; gradually their encampment became

113 H


a meeting-place for travellers coming from different parts
of the country. Then they made of it a store where they
left food and other objects of necessary use, and they
placed the store under the care of an old female slave
called Timbuctoo. So homely, according to the appar-
ently best-informed writers, was the origin of the after-
wards famous name. But if Timbuctoo had the homeliness,
she had also the purity of a simple origin. The town,
founded by Mohammedans, was never sullied by pagan
worship. " Upon its soil," we are told, " no knee was
ever bent, except to the Most Merciful " — a curious com-
mentary, alas, upon certain subsequent passages of its
history. At first the dwellings of the town were con-
structed simply of thorns and straw, later they grew into
clay huts. Later still low walls were built all round them.
Finally a mosque was erected large enough for the needs
of the inhabitants. But though the site was never altered,
and the foundation of Timbuctoo, the stronghold of Moham-
medanism in the Soudan, may therefore be regarded
as the direct outcome of the religious campaign of Abou
Bekr, it was not for two hundred years that the real town
of Timbuctoo, as it was known in its greatness to pos-
terity, was built by one of the kings of Melle, himself a
Mohammedan, though black, and two more centuries were
added to these before Timbuctoo reached the summit of
its prosperity and fame as the capital of the Songhay

However much it may flatter the pride of the historians
of Timbuctoo to represent it as the cause of the downfall
of Ghana, it is evident that the rivalry between the two
towns must have been of much later date than the
Almoravide conquest of Ghana. Ghana was in a position
to bear a very active part in such rivalry for many genera-
tions after its conquest by the Berbers of Abou Bekr's
train. The conquest by which the independence of Ghana
was overthrown was not in fact the conquest of Abou
Bekr. Between the Almoravide campaign of the end of
the eleventh century and the development of the greatness


of Timbuctoo under the Songhay dynasty, a very important
chapter of Soudanese history was to intervene. This was
the rise of the kingdom of Melle, the first of the black
Mohammedan native states to be recognised on terms of
equality by the other Mohammedan kingdoms of North
Africa. It was the conquest of Ghana by Melle which
really put an end to the independence of Ghana, and
merged its history in that of the more civilised empire.

We have seen that at the end of the eleventh century,
when Ghana submitted to the vengeance of Abou Bekr,
Melle was but a town of second-rate importance in the
bend of the Niger. A place of more distinction mentioned
by El Bekri was Tekrour. Whether the Tekrour of El
Bekri was identical with Jenne, a town of which the
history is famous, and which was founded by Songhay
pagans about the year 800 of our era, I leave for the
more learned to decide. There are grounds for believing
that this may have been the case ; but " Tekrour," of
which the literal meaning is " black," is one of the names
that create confusion in the history of the Soudan. It
has evidently been applied at different periods to different
peoples. However this may have been, Ghana was at a
period subsequent to the Almoravide conquest attacked
and apparently for a time overwhelmed by the neigh-
bouring black kingdom of Tekrour. In the earlier
period of its history, Ghana had ruled over the Wangara.
When Idrisi speaks of it in the middle of the twelfth
century, though still the greatest of black kingdoms, with
a trade extending to Egypt, North Africa, and Spain, its
territory had apparently diminished, for Idrisi describes
it as limited on the east by the territory of the Wangara,
— whom he calls also by the alternative name of Man-
dingoes — and they, instead of forming part of the kingdom,
were only tributary. Ibn Khaldun says that before the
rise of Melle, Ghana was conquered by the Su-Su. The
Su-Su, as they now exist, are of Mandingo origin. It is
therefore possible that the Wangara, once the subjects of
Ghana, became its rulers. No historian, however, dwells


with any detail upon these early conquests. They are
interesting merely as indications of the approaching dis-
appearance of the supremacy of Ghana. While Tim-
buctoo, which was destined to represent the great centre
of Mohammedanism in the Soudan, was growing, Ghana,
the great centre of paganism, was passing away. It had
maintained itself from a period long antecedent to the
Hegira. After an existence of perhaps a thousand years,
the term of its decadence had arrived, and toward the
beginning of the thirteenth century of our era it had
reached a condition in which, being at once rich and
weak, it could scarcely fail to become the prey of stronger
neighbours. By the end of that century it had become
subject to its Mohammedan neighbour Melle.

So silently, and without dramatic rites, the gods of
paganism disappear from the front rank of the history
of the Soudan. No dome was built for them in Ghana.
No ditch was dug. No sacred grove was planted. They
simply fell back into the dark and barbarous country to
the south — the land of the Lem-Lem, which Arab his-
torians dismiss contemptuously as the land of idolaters
"who eat men." The memory of these pagan gods
lingered long amongst the lower orders of the northern
states ; but whatever their worship had brought with it
of enlightenment from the antiquity of eastern civilisa-
tion was finally extinguished in the barbaric caricature
which is the memorial preserved of them to the present
day by certain tribes of the southern coast.



The empire of Melle and its dependencies, known to the
Arabs as " The Mellestine," which rose in the thirteenth
century on the ruins of Ghana, was the first of the gfeat
black Mohammedan kingdoms of the Western Soudan to
claim intercourse on equal terms with contemporary civilisa-
tion. In the days of its greatest prosperity the territories
of the Mellestine extended from the coast of the Atlantic
on the west to the Niger boundary of Haussaland on the
east, and from the country of the cannibals on the south
its protectorate extended into the desert as far as the
frontier of Wargelan.

^^ I353j when the fortunes of Melle were at their
highest, Ibn Khaldun, who was then employed on a
political mission at Biskra, met one of the notables of
Tekadda, an important Berber town of the desert, which,
"like all other towns of the Sahara," at that time acknow-
ledged the sovereignty of Melle. Amongst other details
of the caravan trade which Ibn Khaldun learned from
this man he mentions that caravans from Egypt, consist-
ing of 12,000 laden camels, passed every year through
Tekadda on their way to Melle. The load of a camel
was 300 lbs. : 12,000 camel loads amounted, therefore, to
something like 1600 tons of merchandise. In the com-
parison which has so often been made of a caravan of
the desert to a ship, it is worth while to remember that,
at this date, there was probably not a ship in any of the
merchant navies of the world which would carry 100 tons.
At the time of the Armada, 250 years later, when English
and Spanish merchant ships were scouring the Eastern


and the Western seas, the average tonnage of the vessels
which composed the Spanish force was 500 tons, and
that of the English ships much less. The largest ship
which Queen Elizabeth had in her navy, the Great Harry,
was 1000 tons, but it was considered an exception and
marvel of the age.

The western half of the desert was no less active in
trade with Melle than the eastern. All the desert towns,
we are told, from Twat westward, were halting-places for
caravans passing between Morocco, the Barbary coast,
and Melle. Tementit, a community of about 200 villages,
lying to the west of Twat, was a great centre of this
passing trade. These desert towns of the back country
of Algiers possessed the inestimable boon of artesian
water. The method of obtaining it was to sink a deep
well, of which the sides were carefully built up. This
was carried down to the rock under which water was
expected to be found. The rock was cut away with picks
and axes until nothing but the thinnest layer was left.
The workmen were then taken out of the well, and a
great mass of iron was dropped upon the rock, which,
giving way, the water leaped up, "sometimes with such
force as to carry everything before it," into the receptacle
which had been prepared, whence, overflowing, it formed
a little stream upon the ground. Not only the artesian
water of Twat, but also the great salt-mines of Tegazza,
lay within the limits of the Mellestine.

The first sovereign of Melle to accept Islam was
Bermandana, who made the pilgrimage to Mecca — a
custom afterwards adopted by his successors. The date
of this pilgrimage does not appear to have been preserved,
but it may be gathered from a list of ten kings descending
from one of his successors, Mari Djata, to the famous
Mansa Musa, who made the pilgrimage in 1324, that
his conversion must have been rather before than after
the Morabite invasion of Negroland at the end of the
eleventh century.

Leo Africanus, whose history, however, is not usually


trustworthy, says that the people of Melle embraced the
law of Mohammed when "the uncle of Joseph, King of
Morocco" — that is, Abou Bekr, the Morabite leader — was
then prince. He also says that the government of Melle
remained for some time in the posterity of that prince.
If Melle in the beginning took its rise, as Leo Africanus
suggests, under Berber princes, it is but one instance the
more of the profound impression made by the Morabite
invasion upon Negroland. But there can be no doubt
that in the days of its greatness the kings of Melle
were black, and ousted the Berber descendants of the
Morabites in the desert.

In the early part of its history Melle consisted of three
principalities claiming equal rights. The first of its kings
who would appear to have consolidated the kingdom and
enlarged its boundaries to any appreciable extent was
Mari Djata, who overthrew the Su-Su and conquered
Ghana in the early part of the thirteenth century. The
name of Ghana from this time is no longer heard, Ghana
being properly the title of the ruler, not the name of
the kingdom. The country heretofore known as Ghana
now becomes Ghanata or Walata. Mari Djata's name
of Djata meant Lion. His hereditary title Mari was
something less than king, confirming the theory that
he was the first of the rulers of Melle to consolidate
its possessions under one sovereign. He reigned for
twenty-five years, and his descendants and successors
are all known by the full title of Mansa, or king, the
succession going, as in the old pagan succession of
Ghana, in female descent, not to the king's son but to
his sister's son.

The pilgrimages made by these kings to Mecca are
the dates by which we are usually able to fix the period,
if not the exact limit, of their reigns. The son of Mari
Djata made his pilgrimage as king in 1259. A famous
usurper, Sakora, who greatly extended the dominions
of Melle towards the east, made his pilgrimage in the
year 13 10.


Under Sakora the territories of Melle were as much
extended in the east as they had been by the conquest
of Ghana in the west, for he conquered Gago or Kaougha,
the capital of Songhay, of which the site was the present
town of Gao. This town was, at the beginning of the
fourteenth century, the centre of a rich and important
territory shaken for the moment by internal convulsions,
and therefore open to conquest by a powerful neighbour.
In the twelfth century it was described by El Idrisi as a
"populous, unwalled, commercial and industrial town, in
which were to be found the produce of all arts and trades
necessary for the use of its inhabitants." Ibn Said, in
the thirteenth century, speaks of it also with respect. It
was throughout its history celebrated for the great quan-
tity of gold with which its markets abounded ; it will
be remembered that this peculiarity was noted by
El Bekri.

The Mohammedanism of Songhay, having presumably
come to it by the eastern and not by the western road,
dated from an earlier period than that of Melle and
Ghana. The first of the Songhay kings to accept Islam
was Za-Kosoi, whose conversion took place in 1009. The
early kings of Songhay were all known by the title of
'* Za," which was afterwards changed to Sonni, and at a
later period still to Askia or Iskia. The " Zas " were
still reigning when Songhay was conquered in the early
years of the fourteenth century.

Mansa Musa, the next great king of Melle, completed
the conquests made by Sakora, and Songhay remained
subject to Melle until about the year 1356. Although in
its state of unwalled prosperity it fell a comparatively easy
prey to the military strength of Melle, it is probable that
Songhay regarded itself even at that period as possessing
a higher civilisation than that of its conquerors. In
including it within the territories of the Mellestine and
causing its princes to be brought up at his own courts,
the Sultan of Melle unconsciously played the part of one
who takes to his hearth a slave destined eventually to


become his master. For about fifty years Melle ruled
Songhay. At the end of that period Songhay recovered
its independence, and a hundred years later it reared
upon the ruins of Melle an empire which outdid in splen-
dour and enlightenment the most glorious epoch of the



Mansa Musa, who completed the conquest of his pre-
decessor Sakora, was a prince whom all historians com-
bine to praise, celebrating his justice, piety, and enlighten-
ment. He was the friend of white men, and entertained
pleasant relations with the kings of Morocco and the
Barbary coast, at whose courts, as has been mentioned,
the Arab civilisation of Spain had already in great part
taken refuge. He exchanged presents with them, and
kept himself well informed of the political developments
of their kingdoms.

He made a celebrated pilgrimage to Mecca in the
year 1324, of which the details, preserved by more than
one contemporary witness, furnish an interesting illustra-
tion of the condition of his country and the state pre-
served by its monarchs.

The caravan consisted on this occasion, we are told,
of no less than sixty thousand persons, a considerable
portion of whom constituted a military escort. The
baggage of the caravan was carried generally by camels,
but twelve thousand young slaves formed the personal
retinue of Mansa Musa. All these were dressed in tunics
of brocade or Persian silk. When he rode, five hundred
of them marched before him, each carrying a staff of pure
gold, which weighed sixty-two ounces. The remainder
carried the royal baggage.

1 he caravan was accompanied by all essential luxuries,
including good cooks, who prepared elaborate repasts,
not only for the king, but for the king's friends, at every
halting-place. To defray the expenses of the journey.


Mansa Musa took with him gold dust to the value of
upwards of a million sterling. This was carried in eighty
camel loads of 300 lbs. weight each. His Songhay his-
torian says of him that, notwithstanding all this mag-
nificence, he was not generous in the gifts which he
made in the holy cities. Others say that, on the con-
trary, he was so lavish in his gifts, that the large provision
which he had made for his journey was insufficient, and
that he had to borrow money for his return, which, as
his credit was good, he had no difficulty in doing, and
that the debt was afterwards punctually paid.

He made of his pilgrimage something more than a
religious journey to Mecca, It was also a state progress
through his dominions. Instead of starting eastward,
as might have been expected, he started in a westerly
direction, going first through the conquered territory of
Ghana to the town no longer spoken of by that name,
but by the modern name of Walata, or Aiwalatin. On
his way thither, at Mimah, one of the conquered towns,
a characteristic little incident occurred. There was in
the Sultan's train a white judge to whom he had given
four thousand ducats to meet the expenses of the journey.
At Mimah this white judge complained that his four
thousand ducats had been stolen. Mansa Musa sent
for the governor of the town, and ordered him, on pain
of death, to produce the robber. The governor caused
the town to be vigorously searched, but he found no
robber, "because in that town there were none." He
went to the house occupied by the judge and cross-
examined the servants. A slave of the judge then
confessed : " My master has lost nothing ; but he himself
hid the money in this place." He showed the place to
the governor, who took the ducats, and reported the
circumstances to the Sultan. Mansa Musa sent for the
judge, and, after trial, banished him to the country of
the pagans "who eat men." He remained there, the
historian states, for four years, at the end of which time
the Sultan allowed him to return, not to Melle, but to


his own native country. "The reason," it is added, "why
the cannibals did not eat him is that he was white. They
say that the flesh of white men is unwholesome because
it is unripe. Black flesh alone, in their opinion, is ripe."

The caravan proceeded from Walata by the westerly
route northward to Twat, and here suffered a very con-
siderable diminution by an affection of the feet which
attacked a large portion of the caravan. This malady,
of which no descriptive account is given, was, it is said,
called in their language touat. There is no hint that
it was caused by "jiggers," but the event, important
enough to have been preserved in subsequent chronicles,
of half a caravan incapacitated by an epidemic of the
feet, suggests the widespread devastation of the "jigger,"
and it would be interesting, were it possible, to ascer-
tain whether any surviving word in the Melle language
connects touat with the destructive insect. The author
of the Tarikh-es- Soudan says that the name of the
oasis of Twat was bestowed upon it in consequence of
this catastrophe. Commentators reject, however, this
derivation of the name.

From Twat the caravan would seem to have pursued
the usual road to Egypt, where it camped for a time
outside Cairo, and passed on to Mecca and Medina.
Here Musa made a profound impression on the peoples
of the East, who have left in their annals, says one his-
torian, a record of his voyage, and of their astonishment
at the magnificence of his empire. But it appears that
he gave only 20,000 gold pieces in alms in each town,
and in comparison with the immense extent of the terri-
tories he governed, this was not considered munificent.
The same author, however, mentions incidentally that
throughout his journey, wherever he halted on a Friday,
he built a mosque. The funds required for such a pur-
pose, even though some of the mosques were but small,
must have been considerable.

At Mecca the Sultan of Melle made literary acquaint-
ances, and persuaded the Spanish poet and architect,


Abu Ishak, better known by the name of Toueidjen, to
return with him, and to take up his residence at the court
of Melle. Every kind of royal favour was afterwards,
it is said, showered upon the family of Toueidjen, who
established themselves permanently at Aiwalatin. The
caravan returned from Mecca by the eastern route, and
at Ghadames, in the desert, it was met by a certain El
Mamer, a chief who, being at the time out of favour with
the powers of Tunis, was anxious to conciliate Mansa
Musa, " whose authority extended over the desert."
Mansa Musa received him very hospitably, and took
him also in his train to Melle. El Mamer relates how
he and the Spanish architect travelled together in the
royal cortege in great comfort. Precedence was given
them over many of the native chiefs and viziers. "His
Majesty," El Mamer says, "seemed to take pleasure in

Online LibraryFlora Louise Shaw LugardA tropical dependency : an outline of the ancient history of the western Sudan with an account of the modern settlement of northern Nigeria → online text (page 10 of 41)