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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our conversation." And at every halting-place their table
was provided from the royal kitchen with food and sweet-
meats. On its way to the capital the caravan passed
through Songhay and stopped at Kagho, where the em-
peror caused a mosque to be built. It was apparently
a mosque of some importance, and it was still in existence
three hundred years later. Mansa Musa also took the
two young sons of the Songhay monarch, by name Ali
Kolon and Suleiman Nare, to educate at his court.

Having thus made the complete round of his empire,
Mansa Musa re-entered his capital and immediately em-
ployed his Spanish architect to design for him a hall of
audience, built after the fashion of Egyptian architecture.
Abou Ishak, it is said, displayed all the wonders of his
genius in the creation of "an admirable monument" which
gave great satisfaction to the king. The hall was square
and surmounted by a dome. It was built of stone, covered
with plaster, and decorated with beautiful coloured ara-
besques. It had also, we are told, two tiers of arched
windows, of which the windows of the lower tier were
framed in gold, plated upon wood, and the windows of
the upper tier were framed in silver, plated upon wood.


This hall of audience communicated by an interior door
with the palace. In expression of his satisfaction, the
Sultan gave Abou Ishak 12,000 mitkals of gold dust, a
sum amounting in our money to about ;!f 8000. But to
this, which seems to us a relatively moderate reward,
must be added, says the historian, the high favour of the
prince, an eminent place at court, and splendid presents
made from time to time.

Upon his return from this great pilgrimage, Mansa
Musa turned his arms against Timbuctoo, and after a
severe conflict with the Sultan of Mossi, who sacked the
town in or about the year 1330, Musa became master,
in 1336, of the future capital of the Soudan. This town
offering fresh opportunity to the young architect, it was
embellished by a royal palace and mosque. Both build-
ings were of cut stone, and the remains of the palace exist
at the present day, though they are now used only as a
slaughter-house. The Great Mosque, which had a remark-
able minaret, was afterwards rebuilt about the year 1570
by a pious governor of Timbuctoo in obedience to advice
from Mecca, where it was stated that the prosperity of
Timbuctoo was closely associated with the prosperity of
the minaret, then apparently in a dilapidated condition.
Some portion of the old mosque still remains, and when
Barth saw it in 1855 it was perfectly distinguishable from
the later construction.

The first Imaums of this mosque were all learned
blacks, many of whom made their studies in the Uni-
versity of Fez. One of these, Katib Moussa, who was
a jurisconsult and very learned, had also extraordinary
health. He lived to a great age and filled the position
of Imaum for forty years without a single day's illness.
Being asked to what he attributed his good health, he
gave three simple hygienic rules, of which the last, at
least, if not the other two, is still worthy the consideration
of white men in West Africa. He never slept, he said,
exposed to the night air ; he never missed anointing
himself at night and taking a hot bath in the morning ;
and he never went out without breakfast.


The Great Mosque continued to be the centre of reli-
gious Hfe in Timbuctoo until the conquest of the town by
the Moors in 1591, while the still older Sankor6 Mosque
was the centre of university life. A teacher of this
mosque, who also returned with Musa from the East,
found Timbuctoo full of black jurisconsults, whose know-
ledge of law was greater than his own. He accordingly
went to Fez, where he studied law for some years, and
then returned to found a chair of law at Timbuctoo.

In 1337, the year after Musa's conquest of Timbuctoo,
Abou el Ha9en, the reigning monarch of Morocco, effected
that conquest of Telem9an which has already been men-
tioned in a previous chapter, and Mansa Musa sent a de-
putation to congratulate him. Abou el Ha9en, on his part,
being, it is said, "animated by a proper pride," had "adopted
the habit of interchanging presents with all monarchs his
equals." The King of Melle was at that time the greatest
of the black kings, and his territories were nearest to
Morocco. Abou el Ha^en therefore determined to send
him a "truly royal" present of the finest products of his
kingdom. We are not told of what it was composed, but
we are told that he carefully chose all the objects which it
included himself, and that he confided it to the care of a
highly honourable chief, Ibn Ghanem, A deputation com-
posed of the most eminent persons of the empire was
selected to accompany it. The magnificence of the offer-
ing, Ibn Khaldun says, was the subject of general com-
ment, and we may draw from this circumstance our own
inference as to the importance of the place occupied by
Melle among the states of Africa. But the splendid gift
never reached Mansa Musa. While it was on its way he
died. It was delivered to his successor, who sent the
handsome return present once before mentioned, composed
of products of his own country all extremely rare and
curious, and it became the habit of the sovereigns of
Melle and Morocco to interchange presents by the medium
of the great officials of their kingdoms. The amiable
relations thus established between them were maintained
by their successors for several generations.


Durlne the reisfn of Mansa Musa the limits of the
Mellestine were extended over the desert until they
became practically conterminous with those of Morocco
and the westernmost portion of the Barbary States. They
were separated from them only by a belt of shifting sands,
of the breadth of a three days' journey, known to the
Arabs under the name of "El Areg," or "The Dunes,"
which, uninhabited by any peoples, stretched more or
less continuously across the continent from the Atlantic
to the Nile. The Mellestine had by this time become
so important that all its towns were frequented by the
merchants of Morocco, Barbary, and Egypt. The capital
is described by a contemporary writer as a place of con-
siderable extent, very populous and commercial. Numer-
ous streams watered the cultivated lands which surrounded
it. Merchandise from all countries was sent to it, and it
was the meeting-place of caravans from Morocco, North
Africa, and Egypt. The system of government and
justice established by Musa would seem to have been
that which animated the political existence of Melle
during the prosperous period of its history.

Mansa Musa himself reigned twenty-five years, and
his death, which took place between the sending of his
deputation to congratulate Abou el Ha^en on the conquest
of Telem(;an in 1337 and the arrival of the return present
of Abou el Ha^en, must have been presumably not later
than 1339, more probably 1338. Ibn Khaldun says of
him : " Mansa Musa was distinguished by his ability and
by the holiness of his life. The justice of his administra-
tion was such that the memory of it still lives." This was
perhaps not much to say at the end of the fourteenth
century, when he had hardly been dead for sixty years ;
but nearly 300 years later his Songhay historian, writing
with no bias in his favour, in the middle of the seven-
teenth century, repeats the praise and speaks of him
as a pious and equitable prince, unequalled for virtue or



It was at the court of Abou el Ha9en, the conqueror of
Telemgan, that Ibn Batuta, as we have seen, resolved in
the year 1349 to rest from further exploration, and though,
like Marco Polo, he wrote nothing himself, to dictate to
his scribes a record of the voyages he had made. Inter-
course between the sovereigns of Melle and Morocco had
within the ten years preceding his arrival received a great
development. The fame of Mansa Musa's journey to
Mecca, his admirable and upright character, and the
opening of his country to the commerce of North Africa,
formed at the time subjects of fresh interest at the court
of Fez. That a king so enlightened and intelligent as
Abou el Ha9en should wish to know more of the countries
lately opened to Moorish influence was natural, and having
at his court a traveller so experienced as Ibn Batuta, it is
not surprising that the idea of still further voyages should
have been suggested to the explorer.

Notwithstanding his intention of travelling no more,
Ibn Batuta was, as we have already seen, infected by the
general enthusiasm, and in 1352 he started on the journey
which gives us, from the lips of an eye-witness, a picture
of the court and kingdom of Melle as they existed within
ten or fifteen years of the death of Mansa Musa. Mansa
Musa's son had had only a short reign of four years, and
the succession had passed to his uncle, Mansa Suleiman,
a brother of Musa. This Suleiman reigned twenty-four
years, and was the sovereign of Melle at the time of Ibn
Batuta's visit.

Ibn Batuta travelled south by the road already de-


scribed by El Bekri, taking the westernmost branch which
led through the "Salt City" of Tegazza. It is unnecessary
to reproduce his description, to which allusion has been
made in an earlier chapter. It is chietiy interesting as
serving to prove the accuracy of El Bekri's description
given from the reports of Spanish merchants three hundred
years earlier, and to illustrate incidentally the continuity
of life and tradition which left the conditions of travel
upon the road practically unchanged after the lapse of
so long a time. El Bekri's account, gathered from the
experience of travellers passing over the road in 1052,
might equally have been written by Ibn Batuta in 1352,
and the account given by Ibn Batuta have been given by
EI Bekri. Indeed, in one respect, Ibn Batuta's account
carries the imagination even further back, for his descrip-
tion of the town of Tegazza, in which the houses and the
mosque were built of slabs of salt, recalls the description
given by Herodotus of the salt towns of the " Land of

The whole of these desert stopping-places lay within
the limits assigned by Ibn Khaldun to the Mellestine. Ibn
Batuta crossed the frontier of Melle proper at Aiwalatin,
the capital of the old kingdom of Ghanata. But the
Ghana of El Bekri's day had fallen low. Ibn Batuta
found it occupied largely by Berbers, descendants of the
IMorabites, whose degeneracy gave him cause for amaze-
ment. Mohammedan as they called themselves, they
had fallen into habits which scandalised him. He felt,
as unfortunately many a white man since then has had
sorrowful occasion to feel in similar circumstances, that
these white men did not sustain the dignity of their race
in the presence of the blacks by whom they were sur-
rounded and to whose rule they bowed.

The black viceroy who received the merchants of the
caravan with which Ibn Batuta travelled remained seated
while they stood before him. He spoke to them through
an interpreter, not because he did not understand, or
because they were not close enough for him to hear, but


"solely to indicate his disdain for them." The experience
stirred in Ibn Batuta such wrath that he regretted to have
entered the country of black men who were thus ill-
mannered, and who treated white men with so little
respect. His disgust and indignation were for several
days overpowering. He could hardly prevail with himself
to continue his journey, and he had nearly resolved to
return with the caravan with which he had come. How-
ever, a stay of seven weeks in Aiwalatin appears to have
modified his views. Possibly what he observed there of
the degeneracy of the Berbers led to more sympathetic
reflections upon the attitude assumed towards them by
the blacks, and he determined to carry out his intention
of travelling at least as far as the court of Melle.

It is evident from what he says that the Berbers of
Ghana, though Mussulmans, and observing all the religious
customs of their faith, studying jurisprudence and theology,
and devoting a considerable portion of their time to
learning the Koran by heart, had to a very great extent
assimilated themselves to the customs of the blacks. The
domestic privacy of the Moslem was not observed, and
they had adopted the native habit of tracing their gene-
alogy in the female line through a maternal uncle. The
inheritance, as with the native royal dynasties in pre-
Mohammedan days, went to the son of a sister. This
was a practice which, though it is known to be common
in Negroland, Batuta says that he had never seen, except
amongst pagan Indians in Malabar.

The climate of Aiwalatin, Ibn Batuta says, was
exceedingly hot. Food was abundant there, and the
inhabitants were very prettily dressed, in clothes imported
for the most part from Egypt. The women were beautiful,
and, in Ibn Batuta's opinion, very superior to the men.

He found occasion for much criticism of their domestic
conduct, but with regard to the strictures, of which he is
not sparing, it is possible that there may he another side.
Mohammedan women, in the great days of the Ommeyades
in Spain, were not confined to harems, but went unveiled,


and enjoyed the society of men as freely as do the English
and American women of the present day. The Moham-
medans ol the desert may have preserved the custom of
this freedom after it had been abandoned by the more
cultivated Moslems of the towns, and may have felt that
in doing so it was they, and not the orthodox, who had
maintained the purer traditions of the faith. There is a
hint of something of this sort in an argument which took
place between Ibn Batuta and the leader of the caravan
with whom he travelled — a rich man who possessed a house
of his own in Aiwalatin. "The companionship of men
and women in this country," urged the caravan leader, "is
respectable and good. There is no harm attaching to it,
and no unpleasant suspicions are aroused by this freedom
of which you complain." But Ibn Batuta remained un-
convinced. "I was surprised at his folly," he says, "and
went no more to his house, though he invited me several

From Aiwalatin to the capital of Melle was a twenty days'
march, for which, Ibn Batuta says, it was hardly necessary
to have a guide or companions, as the road was perfectly
safe. He travelled himself with three companions. All
along the road they found immense and very old trees, of
which one would have been enough to shelter a large cara-
van. Many of the trees had hollow trunks, in which, during
the rains, water accumulated, and they served as cisterns for
the passers-by. Others were much used by bees to build in,
and men took the honey. In one a weaver had established
his loom, and was weaving when Ibn Batuta passed.

The country between Aiwalatin and Melle would seem
to have been wooded and thickly interspersed with villages.
Amongst the trees of the wooded country Ibn Batuta notes
fruits "resembling plums, apples, peaches, and apricots,
but not quite like them." He also notes plantains ; and
ground nuts, of which the oil was employed for many
purposes, formed a prevailing crop. Spices, salt, beads,
and aromatic gums appeared to be the currency of the
smaller villages. Everything required for a journey was


easy to buy on the way. There was no need, Ibn
BatLita says, to make any provision : food was plentiful,
villages succeeded each other at short distances, and
the inhabitants were always willing to sell anything that
was required.

About half-way between Ghana and Melle Ibn Batuta
and his companions reached the large town of Zaghari,
principally inhabited by black merchants called Ouand-
jaratak, who remind us of the Noughaniarta mentioned
by El Bekri, In most of the towns there was a white
quarter — in all of them Ibn Batuta notes the presence
of white men. Zaghari was the centre of a great corn
country, whence millet was exported to the frontier. From
it the party struck the Niger at the point at which Segou
now stands.

We get at this stage of the journey a description of
the course of the Niger which is worth quoting. Some of
the principal towns upon the river are first mentioned,
including Zaghah. This town had adopted Islam, Ibn
Batuta says, at a very early period. It had a king of its
own who paid tribute to Melle, and its inhabitants were
distinguished by their great zeal in the study of science.
"From Zaghah," he continues, "the river flows down to
Timbuctoo and Gao ; thence to Muri or Muli, a place
which forms part of the country of the Semiyyown (or
Cannibals) and is the most distant limit of Melle. The
river then flows down from Muri to Nupe, one of the
most important countries of the Soudan, whose sovereign
is among the greatest kings of the country. No white
man enters Nupe, because the blacks would kill him before
he arrived there." The course of the Lower Niger, where
the river flowed through the territories of the cannibals
and entered the swampy districts of the coast, was wholly
unknown to Arab geographers, and Ibn Batuta accepted
the common theory, which supposed that the Benue was a
continuation of the Niger, and that below Nupe the river
turned eastward to join the Nile.

There is a noticeable increase of respect in the tone


adopted by the traveller as he approaches the capital of

Quitting the Niger at Segou, "we travelled," he says,
" towards the river Sansarah, which is about ten miles
from Melle. The custom is to forbid the entrance of
Melle to any one who has not obtained permission,
but I had written beforehand to some of the principal
personages in the white community of Melle to en-
gage a house for me, and no objection was made to my

He went at once to the white quarter of the town,
and found that one of his friends who was a lawyer had
hired a house for him just opposite to his own. Ibn Batuta
took possession of the house without delay. Food and
wax candles were supplied to him, and on the following
day he received visits from distinguished persons, of
whom he subjoins a list. Amongst these there were
men of letters, lawyers, jurisconsults. One black judge is
specially mentioned as a man of merit, "adorned with most
noble qualities." The royal herald Dougha, also a " black
of great distinction," and holding one of the principal
positions at court, was among his early visitors. These
men and others all sent him presents and compliments,
and caused him to feel at once that in the capital of the
kingdom he was treated with the consideration which was
his due.

The reigning king was somewhat miserly, and seldom
gave presents of any value. He at first paid no attention
to the arrival of the distinguished traveller, but during
the period of Ibn Batuta's stay in the town the sorrowful
news was received of the death of the Sultan of Morocco,
Abou el Ha9en. The king on that occasion gave a
"banquet of condolence," and Ibn Batuta was invited.
The governors, the jurisconsults, the judge, and the prin-
cipal preacher of the mosque, are mentioned as being
present. Caskets containing chapters of the Koran were
^pjarently taken by the guests, and the entire Koran
was rei?.^ through on the occasion. Prayers were offered


for the soul of Abou el Ha9en, that the Almighty might
have mercy upon him. Prayers were also offered for Mansa

It was after this ceremony that Ibn Batuta was first
presented to the sovereign, who received him with a
gravity befitting the occasion. A purely formal " gift of
hospitality " was subsequently sent to him, which consisted
only of meat and bread, and for two months he had no
further private audience of the sovereign. He, however,
continued to attend the public audiences, of which he
describes the ceremonial in some detail. They were held
sometimes in the Hall of Audience, designed by Mansa
Musa's Spanish architect ; sometimes outside in the Place
of Audience, an enclosed square upon which the palace
opened, and which was approached from the town by a wide
and long boulevard, planted with trees. Whether they were
held indoors or in the open air, a very strict and pompous
ceremonial was observed. The boulevard was lined by
detachments of soldiers armed with bows and lances, each
detachment having its own commandant and military
band. The bands were composed of drums and trumpets,
horns made of ivory, and other instruments made with
reeds and gourds, which gave a "most agreeable sound."
The commandants were mounted, and armed with bows
and arrows, each bearing a quiver full of arrows at his
back, and carrying his bow in his hand. The soldiers were
some on foot and some mounted. The general public,
and all persons who had business to lay before the
Sultan, waited in this boulevard. On occasions when
the Sultan held his audience within the hall, the square
outside was occupied by 300 servants of the palace, who
stood to left and right in double rows, the front row
seated on the ground armed with little shields and short
spears, the back row standing and armed with bows and

No one entered the Hall of Audience itself till the
curtains of the windows, which were usually kept closed,
were, on the entrance of the Sultan, drawn back. At the


same time a handkerchief or Httle banner was waved, which
served as a signal to the public, and there was a burst of
music from the bands. Then on receiving the summons of
the King, certain officials, including the military governor,
the preacher, and the jurisconsults, took their places in
the Hall of Audience, seating themselves to left and right
before the King's arm-bearers, and the royal herald or inter-
preter placed himself in the doorway. This official was a
personage of the greatest importance. He was "superbly
dressed " in stuff of the finest silk, with a very handsome
turban. He was booted and spurred, and wore hanging
from his neck a sword in a gold scabbard. In each hand
he carried a short spear, one of gold and one of silver,
tipped with iron. Any one who had a cause to present
then approached the open door and laid their case before
the herald. He in turn repeated it to the lieutenant of
the King, and this official repeated it to the King.

When the audience was held outside, a throne was
erected for the King on a platform under a great tree in
the square. The platform, which was approached by
three steps, was covered with silk and cushions, and over
it an immense silken umbrella "resembling a dome" was
opened, on the summit of which perched a large golden

The Sultan, preceded by his own private band, then
issued in state from the palace. His band was composed
of singers who accompanied themselves upon gold and
silver instruments, of which the native name was a word
signifying "larks." The band marched first. Then came
the Sultan, dressed usually in red velvet with a golden
helmet upon his head, a bow in his hand, a quiver full of
arrows slung across his back. Behind him marched 300
armed slaves. The Sultan walked slowly. When he
reached the platform, his custom was to pause to look
at the public, and then very slowly to mount the platform
" as a preacher mounts the pulpit." As he took his seat
the military bands broke out, and the same ceremony was
then observed as for the other audiences.


On occasions of public festivities these ceremonials
were immensely increased, the whole crowd wearinc,^
only fine white clothes, public prayers and thanksgivings
being offered up, and magnificent gifts presented by
subjects to the Sultan and by the Sultan to subjects
whom he wished to honour. On the breaking of the
fast of the Ramadan, it was the custom to present
arms to the Sultan in a more literal sense than that
usually conveyed by the term ; and on the occasion of
that ceremony when Ibn Batuta was present, "squires"
offered to the Sultan for his acceptance arms which
are described as "magnificent." "They were," Ibn
Batuta says, "swords ornamented in gold, with scab-
bards of the precious metal ; spears of gold and silver ;
quivers made of gold and silver ; and clubs made of
crystal." On these occasions there were dramatic dis-
plays, including dancing, fencing, and gymnastic per-
formances, which Ibn Batuta, having experience of
similar performances in India, declared to be extremely
good. There were also poetic recitations of an apparently

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 11 of 41)