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 lesser value that was placed upon them from the
elephants which they hunted in the impenetrable recesses
of their tropical jungle. The territory of these lower
tribes, extending for a couple of hundred miles inland
from the coast, offered, under their existing conditions
of transport, a practically impassable barrier to civilised
exploration. The character of the inhabitants, and the
deadly nature of the climate, did not encourage the ex-
pansion of European settlement. As will presently be
shown, the coast settlements of Europe for four hundred
years spread no farther than a few miles from the sea.
Direct commercial intercourse with the interior was never
established over the difficult and unfrequented roads which
penetrated towards the higher lands, and from this period
the relations of Europe with West Africa were confined
mainly to trade in three lucrative products of the coast
— gold, ivory, and slaves. None of these required any
high state of civilisation to produce. All were to be
obtained in profusion in the belt which lay between
the mountains and the sea. The knowledge of what
lay beyond the mountains was lost to Europe by the
cessation of intercourse between Africa and Spain. Ap-
proach, which could not be seriously attempted from the
south, was rendered impossible from the north. The
Soudan of the Arabs was visited no more by the outer
world, and a civilisation which had been in touch for
nearly a thousand years with the most highly cultivated
centres of European life was silently buried in the sands
of Africa.



AsKiA THE Great, in returning from Cairo to the Soudan
in 1497, had Httle knowledge of the strange destiny which
lay before his country. He knew, indeed, that the last
stronghold of the Moslems in Western Europe had been
conquered five years before by the Christian sovereigns
of Spain. But the expulsion of the Arabs from the
Spanish Peninsula had not yet taken place. He was
probably acquainted with the authority given to Portugal
to prosecute a career of exploration and conquest on the
African coasts. But the coast territory interested him
little. It was a matter of no great moment to him whose
armies raided with his own upon the prolific populations,
of whom the experience of history served to prove the
slave supply to be inexhaustible. No wisdom could have
enabled him to foresee that the whole current of European
life would flow to the channel opened by the maritime
enterprise of the Atlantic nations, that the supremacy
of the East was at an end, and that his own people,
isolated in the heart of Africa, were to be left untouched
by the tide of a civilisation sweeping past them to fertilise
the shores of continents then unknown.

To himself it must have seemed that the work which
lay before him of reforming the administration of his
vast empire, and raising the life of the populations
committed to his care to the level which reflection and
experience led him to believe to be attainable, was a
labour of absorbing interest, and demanded the whole
activity of his mind.

Already past the zenith of middle age, he must have


doubted whether the portion of Hfe which still remained
would be enough to permit him to carry his many schemes
to a point at which their success would ensure stability.
It was, perhaps, with this thought in his mind that he
had caused himself to be accompanied to the East by
his eldest son and heir, as well as by a picked band of
chosen counsellors and ministers. This group of persons
who had shared his experiences, and had no doubt been
admitted to his confidence, offered not only a guarantee
of the continuance of the reign of enlightened principles
in the event of his death, but also a number of trained
instruments, by whose co-operation his ideas of govern-
ment might be brought into effect. Amongst these
he appears to have been fortunate in possessing for his
principal minister just such a faithful friend and coun-
sellor as he had been himself, during a term of thirty
years, to Sonni Ali. Ali Folen — sometimes called Fulan
or Fulani — mentioned amongrst the foremost of those who
accompanied him on the pilgrimage of 1495, remained
absolutely devoted not only to him, but to his ideas,
throughout the long reign which, though neither of them
knew it, lay still before him. At the end they were
separated only in the old age of the then blind monarch
by the jealousy of others, who could not tolerate the
"mutual understanding and support which was perfect
between these two." The man who had been himself
a loyal friend was able to accept and to appreciate the
loyalty of others. He freely trusted and freely used the
service of his friends. He was more than a wise
monarch, he was the founder of a school, and so long
as his inspiration lasted, enlightenment, order, and pros-
perity were enjoyed in the Soudan.

The institution of a standing army, recruited, no doubt,
largely from the slave and subject populations, had already
relieved the people from one of their most intolerable
burdens. This was of the utmost importance, as Askia
found himself obliged to sustain an almost continuous
state of war. In the first year of his return from Mecca,


he undertook a war, formally invested with all the char-
acteristics of a " Holy War," against the Sultan of Mossi,
whose paganism it was resolved no longer to tolerate
within the empire. The circumstances of this war, and
the devotion of Mossi to his idols, are related with some
detail, and serve to dispose of the Portuguese rumour
that Mossi was a Christian after the manner of Egypt.
The result of the war was a complete conquest on the
part of Askia, and the acceptance of Islam by the con-
quered people. This, it is expressly stated, was the only
" Holy War " of Askia's reign. He conquered all that re-
mained unconquered of the West as far as the Atlantic
Ocean, and reasserted his authority to the utmost limits of
the salt mines of Tegazza and the old north-western frontiers
of the Mellestine. Immediately after subduing Mossi, he
subdued the Fulani of the south-west. In 1501 he en-
trusted his brother with the command of an army destined
for the overthrow of Melle, but the campaign proving
unsuccessful, he himself took the field in the following
year, and, having completely defeated the armies of Melle,
sacked the capital and carried the family of the reign-
ing prince into captivity. Amongst the captives was a
girl of the name of Miriam, who became the mother of his
son and subsequent successor, Ismail.

It is mentioned that after this campaign there was
no more fighting for three years, and Askia remained for
some time in Melle studying the country, and devoting his
attention to the amelioration of its condition, and to its
reorganisation upon a new political footing. His system
would seem to have been, as was the universal custom in
the confines of the Soudan, to allow the country to remain
quasi-independent — that is, governed by its own rulers
under the suzerainty of Songhay, to whom tribute was
paid and obedience in certain respects was given. A
Melle- Koi is spoken of from this time forward up
to the period of the overthrow of the country by the
Moors. But Askia's measures of reorganisation, whatever
they may have been, can hardly have satisfied himself,


for we read of further campaigns, or perhaps more pro-
perly punitive expeditions, against Melle, which recurred
with sufficient frequency to be described by some his-
torians as a "twelve years' war," before Melle was
finally subdued.

After Melle came Borgu, and here again a captive
was taken who became the mother of another of the
sons of the great Askia. These marriages or connections
which resulted in the birth of princes, recognised as royal,
are worthy of mention, as they represent a custom of the
Soudan, where, amongst terms of peace, the demand of
a wife for the conqueror from the royal family of the
conquered almost invariably appears. They also indi-
cate a gentle method by which the amalgamation of
conquered provinces was made secure. There was no
province of the empire from whom the future Emperor
or Caliph of the Soudan might not be taken. Askia
the Great lived, as will be seen, to an unusual old age.
There reigned after him in succession four of his sons.
The mother of the eldest of these, Askia Moussa, was
taken from the household of the Hombori Koi, a con-
quest made in the Bend of the Niger while Mohammed
was still minister of Sonni Ali. The mother of the
second of his successors, Askia Ismail, was the Wan-
kori girl first mentioned, very probably Fulani by birth,
who was taken from Melle. The mother of the third,
Askia Ishak, was from Tendirma, also the result of a
conquest of the western province. The mother of the
fourth, Askia Daouad, came from Sana, and was the
daughter of the subject King or Koi of that province.
Other marriages, although they did not give successors
to the throne, gave personages of high importance and
influence in the political administration of the country.
Viceroys, governors, generals, admirals, inspectors, cadis,
and officials whose functions it is not now easy to
determine but whose titles were so eagerly sought as
to show them to have been accompanied by consider-
able emoluments and power, were frequently selected



from the sons and nephews of the kings. Oriental his-
tory has demonstrated that such a system has its serious
inconveniences, and the Soudan was no exception to the
rule, for if on the one hand the honours of the kingdom
were opened freely to the best blood of every province,
the system also created an excessive number of claimants
for all preferment, and gave rise to labyrinths of intrigue,
which not infrequently upset for personal motives the wisest
plans. Successions were too often accompanied by the
private murder or public massacre of superfluous co-heirs.

After the campaign against Borgu, which would appear
to have been very severe, there followed further cam-
paigns against Melle, and in 15 12 there arose in the West
a Fulani false prophet, Tayenda, against whom the Askia
marched with success. Tayenda was killed. His son
Kalo fled with the remnant of his troops to the Fouta
Djallon, a country which at that time belonged to the
Djolfs, and founded a second Fulani kingdom, which
continued to exist even after the Moorish conquest of
the Soudan. Towards the end of the same year, 15 12,
the Askia marched into the Haussa states.

The very meagre account which we have of the cam-
paigns which appear to have occupied his troops in that
region for the next few years, constitute the first mention
of any importance of the Haussa States from the point
of view of the Songhay Empire. These states, which
at the present day constitute the greater part of
Northern Nigeria, have a history of their own which
dates back as far as that of Songhay itself.

At the time of the Askia's conquests in the first half
of the sixteenth century they were an agricultural and
commercial people who, situated as they were between
the two powerful empires of Songhay on the one hand
and Bornu on the other, had already suffered the tide
of conquest to sweep over them more than once in the
course of their long existence. Yet always as the waters
of war subsided, they had emerged with independence, and
by means partly of a not despicable courage and partly of


payments, which were called either tribute or subsidy
according to the humour of those who received and
those who paid, they had sustained the continuity of
their history and the individuality of their political life.

Katsena and Zaria, two of the states, would seem to
have had some cause of quarrel with their more power-
ful neighbour Kano, and to have in the first instance
solicited the intervention of the Askia. There are hints
of some shadowy claim of suzerainty on the part of
Songhay, which may have been the survival of previous
and unrecorded conquests. Whatever the cause, Askia
marched first against Katsena and took it in 15 13.
He also made himself master of Zaria and Zamfara —
this last province being mentioned as especially rich in
cotton and other crops — and proceeded to march against
Kano and Gober. The conquest of Kano cost him a
long siege, but both states fell to his arms, nnd were
made tributary to Songhay. He then marched against
the Sultan of Aghadez, a Berber kingdom lying north
of the Haussa States, and stated by some authors to
have been tributary to Songhay. Tekadda, in the desert
to the west, was at one time, as we have seen, tributary
to Melle, and causes of dispute between border provinces
were not difficult to find. After a campaign which lasted
for two years Aghadez yielded, and an annual tribute of
150,000 ducats was imposed upon it.

In Aghadez in the sixteenth century we have the
counterpart of Audoghast in the eleventh century, and it
furnishes again an example of a rich white town ruled by
blacks. Aghadez was, we are told, at the time of the
Songhay conquest, a wealthy town inhabited by white
people, in which the houses were stately mansions, built
after the fashion of Spain and Barbary, and the greater
part of the citizens were either foreign merchants, artificers,
or government officials.

It was on the return of the Askia's armies from
this campaign that Kanta, an important chief of territory,
conquered, as has been mentioned, some thirty years


previously by Sonni Ali, dissatisfied with the treatment
which had been accorded to him, revolted, and established
an independent province, still known as Kanta, on the
eastern side of the Niger. At a later date the whole
of the province of Kebbi became subject to him. A
campaign directed specially against him in the year
151 7 was unavailing. The independence of Kebbi was
maintained against all succeeding Askias, though its
territory was enclosed in the territory of Songhay and
its tributaries on all sides, and ultimately Kebbi became
the bulwark which saved Haussaland from the encroach-
ments of the Moors, when they attempted to overrun
it from the west. During the years 1517-18 there was
further successful fighting in the western portion of the
empire. From this time to the end of the Askias' reign
in 1528 peace would seem to have prevailed.

Askia the Great reigned altogether thirty-six years,
during the whole of which time his minister, Ali Folen,
continued to be the faithful assistant of his counsels and
the interpreter of his wishes to the people.

I have thought it well very briefly to summarise the
military history of the reign in order that the borders
of the empire over which the rule of the Askia ex-
tended might be defined, but war was far from being
the principal subject either of the Askia's or of his
people's thoughts. The administrative organisation of
the empire occupied his immediate care, and a parallel
of the system which he partly adopted, and partly de-
veloped, from the already existing sytem of Melle, may
perhaps be most nearly found in our own early adminis-
tration of India. Native rulers continued to occupy
positions of dignity and quasi-independence, and would
seem to have been even permitted in some cases to
levy troops, on the understanding that they furnished a
regular quota to the imperial army. But the repre-
sentatives of Songhay were supreme in all parts of the
empire, and over the heads of the native rulers there
was a complete network of Songhay administration.


By the acquisition of the Haussa States the territory
of the empire was carried from Bornu on the borders
of Lake Chad to the Atlantic. The southern Hmits had
been securely extended, by the final conquest and con-
version of Mossi and the subjection of Borgu, to the
mountains which divide the uplands of the interior from
the jungle of the coast. Its northern frontier was re-
established on the old limits of the Mellestine, being so
far enlarged in the north-east by the conquest of Aghadez
as to command the Tripoli- Fezzan route into the desert.
It already commanded the routes entering on the west
from Sidjilmessa and Wargelan. Thus Songhay held
the southern side of the three already mentioned "gates
of the desert," and in language of latitude and longitude
the empire may be described as extending, in the middle
of the sixteenth century, from about 17° west to 13° east,
and from about 10° to between 25° and 30° north. Its
shape, however, was not that of a parallelogram, but
rather that of a figure enclosed within a great semicircle,
of which the base, extending from the country south of
Lake Chad to the Atlantic, measured about 2000 miles,
while the greatest diameter, taken at right angles to the
base due north in the neighbourhood of Twat, measured
a little over 1000 miles.

For the purposes of administration this vast empire
was divided into the home provinces and the vice-
royalties. There were four vice-royalties. Beginning
at the west, the first vice-royalty was called Kormina,
and was composed of the south-western provinces, in-
cluding what remained of the dismembered Melle, the
Fulani State of Masina, the country of the pagan
Bambaras, and the territory lying between the Niger
and the Atlantic, up to the limit at which it met the
frontier line of the second vice-royalty known as Bal
or Bala. The vice-royalty of Bal took in the north-
western provinces, including Ghanata, and extended from
Timbuctoo to the salt-mines of Tegazza. The frontier
of Bal was conterminous in the desert with the frontier


of the third vice-royalty of Bankou, which covered the
country extending north-east from the river between
Timbuctoo and Kagho or Gao. The eastern frontier
of Bankou was again conterminous in the desert, pro-
bably about the limits of Tekadda, with that of the
great vice-royalty of Dandi, which seems to have had
an extension in the east equal to that of Kormina in
the west. It reached from the eastern end of the southern
mountains, in the neighbourhood of the province now
known as Yoruba, at the back of Lagos, and after in-
cluding Borgu and the country as far north as Gao on
the western side of the Niger, it spread over the
eastern side of the river as far as Aghadez in the north-
east, and across the Haussa States to the borders of
Wangara and Bornu near Lake Chad.

The exact frontiers of the vice-royalties are unknown.
Presumably they did not always remain the same. But
roughly speaking, if the Niger be divided into the four
sections which have been indicated, that is, from the
sources of the river in the west to Jenne, from Jenne
to Timbuctoo, from Timbuctoo to Gao, and from Gao
to a point above the junction with the Benue, which
might perhaps be fixed at the Boussa rapids above
Jebba, radiating lines drawn from the meeting points
of those four sections to the circumference of the empire
will serve to give a fairly definite impression of the
political division of the outlying provinces.

The territory which remained, and which was en-
closed between the river and the southern mountains
in the area now known as the Bend of the Niger, was
divided into the home provinces. Of these there were
several of importance. Amongst them may be named
Hombouri, Sansanding, and Bandouk. The old capital
of the empire, and the residence always preferred by the
great Askia, was Kagho, now represented only by the
unimportant little town of Gao. But the true centre of
political, religious, and commercial life was Timbuctoo.



To cross the dominions of the Askia was, we are told, a
six months' journey. Yet so effective were the measures
taken by him for its administration, that before the
end of his reign, the result is thus summarised by his
historian : " He was obeyed with as much docility on
the farthest limits of the empire as he was in his own
palace, and there reigned everywhere great plenty and
absolute peace."

He laboured unceasingly to introduce the reforms
which he thought desirable, and to appoint to every
position of importance men whom he could trust to
supervise his measures. The reformation of the army
and the church, which had occupied the opening years
of his reign, represented but the beginning of the care
which he continued to bestow upon these two great
institutions. The evolution of systems of government
suitable to the widely differing peoples over whom he
ruled, the development of trade, the protection of letters
and the opening of communications, were among ques-
tions to which he gave much of his time. Moslem judges
were appointed in the lesser towns, which up to this time
had been content with the services of scribes or con-
ciliators ; and among the biographies of upright judges
given to us by Ahmed Baba or Es Sadi, the comment
is not infrequent : "He was one of those appointed by
Askia the Great." There was a state prison for political
offenders, which seems to have served a purpose similar
to that of the Tower of London, and the courtyard of the

prison of Kanato was no less famous in local annals than



Tower Hill. The general rule would seem to have been
a rule of mildness, but it is to be noted that inhuman
punishments which, in their survival, shock the sentiment
of the twentieth century, were used on occasions which
called for exceptional severity. Among these, burying
alive in bottle-shaped holes, which were closed over the
head of the victim, and sewing up in the hides of oxen
or wild beasts, are two which connect the criminal code
of Songhay with the past and with the present. The
sewing up of victims in the skins of wild beasts was,
it may be remembered, practised in Rome under the
Emperor Makrinus, and was still in use at a much
later period. The practice of burying alive remained
among the punishments of the Soudan, and was only
abolished in the states acknowledging British rule by the
expedition to Sokoto and Kano in 1903. Askia the
Great does not seem to have gone the length of codify-
ing the Songhay laws, but the attention which was given
to the study of law, and the long lists of distinguished
lawyers who are mentioned in the annals of this and the
succeeding reigns, would seem to indicate that Moham-
medan law was generally accepted and practised through
the Songhay Empire, with only such local modification as
experience may have suggested. The system of local
law existing at the present day in the Haussa States is
admirable in theory. In the decadence of the country it
is the administration of it which has failed.

Askia also introduced a reform of the markets. A
unification of weights and measures was drawn up.
Inspectors of the markets — an office which already
existed under the Sultans of Melle — were selected with
special care. They were enjoined to keep close watch
over the introduction of the new system, and any falsifi-
cation was severely punished. The markets were, it is
said, rendered so honest, that a child might go into the
market-place and would bring back full value for value
sent. The Niger was, of course, the great highway of
commerce, and the towns situated upon it were the prin-


cipal centres of trade. Jenn6, which continued to be
enriched by a great cotton industry, was looked upon
as the principal market for internal trade. Timbuctoo
governed the trade of the west and north-west, including
relations with Morocco and the coast. Kagho, or Gao,
governed the trade of the east and north-east, including
relations with Egypt and Tripoli, but in the Haussa States
Kano had long been an important trading centre ; and
Gober, Zamfara, and Zaria — all rich in local produce,
especially cotton, for which their soil and climate was
said to be particularly fitted — possessed a well-established
and busy trade. Aghadez formed a very wealthy station
on the main north-eastern trade route, and it is not
improbable that the cause of the war which occupied
the armies of the Askia for two years had its origin
in the commercial rivalry of that town with the town
of Tekadda, on the borders of the vice-royalty of

Systems of banking and credit, which seem to have
existed under the kings of Melle, were improved. Bank-
ing remained chiefly in the hands of the Arabs, from
whom letters of credit could be procured, which were

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 16 of 41)