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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operative throughout the Soudan, and were used by the
black travelling merchants as well as by Arab traders.
Commerce, as was to be expected, developed greatly
under the encouragement and security given to it by
the Askia's measures.

With the increase of commerce and luxury came also
the gradual refinement and softening of manners which
accompany wealth in a community where military service
is no longer a universal obligation. The reforms of the
great Askia did not neglect the department of morals.
The great freedom prevailing in the intercourse of men
and women was among the scandals for which he would
seem to have endeavoured, but without much success, to
legislate. He seems to have instituted a body of cor-
rectional police, who were charged with the prevention of
any infringement of the laws. Women were placed on the


same footing as in the harems of the East, and obliged to
veil themselves when they appeared in public. Never-
theless, Timbuctoo remained ever celebrated for the
luxury of its habits and the gaiety and licence of its
manners. Music, dress, dancing, and amusement formed,
say its indignant chroniclers, the principal objects of
life to a large portion of the population. The immense
domestic establishments of the East would seem to have
excited in the Askia no displeasure. He was himself
the father of a hundred sons, of whom the youngest was
born when he was ninety years of age. But his influence
appears to have been strongly and indignantly excited
against forms of licence which exceeded the bounds
of this very liberal standard of morality. His adviser,
in respect to these reforms, was a learned fanatic of
the name of El Mocheili, whose writings remain to
attest the workings of the royal mind. The Askia's
own sons, less rigid in their principles than their
father, did not escape when punishment seemed to
him to be due to their offences. El Mocheili, whose
advice was at times more enthusiastic than discreet,
was among those who are said to have influenced the
Askia in the direction of the religious persecution of
the Jews.

Another great counsellor of the Askia, whose name
has been preserved, was a Marabout of the name of
Mohammed Koti, a scholar and writer of great emi-
nence, the author, amongst other things, of a history
of the kingdoms of Ghanata, Songhay, and Timbuctoo,
called "The Fatassi," which has unfortunately been lost.
M. Felix Dubois, who, after diligent search, was able to
recover a few fragments of this valuable work, gives an
interesting account of the destruction of the only existing
copy of the history by the Fulani, as late as the middle
of the nineteenth century. The author was born in
1460, and survived Askia the Great by fourteen years,
being connected during the whole period of the reign
with public affairs. Under the influence of Koti and


other distinguished scholars, letters received well-directed
sympathy and encouragement.

After the siege of Aiwalatin in 1480, there began
a gradual but steady flow of learning and cultivation from
that decadent capital of Ghanata to Timbuctoo. The
death of Sonni Ali and the accession of Mohammed gave
confidence to this movement, which soon gathered force
and volume, and we are enabled to reconstruct from
the writings of Ahmed Baba, who was himself born
during the reign of Askia Daouad, the fourth and last
reigning son of the great Askia, some picture of the
intellectual and literary revival of Timbuctoo.

The University of Sankore would seem to have been
a very active centre of civilisation. It was attached to
the mosque of the same name, and was in correspondence,
both by letter and by the frequent visits of its professors,
with the universities of North Africa and Egypt. It
was already in existence under the rule of Melle, and
at that time was in touch with the universities of Spain-
The latter source of knowledge was now, of course, cut
off, by the cessation of intercourse between Spain and
Africa. But, as the first result of the expulsion of the
Moors was to drive the more learned Arabs of Spain
into the recesses of the University of Fez, the full effect
of the measure had not yet been felt. On the contrary,
the life of Timbuctoo had probably received some stimu-
lus from the influx of learning to Morocco. The his-
torians of Timbuctoo distinctly state that civilisation and
learning came to it from the West. In the middle of
the sixteenth century there existed in the town, side by
side with the luxury of the court and the frivolity of
fashion, a large and learned society, living at ease, and
busily occupied with the elucidation of intellectual and
religious problems. The town swarmed also with
Soudanese students, of whom we are optimistically told
that they " were filled with ardour for knowledge and

The more distinguished professors would seem to


have had schools in which they gave courses of lectures,
attended by students, who afterwards received diplomas
from the hands of their masters. In the biographical
sketches of Ahmed Baba, the master from whom diplo-
mas were received is mentioned as regularly as the
school or university in which a man receives his educa-
tion is mentioned in similar English works. A sketch
which Ahmed Baba gives of one of the principal pro-
fessors under whom he himself had studied, may serve
to indicate the type of sage who was revered by the
youth of Timbuctoo, and incidentally presents a picture
of local scholastic life.

Mohammed Abou Bekr of Wankore, his pupil tells
us, writing himself as an old man forty or fifty years later,
was "one of the best of God's virtuous creatures. He
was a working scholar, and a man instinct with goodness.
His nature was as pure as it was upright. He was him-
self so strongly impelled towards virtue, and had so high
an opinion of others, that he always considered them as
being so to speak his equals, and as having no knowledge
of evil. He did not believe in the bad faith of the world,
but always thought well of his fellow-creatures until they
had committed a fault, and even after they had committed
a fault. Calm and dignified, with a natural distinction
and a modesty that rendered intercourse with him easy,
he captured all hearts. Every one who knew him loved
him." He taught during the whole of a long life, while
at the same time he continued to take an active interest,
and even some part, in public affairs. The Sultan, who
shared the general respect for him, offered him the
lucrative appointment of Governor of the Palace, but he
refused it — "God having," he said, "delivered him from
such cares." He was also offered the appointment of
principal preacher to the great mosque, but that also he
prayed the Sultan to excuse him from accepting. He
was apparently wealthy, and possessed a fine library.
"His whole life was given," says Ahmed Baba, "to
the service of others. He taught his pupils to love


science, to follow its teachings, to devote their time to
it, to associate with scholars, and to keep their minds
in a state of docility. He lavishly lent his most precious
books, rare copies, and the volumes that he most valued,
and never asked for them again, no matter what was
the subject of which they treated." Sometimes " a
student would present himself at the door and ask for
a book, and he would give it without even knowing who
the man was." Ahmed Baba recalls with affection an
instance when he himself wanted a rare work on grammar,
and the master not only lent it, but spent a long time
searching through his library for other works which
might help to elucidate his pupil's difficulties. " It was
astonishing to see him," says Ahmed Baba; "and he
acted thus, notwithstanding the fact that he had a passion
for books, and that he collected them with ardour,
both buying and causing them to be copied." It is not,
alas! surprising to hear that "in this way he lost a
great quantity of his books."

His industry in teaching was equalled only by his
patience. " When I knew him," says Ahmed Baba,
"he used to begin his lectures after the first prayer,
and continued them until the second prayer at half-past
nine, varying the subjects of which he treated. He
then returned home for the prayer, and after it usually
went to the cadi to occupy himself with public affairs.
After that he taught at his own house till mid-day. He
joined the public mid-day prayers, and then continued
his lectures at home till the fourth prayer. Then he
went out and lectured in another place until twilight.
After the sunset prayer, he taught in the mosque until
the last night prayer, and then returned to his own house.
No pupil was too stupid or too ignorant for him. He
never allowed himself to be discouraged, or to despair
of gaining an entrance into the understanding of his
hearer. Sometimes, indeed, his patience with the stupid
was so great, that the more intelligent members of the
class were moved to wonder and impatience. " He


must have drunk the water of Zem-Zem to be able
to stand it," was the comment of one of Ahmed
Baba's fellow-pupils on such an occasion. But Ahmed
Baba, in faithful remembrance, forgets the impatience
of youth, and keeps only admiration. " His like," he
says, "will never be found again." The mind of this
teacher is described as "subtle, sagacious, ready, swift
to comprehend. His intelligence was broad and lumi-
nous. His usual manner was taciturn and grave, but
he would occasionally break into sallies of wit. He
occupied himself with what concerned him, listened to
no gossip, and took part in no frivolity, but "wrapped
himself in a magnificent mantle of discretion and re-
serve. His hand held fast the standard of continence."

In the atmosphere of laborious calm which is pic-
tured by such a rule of existence, the sages of Timbuctoo
would seem to have lived and carried on their labours
to advanced old age. It is impossible not to be struck
by the long periods of activity which are assigned to
distinguished scholars. Ahmed Baba himself was born
in 1556, and did not die till 1627, writing industriously
during the greater part of his grown-up life. Nor was
his career exceptional in this respect. Seventy, eighty,
and even ninety, are ages at which men were still fre-
quently to be found at work.

The study of law, literature, grammar, and theology
would seem to have been more general at Timbuctoo
than that of the natural sciences. We hear, however, of
at least one distinguished geographer, and allusions to
surgical science show that the old maxim of the Arabian
schools, "He who studies anatomy pleases God," was
not forgotten. At a later date (16 18) the author of the
Tarikh incidentally mentions that his brother came from
Jenn6 to Timbuctoo to undergo an operation for cataract
at the hands of a celebrated surgeon there — an operation
which was wholly successful. The appearance of comets, so
amazing to Europe of the Middle Ages, is also noted calmly,
as a matter of scientific interest, at Timbuctoo. Earth-


quakes and eclipses excite no great surprise. In the sketch
which has just been quoted of Mohammed Wankore, the
teachers under whom this professor himself learnt Arabic
are named, showing that Arabic was by no means considered
to be the language of Timbuctoo. That language was
Songhay, and if the civilisation of Timbuctoo came from
the West, it was wedded within the city walls to the
traditions and the forms of expression of the East.

Travellers give us a picture of the town as it existed
in the early part of the sixteenth century. The houses,
which would seem to have been fairly spacious, were
built, some say of clay, and some of wood covered with
plaster — the roofs, like the Dutch buildings of South
Africa, being universally thatched. The mosques are
described as stately buildings of cut stone and lime, and
there was a "princely palace," of which the walls were
also of cut stone and lime. There were a great many
shops and factories, "especially," says Leo Africanus, who
was there in 1526, "of such as weave linen and cotton
cloth." The court maintained by the Askias is described
by Marmol as being so well ordered that it yielded in
nothing spiritual or temporal to the courts of Northern
Africa. Under the successors of Askia the Great, the
palace was enlarged and greatly embellished, the court
being then thronged with courtiers in ever-increasing
numbers. The habits of dress became sumptuous, and
it would seem from incidental allusions that different
functionaries had their different uniforms and insignia
of office, to the wearing of which great value was at-
tached. The dress and appointments of women became
also extravagantly luxurious. They were served on gold.
In full dress their persons were covered with jewels, and
the wives of the rich when they went out were attended
by well-dressed slaves.

Amongst the possessions of the rich, large libraries
and good horses would seem, in Askia the Great's time,
to have been the most valued. The libraries of wealthy
and learned citizens are frequently mentioned, and horses


from Barbary would always fetch their price. The king
was specially fond of horses, paid for them liberally, and
always caused himself to be informed when good ones
were brought into the town for sale. Gold plate was
also apparently remarkable. Leo Africanus says that " the
rich king of Timbuctoo had many plates and sceptres
of gold, of which some weighed as much as 1300 lbs."
As we are not told that the Askia was waited on by a
race of giants, we may permit ourselves to doubt the state-
ment that he caused himself to be served on trays that
weighed 1300 lbs. Yet we may remember the famous
missorium or dish for the service of the table, which in
the sixth century was found by the Franks in the Gothic
palace of Narbonne, and of which even the grave and
careful Gibbon accepts the statement that it weighed 500
lbs. of massy gold. Taken in conjunction with previous
accounts of the gold plate of the sovereigns of Melle and
the maofnificent arms of their retainers, this statement
may at least be accepted as showing that the court of
the Askias was well supplied with the precious metal.

Among the amusements of the town, music held
always a high place, and under Askia the Great's suc-
cessors, orchestras, provided with singers of both sexes,
were much frequented. Of Askia the Great him-
self, it is said that "his mind was set towards none
of these things." Chess-playing, of a kind which is
particularly described as "Soudanese chess," was some-
times carried to the extreme of a passion. We hear
of a general in the reign of one of the succeeding
Askias, who gave it as an excuse for allowing himself
to be surprised by the enemy's cavalry, that he was so
much absorbed in a game of chess as not to have paid
attention to the reports of his scouts. The whole town
in Askia the Great's day was very rich, the people
living with great abundance, and trade was active.
The currency was of gold, without any stamp or super-
scription, but for small objects in the native markets
shells were still used.


A very great trade was done both here and at
Kagho in cotton, which was exchanged for European
cloth. Unfortunately their relative value is not men-
tioned. We are told only that the money price of fine
European cloth was reckoned at fifteen ducats an ell,
and for scarlet of Venice or Turkey cloth, Leo says
they would give as much as thirty ducats an ell. In
Kagho he says that it was "a wonder to see what
plenty of merchandise is daily brought hither, and how
costly and sumptuous all things be." Marmol, who
wrote about thirty years later than Leo, specially
dwells upon the cotton trade of Jenne, Melle, Tim-
buctoo, Gober, Kano, Zamfara, and Bornu. Both Leo
and Marmol, who are worth quoting, as being writers
professedly antagonistic to the Soudan, speak of the
great trade done in manuscripts and written books from
Barbary, which, they say, "are sold for more money
than any other merchandise " ; and Leo was at least so
far aware of the literary life of Timbuctoo as to note
that " Here are great store of doctors, judges, priests,
and other learned men."

It is interesting and remarkable that while Tim-
buctoo undoubtedly dominated the life of the Songhay
Empire, and was the first town of the Soudan, many
other towns are almost equally noticed by travellers for
their trade and for the learning of which they were the
centre. Marmol, writing in the reign of Askia Daouad,
speaks of Melle as not only rich in trade but also in
learning, having its own schools of science and religion.
The writers of Timbuctoo themselves make frequent
allusions to learned doctors of Melle, Aiwalatin, Jenne,
and Katsena. In Masina also there were an "immense
number of distinguished men of letters and divines."
Even the far distant Tekadda is named as the seat in
which El Mocheili chose to establish his school, when,
as a consequence of his fanatical hatred of the Jews,
he was driven from the western part of the Soudan.
Marmol says that in his day Songhay was the lan-



guage commonly spoken in Ghanata, that is, the most
westerly of the provinces of the empire. The state-
ment sounds improbable, as seventy-five years of a
mild foreign rule would hardly suffice to change the
language of a people; but it is possible that Songhay
may have been the officially adopted language of the



AsKiA THE Great reigned for thirty-six years. It is
sorrowful to have to relate that he was not allowed to
finish his life upon the throne which he had so con-
spicuously adorned. In 1528 he, being- by that time
blind, and being supposed to have fallen too com-
pletely under the influence of Ali Folen, was deposed
by his eldest son, who ascended the throne under the
title of Askia Moussa, and reigned only for three years.
During his reign the old Askia lived in comfort in
his favourite palace and farm near Kagho ; while Ali
Folen, after a first flight to Aiwalatin, made his way
to Kano with the intention of performing once again
the pilgrimage to Mecca, but, falling ill, died and
was buried in that town. On the death of Moussa
the throne of the Askias was usurped by a nephew,
Mohammed Benkan, the son of the great Askia's
favourite and profoundly trusted brother. The son did
not repay with gratitude the many favours which his
dead father had received. Not content with sitting on
the Askia's throne, he removed the blind old man from
his palace, and confined him in miserable quarters on
an island in the Niger. But his ill-doing brought de-
served punishment in its train.

In an interview which is related as taking place
between the deposed monarch and his son Ismail — a
young man of twenty-seven years of age, who came to
visit him one night in the island in which he was con-
fined — we see the vigour which had inspired the life
of the old Askia still unextinguished. Ismail sat down


before his father. The Askia, taking hold of his son's
arm, said: "Heavens! how can an arm Hke this allow
mosquitoes to devour me, and frogs to leap upon
me, when there is nothing which so revolts me ? "
Ismail, the son of that Miriam who was married after
the great campaign of Melle, was an upright but not
brilliant representative of his father's stock. He replied
with grief that he could do nothing. The Askia
answered by telling him where there was a secret stock
of money ; who were the men that he could trust ; how
he was to come into touch with them ; and, sitting in
his miserable dungeon in all the feebleness of blind old
age, the still unconquered monarch planned and dictated
a scheme by which his unworthy nephew was removed
from the throne he had usurped, and Ismail was seated
upon it in his place. Under the protection of Ismail
the old Askia returned with honour to his palace, and
died there in 1538 at an age which cannot have been
far short of a hundred.

Ismail reigned only two years, and was succeeded
in 1539 by his brother Ishak, a cruel but very able
prince, who, after a reign of nearly ten years, was suc-
ceeded in his turn by another brother, Askia Daouad,
the most distinguished of all the great Askia's sons.
Askia Daouad reigned from 1548 to 1582. After him
three more Askias of the next generation brought this
brilliant period of the history of the Soudan to an end.
When Ishak, the son of Askia Mohammed, was at the
height of his power, Muley Hamed, the Sultan of
Morocco, called upon him to give up his right to the
great western salt mine of Tegazza. His spirited answer,
read by the light of subsequent history, has a prophetic
ring. " The Hamed who makes such a demand," he
replied, "can hardly be the great Emperor of Morocco;
the Ishak who can listen to it is not I. That Ishak
has still to be born." The Ishak who would listen
was born in the next generation of Askias, and it was
under Ishak II. in 1591 that the salt mines were taken.


and the Empire of Songhay was overthrown by the

Under Askia Daouad we hear of the murder of
the Songhay governor of Tegazza by the instigation of
the Emperor of Morocco. Work at the salt mines be-
came so dangerous, and the interruption of the salt trade
was so frequent, that Askia Daouad was led to authorise
the opening of another salt mine which was found
in the desert ; but Askia Daouad abated nothing of
the claims of his father, although he and a succeeding
Muley Ahmed came to a friendly understanding. Be-
fore the end of the sixteenth century, conflict between
the troops of Songhay and the troops of Morocco, on
the question of the salt mines, was clearly becoming

Under Askia Daouad military expeditions were re-
newed on all the borders of the empire. Melle and
the Fulani provinces of the west — Mossi, Borgu, Boussa,
Gurma, all in turn gave occasion for the exercise of
military activity. It is during the military expeditions
of Askia Daouad that we get definite accounts of the
contingents furnished by subordinate Kois. Two Kois
are mentioned in one of the western campaigns as fur-
nishing 12,000 men each, which, it is said, was their
regular contingent. An expedition was sent also into
the Haussa States, and the campaign against Katsena
in 1554 was remarkable for an incident which did equal
honour to both sides. In an encounter between the
Songhay and the Haussa troops, twenty - four picked
cavaliers of Songhay sustained a long and desperate
struggle against a regiment of 400 Haussa soldiers.
They were at last overpowered, fifteen of them being
killed. The remaining nine, all badly wounded, were
taken prisoners, and the Haussa soldiers were so im-
pressed by their courage that they dressed their wounds,
nursed them with the greatest care, supplied their wants,
and then set them at liberty, sending them back to
Askia Daouad with the courteous assurance that "men


so brave should not be allowed to die." Other expeditions
occupied the greater part of this reign. As a result of
a successful campaign in Melle in 1559, Askia Daouad,
like his father, married a daughter of the house of Melle.
Here is the description, given by the Tarikh, of her
bridal train : "He caused the princess to be conducted
to Songhay in a sumptuous equipage. She was covered
with jewels, surrounded by numerous slaves, both men
and women, and provided with an abundant baggage
train. All the utensils of the household were of gold —
dishes, pitchers, pestle and mortar, everything." Under
Askia Daouad the town of Timbuctoo was much em-
bellished. The great mosque of Mansa Musa was
restored and enlarged. Two other mosques were also
rebuilt, and the restoration of the Sankore Mosque was
begun. These works were all undertaken and carried
out under the inspiration of a very public-spirited cadi,
whose name, El-Aquib, deserves to be remembered as
a representative of illustrious learning, fearless justice,
and disinterested devotion to public duty. Askia Daouad
himself contributed handsomely to the rebuilding of the
great mosque.

The last military expedition of Askia Daouad's reign
was a campaign conducted by his son, the Viceroy of
the south-western province, against the Fulani of Masina.
A lawless portion of the population of Masina had ven-
tured to attack and pillage a royal boat laden with

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 17 of 41)