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 causes which operated to cut off the countries ot
the Western Soudan from their old connection with Spain,
and to interrupt their communication with Christian
Europe, did not apply to the Mohammedan East, where
the Turks were the ruling power. Embassies from
Bornu to Tripoli are frequently mentioned, and before
the end of the sixteenth century the armies of Bornu,
more advanced than the majority of European troops,
were armed in great part with muskets. The Spaniards
were ahead of the rest of Europe in this respect, but
it may be remembered that at the battle of Lepanto,
which was fought in 1571, only the crews of the more
important ships were armed with muskets. In an en-
gagement which Drake had with the Spaniards off the
American coast in 1572, the English crews were armed
only with bows and arrows, and when Queen Elizabeth
ascended the throne in 1557, the principal weapons in
the arsenals of England were bows and arrows. Yet,
if the Kano chronicle is to be trusted, the troops of


Bornu had "guns" as early as the beginning of the
fifteenth century.

From Ali Ghajideni, who ascended the throne of
Bornu in 1472, to Edris Alawoma, who was the con-
temporary of Queen Elizabeth and died in 1603, the
destinies of Bornu were guided by almost uniformly
vigorous and enlightened kings. There were a few
short reigns of no importance, but for the most part
the period was for Bornu, as for Songhay, one of
great and prosperous development. The Government
of Bornu was, in theory at least, somewhat less despotic
than that of Songhay, and was conducted by the
medium of a council of twelve, between whom the
principal offices of State were divided. According to
some authorities the monarchy itself was elective, but
with the interruption of certain revolutions it seems to
have descended very generally from father to son.
The territory of Bornu was divided, like that of Song-
hay, into districts of which each had its governor, but
it does not appear to have had the superior grouping
of districts into viceroyalties, which in some degree
assimilated the organisation of the Songhay Empire
to that of Imperial Rome. In the records of Bornu
there is frequent reference to the position and influ-
ence of the queen mothers, and women appear to
have played a not unimportant part in its history. In
the latter half of the sixteenth century, Aicha, the
mother of King Edris, herself reigned for a short
period before her son's accession. She was a very
distinguished woman, to whose advice it is believed
that her son owed much of the wisdom of his conduct.
Under her influence an important embassy was sent
to Tripoli, and the policy of maintaining intercourse
and trade with the outer world by the medium of
the Turkish Empire, which had always been the policy
of prosperous Bornu, was actively developed. In this
latter period of Bornuese prosperity, foreign trade and
local conquest form the two important notes of its his-


tory. We have seen that conquests had been effected
on the East, and the domination of Bornu over Kanem
had been substituted for the ancient domination of
Kanem over Bornu. Campaigns, though not always
successful, had been carried out in the West, and the
Haussa States at a somewhat later date became one by
one tributary, though not in any true sense subject to

Ali Ghajideni in the fifteenth century reorganised
the Empire of Bornu. His immediate successors en-
larged and aggrandised it. Edris Alawoma, at the end
of the sixteenth century, undertook the special task of
consolidating it and binding its somewhat heterogeneous
elements into one political whole. He once more gave
attention to the pagan Soy, who continued at that date
to defy the power of Bornu in independent fastnesses of
their own. Having reduced them with much difficulty to
submission in the north-western portions of his territory,
he carried away a great number of the people, and the
remainder fled eastward to Kanem. He marched then
south-westward against other pagan tribes, and it is
especially mentioned in recounting his campaigns that
he achieved his success mainly by the force of his
muskets. He then undertook a great campaign against
Kano, which must have occurred during the worst period
of the misfortunes of Kano, during that twenty years
when, the spirit of the Kano people being broken, they
were obliged "to sit at home and be afraid." Never-
theless, though the strong places of the province of
Kano fell into the hands of Bornu, the town itself suc-
ceeded in maintaining its independence. As this fact is
acknowledged by the Bornu chronicle, it may be held
to be undoubtedly accurate. After Kano, Edris turned
his arms northwards towards the Berbers of the desert,
and attacked the " five tribes " or Berbers of Asben,
with whom it has been mentioned that Gober durinpf
all this period of its history maintained a perpetual war.
Here, too, Edris was victorious to the extent of impos-



ing a tributary sort of allegiance. North, south, east,
and west he carried his conquering arms. To give a
list of the many tribes that he subdued could only weary
the reader, but amongst many unfamiliar names that of
Katagum, which is of sufficient importance to form now
one of seventeen provinces of Northern Nigeria, may be
selected for mention as having at this time made its
submission to Bornu.

The result of twelve years of fighting is all that the
reader can be asked to carry in his mind. This was
to weld the Empire of Bornu into one victorious and
formidable whole, of which the troops, armed with a
weapon superior to any then known in the Soudan, had
acquired a military reputation of being practically irre-
sistible as early as the year 1583, that is, eight years
before the coming of the Moors. Had Songhay under
the later Askias kept pace with her neighbour of
Bornu, and introduced as she might have done the
musket into the armament of her troops, it is possible
that the whole subsequent fate of the Soudan might have
been changed. It was the possession of muskets by the
Moors which, as will presently be seen, enabled them to
make an easy conquest of a once famous empire, while
it is probable that the possession of the same weapons
by Bornu was among the causes which operated to check
the Moorish invasion at the limits which it actually

Edris Alawoma himself was killed in battle in the
year 1603 by the rudest of pagan weapons, a hand-bill
or hoe, thrown at him by an adversary concealed in a
tree, when he was reducing one of the tribes of Southern
Bornu to obedience. But at the moment of the Moorish
conquest of Songhay he was still upon the throne, and
the thirty-three years of his prosperous and enlightened
reign had placed Bornu in a strong position to contest
the suzerainty of Haussaland with the new-comers.



The slight outline which has been given of the course
of history in the eastern portion of the West African
Soudan, renders it possible to construct some picture of
the general condition of the country from the shores of
the Atlantic to those of Lake Chad at the moment of the
coming of the Moors in 1591.

In the west the Empire of Songhay having risen
to the zenith of its prosperity and fame, still enjoyed,
according to its own historians, the blessings of peace and
order throughout its vast extent. We are expressly told
that when the Moorish army arrived in the Soudan, it
found the country to be one of the most favoured of
the Almighty for wealth and for fertility. Peace reigned
in all its provinces, and, thanks to the admirable organisa-
tion established by the great Askia in the beginning of
the century, the orders of the monarch were obeyed
implicitly from the frontiers of the Eastern Viceroyalty
of Dandi to the borders of the Atlantic, and from
the southern mountains to Touat and Tegazza in the
northern desert — as well as in all the dependencies of
these Berber towns. The awful misery which followed
when the supreme power was suddenly destroyed is laid,
without hesitation, to the count of the conquerors, who
are held responsible by the local annalists, not only for
what they did, but, very properly, for the ravages of
the powers of disorder which they let loose. " All
was changed in a moment," says the Tarikh-es-Soudan.
" Danger took the place of security, destitution of opu-
lence, trouble, calamities, and violence succeeded to tran-


quillity. Everywhere the populations began to destroy
each other. In all places and in every direction rapine
became the law, war spared neither life nor property,
nor the position of the people. Disorder was general,
it spread everywhere till it reached at last the highest
degree of intensity."

But while the author of the Tarikh attributes this
condition of things directly to the Moors, we find in his
own pages, long before the coming of the conquerors,
indications which serve to explain not only how the
Moors made of this great and wealthy country such an
easy prey, but also to show that in the reigns of the
later Askias the strenuous spirit of heroism, which had
marked the rise of that dynasty, was dead, and the
aspiration to live on a higher plane of civilisation than
their predecessors had given place to nothing more
noble than a love of luxury. The Songhay Empire at
the end of the sixteenth century had become fatally con-
tent to exist upon the tradition of its former greatness.
One generation had borne the labours of preparing the
ground for seed. Another, when the harvest stood
ripe, thought only of gorging themselves with the fruit.
Thus, when all seemed to be at its best, the empire
was in truth nearest to its end. After describing the hap-
piness of the country under the earlier Askias, and the
perfect order which prevailed, the Tarikh says, in words
which might have applied to decadent Rome : " Things
continued thus until towards the moment in which the
Songhay dynasty approached its end, and its empire
ceased to exist. At this moment faith was exchanged
for infidelity ; there was nothing forbidden by God which
was not openly done. Men drank wine, they gave them-
selves up to vice. ... As to adultery, it become so
frequent that indulgence in it was almost accepted as
permissible. Without it there was no elegance and no
glory. . . , Because of these abominations," continues
the pious annalist, "the Almighty in His vengeance
drew down upon the Songhay the victorious army of


the Moors. He brought it through terrible suffering
from a distant country. Then the roots of this people
were separated from the trunk, and the chastisement
which they underwent was exemplary."

But, if at the end of the sixteenth century the body
of the Songhay Empire stood ready for the axe, there
were offshoots to which the felling of the trunk was
destined to impart perhaps only the more vigour. In
the western province, Masina, already mentioned as
having established in the eleventh century, with the
help of its Fulani population, an independence which,
though it had paid tribute to many rulers, was sacrificed
to none, was destined yet to play a part of some
importance in the future of the country. In the east
the Viceroyalty of Dandi, including the territory of the
independent Sultans of Kebbi, the practically inde-
pendent Haussa States, and the State of Borgu, with
its neighbouring territory of Southern Gurma, was the
refuge of all that was yet loyal to the old traditions of
Songhay. The dynasty of Kebbi, founded in rebellion,
was vigorous with the old vigour of conquering Songhay,
and it had not cut itself off from the prosperity of the
empire to accept a tame share in its defeat. To the
Moor who knew no difference between them, Kebbi had
a lesson of its own to teach.

Beyond the rampart which was created from Kebbi
to Nupe by these states of the Eastern Niger lay Haussa-
land, a congeries of states, Mohammedan and pagan, of
great fertility, of no little local industry, famous from the
earliest times for their commercial and agricultural activity,
but containing populations composed of such extraordinarily
diverse elements that internecine war was their habitual
condition. Their lack of internal cohesion deprived them,
notwithstanding the many advantages of their position,
of external strenfjth. ThouQfh one or other in turn assumed
a locally dominant position, they can hardly be said either
to have made or to have resisted conquest, but under
all conquest they preserved their individuality and per-


sisted in their habits. The black traders of the eleventh
century, whom we hear of in the pages of El Bekri, did
not differ substantially from the black traders whom Idrisi
mentions in the twelfth century, and Ibn Batuta speaks
of in the fourteenth century. Their trade prospered
through the great period of the fifteenth century, and
when, in the sixteenth century, Kano fell upon evil days,
Katsena rose quickly to take her place. The agricultural
population was driven off the land, but misfortune does
not seem to have altered the habits of Haussa traders.
When the outposts of Songhay fought with the out-
posts of Bornu, Haussaland was the battlefield, but the
Haussa States took no part in the war. Like a bed of
rushes they have ever allowed the storms of encircling
forces to beat over their heads. At times they have
appeared to be laid low, but when the hurricane has
passed they have raised themselves, no worse for the
buffeting of fate. Their populations, which have never
enjoyed any wide foreign reputation, were perhaps locally,
in their modest way, the best known and the best informed
of all the peoples of the Soudan. They were very
numerous, and in their recognised capacity of travelling
traders through all the states, their language was one
of the most widely spoken in the Soudan. By the end
of the sixteenth century it supplied to the eastern portion
of the country a lingua franca, which to the present day
remains as a means of communication with those "great
multitudes of negroes and of other people," of whom Leo
Africanus confesses in the beginning of the sixteenth
century, that he " could not well note the names."
Travelling as they did in small trading caravans through
the entire country, they became naturally acquainted
with the affairs of every neighbouring kingdom. They
were themselves well known from the shores of the
Atlantic to the lip of the sacred well of Zem-Zem, where
they drank as pilgrims within the precincts of the temple
of Mecca — and as peace was essential to their trade, they
quarrelled only with next-door neighbours and rivals.


Peaceful abroad and quarrelsome at home, they earned
the character, which they enjoy to-day, of being at once
the best fighters and the most industrious traders of the

Eastward again of Haussaland and its multitudes, in-
cluding the settlements which have been already men-
tioned of Fulanis, Wangaras, and all the southern pagan
states, lay the well-organised Empire of Bornu, occupy-
ing on the western side of Lake Chad a territory more
extensive, but not widely different from, its present
position, as shown upon modern maps, while to the north
and east it spread round the shores of the great lake,
and extending far into the desert, was almost conter-
minous with the Egyptian frontiers of the Turkish

It will be remembered that in the contemporary life
of Europe Mohammedanism had been steadily gaining
in the East, under the Turks, what it had been losing
in the West under the Saracens. The Seljukian Turks
had overrun Egypt itself in the middle of the thirteenth
century. Their Mamelukes or foreign soldiery elected a
Sultan for themselves in Cairo in the year 1260, and
though the Abbasside Caliphs preserved a nominal supre-
macy, which was chiefly religious, Egypt was, in fact,
governed by the Mameluke Sultans, until they in turn
were overthrown by the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman
Turks were established in Europe, in the Balkan Penin-
sula, in 1353, exactly one hundred years before their
final conquest of Constantinople. About the year 1389
their famous leader, Bajazet, accepted the title of Sultan
from the Abbasside Caliph of Egypt, who still kept the
name of Head of the Moslem Church. Shortly after
accepting the title of Sultan he defeated the confederate
army of the Christian powers at Nicropolis, and while
an attack of the gout prevented him from fulfilling a vow
to stable his horse in St. Peter's at Rome, he was able
so closely to besiege Constantinople that it must have
fallen in 1402 but for the intervention of Tamerlane.


Tamerlane, chief of that other branch of the Tartars
which is best known to history as the Moguls, was the
representative, though not the legitimate descendant, of
the heirs of Genghis Khan. He frankly aspired to con-
quer the world, and he had conquered Persia, Tartary,
and India, when, hearing on the banks of the Ganges
of the conquests of Bajazet in Europe, he resolved to
march against the rival of his military glory. The Mogul
and Ottoman conquests already touched each other in the
neighbourhood of Erzeroum and the Euphrates. Tamer-
lane's first move was to attack Syria, which was still
subject to Egypt. Aleppo, Damascus, and Bagdad fell
to his arms amid awful massacres. Ibn Khaldun re-
lates the interview he had with him outside the walls
of Damascus, in 1401.

But the Mamelukes defended their territory with
vigour, and the losses and fatigues of the campaign
caused Tamerlane to turn from Egypt and Palestine, and
concentrate his forces upon the Ottoman Empire. At
the battle of Ancyra, in Anatolia, Bajazet was overthrown
and taken prisoner, in 1402, and while the Mogul armies
advanced to the Asiatic shores of the Sea of Marmora,
Bajazet himself died in captivity. Thus, in 1403, Tamer-
lane held Asia from the Ganges to the Mediterranean.
But the Ottoman Turks held one passage into Europe
at the Hellespont, and the Christians of Constantinople
held the other at the Bosphorus. Bajazet's successor,
Suleiman, and the Greek Emperor, both agreed to pay
tribute to Tamerlane on the condition that his armies
did not pass the Straits. Egypt also agreed to pay him
tribute, with a similar condition that he should not pass
into Africa. How long these compositions with superior
force, on the part of rich, weak nations, would have held
good, cannot be known. Tamerlane died in 1405. After
his death the Mogul Empire gradually sank beneath the
processes of time and war, till it lost itself in the sham
splendour of the throne of Delhi.

The empire of the Turks, on the contrary, recovered


from the short and sharp attack of Tamerlane. In 142 1
a grandson of Bajazet succeded to his five uncles as
Amurath II., and during his capable reign of thirty years,
the Turkish Empire reconstituted itself alike in Europe
and in Asia Minor. The capture of Constantinople, though
attempted by Amurath in 1422, was reserved for his
successor, Mohammed II. The town was taken by the
Turks on the 29th of May 1453, and with it fell the
Christian Empire of the East. St. Sophia became a
Turkish mosque. The throne of Constantine and his
successors became the seat of Islam. There was at
that time no power in Christendom which could dis-
lodge the Turk from the almost impregnable position
of Constantinople. It was in vain that the feeble heirs
of the family of Paleologus sold their imperial rights to
European sovereigns. Before the end of the fifteenth
century the Greek Empire in Europe and Asia had
passed into Turkish hands, and the sack of Otranto
by the Turks in 148 1 convulsed the Christian world
with fear that the conquest of Rome might be added
to that of Constantinople.

But Mohammed died in 1481, and his successors
turned their attention rather to the east and south. The
Turkish fleets which had been created during the reigns
of Amurath and Mohammed, and numbered no less than
250 galleys, under the command of the famous Barbarossa
scoured the African coasts. Algiers and Tripoli became
Turkish strongholds in the opening years of the six-
teenth century. Egypt and Syria, which had continued
to exist under the Mamelukes during the period of
European conquest, were taken by Selim I. in the
year 1517. The Knights Templars were driven out of
the island of Rhodes on Christmas Day of 1522. Tunis
was captured in 1534, Gibraltar was sacked in 1539,
and though the fortress was held for Spain, the Turkish
fleet sailed round the coast, pillaging the Spanish towns
as they went. Thus, from one end of the Mediterranean
to the other, Turkish corsairs became the terror of the


sea. The greater part of the North African coast passed
into Turkish hands, a position which was not conquered
without much fighting, taking and re-taking of towns.
Tunis and Tripoli changed hands more than once.

Italy itself was not spared. A separate squadron,
under Dragout, another famous Turkish sailor, ravaged
its coasts. In 1569, in a great naval campaign, the
Turks attacked and pillaged the coasts and islands
belonging to Venice. They took parts of Crete and
Cyprus. Finally, on the 1st of August 1571, Famagosta
capitulated to the Turks, after a long and arduous siege,
and the island of Cyprus was theirs. This was the last
Turkish triumph of the century. The Christian Powers
were at last able to combine effectively under the leader-
ship of Don John of Austria against the common enemy,
and the battle of Lepanto, which was fought on October
7th of the same year, destroyed the Turkish sea-power
in the Mediterranean.

I owe an apology to the reader for this crude list
of dates, but the rapid rise of a relatively new Moham-
medan power on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean
must be borne in mind in order to understand with
what a different world the commercial and intellectual
intercourse of Bornu was carried on, to that known and
frequented in the West by the caravans of Melle, and
of Songhay in its earlier days, and also to explain the
fury of hatred and persecution by which the Moorish
citizens of Spain were, in the fifteenth century, attacked,
conquered, and driven out of the country which they
had once civilised and still enriched. As the crescent
waxed stronger in the East it waned in the West, and
the decline of those nations of the Western Soudan
which were dependent on their touch with Western
markets and Western sources of civilisation, is propor-
tionately observable.

It was not to be supposed that Christian Powers,
however indifferent individually to each other's fate,
could collectively regard with indifference the rise of



a force which threatened to destroy them all. Had
they not been enfeebled by jealousies, corruption, and
superstition, they must have learned long before the
end of the sixteenth century to combine in such force
as to prohibit the further advance of Islam. But in
the fifteenth century the darkness of the Middle Ages
was still upon them. Gibbon, in relating the fall of
Constantinople, quotes from ^neas Silvius, afterwards
Pope Pius II., who thus describes the state of Christen-
dom: "It is a body," he says, "without a head; a
republic without laws or magistrates. The Pope and
the Emperor may shine as lofty titles, as splendid
images ; but they are unable to command, and none are
willing to obey ; every state has a separate prince, and
every prince has a separate interest. What eloquence
could unite so many discordant and hostile powers under
the same standard.-* Could they be assembled in arms,
who would dare to assume the office of general ? What
order could be maintained? What military discipline?
Who would undertake to feed such an enormous multi-
tude? Who would understand their various languages,
or direct their stranger and incompatible manners ? What
mortal could reconcile the English with the French,
Genoa with Arragon, the Germans with the natives
of Hungary and Bohemia? If a small number en-
listed in the Holy War, they must be overthrown
by the infidels ; if many, by their own weight and

This picture of the weakness of Europe in the
fifteenth century needs no amplifying touches. It may,
however, be recalled that at the very moment that
Mohammed II. was engaged in besieging and sacking
Constantinople, a private German citizen of the name of

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 23 of 41)