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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a period, is illustrative of the adaptable nature of Fulani

Masina was independent enough at the end of the
ninth century to solicit help from the Berber kings of
the Desert Empire against black neighbours who pressed
upon it inconveniently, and to carry through a victorious
campaign. It held its own against Ghana in the great
days of that pagan empire, and maintained itself as a
centre of P'ulani rule through the administrations alike
of Melle and of Songhay.

It is in the early period of the rise of Melle — that is,
in the thirteenth century — that we have the first record
of Fulani immigration from Melle into the Haussa States
and Bornu. From this we may infer a certain pressure
by the rising power upon the Fulani of the west, but
those who migrated to Haussaland at this period were
apparently purely pastoral nomads, who took their place
humbly in their new home as Cow Fulani, and were
content to pay tax to the local kings. During the mili-
tary campaigns which preceded the rise of the Songhay
dynasty in the fifteenth century, we hear constantly of
expeditions undertaken against the Fulani, who would
seem to have resisted stoutly all encroachments upon
their liberty. Sonni Ali in 1492 conquered the Fulani
of Gurma in the eastern portion of the Bend of the Niger.
Sonni Ali also apparently conquered Masina so far as
to induce it to pay tribute and to accept the investiture
of its rulers from the hands of Timbuctoo, but it jealously
guarded its administrative independence, and throughout
the records of the Songhay dynasty wars with Masina
were of frequent recurrence. Differences of religion


were often apparently Involved, and at least one false
prophet who arose amongst the Fulani was driven before
the conquering arms of Songhay to found a new kingdom
for himself in the south-western corner of the Soudan,
close to the kingdom of the Joloffs. Independence of action,
independence of religion, independence of administration,
would seem to have been the sturdy characteristic of
Fulani social life.

Opinion is divided as to the period at which the
Fulani generally accepted Mohammedanism, but the
fact mentioned in the chronicles of Bornu that Fulani
teachers from Melle were among the first to preach the
doctrines of Mohammed in Bornu in the early part of
the thirteenth century, combined with the high position
constantly taken by Fulani individuals throughout the
history of the Soudan as teachers, men of letters, &c.,
would seem to indicate that the conversion of the upper
class of Fulani was of comparatively early date. There
seems to have been always a distinction between the
purely pastoral shepherd, or Cow Fulani, who occupied
the position of a nomad peasant, caring for nothing but
his cattle, and the aristocratic or ruling Fulani, from whose
numbers some of the most distinguished individuals of
Soudanese history were drawn. The Cow Fulani are to
the present day believed to be pagan in many districts.

The connection with the Fulani of Borgu on the
eastern edge of the Bend of the Niger that was mentioned
in relation to the founding of Masina on the western edge,
is indicative of a somewhat wide distribution of Fulani
tribes, and of an alliance, or at least friendship, between
the Fulani of the east and west, which appears to have
existed from very early times, and was often made use
of by them when there was occasion to rise against the
Songhay kings.

Some writers assert that Kanta, the rebellious general
of Songhay who founded the kingdom of Kebbi, was
himself of Fulani origin. This is uncertain, but in the
next generation to Kanta the Fulani of the eastern portion


of the Bend of the Niger joined the banners of his son.
It was as a partly Fulani kingdom that Kebbi became
great, and the Fulani may perhaps be said to have first
taken a position as rulers on the eastern side of the Niger
when they helped Tomo, the son of Kanta, to fight Bornu,
and to found the even now celebrated town of Birni-n-
Kebbi within the borders of Haussaland in 1544. They
had also, in the sixteenth century, spread into Baghirmi
on the eastern side of Chad. In the west they gradu-
ally absorbed the province of Wangara, and greatly
aggrandised their ancient territory of Masina.

It is clear that, throughout the whole period of the
domination of the Songhay, the Fulani in their different
centres of occupation increased in importance and in
military strength, and were beginning to assert them-
selves definitely as a cultivated people with a capacity for
rule. The Askias, by the many expeditions which are
recorded against Fulani tribes, display a certain uneasiness
at the growing independence of this people. In the year
1 59 1, the very year of the coming of the Moors, Fulani
chiefs took a leading part in the sack of the territory
of Jenne, and more than one punitive expedition was
rendered necessary by their turbulence.

Thus, at the end of the sixteenth century, the Fulani
had already extended themselves through the Western
Soudan as pastoral nomads, independent, though paying
a grazing-tax, in all the countries which they occupied
from the sources of the Senegal to Lake Chad. At more
than one point on this extended line centres of govern-
ment had been founded, and Fulani troops had established
for themselves a reputation as military conquerors.

At the moment of the coming of the Moors they were
the rising power of the Soudan, and during the Moorish
troubles at the end of the sixteenth and the beginning
of the seventeenth centuries, they used their opportunity
to assert their independence of Songhay. The resistance
offered by the half Fulani state of Kebbi to the eastward
advance of the Moors has been mentioned in an earlier


chapter. In 1599 Masina opened a campaign against
the Moors, and though defeated in the first instance,
the reverse would only seem to have consolidated Fulani
resistance to the foreign rule. In 1629, the kings of
Masina refused any longer to accept investiture from
the decadent government of Timbuctoo, and during the
seventeenth century the Fulani fought for their in-
dependence in the eastern as well as in the western
districts of the Bend of the Niger. The Moors, harried
upon the north by the Tuaregs of the desert, and on
the south by the Fulani, abandoned the vain attempt
to maintain their supremacy in the Soudan. They were
driven out of Gago, as has been already mentioned, in
1770. They continued to hold the town of Timbuctoo,
but during the eighteenth century, when the Moors
had fallen to the condition described by Mungo Park, the
contest for the sovereignty of the Soudan would seem
to have been between the Fulani and the Tuaregs. It
was the Tuaregs who finally drove the Moors from Tim-
buctoo in the year 1800, and within a generation the
Tuaregs themselves were driven out by the Fulani.

During this whole period of tumult the Soudan was
closed to Europe, and we have no accurate account of
the series of local wars by which it would seem to have
been distracted. At the beginning of the nineteenth
century, when, after an eclipse of two hundred years, its
history once more emerges to our view, the situation is
so far clear that the Fulani had become the dominating
people, alike in the west and in the east.

In the west, where the Tuaregs were their opponents,
they were a little later in attaining to supreme power
than in the eastern states, but in 18 13 Masina became
the seat of a powerful Fulani Empire, ruled by a
Sheikh of the name of Ahmadou. Under the leader-
ship of Ahmadou, Masina conquered Timbuctoo in 1833.
On the death of Ahmadou in 1844, Timbuctoo was once
more taken by the Tuaregs, but it was reconquered by
the Fulani in 1855, and, with the exception of three

2 B


years, from i860 to 1863, when it was taken and held
by the Toucouleurs, a half-breed Fulani people, the true
Fulani continued to hold it up to the moment of its
conquest by the French in 1893. '^^^^ Toucouleurs, who
remained masters of a portion of the Niger Valley, and
who also submitted to France in 1893, were a people
in whose veins Fulani blood predominated to so great
an extent that their ascendancy on the upper river may
be accepted as representing for that part of the country
the general ascendancy of the Fulani races.

The history of the Fulani conquest of the Haussa
States, where another Sheikh, as famous as Ahmadou,
founded a Fulani Empire, is comparatively well known.
The country was, we have seen, permeated with Fulani
influence. Cow Fulani fed their cattle in every province.
The principal towns had their Fulani quarters ; Fulani
teachers had for six hundred years spread the doctrines
of Mohammed ; distinguished members of the Fulani race
occupied high places as councillors, judges, high priests,
and men of war. Zaria had had, according to one ac-
count, a Fulani king from the year 1780. The western
provinces of Bornu were also full of Fulani. The con-
quest of Haussaland by the Fulani may therefore be
said to have been half achieved in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, at the same time that the Fulani
were rising in power throughout the whole Soudan.

It was not, however, till the opening years of the
nineteenth century that the military and political con-
quest was completed.

It will be remembered that, at the end of the eighteenth
century, the still pagan state of Gober had established
a military ascendancy over the more northerly Moham-
medan states of Haussaland. It had conquered Zanfara
and subdued Kano. Katsena alone had been able suc-
cessfully to resist its power. Throughout this period the
Fulani would seem to have greatly increased in numbers
in Gober, and under their own chiefs and religious
teachers they began to form a community of which


the independent doctrines gave offence to the pagan

In the year 1802, the King Bawa sent for their
Imaum, Othman dan Fodio, and all the principal Fulani
chiefs, and administered a severe public reprimand on
account of the religious and political pretensions that
they were beginning to put forward. This was but a
spark to the tinder. Indignation spread through the
Fulani community at the insult which had been offered
to their chiefs. Othman dan Fodio inflamed the general
sentiment by his preaching, in which he urged the Fulani
to submit no longer to the yoke of a pagan people. The
Fulani chiefs raised the standard of revolt ; Othman
was elected Sheikh, and under his leadership a Holy
War was declared which was to counterbalance, by the
successes which it gave to the Fulani on the eastern side
of the Niger, any temporary loss which this people had
suffered in the west. The date of the opening of the
Holy War is given differently by different authors, who
vary between 1800 and 1804, but it evidently broke out
immediately after the taking of Timbuctoo by the Tuaregs
in 1800, and Othman dan Fodio gave the lead in Haussa-
land, which was shortly followed by Ahmadou in the west.
Between them these two Fulani Sheikhs conquered the
Western Soudan from Masina to Bornu.

The first efforts of the Fulani in Haussaland were
stoutly resisted by Gober, and, though the province was
subdued, the capital, Alkalawa, was not taken during the
lifetime of Dan Fodio. But through the rest of Haussa-
land, where the towns were already half in Fulani hands,
the conquest of the Fulani spread rapidly. Zanfara was
conquered in the first year of the war ; Zaria was either
conquered, or allied itself with the conquerors, within a
month of the submission of Zanfara. The conquest of
Kano shortly followed ; Katsena was taken in 1807 ; and
in 1808 the victorious arms of the Fulani were carried
into Bornu.

Here, however, after a short period of triumph, they


were met and successfully resisted by another Sheikh,
Mohammed el Kancmi, who arose in Kanem, and took
the reins of power from the effete sovereigns of Bornu.
This man, who founded the existing dynasty of Bornu,
was visited by Major Denham in 1823, and is described
by him as "a most extraordinary instance in the Eastern
world of fearless bravery, virtue, and simplicity." His
career was remarkable enough to deserve something
more than a passing mention. He was born in Fezzan,
though of Kanem parents, having, it is said, on his
father's side, some Moorish blood. He appears to have
been, at least partly, educated in Egypt, and to have
been already in the position of a Sheikh before he first
visited the home of his parents in Kanem. Here he
lived for some years, greatly beloved and respected for
the extreme uprightness and benevolence of his life.

It was the conquest of Bornu by the Fulani which
brought him into public life. Believing, or causing his
Kanemi followers to believe, that he was inspired by a
vision of the Almighty to undertake the liberation of
the country, he collected a little body of the faithful,
only 400 strong, and with them marched to a first
encounter with the Fulani. He is said to have over-
thrown an army 8000 strong. The result was, of course,
to bring more soldiers to his standard, and in ten months
he was victorious in forty battles. It is said that he
had all the qualifications of a great commander, but so
little of personal ambition that when, after he had driven
the Fulani out of Bornu, the people desired to make
him Sultan, he refused the offer, and placed Mohammed,
the brother of the deposed Sultan Achmet, on the
throne. He refused all titles for himself, except that
of "Servant of God," but he kept the practical powers
of a dictator, and, while he lived without ostentation, he
was the head of the army, and the real ruler of the
kingdom. He completely overthrew the Fulani, and
defended the Empire of Bornu in many desperate cam-
paigns against the attacks of Baghirmi. On the death


of Sultan Mohammed he still refused to be made Sultan,
and again put a dummy Sultan on the throne, reserving
for himself the responsibility of power without any of
its outward display. His campaigns were usually suc-
cessful, and it is said of him that he "turned all victories
to the advantage of those whom he overthrew." By
the purity of his administration and the reforms which
he introduced, the kingdom grew in enlightenment as
well as power. Nowhere were the laws of Islam more
strictly observed than in Bornu under his administration.
The wider education of his youth had given him a
knowledge of other countries, which he used for the
benefit of his own. Foreigners were well received, trade
prospered, and the roads, through the Sheikh's govern-
ment, were, according to Major Denham, "as safe as
any, even in happy England itself."

After the overthrow of Baghirmi, which was achieved
with the co-operation of the ruler of the Fezzan about
the year 1824, the ruler of Bornu turned his arms
against South -western Haussaland, where he was at
first successful, and took from the Fulani the province
of Bautchi, which they had conquered shortly after the
taking of Zaria ; but here, in the year 1826, he was
destined to meet with a reverse. His armies were
defeated by the Fulani, and he himself narrowly escaped
with his life. Shortly after this he came to terms of
agreement with the Fulani.

He died in 1835, when his son, who succeeded,
abolished the dummy Sultans, and established the dynasty
of the Kanemi openly on the throne of Bornu.



The whole of Haussaland up to the borders of Bornu
had before this become subject to the conquering Fulani.
Othman dan Fodio himself died in 1816, and divided
his newly conquered empire between his son, Mohammed
Bello, and a brother, Abdallai. He gave to Mohammed
Bello, who, during his father's lifetime, had founded for
himself the new town of Sokoto, the sovereignty of the
Eastern Provinces, while to his brother, whose head-
quarters were at Gando, south and slightly west of
Sokoto, he gave the provinces of the West. Sultan
Bello, a man no less remarkable than his great rival,
Mohammed el Kanemi, of Bornu, continued to reign
until 1837, and this period, almost coinciding with the
great period of Bornu under its new ruler, must be re-
garded as forming also the great period of Fulani rule
in Haussaland.

Sultan Bello ascended to the throne at a very diffi-
cult moment. His father's arms, largely under Bello's
direction, had completed the conquest of the principal
states of Kano, Katsena, and Zaria, in the centre of
Haussaland, and had spread to the south-east over the
Bautchi Hills, and into the provinces bordering upon
the Benue. The Fulani had also, as we have seen,
fought successfully with Zanfara and Gando. But the
western group of provinces, including Zanfara, Gober,
and Gando, had been very imperfectly subdued. These
provinces, of which the governments would seem to
have been pagan, were filled with stubborn fighters. It
suited the Fulani to proclaim a holy war, and to inflame


the courage of their armies by treating their enemies
as infidels, but, as a matter of fact, there were many-
Mohammedans amongst their opponents, for Islam had
long been the religion of the upper classes of all the
principal towns of Haussaland. In the central provinces
of Katsena, Kano, and Zaria, the government and the
whole organisation of society was Mohammedan, a fact
admitted by the Fulani when they adopted, as they
subsequently did, the existing Haussa, or, as the con-
querors preferred to call them, " Habe," systems of
law, justice, and taxation. All these were based upon
the Koran. In Zaria the reigning dynasty was actually
Fulani ; in Katsena and Kano the reigning sovereigns
were of Haussa dynasties, but for many generations
they had been Mohammedan. Kebbi, one of the most
stubborn opponents of Fulani domination, was itself, as
we have seen, at one time partly populated by Fulani.
There existed, therefore, in all these provinces large
bodies of Mohammedans, who were driven out before
the conquerors, and in many cases we hear of Moham-
medan Haussas obliged to take refuge, like the pagan
population, in the hills. This is to say, that everywhere
there existed large sections of the cultivated upper
classes profoundly antagonistic to Fulani rule. Shortly
after 1808 the defeats of the Fulani by Mohammed el
Kanemi in Bornu began to inspire new courage into
the disaffected, and about the year 1816, the very year
of the accession of Mohammed Bello, a confederation
was formed of Haussa States determined to fight for
their independence with the Fulani.

According to a Mohammedan account written by a
certain Hadj Said, and translated as a fragment of the
history of Sokoto by M. Houdas, Sultan Bello had hardly
received the oath of allegiance when all the provinces
neighbouring upon Sokoto abjured Islam and rose in
revolt against the Mohammedan rulers, who were appar-
ently supported, perhaps nominated, by Bello. The native
chiefs of Gober, Zanfara, and Nupe, were the first to form


the confederation. They were shortly joined by Northern
Katsena, Yauri, Kebbi, Kano, Kontagora, Daura, and
Southern Zaria. It would seem that all the lesser states
of Haussaland at one time joined this " Tawias " or revolt
against the Fulani. That it was not a religious but a
political revolt is made fairly clear by the names of Kebbi,
Kano, and Katsena, who were distinctly Mohammedan,
and by the fact that the confederation entered into alliance
with the Moors.

One native chief led the revolt in Zanfara, and estab-
lished himself in a stronghold almost within sight of Sokoto.
Another led the revolt in the province of Gando. The
early years of Bello's reign were occupied by constant
expeditions against the revolted provinces. After fighting
the pagan leaders in Gando, Gober, Zanfara, and Kebbi,
he encountered the Moors and was himself defeated. It is
to be noted that in these campaigns Bello's successes are
always attributed to the exertions of his cavalry.

At a date which is not specified by Hadj Said, but
which must probably have been about the year 1820, the
confederated states made a determined effort to overthrow
their Fulani conqueror. They renewed their alliance with
the Moors, and having assured themselves of the sympathy
of Mohammed el Kanemi of Bornu, their combined forces
marched upon the territory of Sokoto. Bello collected an
immense army at Wurnu, and Omar, the head of the
Fulani Church, a very holy man living in high repute at
Sokoto, addressed the soldiers. The Fulani professed to
regard the war as a struggle for life and death between
Islam and paganism. The soldiers of Bello's army were
enjoined to keep their hearts pure, and to commit no
atrocities. With these injunctions the army marched to
the encounter of the federated forces. The attack appears
to have been made from the north, and in the dry season
of the year. The sufferings of the army from thirst were
terrible. Bello, in person, encouraged the troops by re-
minding them constantly of the sacred cause for which
they fought, but at last the position grew so desperate


that the army was halted, and Bello called upon the
Sheikh Omar, who had, of course, accompanied the troops,
to pray for guidance as to whether it was the will of the
Almighty that they should return without encountering
the enemy.

It is rather interesting to find among the religious
enthusiasts of the Fulani of Sokoto in the early part of
the century the same ideas of spiritualism, higher thought,
and second-sight, which are to-day animating the modern
religious sects of England and America. Omar, it is said,
having spent the night in prayer, at sunrise heard a voice
which cried three times, "Victory has come!" The
Sultan at this moment sent to inquire of the holy
man what was the will of God. Was the army to
advance or to retreat? "To advance!" replied the
Sheikh. The troops accordingly marched and encamped
one station farther in the thirsty land. Here, by the
holiness of the Sheikh, a wonder was achieved. For
Omar, having prostrated himself in prayer and remained
long upon the earth, saw as in second-sight water coming
underground. Only when he saw this did he raise his
head from the ground. The Sultan then took a spear,
and plunging it into the earth, gave the order, " Dig
here!" Hardly had they begun to dig when water rose.
Every man then received orders to dig in the place on
which he stood, and everywhere that the soldiers dug
water was found.

This incident is quite in the spirit of the religious
life of Sokoto. One of the principal generals of the army,
Abd el Kader, who was also famed for the holiness of his
life, used to have visions in which he had intercourse
with the dead, and at the house of one of the noble ladies
of Sokoto spiritualistic stances used to be held, in which
the spirits of the great dead showed themselves, we are
told, to those who were worthy to perceive them.

The army remained on this spot for two days. On
the following Monday they prayed, and on the Tuesday
the " army of the infidels " arrived. With them was Aber,


King of the Moors. Certain Moors who were with Belle
pointed this out to him, and the unwelcome evidence
that the opposing army was not composed entirely of
infidels made Bello so angry that he ordered the Moors
who were with him to quit the ranks.

The battle began. " God gave the victory to the
Moslems, and 25,000 of the enemy were killed." The
number of confederated states engaged may be partly
estimated by the havoc made among their rulers. Al,
King of Gober, was taken prisoner ; Roud, King of
Katsena, was killed ; Aber, King of the Moors, fled.
Bello kept his soldiers in strict order, and allowed no
slaves to be made. He assembled the notables of Gober,
and bade them choose a king in place of the king whom
he had taken prisoner. They chose Bello's own son, Fodi.
We are not told whether the votes were free. But even
the complaisant chronicler of the Fulani records that
Fodi's conduct in his new kingdom was " scandalous."
He was "tyrannical, dissolute, impious, and occupied
himself solely with games and pleasure." The appoint-
ment is worth noting, as Fodi furnishes in the lifetime of
Sultan Bello an example of the bad Fulani of whom, in the
universal praise of the Fulani race, there is a tendency to
lose sight. If it may be said of Sultan Bello that he was
himself an embodiment of the very best qualities of his

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 31 of 41)