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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quent writers, illustrious men of science, magnanimous
princes, intrepid warriors." Here, too, we may note, in
the year 1237, amidst all the brilliancy of such surround-


ings, a deputation from the king of the black countries
of Bornu and Kanem, who sent amongst other gifts a
giraffe, which so interested and delighted the inhabitants
of Tunis that it excited the greatest enthusiasm.

At Fez, which now became the capital of the Merinite
sovereigns, beautiful palaces and gardens were constructed,
and the life of the higher nobility was conducted with
much state. Learning also was encouraged, and it is
interesting to observe, as the result of a "Holy War"
successfully carried on against the Christians in Spain by
one of the greatest of the Merinite sovereigns of Morocco,
that among the conditions of peace imposed by the Mos-
lem kino; was the surrender of all scientific works which
had fallen into the hands of the Christians in the capture
of Mussulman towns. Unfortunately only about iioo
volumes had been saved. These were afterwards con-
veyed to the University of Fez.

Ibn Khaldun says that literature presently declined
at the court of Fez, owing to the too great materialism
of the Merinite sovereigns. This was not the opinion
of the celebrated traveller Ibn Batuta, but Ibn Khaldun
was probably the better judge.

Ibn Batuta, who, like Ibn Khaldun, was born in North
Africa of Arab parents, though about thirty years earlier
(1303), distinguished himself by spending five-and-twenty
years in travel, which extended over the greater part of the
known world, and included Europe, India, China, and
Thibet. He entered the "white town of Fez" on the 8th
of November 1349, and decided there to lay aside his
pilgrim's staff, because, for reasons which he sets forth at
length, his judgment was convinced that the noble country
over which its sovereign ruled was the best country and
the best administered of all those that he had visited.
Here he found the conditions of life better than in any other
country. Food was more plentiful, varied, and cheap ; life
and property were more secure, law was milder, justice was
more assured, charity more fully organised, religion more
truly maintained, and literature, science, and art more


honoured than in any other centre of civilisation. He
mentions, in regard to the organised charities of the
country, that free hospitals were constructed and endowed
in every town of the kingdom. As regards the endowment
of science and literature, he describes the great College of
Fez as having " no parallel in the known world for size,
beauty, and magnificence." He speaks of the deep interest
taken by the sovereign in all that related to science and
literature, the very considerable literary achievements of
the sovereign himself, and of the generous protection which
he gave to all persons who were devoted to the study of
science. Here also, before the date of Ibn Batuta's visit,
we are brought into touch in the year 1338 with the
political life of the Negro kingdom of Melle. Mansa Musa,
a black sovereign, of whom we shall presently hear more,
and the seat of whose empire was in the territory now
known as the Bend of the Niger, sent an embassy on the
occasion of the conquest of Telem^an by the Merinites to
congratulate the Merinite sovereign, who was his nearest
white neighbour. His embassy was accompanied by an
interpreter from Masina in the Upper Niger, where the
Fulanis had then a principal seat of occupation. Abou el
Ha^en — the king so warmly praised a few years later by
Ibn Batuta — received them very cordially, and sent back
by their hands a very handsome present to Mansa Musa.

In the lists which are given of the presents exchanged
between monarchs on state occasions, interesting glimpses
of the condition of the nations concerned may be obtained.
The present made by Abou el Hagen to Mansa Musa is
not described, but here is the description of a present sent
by him to the reigning Sultan of Egypt on the same
occasion of the taking of Telem^an from the Hafsides
in 1337.

First on the list is placed a copy of the Koran written
by the monarch's own hand, and most beautifully bound at
Fez. The binding, which is described in great detail, was
made of ebony, ivory, and sandalwood, " inlaid with admir-
able art," and decorated with fillets of gold and pearls and


rubies. There was also an outside leather case, which was
solidly worked and decorated with fillets of gold. Next
after the book there came upon the list five hundred
thorouorhbred horses, of which the saddles were em-
broidered in gold and silver, and of which the bridles and
bits were some of them of pure gold and some of them
plated. Also there were five hundred loads of objects
made in Morocco — or Maghreb, as the portion of Africa
now known to us as Morocco was then called. There
were arms, and beautiful woollen stuffs ; cloaks, robes,
burnooses ; turbans, striped and plain stuffs of silk and
wool ; silks plain and in colours, embroidered and brocaded
with gold. Also shields brought from the countries of
the desert, made of the skin of the lamt, and " covered
with that famous varnish which renders them so hard."
Also many pieces of furniture " which is made in Maghreb
and much sought after in the East."

A country which can count all these objects amongst
its manufactures is evidently in a very fairly high condition
of industrial prosperity. A monarch who can transcribe a
copy of the Koran in his own hand in such a manner as to
render it worthy of being placed in so precious a binding
at the head of a present of this value must evidently have
at least some appreciation of the charms of literature. It
is said of Abou el Ha9en that he performed the feat of
transcribing the Koran with his own hand three times.

After this conquest of Telemcan intercourse between
Morocco and Negroland appears to have increased, which
is not unnatural, as already a very considerable trade
existed between Telem9an, which was one of the principal
ports of embarkation for Spain, and the countries of the
Negro belt. The king of Melle was at that time the
greatest of the black sovereigns, and Abou el Ha^en,
desiring to cultivate pleasant relations with him, sent him
an embassy with handsome presents, a compliment which
in 1360 the reigning king of Melle returned to Abou el
Haven's successor. Unfortunately the details of this
present are not recorded. It is only stated that Mansa


Suleiman of Melle, " wishing to return the good treatment
of the Merinite sovereign, collected various products of
his country, all extremely rare and curious, and sent them
to Fez." He also added to his presents a giraffe, which
gave great pleasure to the Court of Fez. The embassy
was received with the greatest possible honour at Fez, the
place being thronged and people standing on each other's
shoulders in the crowd to see — while the Sultan, seated in
his golden kiosk, received and returned the assurances of
friendship sent to him by the black king.

An incident of the developed intercourse between
Morocco and Negroland which is of more interest to
posterity than the exchange of presents between their
respective sovereigns, was the decision arrived at by Ibn
Batuta to take up again his pilgrim's staff, and quitting
the lettered luxury of Fez, to add another chapter to his
travels by journeying through Negroland. He accordingly
crossed the frontier of Morocco on his southward journey
on February 18, 1352, and spent upwards of eighteen
months in a journey through the principal countries of the
Nigerian watershed, re-entering the kingdom of Morocco
in December of 1353. The record of this journey, which
he has added to the four volumes of his travels, is especially
interesting, as giving a picture of the Negroland of that
day written from personal observation. The earlier Arab
writers, from whom our information is principally drawn,
were not themselves personally acquainted with the
countries of which they write. They described them
generally from the hearsay of travellers and traders, and
though this has its value as representing the volume of
common knowledge which existed concerning Negroland,
other descriptions lack the vividness which Ibn Batuta
gives to his.



We come now to the history of Negroland itself, which
began to be known in its relatively modern development
from about the period of the Arab conquest of Africa
and Spain. The sources of information regarding it are
mainly Arab, and the earliest records which have been
preserved carry us only vaguely back beyond the seventh
century of the Christian era. The records which exist
make it clear that the Empire of the Two Shores estab-
lished by the Arabs in North Africa and Spain was the
commercial field of Negroland. This was also the case
with the territories included in the dominion of the
Eastern Caliphate, and intercourse was frequent between
the principal countries of Negroland and the towns of
North Africa, Spain, Egypt, Syria, and Arabia. Negro-
land was therefore in closer touch than many of the
countries of Northern Europe with the highest civilisa-
tion of the period, and the effect of this closer relation
is of course traceable in its history. Throughout the
whole period it would seem that the ancient tradition of
civilisation, which had come to it from the East, so far
prevailed that the kingdoms of Negroland were disposed
to acknowledge the political supremacy of the Eastern,
rather than of the Western Caliphate. More than once
in later times there are instances of their sovereigns
accepting investiture from the Sultan of Egypt, even
after the overthrow of the Caliphate by the Turks. But
their intellectual and commercial intercourse would appear
to have been more active with the West than with the

East ; and in tracing the course of civilisation in their



kingdoms from the seventh to the seventeenth century,
at which latter period the whole underwent a chaotic
change, it is to be observed that the tide of progress
spreads steadily from the West eastward, not from the
East westward. In saying this I allude especially to
those countries to the west of Lake Chad, which, taken
collectively, may be said to form the Western Soudan.
There is one other general observation which it is, I
think, interesting to make with regard to the civilising
influence exercised by the Empire of the Two Shores
upon Negroland. It is that between the seventh and
the seventeenth centuries, though there were many local
wars and conquests of black kingdoms by Berbers and
Berber kingdoms by blacks, there was never any military
conquest made or attempted by Spanish Arabs of the
black countries with which they traded. At the begin-
ning of the seventeenth century, when the Spanish Arabs
had themselves been expelled from Europe, this policy
was reversed with disastrous results, and the conquest
of the country by the decadent Moors put an end to the
prosperity of Negroland.

In order to follow with any interest the historic de-
velopment of this little known portion of the world, it is
well to glance at a map of Africa and note the more
salient physical features which have to some extent de-
termined here, as they determine elsewhere, the political
distribution of the country. It has already been men-
tioned that the latitude of 17° N. may be taken as the
edge of the summer rains, and that between 10° and 17°
all the finest races of this part of Africa are to be found.
This is M. de Lauture's limit of distribution. Later
experience would lead us perhaps to draw the southern
line a little lower. Probably the parallel of 9° would be
found more accurate. If two blue pencil lines be drawn
upon these parallels on a map of north-west Africa, it will
be seen that they include within their limits the whole
course of the Senegal from its rise in the mountains
north of Sierra Leone to its mouth in the Atlantic Ocean,


and the course of the Upper and Middle Niger from its
rise in the same mountains to its most northerly bend,
almost on the parallel of 17°, and its descent in a south-
easterly direction to that fall in its bed which has been
rendered famous by Mungo Park's death in the rapids
which are caused by it near Boussa. The same limits
include Lake Chad and all the tributaries which drain
to it from the highlands of the Haussa States. It will
be observed that towards the northern portion of this
territory the country has a general tendency to open into
level plains ; while towards the southern portion hilly
regions, drawing together, form a natural dividing-line
from the countries of the coast. It will also be observed
that the line drawn upon the parallel of 9° excludes from the
area occupied by the fine races every one of those territories
hitherto occupied by the nations of modern Europe in
the maritime settlements made upon the southern portion
of the coast, except the French settlement of the Senegal.

It becomes apparent, in looking broadly at the lines
thus traced upon the map, that the country which lies
between them is cut by its main watercourses into four
principal divisions. There is the territory lying south-
west of the Senegal, between the course of that river
and the sea ; there is the country lying north-east of the
Senegal, between that river and the Niger to the point
where the Niger presses upon the desert at Timbuctoo ;
there is the country lying south of the Niger enclosed
in the bend of the river, and generally known now by
the geographical expression — the Bend of the Niger ; and
there is the country stretching from the eastern bank of
the Niger to Lake Chad. Allowing something for the
always too arbitrary nature of geographical boundaries,
it will be found that the history of Negroland tends also
to group itself within these four divisions.

The very earliest records which we have in point of
date, exclusive of the tradition of ancient Egypt in the
East, relate to the north-east of the Senegal, between that
river and the Niger. This territory was known by a


confusingly different number of names ; but the name of
its principal town, and the name by which the territory
itself was most generally known in the first days of its
medieval prosperity, was Ghana or Ghanata. At a later
date the territory was called Walata, and the principal
town became Aiwalatin.

We are told that white kings had reigned over Ghana
before the year of the Hegira ; but when the Arabs visited
the country in the eighth century they found it in the pos-
session of a black monarch, to whom the Berbers or white
people of the more northerly desert towns paid tribute.
The town of Ghana lay towards the eastern portion of
this district, and at one time the territory over which it
ruled extended to the sea.

The district to the south-west of the Senegal, between
that river and the sea, is regarded by early writers as the
original place of settlement of the Fulani in Africa. The
Djolfs, who inhabited it during the Arab period, are de-
scribed in the Tarikh-es-Soudan as "the best of men."
" By their acts and their character," the author says,
"they differ essentially from all the other Fulanis. God
by a special grace has endowed them with a generous
nature, and He inspires in them fine actions and conduct
worthy of all praise. For valour and bravery they have
no equal. , . . In all that we have ever heard about them,
loyalty and fidelity to their engagements appear to be
innate, and to have reached the highest expression in
them." It will be noticed that this praise of the Djolfs
is given at the implied expense of "all other Fulanis."
There can be no doubt that from the beginning of their
history there has been a wide variation in the endowments
of this people. They are, however, so remarkable, and
from our earliest knowledge of them have maintained the
character of their own race so exclusively of the life and
history of the other races of the Soudan, that the account
of their progress as a ruling power from the extreme
western corner upon the Atlantic coast, in which we first
hear of them, to the eastern regions between the Niger



and Lake Chad, where, at the beginning of the nineteenth
century, they established their domination over the Haussa
states, will best be given later in a separate chapter.

The history of Ghana and of the Empire of Melle
which superseded it constitute the two first chapters of the
native history of Negroland. Melle, which extended at
one period of its history over the territory of Ghana and
also over the Bend of the Niger, gives way in its turn to
the extraordinarily interesting history of Songhay — an
empire which from the middle of the fifteenth to the end
of the sixteenth centuries extended over the entire Bend
of the Niger, and even carried its domination for a time
to the Atlantic on one side and to Lake Chad upon the
other. Contemporaneously with the rise of Melle and
Songhay, the Haussa States and Bornu rose to prosperity
between the Niger and Lake Chad, while the native
states of Nupe, Borgu, Mossi, and some others, appear
to have maintained an independent existence from a
period of considerable antiquity upon the Niger. To
the south of these territories, during the whole period of
which we have the record of their history, the country
was inhabited in a continuous belt by Pagan cannibals.

As civilisation in the medieval epoch of Negro history
would seem to have arisen in the west, and gradually to
have crept across towards the east, meeting, in the Bend
of the Niger and the Haussa States, that other wave of
civilising influence which in earlier days had inspired its
life from the east, so it will not be surprising to find
that decadence spreads also along the same path and
in the same historic order. When the Arabs first
visited Negroland by the western route in the eighth
and ninth centuries of our era, they found the black
kings of Ghana in the height of their prosperity. The
countries bordering upon Lake Chad are then spoken
of contemptuously as the " country of the idolaters."
But the black kings of Ghana had long passed into
oblivion when Edris, one of the greatest of the kings of
Bornu, was making gunpowder for the muskets of his army
t a period contemporary with Queen Elizabeth.



It has already been mentioned that the whole of the Fez-
zan and the south-western province of what is now Morocco
were conquered by the Arab general, Okbar, in the middle
of the seventh century, but that he did not penetrate at
either end of the Western Soudan to the territories of the
fertile belt. There was not for nearly a thousand years
any direct military conquest of these territories by the
Arabs. But the Berber tribes, dispossessed and driven
southwards by the Arabs, made room for themselves at
different periods in the fertile belt, and in doing so neces-
sarily fought with and overthrew or were overthrown by
the blacks. As in the case of the conquest of the British
Isles by Saxons, Danes, and Normans, this resulted in a
very great admixture of blood, and though the black strain
would seem generally to have prevailed in point of colour,
the characteristics of the races occupying the fertile belt
were in the course of centuries so modified that in speak-
ing of them it will perhaps be more accurate to employ
the word " black " than the in many ways misleading term
of " negro."

The true negro is hardly to be found amongst these
races of the northern inland belt — the cast of face,
even when jet black in colour, being frequently European
in form, with the high nose, thin lips, and deep-set eyes,
characteristic still of the Arab of the Mediterranean coast.
The aristocratic thin hand, and the slight, somewhat square
shoulders of the Arab of the coast are also frequently
noticeable. As a consequence of many invasions from the

north this blood no doubt penetrated as far as climatic



conditions would allow. I shall also hope to show that
from any time of which history has note, the northern belt
of the Soudan has been occupied by races of a higher
than negroid type. The operation of these types upon the
purely negroid races was to drive them southwards into
the tropical swamps of the coast belt in which the higher
type could not live.

The pressure of the tribes of the desert upon Negro-
land dates of course from a very much earlier period
than the Arab conquest of North Africa, but it was
renewed and accentuated by that conquest. The earliest
Arab writer who is known to make any allusion to Arab
dealings with Negroland in the west is Abd el Hakem,
who died in Egypt in Syo, but he merely alludes to a
military expedition against the Berbers in the south-west,
undertaken about the year 720, which reached the Soudan
and brought back as much gold as the soldiers wanted.
The next writer in point of date whose writings have
been preserved is Ibn Haukal, the geographer, who wrote
about the year 930. But he confines his writings chiefly
to "those lands which are the seat of Islam and the resi-
dence of true believers," and though these extended in the
tenth century from Spain to China, through Trans-Oxiana,
Tibet, and Hindostan, the black countries of the Western
Soudan are regarded as being still at that date outside
the pale. " As for the Land of Blacks in West Africa,"
he says, " I make but slight mention of them, because
naturally loving wisdom, ingenuity, religion, justice, and
regular government, how could I notice such people as
those or exalt them by inserting an account of their
countries." It is evident that this haughty writer had
but a small acquaintance with the Land of the Blacks
which he despises, and that he knew only its northern
edge. "The Land of the Blacks," he says, "is a very
extensive region, but extremely dry. In the mountains of
it are to be found all the fruits which the Mohammedan
world produces." He tells us also that it extends to the
ocean on the south and is bordered on the north by


deserts which reach across Africa to Zanzibar. In his
day the Tripoli-Fezzan route would appear to have been
closed. " Whatsoever they get," he says, " comes to them
from the western side, because of the difficulty of entering
their country from any other quarter."

This scant notice is only interesting as showing that,
although intercourse with the Arabs had already begun by
the western route, it was not in the middle of the tenth
century sufficiently active to be regarded in the higher
circles of the learned as having serious importance.

The step from this writer to the next who has pre-
served for us any contemporary knowledge of Negroland,
is the more remarkable. Ibn Haukal died in 968. Just a
hundred years later, in 1067, a book was written that gives
us a description as vivid as the description of Ibn Haukal
is bare. The name of the book is usually translated as
" Roads and Realms." It treats of the whole of North
Africa, but of Negroland in special detail, and the intimate
knowledge which it displays serves to indicate the develop-
ment of intercourse with the Soudan which must have
taken place under the Ommeyades. The author, whose
long Arabic name is usually shortened to El Bekri, was
the son of a prince of Huelva, who, as a consequence
of civil war in Spain, sold his principality to the
Prince of Seville in or about the year 1051. He then
went as a rich man to live at Cordova, taking with
him his son, the famous El Bekri. The exact date of
El Bekri's birth is doubtful, but the best authorities put
it at 1028. It was the moment of the break-up of the
Ommeyade power in Spain, when petty courts were estab-
lishing themselves in the principal towns. On the northern
frontier of Mohammedan Spain the Christians, gaining
daily strength, were before the end of the century to be
led to victory by the immortal Cid, while in the far south
of Western Africa that army of the Al Moravides was
drawing together upon the banks of the Senegal, which
was first to bring regeneration to unconscious Spain.

In the meantime the life of the pleasant courts, which


the weakness of the declining power of the Ommeyades
had permitted to erect themselves into independence, was
gay, cultivated, splendid, and refined. El Bekri knew

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 7 of 41)