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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them all. After his father's death in 1066 he went to
that of Almeria, then one of the first cities in importance
of Southern Spain. It is claimed by some Arab writers
that the commercial greatness of the Italian republics had
its foundation in trade with Almeria, and through Almeria
with the East. In Almeria El Bekri was the favoured
guest of El Mutassim, the reigning prince. From Almeria
he afterwards went to take up his residence at Seville,
the home of art and science, where also he was honoured
of the great. He loved the good things of life ; he enjoyed
the society of the learned, and, eminent among all that
was most eminent of his day, he was remarkable for his
own great attainments and intellectual industry. He died
in 1094. It is not recorded of him that he ever left
Spain. It is true that his geographical works can there-
fore only be regarded as compilations, but this renders
them for our purpose in one sense the more important,
as serving to show how much was known at that time
of West Africa in the cultivated circles of the courts of

It is evident from El Bekri's account that the trade
of the Soudan with Spain and the countries of the Medi-
terranean coast had for a long time been important enough
to attract attention and interest. He notes the two prin-
cipal caravan roads into the western and eastern end of
the Soudan, but describes the western road by Morocco
and Tafilet as being that in most frequent use. Kanem,
lying at the eastern end of the Western Soudan, is to him
a "country of idolaters very difficult to reach," while the
country to the south of Morocco is evidently as well
known as the provinces of Spain.

Tafilet — known to the Arabs and always spoken of
under the name of Sidjilmessa, the last town at which
the road to the Soudan left the fertile territories of
Morocco — was, according to El Bekri, founded in the


year 757 of our era. He describes it as being situated
at the junction of several streams, in a plain of which the
soil was impregnated with salt and was extraordinarily
fertile. Among their crops the people grew " Chinese
wheat." The town was large, containing some very
splendid buildings, and was surrounded by extensive
suburbs and gardens. Grapes, dates, and all kinds of
fruits were very plentiful, and amongst other industries
the town was celebrated for drying raisins. There was
a gold currency, and it was regarded as a peculiarity that
gold pieces at Sidjilmessa were received by count and
not by weight.

The founder and first governor of this town was black.
It seems contrary to modern ideas that white people
should under any circumstances consent to be ruled by
blacks, but it will be seen that in the history of the
Western Soudan this objection was not universally felt.
Instances are common, especially in the western portions
of the territory of the Soudan, of Berbers paying tribute
to black sovereigns. The Fulani, who counted them-
selves a white race, were constantly subject to black
rulers, and it is related of the black women of one of
the kingdoms of the Soudan, that when their monarch
was overthrown by a contemporary Berber king, they,
" too proud to allow themselves to fall into the hands of
white men," preferred to commit suicide.

Sidjilmessa was already Mohammedan in El Bekri's
time. It was the meeting-place of many roads : those
leading from Wargelan and other places in the Barbary
States which were marts of the trade of the Soudan, and
also from Morocco, Telem9an, and the coast. For all
these roads it formed the most westerly entrance to the

From Sidjilmessa to Ghana in the Land of Blacks
there was a march of nearly two months to be made
across a practically uninhabited desert. Throughout this
vast region only nomad tribes were in El Bekri's day to
be met with, having, he says, no town for their head-


quarters, with the exception of the Wadi Dra, at five
days' distance from Sidjilmessa, which was the meeting-
point of the Masmouda Berbers, a fraction of the Senajah
tribe. For the accurate geography of this road the reader
who is interested should refer to Cooley's " Negroland of
the Arabs," in which he will find a learned and most care-
ful examination of the ancient geography of the country.
From the conclusions drawn by Cooley it would seem
quite clear that the road described by El Bekri coincides
almost exactly with that shown in modern maps as con-
necting El Harib on the south-western frontier of Morocco
with Timbuctoo, via Mabruk, which encampment Cooley
identifies with the Audoghast of the Arabs. The only
difference would appear to have been that the meeting-
point of Tamedelt mentioned by El Bekri as being eleven
days west of Sidjilmessa, was slightly to the west of El
Harib. Cooley fixes it at lat. 28° 45' N., long. 7° 10' W.
Dr. Barth disagrees with Cooley, and would place Audo-
ghast somewhat to the west of Mabruk.

To reach Negroland by the western route there were,
however, two possible variants of the road, both of which
have been so accurately described by El Bekri, and after
him by Ibn Batuta and other travellers, as to leave little
room for doubt as to their direction ; one led via Audo-
ghast, the other, as pursued by Ibn Batuta at a later
date, ran more directly south via Tegazza to Aiwalatin or
Walata. Both would appear to have been equally well
known and equally used from the earliest times. Both
required a journey of about two months from Sidjilmessa ;
but the one skirted the western and the other the eastern
border of the desert of Tizer or Ayawad. Both traversed
the desert, using as guides the nomad Berbers of the
locality. Ibn Batuta describes the portion of it just north
of Aiwalatin as " a vast plain, beautiful and bright, of
which the air is so invigorating that the spirits rise and
the lungs dilate." It is, however, quite waterless for
many days, and in order to reach Aiwalatin the custom
was to send a practised guide seven days ahead to give


warning of the approach of a caravan, which messengers
from the town were then sent to meet, carrying water
into the desert for a four days' march. Without this
precaution caravans frequently perished of thirst. Like
all great plains in which the mirage is common, this desert
had the reputation of being haunted by demons. On the
more westerly route, at a distance of twenty days from
Sidjilmessa, lay the great salt-mine of Tegazza, which is
described in detail by every writer.



These two roads, forming together the great western
caravan route to the Soudan, led each to a separate
and typical objective. The stopping-place of the easterly
branch was Audoghast ; the stopping-place of the more
westerly branch was Aiwalatin. Audoghast was about
fifteen days north of the present position of Timbuctoo.
It lay, therefore, between 21° and 22° N. lat., and
whether Cooley or Barth is right as to its exact position,
it was well outside the belt of the Soudan proper, while
Aiwalatin, or Walata, between the seventeenth and
eighteenth parallels, lay on the edge of the summer rains,
and was the frontier town, and at one time the capital of
the ofreat black king-dom of Ghana. These two towns
represented two elements in the life of the Soudan, and
are therefore worth dwelling upon. The one represented
the Berber, the other the black, element, which are to be
found constantly side by side. Audoghast was a type of
the Berber state, lying not in but on the northern edge
of the Soudan, fronting the black races and having
intercourse with them, but preserving a semi-separate
existence. Aiwalatin was a type of the purely black
state lying in the heart of the fertile belt. Each of
these states in turn would seem to have paid tribute
to the other ; each in turn was ruled by princes of
the opposing race ; each had its periods of independence.
The Soudanese author of the Tarikh-es- Soudan tells
us that forty-four white princes had ruled over Ghana
before the great black princes arose. In the early part
of the eleventh century Audoghast was tributary to


Ghana, and was ruled, as Sidjilmessa had once been, by
a black prince.

El Bekri has preserved an interesting description of
both towns as they were known to the travellers and
merchants of Mohammedan Spain.

Before reaching Audoghast, he tells us, the pure desert
of drifting sand gave way to sandy but wooded uplands,
where a succession of wells furnished an ample water
supply. Amongst these woods a rubber or gum tree was
plentiful, of which the produce was exported to Spain,
and much used in the manufacture of silk. From these
wooded uplands the road led down to Audoghast, which
was a large and thickly populated town, built in a sandy
plain and surrounded by gardens and date-groves. Its
pastures were well stocked with sheep and cattle, and
meat was very plentiful, but wheat was cultivated as a
garden crop. The rich alone indulged themselves in the
use of it. The common grain, used by the people was
dourra. Fields of henna bore heavy crops. The town had
several mosques and other fine public buildings, and the
houses generally were "very elegant." The people were
rich and lived in great comfort. There was a large and
extremely busy market, where, notwithstanding the dis-
tance, wheat, fruit, sugar, and dried raisins from the
Mohammedan countries were regularly sent. Honey,
which was very plentiful, came from Negroland. Luxu-
ries of all kinds were to be obtained for gold dust, which
was the medium of exchange. There was no proper
currency. Amongst the trade imports El Bekri mentions
worked copper and dress stuffs, and amongst the exports
amber and refined g:old run into the form of ofold wire.
The refined gold of Audoghast had the reputation of being
purer than that of any other country in the world. The
population of Audoghast was very mixed, but was mainly
Berber, consisting of natives from the Barbary coasts and
members of the surrounding Berber tribes. There were
also to be seen, El Bekri says, but in smaller numbers,
people from all the great ^Mussulman towns o\ Spain, and


amongst the white women many were remarkable for their
beauty. The service of the households would appear to
have been done by negroes, and the rich merchants
of Audoghast owned sometimes as many as a thousand
slaves. There were especially clever negress cooks who
were worth ^loo apiece, and who knew how to prepare
most appetising dishes, the flesh of camel calves stewed
with truffles, maccaroni dressed with honey, nut cakes,
and all kinds of sweetmeats.

Between the years 961 and 971, that is, a hundred
years earlier than the date of El Bekri's writing, Audo-
ghast formed the centre of a Berber state which was ruled
by a prince of the Senajah tribe whose name was Tin
Yeroutan. More than twenty black kings acknowledged
his rule and paid tribute to him, and his empire extended
over an inhabited country which it required two months to
march through from end to end. He was able to put in
the field an army of no less than 100,000 men mounted
upon trained camels. When the King of Macina, a
Berber frontier state situated south of his territory upon
the Niger, asked for help against a powerful black neigh-
bour, he sent him 50,000 mounted men. The whole
country from Audoghast to the Atlantic coast was in those
days in the possession of the Berbers. Certain tribes,
amongst whom were the Beni Goddala and the Lemtunah,
destined afterwards to give the dynasty of the Almora-
vides to Spain, retained their independence on the western
coast, and as nomads continued for a long time to haunt
the more westerly of the two roads to Negroland. All
these tribes of the desert wore the double veil, the nicab,
which concealed the upper part of the face, and the litham,
which concealed the lower in such a way that only the
orbit of the eyes was visible. "Never," El Bekri says,
" in any circumstances did they take off the veil, and if
by accident a man's veil had been taken off he would
have been quite unrecognisable by his parents." When it
happened in battle to a warrior the body could not be
identified. "The veil," he adds, "is a thing which they


no more take off than their skins, and to men who do not
dress as they do they apply the nickname of ' fly-traps.' '"

The Berber Tin Yeroutan had ruled in Audoghast a
hundred years before El Bekri wrote, and in that time
much had happened. The black kingdom of Ghana,
already famous in the eighth centun,', had risen in pros-
perity and importance, and had spread northwards,
conquering amongst other territories the kingdom of
Audoghast. In the year 1054 the town of Audoghast.
still rich and flourishing, not only acknowledged the rule
of Ghana and paid tribute, but was also a place of
residence of the black monarch. But in the followingr
year, 1055, the Almoravides, already setting out upon
their northward march, made a first example of this town.
They took it by assault and sacked and pillaged it, ex-
posing it to every horror of barbaric warfare, and it is
especially stated that " they treated the population of
Audog-hast with this extreme ris^our because the town
had acknowledged the sovereignty of the black king of
Ghana. '

The actual position of the town of Ghana, of which no
certain trace now remains, has been much disputed. Leo
Africanus, by a careless phrase, confused it with the town
of Kajio, upwards of 1200 miles distant in the Haussa
States, and as a consequence, in the ver}- unenlightened
condition of European knowledge, the traditions of the
one town were commonly associated with the other until
Cooley, in his " Xegroland of the Arabs," demonstrated
once and for all the absurdity of such a geographical
transposition. That the town of Ghana was somewhere
in the west, situated between the Niger and the sea, and
near to the issue of the western caravan road from
Morocco, is not questioned. The exact locality is un-
certain, but it is generally held that it was some days to
the south-west of Timbuctoo. Taking into consideration
that it is constantly spoken of as the capital of the kingdom
of Ghana or Ghanata, and that that capital is also some-
times spoken of as Biru and Walata, Ghanata and Walata


beino- interchangeable, and that Walata, Biru, and Aiwa-
latin are one, also noting the points of resemblance between
the geographical description given by El Bekri of the
position of Ghana, and by Ibn Batuta 300 years later of
Aiwakitin, it scarcely seems to be doubtful that the Ghana
of the eighth century was identical with the Aiwalatin of
the fourteenth, and with the Walata of to-day.

We learn by extracts from a Haussa record, of which
the orio'inal has unfortunately been destroyed, that the
people of Ghana were anciently known by the name of
Towrooth or Taurud, and that they claimed to have come
from the territory lying between the Tigris and the
Euphrates. In other words, they claimed descent from
the Assyrians or the Babylonians, both peoples who had
their orio-in in the Taurus Mountains, and reached their
hicrhest development in the Valley of the Euphrates and
the Tigris. If the migration of the people of Ghana
formed part of the movement impelled by the Chaldean
conquest of Babylon, this would carry their settlement in
Africa back to the seventh century before Christ. It may
have been much earlier. When Alexander the Great took
Babylon, he sent back for the information of Aristotle
records of Babylonian astronomical observations extend-
ing over 1903 years.

Among the peoples ruled by Ghana in the Arab
period, one of the most important was known by the
name of Ungara, Wangara, or Wakore, of whom many
were Fulani. The Wangara, at a later date, migrated
eastward into the Haussa States. This people claimed
on their part to have descended from the Persians. When,
at a later period, they moved eastward from Ghana to
Haussaland, the province which they founded was called
indifferently Wangara or Ungara. It is, therefore, in-
teresting to find that in the Ramayana, the Indian epic,
a Rajah of Ungar is mentioned among, those who paid
tribute to the famous Desaratha. Commentators who
were in no way concerned with African history, have
agreed that Ungar must have been a province of Persia


on the northern frontier of India. We get, therefore,
somewhere about the time of Moses a spot in Persia
whence the Wangara may have originated. The fact
that Persian influence extended at a very early period
to the black countries of Africa is also attested by the
ruins of Persepolis, where amongst the bas-reliefs believed
to have been carved in commemoration of the glories of
Cyrus and his immediate successors, there is one which
shows the king in the act of receiving tribute from the
ambassadors of subject nations, and amongst them there
is a negro. Niebuhr tells us that the profile is unmistak-
able, and that the hair of the negro is so carefully carved
that it is impossible to mistake it for the hair of an Asiatic.
Cambyses, son of Cyrus, conquered Egypt in 527 B.C.,
and his army perished in marching into Ethiopia. There
is nothing impossible in the supposition that fragments
of that defeated army may have remained and settled in
the Soudan.

Further information of the remote antiquity of Ghana
seems unfortunately to be at present unattainable. So
far as we are aware, no monuments remain to confirm
the traditions of the people. I give these surmises, there-
fore, for what they may be worth, and have myself found
nothing to connect the Taurud of Ghana with the ancient
Babylonians except two characteristics mentioned by
El Bekri : one is that they were workers in gems, the
other is that their notables indulged a passion for fine
dogs. Both of these, as we know, were also charac-
teristics of the people of Babylon.

We are on safer ground when we return to the
medieval records of Arab writers.

In the years 1067 Ghana was still the principal black
kingdom of the Western Soudan. The name of its
reigning sovereign was Tenkamenin, who ascended the
throne in the year 1062, in succession to his maternal
uncle, Beci. It was the custom amongst these blacks
for the succession to go always to the son of the king's


The town of Ghana, which, after the sack of Audoghast
by the Almoravides, became the royal residence of the
kings, was composed, according to El Bekri, of two towns
situated in a plain. One town was Mussulman and the
other pagan. The king himself was a pagan, and lived
in the pagan town. The Mussulman town was very
large, and contained no less than twelve mosques. All
these mosques had their i7nanis, their nioweddins, and
their salaried readers. There were also schools and
centres of learning, and according to the author of the
Tarikh-es-Soucimiy the town, besides being the meeting-
place of commercial caravans from all parts of the world,
was "the resort of the learned, the rich, and the pious
of all nations." They came, he says, from Egypt, from
Augila, from the Fezzan, from Ghadames, from Taouat,
from Dra, from Sidjilmessa, from Sus, from Bitou, and
other places. This account is fully borne out by later
writers. El Edrisi, writing in 1153, describes the king's
residence as being a well-built castle, thoroughly fortified,
decorated inside with sculptures and pictures, and having
glass windows. El Bekri makes no mention of glass, but
says that the king's residence in the pagan town consisted
of a "castle" surrounded by native huts. He mentions
that the buildings generally were composed of stone and
acacia wood. The native town was six miles distant from
the Mussulman town, but the w^hole space was covered
by suburbs, consisting of stone houses standing in gardens.
In the native town there w^as one mosque for the use of
Mohammedans occupied on duty round the king. The
king's principal ministers and advisers were at this time
Mohammedans, and he and his heir-presumptive wore
Mohammedan dress, but the religion of the country was
still devoutly pagan, and all other persons of native religion,
except the king and his heir, wore robes of cotton, silk, or
brocade, according to their means. The local religion,
evidently different from the paganism now practised among
the lower class tribes upon the coast, had yet certain points
of resemblance.


The royal town, says El Bekri, was surrounded by
groves jealously guarded, which were sacred to the worship
of the gods. Here dwelt the priests who directed religious
worship. No other person was allowed to enter or to
know anything of what happened within their precincts.
Here were the idols of the nation. Here also were the
tombs of the kings, and the royal prisons, in which, if a
man were once confined, he was never heard of again.
From the description of royal funerals it may be inferred
that a new grove was planted for each tomb. On the
death of a king, the custom was to construct a great dome
of wood on the spot which was to serve as his tomb. The
body was then laid upon a couch covered with drapery
and cushions, and placed within the dome. Round the
dead were laid his decorations, his arms, the dishes and
cups from which he was in the habit of eating and drink-
ing, and various kinds of food and drink. With the body
of the sovereign were enclosed several of his cooks and
attendants. The edifice was covered with cloth and mats.
The assembled multitudes then threw earth upon the tomb
until a great hill was formed. When this was done the
monument was secured from defilement^By^ ditch which
left only one passage of approach, ^^gf^fices^sto the dead
were also made. v" /

This system of burial recalls ^d^sci^ibtion given by
Macrizi, in his " Historical Descriptidrj^^loFEgypt," of the
burial of Misraim, who died seven hun(3/ed years after the
Flood, and who is said to have given the ancient name
of "Misr" to Lower Egypt. Misraim being dead, they
prepared for him, INIacrizi tells us, a hollow place most
richly decorated, with a pedestal in the midst of it. On
the pedestal they engraved an inscription: "He never
worshipped idols, neither was he ever old, nor sick, nor
downcast, nor morose. His strength was in the Most
High God." The body, in a coffin of marble and gold,
was laid near the pedestal, and on the pedestal — of which,
perhaps, the translation should be platform — was heaped
every kind of precious possession, emeralds, pearls, gold,



talismans, perfumes, &c. The whole was then covered
with rocks, over which earth was heaped, between two
mountains, and his son took the reins of government.

The descent from this form of sepulture to that of
Ghana, and again from that of Ghana to that now practised
among the fetish worshippers of the coast, is illustrative of
the decadence which an ideal may undergo as it passes
from its original source into the keeping of lower orders
of comprehension.

Magic and trial by ordeal were also in use among the
people of Ghana. El Bekri is the latest of the Arab
authors who refers to these native rites. Shortly after the
period at which he wrote the whole country would appear
to have become Mohammedan.

Ten days to the south of Ghana was the country of
tl5b Lem-Lems or cannibals, whom it was the custom to
raid for slaves. Within the kingdom there was a district
of which the inhabitants were naked pagans, very expert
in the use of the bow and arrow. There was another
district entirely inhabited by the descendants of the soldiers
sent by the Ommeyade Arabs against Ghana in the first
years of the Hegira. These people kept their light com-
plexions and the fine features of their race.

In nearly all the important towns of the country,
Mussulman traders from the countries of the north were to
be met. In some of the towns Mussulmans did not take
up their residence, but they were always well received.

Tenkamenin, besides having already adopted Moham-
medan dress, was much governed by Mohammedan opinion.
He is described as the master of a vast empire, and of a
power which rendered him very formidable. He could put
in the field an army of 200,000 men, of whom more than
40,000 were armed with bows and arrows. The wealth of
the country was very great. The soil was fertile, and
gave generally two crops a year. Gold was abundant.
The custom, according to El Bekri, was that all nuggets
found in the mines of the Empire belonged to the

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 8 of 41)