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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sovereign, while the public was allowed to keep the gold


dust. "Without this precaution," El Bekri gravely
states, "gold would become so abundant that it would
have hardly any value." The nuggets found in the mines
of Ghana varied usually in weight from an ounce to a
pound ; some were much larger. The king had one which
weighed thirty pounds. There was a part of the country
called El Ferouin, in which gold was so plentiful and
salt so scarce, that salt was sold for its weight in gold.
The king had further sources of wealth in a very large
customs revenue raised on salt, copper, and foreign

When he gave audience to the people, Tenkamenin
appeared in great state, seated under a pavilion round
which were ranged ten horses caparisoned in gold.
Behind him were ten pages bearing shields and swords
mounted in gold. On his right stood " the sons of the
princes of the Empire, magnificently dressed." The
governor of the town and all the ministers sat upon the
ground before the king. The door of the pavilion was
guarded by pure-bred dogs, whose collars were of gold
and silver, with bells of the same metal. It was the
custom for these dogs never to leave the spot occupied
by the king. On the days of audience the grievances of
the people were inquired into by the king. El Bekri
tells us little of the system of justice of the country,
except that it was organised by the Mohammedan
ministers of the king.

Mohammedanism had made such evident progress in
the middle of the eleventh century, that it is not surprising
to learn a century later from El Idrisi, that the King of
Ghana and the notables of his day were Mohammedan,
and that the king accepted investiture from the Eastern
Caliph. There had, however, intervened between the
period of the two writers a Mohammedan conquest of
which we have yet to hear.


The constant allusions made by early writers to the trade
of Ghana leave no doubt that its commercial relations
with the outside world had already become very important
during the period in which the Ommeyades ruled in Spain.
Gold, slaves, skins, ivory, kola-nuts, gums, honey, corn,
and cotton, are among the articles of export which are
most frequently named. Hardly a town is mentioned
in the states of Northern and North- Western Africa of
which it is not said that it carried on trade with the
Soudan. Augila, in the back country of Tripoli, War-
gelan or Wargla, in the back country of Algiers, with
Sidjilmessa in the back country of Morocco, were all
known by the name of "Gates of the Desert." Augila
was the special entrance of the trade with Egypt and the
East ; Sidjilmessa, which was the entrance for the trade
of the West, has already been described ; Wargelan, which
lies on the parallel of Bugia, is specially mentioned as
being inhabited by very rich merchants, who made their
fortunes from the gold of the Soudan, brought to War-
gelan in the form of gold dust, and "coined" there for
export. From Wargelan to Ghana was, we are told, a
journey of thirty days.

At a somewhat later date, towards the end of the
jjeriod of the Ommeyades, we have a circumstantial
account of how the ancestors of the historian Al Makkari
carried on a trade between Europe and the Soudan, by
which the fortunes of the house of Makkari were laid. An
ancestor of his, writing in the fourteenth century, says :
" From time immemorial my family had exercised the pro-


fession of commerce in the countries where they settled,
deriving no small share of influence and riches from it.
They furrowed the sands of the desert in all directions ;
they dug wells and facilitated travelling in the Sahara,
thus affording security to merchants and travellers. They
took a drum, and marching always preceded by a banner,
they headed the numerous caravans which from time to
time penetrated into the country of the blacks. . . ."

A certain Abdurrahman, one of the family, having
died and left behind him five sons, " they determined
upon forming a partnership, carrying on the trade con-
jointly, and dividing between themselves the profits of
their mercantile speculations." They accordingly threw
together in a "common fund all their father's inheritance,
and having held a consultation together as to the means
of carrying on the trade to the greatest advantage," it was
"agreed" that two should remain and establish themselves
at Telem9an, at this time a principal port upon the Medi-
terranean for European trade ; that one should fix his
residence at Sidjilmessa ; and lastly, that two should go
to Aiwalatin in the desert.

"It was done as agreed between them. Each reached
his place of destination, settled there, married and had
a family, and they began to conduct their trade in the
following manner : those in Telem9an sent to their part-
ners in the desert such goods and commodities as were
wanted in those districts, while these supplied them in
return with skins, ivory, and kola-nuts. In the mean-
while the one stationed at Sidjilmessa was like the tongue
of the balance between the two, since, being placed at
a convenient distance between Telem^an and the desert,
he took care to acquaint the respective parties with the
fluctuations of trade, the amount of losses sustained by
traders, the overstock of the markets, or the great demand
for certain articles ; " and, in short, to inform them of
the "secret designs of other merchants engaged in the
same trade, as well as of the political events which
might in any way influence it. By these means they were


enabled to carry on their speculations with the greatest
success ; their wealth increased, and their importance
waxed every day greater."

An account is then given of how on one occasion
in Aiwakitin, when the neighbouring Sultan of Tekrour
attacked and took the town, the property and lives of the
Arab merchants, including those of the Makkari company,
were placed in great danger. " But my ancestors, being
men of great courage and determination, would not con-
sent to witness their ruin. They assembled all their
servants and dependents, and such traders as happened
to be in Aiwalatin at the time, and having distributed
arms among them, they shut themselves up in their
warehouses, and decided to fight, if necessary, for the
defence of their goods and chattels."

Catastrophe was averted, however, by an interview
between the senior partner and the invading king, who
agreed to extend his protection to the company, and who
treated them from that time with the utmost favour and
distinction. "He frequently after this wrote to the
partners at Telem9an, applying directly for such goods
as he wanted for his own consumption, or such as
were most sought for in his dominions." This political
development seems to have greatly enlarged the scope
of the operations of the Makkari firm. "The moment
my ancestors perceived that they could trust and rely
on kings, such difficulties as might have existed before
were speedily removed. . . . The desert and its dangers
seemed no longer the scene of death and misery, and
they began to frequent its most lonely and dangerous
tracts, their v/ealth thereby increasing so rapidly that
it almost surpassed the limits of computation. Nor,"
says the account, " were these the only advantages arising
from their enterprise ; the natives with whom they traded
were considerably benefited by it. For it must be under-
stood that the trade with the desert was in the most
deplorable state before the people of Makkareh engaged
in it. Merchants, totally unacquainted with the real wants


of the inhabitants, carried thither articles which were
either of no use or of no vahae to them, taking in exchange
objects which were a source of profit and wealth. This
even went so far that an African sovereign was once heard
to say : ' Were it not that I consider it a bad action, I
would, by God ! prevent these Soudan traders from stop-
ping in my dominions ; for thither they go with the most
paltry merchandise, and bring in return the gold which
conquers the world.' However, when my ancestors had
once established a direct trade with those countries, the
scene changed, and the blacks were better and more
abundantly provided with such articles as they stood most
in need of. They also were furnished with goods which
they had never seen before, and they obtained a better
price for their returns."

The writer of this account was a Judge of the Supreme
Court of Fez in the year 1356. Presumably, therefore,
he may have been born about the year 1300, and he
counts himself sixth in descent from Abdurrahman, the
founder of the firm. Allowing thirty years for a genera-
tion, this would get us back near to the year 1 100, or not
very far distant from the period at which the life of Ghana
has been described. As all writers agree that the trade
of Ghana was important in the eighth and ninth centuries,
we must assume that, with the approaching decline of
the kingdom, the trade had already fallen into some
decay, from which it was revived by the exertions of the
Makkari firm. The account is interesting for the in-
dication which it gives that, in the early period of Arab
trade with the Soudan, companies found it necessary, as
European companies have found at a later date, to acquire
political as well as commercial influence, and also that
the better class of traders exercised a wise discretion
as to the class of articles which they introduced to the
notice of the natives.

The allusion made in the incidents which have been
related to the successful attack upon Ghana by a neigh-
bouring king may be taken, perhaps, to presage the con-


quest of Ghana, first by Susu and then by Melle, events
which took place, the first in the twelfth, and the second
in the thirteenth century.

Many lesser kingdoms, both black and Berber, sur-
rounded Ghana. Amongst the black, El Bekri mentions
specially Tekrour and Silla, both of which, though black,
already in the middle of the eleventh century professed
Mohammedanism. Silla, which was situated on the banks
of the Niger, where the river skirted the south-eastern
frontier of the Empire of Ghana, was, when El Bekri wrote,
a country of some importance, able, he says, to maintain
its independence against Ghana, and was a centre of the
cotton industry. At Terensa, a town within the limits
of this country, he remarks, "that no house is without
its cotton plantation."

Among the lesser kingdoms, also, south and east of
Ghana, one which deserves special mention is Masina, of
which the inhabitants were largely Fulani. This little
state is particularly interesting as having in its origin
submitted by agreement to draw its rulers equally from
Fulani and Berber sources, and as having succeeded in
maintaining its integrity if not its independence for many
centuries against the invasion of surrounding black peoples.
It has been already mentioned as having solicited with
success the assistance of Tin Yeroutan, the Berber king
of Audoghast in the tenth century, against its black neigh-
bours of Aougham. After passing through many vicissi-
tudes, including submission to the black dynasty of Melle
and the Songhay dynasty of Timbuctoo, it is mentioned
again by the author of the Tarikh-es-Soudan, as re-
fusing any longer, in 1629, to accept the investiture of
its rulers from the hands of the decadent and Moorish

But it does not fall within the scope of this book to
attempt to deal with the many nations of the Western
Soudan who arose and fell within a period of a thousand
years. For the purpose of tracing the course of civilisation
through the fertile belt it is enough to mention a few of


the most important. Amongst these Melle followed most
closely upon the footsteps of Ghana, but at the end of the
eleventh century it was a mere town, mentioned by El
Bekri, under the name of El Melel, as occupying a position
of no great importance on the Bend of the Niger. Its
kings were at that date already Mohammedans, but the
mass of its people were " still plunged in idolatry."

Little would seem to have been known to the Spanish
Arabs in El Bekri's days of the countries lying eastwards
of the Bend of the Niger. El Bekri gives, however, a very
accurate account of the course of the Niger throughout the
northern portion of the Bend, describing some of the prin-
cipal towns, though not all, which were at that time in
existence on the part of the river known as the " Ras-
el-Ma," or " Head of the Waters," where, near to the
present position of Timbuctoo, the river, according to El
Bekri's description, "leaves the Land of the Blacks"
and runs eastwards for six days to a place which he calls
Tirca before turning south by the famous city of Kagho
or Kaougho. El Bekri tells us little of the place, of which
the author of the Tarikh-es-Soudan says " that it was a
city in the days of the Pharaohs." It has been gener-
ally identified as occupying the position of the present
town of Gao. El Bekri's knowledge of it went no fur-
ther than to enable him to say that its king was Moham-
medan though the people were still pagan, and that from
this point the Niger ran southward into the country of
the Dem-Dems or cannibals.

In the immediate neighbourhood of this place there
were, he tells us also, "a great quantity of mines which
furnished eold dust." Of all the countries of the blacks
it was the richest in gold, and foreign and black merchants,
whom he designates by the name of Noughamarta, were
constantly occupied in carrying this gold into all countries.
All that El Bekri appears to know of the country lying
between the Niger and Lake Chad is, that first there came
a great kingdom, extending for more than an eight days'
march, of which the sovereigns bear the title of " Du,"


beyond which comes Kanem, a country of the idolaters.
The names of the early kings of Bornu all began with
" Du." It is therefore presumable that El Bekri was
correctly informed as to the position of Bornu, which at
that time probably overran Haussaland ; but he gives us
no information with regard to it. This silence on the part
of a Spanish Arab, so generally well informed as El Bekri,
seems to confirm the theory that the countries eastward of
the Bend of the Niger derived their civilisation largely
from Egypt via the Tripoli-Fezzan route, scarcely used at
this time by the Western Arabs.

El Bekri makes no mention at all of Nupe, one of the
oldest and most important of the purely native kingdoms,
nor of Borgu, also a kingdom of great antiquity, which is
said to have derived an early Christianity from the Copts
of Egypt.

The waters of the Niger at the northern part of its
course divided the Land of the Blacks, he tells us, from the
territories of the Berbers on its northern banks. As the
operations of these Berber tribes precede, in point of date,
the rise of the kingdom of Melle, it may be well to turn
for a moment to the eastern development of that Desert
Kingdom which gave the Almoravide dynasty to Spain.



It will be remembered that the population of the Desert
Kingdom was composed of united Berber tribes, whose
occupation of the desert was of immemorial antiquity.
The united tribes were ruled, in the very healthy part of
Africa which spreads inward from the Atlantic coast to
the Sahara, by hereditary Berber kings. It has already
been mentioned that Tiloutan, who died in 837 a.d., was
one of the first of these to exact tribute from the black
kingdoms of the Western Soudan, and that his descendant,
Tin Yeroutan, was ruling in Audoghast between the years
961 and 971. This Berber rule having been overthrown
by the black monarch of Ghana, it was by an act of natural
retribution, when the Almoravides formed themselves into
a religious fighting force in the heart of the desert kingdom,
that one of the first incidents of their Holy War was the
sack of Audoghast and its restoration to Berber rule. But
the taking of Audoghast was indicative of a movement
which was in some sort to decide the fate of the Desert
Kingdom. At the moment at which El Bekri wrote, this
ancient kingdom was about to divide itself permanently
into two sections, of which one, moving northwards under
the Morabite commanders, was to renew the power of
Africa upon the throne of Spain, while the other, breaking
away from its brethren of the north, was to follow the
road suggested to its armies by the taking of Audoghast ;
and, having carried the banners of the Crescent from the
shores of the Atlantic to the Nile, was to scatter itself
eventually in divided communities along the southern edge
of the Sahara Desert. The Desert Kingdom itself dis-


appeared, but in Africa the northern branch of the
Almoravides left a permanent mark upon history by the
foundation of the town of Morocco, while the southern
branch left a no less permanent record in the foundation of
Timbuctoo. These two towns came into existence within
twenty-five years of each other. They were born of the
same Almoravide parents, and were the outcome of the
same religious and political upheaval.

El Bekri, safe in the seclusion of the court of Seville,
to which before his death the Almoravides were to march
as stern deliverers from the Christian yoke, was aware of
the formation of the sect on the southern frontier of the
Desert Kingdom. He had heard of the taking of Audo-
ghast and of the advance to Sidjilmessa in 1056. But
after the taking of the latter town he had evidently re-
ceived only imperfect rumours of the reorganisation of the
Almoravides under their new leader Yusuf. He makes
no mention of the foundation of the town of Morocco,
which took place in 1062 ; and writing — as he expressly
says — in the year 1067, he no doubt gave the latest infor-
mation possessed at Seville, when he says : "The present
Emir of the Almoravides is Abou Bekr, but their Empire
is broken up and their power divided. They now main-
tain themselves in the desert."

It is to I bn Khaldun that we turn for the fuller history
of this movement.

The northward march of the Almoravides has been
related in an earlier chapter. It will be remembered that
when, after the death of the original leader, success had
crowned the arms of Abou Bekr, he was recalled from the
northern provinces by the report of dissensions which had
broken out between the tribes of the kingdom in the south,
and that, placing full power in the north in the hands of
his cousin Yusuf (or Joseph) Tachefin, he himself returned
southwards with the object of reconciling his turbulent
subjects. To effect this reconciliation he initiated a new
campaign to the east, in the direction thrown open by the
taking of Audoghast, and, as a matter of fact, he never


again returned to the north. By a friendly partition
agreed to in 1062, the northern provinces to the Medi-
terranean were ceded to Yusuf, while Abou Bekr retained
for himself the old regions of the desert in the south.
He retained also the old licence to extend these regions as
far as force of arms could carry them.

We first hear of him as leading the armies of his
followers on a victorious march across the southern borders
of the desert, fighting with the pagan nations of the
Soudan for a distance of ninety days east of the most
easterly frontier of the Desert Kingdom. In these
territories, as he conquered them, he assigned areas
for the habitation of the principal tribes who had united
beneath his banners. But these territories were not in the
Soudan proper, as we know it. They were north of the
Great River, and Ibn Khaldun, describing the position
occupied by their descendants who were still all " Wearers
of the Veil " 300 years later, especially tells us that they
had never territorially occupied the Soudan, but remained
in the desert, changing nothing in their ways. "Always
divided and disunited by the diversity of their habits and
their interests, they formed," he says, "a cordon of desert
nations upon the northern frontier of the Soudan, sepa-
rating its territory from the sandy regions that lie between
it and the States of North Africa and Morocco."

By the end of the fourteenth century, when Ibn
Khaldun wrote, this cordon of desert nations stretched
from the Atlantic to the Nile ; but by that date the people
comprising it were subject to the black kings of the
Soudan, paid them tribute, and furnished contingents for
their armies.

Under Abou Bekr, at the end of the eleventh century,
the united tribes marched as conquerors, and their cam-
paign did not abandon its character as a Holy War. If
they made no territorial confiscations, they claimed tribute
from the vanquished peoples, and they imposed the Moslem
faith upon all infidels who submitted to their arms. In
some cases the necessity of accepting the faith was com-


muted for payment of a subsidy ; but historians are practi-
cally in agreement that the conversion of the northern
belt of the Soudan to Mohammedanism became general
at about this date. The Almoravides did not confine their
requirements to a purely nominal conversion. Doctors of
divinity and Moslem teachers were sent into the black
countries to teach the true faith, and no doubt the increase
of communication which at this time took place with Spain
opened the way for the acceptance of more enlightened
religious views.

Although the cordon of natives spoken of by Ibn
Khaldun in the fourteenth century extended at that period
as far eastward as the Nile, the march of Abou Bekr
in the eleventh century does not appear to have been
carried beyond the deserts lying to the north and north-
east of the Bend of the Niger. The Berber nations which
completed the cordon are distinctly stated by other writers
to have come down from Tripoli and the East.

Two important political incidents marked the campaign
of Abou Bekr. In 1076 he carried the vengeance of
Audoghast to the gates of Ghana, and, overthrowing the
reigning black dynasty, placed a Berber on the throne.
The life of the country does not seem to have been pro-
foundly affected at the time by this revolution. El Idrisi,
writing nearly a hundred years later, still speaks of it as
being the greatest kingdom of the blacks. He mentions
the fact that it is ruled by a king of Berber descent,
who " governs by his own authority, but gives allegiance
to the Abbasside Sultan of Egypt," and that the king
and people are now Mohammedans ; but he does not
speak of it as having become in any respect a Berber

Here is his account : " Ghana ... is the most consider-
able, the most thickly populated, and the most commercial
of the black countries. It is visited by rich merchants
from all the surrounding countries, and from the extremities
of the West. Its inhabitants are Mussulman. . . . The
king governs by his own authority, but he does obeisance


to the Abbasside Commander of the Faithful" — that is,
the Egyptian CaHph. Then follows a description of the
palace already mentioned, and the date of its construction,
1116 A.D. "The territory and domains of this king,"
Edrisi continues, " are conterminous with Wangara,
or the country of gold." The king's nugget, weighing
30 lbs., is mentioned, and we are told that it was "an
entirely natural production, which has been neither
melted nor worked by the hand of man, except for
the fact that a hole had been made through it in order
that it might be fastened to the king's throne." It was
regarded as a curio, unique of its kind, and the king was
proud of its fame in the Soudan. Other writers give
more fabulous weights to this famous nugget, and it
appears to have remained among the royal treasures for
upwards of two hundred years ; for Ibn Khaldun mentions,
at the end of the fourteenth century, a degenerate monarch
of the conquering dynasty of Melle who sold the nugget
for the value of its gold. Edrisi describes the King of
Ghana, who was contemporary to himself, as "one of the
most just of men," whose custom it was to ride once daily
into the poorest and most wretched quarters of the city, and
there to dispense justice to all who had ground for com-
plaint. On all other occasions he rode with great pomp,
magnificently dressed in silk and jewels, surrounded by
guards preceded by elephants, giraffes, and other wild
animals of the Soudan, and no one dared to approach him.

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 9 of 41)