« PreviousContinue »
seat of the old empire of Ghánata, and thus inducing the rich merchants from the north, who had formerly been trading with Bíru or Waláta, and who had even occasionally resided there, to transfer their trade to Timbúktu and Gágho. It is the same king, no doubt, that attracted the attention of the Portuguese, who, in the reigns of Joâo and Emmanuel, sent several embassies into the interior, not only to Melle, * which at that time had already greatly declined in power and importance, but also to Timbuktu, where Sonni 'Ali seems to have principally resided; and it was perhaps partly on account of the relations which he entertained with the Christian king (to whom he even opened a trading station as far inland as Wadán or Hóden), besides his cruelty against the chiefs of religion, that the Mohammedans were less satisfied with his government; for there is no doubt that he was not a strict Mohammedan.
It was Háj Mohammed A'skia who founded the new homony. mous dynasty of the A'skia, by rising against his liege lord, the son of Sonni 'Alí, and, after a desperate struggle, usurping the royal power; and, notwithstanding the glorious career of that great conqueror, we may fancy we can see in the unfortunate circumstances of the latter part of the reign of that king, a sort of Divine punishment for the example which he had given of revolt.
We have seen that the dynasty of the Zá, of which that of the Sonni seems to have been a mere continuation, immigrated from abroad; and it is a circumstance of the highest interest to see king Mohammed A'skia—perhaps the greatest sovereign that ever ruled over Negroland—who was a native of this very country, born in the island of Néni, a little below Sínder, in the Niger, setting us an example of the highest degree of development of which negroes are capable. For, while Sonni 'Alí, like his forefathers, still belonged to that family of foreign settlers who either came from Yemen, according to the current tradition, or, as is more credible, immigrated from Libya, as Leo states, the dynasty of the A'skía was entirely of native descent; and it is the more remarkable, if we consider that this king was held in the highest esteem and veneration by the most learned and rigid Mohammedans, while Sonni 'Alí had rendered himself so odious, that people HA'J MOHAMMED A'SKIA.
* It is remarkable that, in a map published at Strasburg in the year 1513, the kingdom of Melle appears under the name of Regnum Musa Melle de Ginorin. Atlas of Santarem, pl. No. 13.
287 did not know how to give full vent to their indignation in heaping the most opprobrious epithets upon him.
It is of no small interest to a person who endeavors to take a comprehensive view of the various races of mankind, to observe how, during the time when the Portuguese, carried away by the most heroic enterprise and the most praiseworthy energy, having gradually discovered and partly taken possession of the whole western coast of Africa, and having at length doubled its southernmost promontory, under the guidance of Almeida and Albuquerque, founded their Indian empire, that at this same time a negro king in the interior of the continent not only extended his conquests far and wide, from the centre of Hausa almost to the borders of the Atlantic, and from the pagan country of Mósi, in 12° northern latitude, as far as Tawát to the south of Morocco, but also governed the subjected tribes with justice and equity, causing wellbeing and comfort to spring up every where within the borders of his extensive dominions,* and introducing such of the institutions of Mohammedan civilization as he considered might be useful to his subjects. It is only to be lamented that, as is generally the case in historical records, while we are tolerably well informed as to the warlike proceedings of this king, it is merely from circumstances which occasionally transpire and are slightly touched upon, that we can draw conclusions as to the interior condition of his empire; and, on this point, I will make a few observations, before I proceed to the causes which rendered the foundation of this empire so unstable.
In a former part of my researches I have entered into the history and polity of the empire of Bórnu, and it is interesting to compare with the latter that of the Songhay empire, which attained the zenith of its power just at the time when Bórnu likewise, having recovered, in consequence of the energy and warlike spirit of the king 'Alí Ghajidéni, from the wounds inflicted upon it by the loss of Kánem, the desperate struggle with the tribe of the Soy, and a series of civil wars, attained its most glorious period during the reign of the two Edrís, in the course of the sixteenth century of our era.
* It is not to be wondered at that Leo, who visited Negroland just at the time when this prince was aspiring to power, and who must have written the greater part of what he relates of him and his conquests from infomation which he had received after he had left the country, should treat this usurper, whose identity with his Ischia can not be doubtful, with very little indulgence; and it even seems as if he purposely intended to give a bad interpretation to every thing which the king undertook, a fact which is clearly evident from what he relates with regard to his proceedings in Háusa. That the taxes imposed by him upon his subjects may have been heavy, I concede may be true, as without a considerable revenue he was not able to keep up a strong military force; but at least they evidently must have been much less than they were in the time of Sonni 'Ali, when almost the whole population was engaged in war. We find a very heavy duty upon salt, from each load £5.
In instituting such a comparison between these two extensive kingdoms of Negroland we soon discover that the Songhay empire, although likewise stated to be founded by a Libyan dynasty, was far more despotic than its eastern rival; and it is in vain that we here look either for a divan of twelve great officers, forming a powerful and highly influential aristocracy, or that eclectic form of choosing a successor, both of which we find in Bórnu: nay, not even the office of a vizier meets our eye, as we peruse the tolerably rich annals of A’hmed Bábá. We find, no doubt, powerful officers also in the Songhay empire, as must naturally be the case in a large kingdom; but these appear to have been merely governors of provinces, whom the king installed or deposed at his pleasure, and who exercised no influence upon the internal affairs of the kingdom, except when it was plunged into civil war.
These governors bore generally the title of“ farma" or "feréng," a title which is evidently of Mandingo origin, * and was traditionally derived from the institutions of the kingdom of Melle, while the native Songhay title of " koy” appears to be used only in order to denote officers of certain provinces which originally were more intimately related to Songhay; and in this respect it is a remarkable fact that the Governor of Timbúktu or Túmbutu is constantly called Túmbutu-koy, and is only once called Túmbutumanghat Besides this province, those which we find mentioned in the report of Aʼhmed Bábá are the following, going from east to west :—Dendi, or, as it is now generally called, Déndina, the country between Kebbi and Sáy,I which I have described in the account of my own journey, and which seems to have contained a Songhay population from tolerably ancient times, at least before the beginning of the sixteenth century; but we find none of the
* See Cooley, “Negroland,” p. 75, n. 26, and p. 77, n. 28.
† Journal of the Leipsic Oriental Society, vol. ix., p. 554. If there be no mistake, there was a “koy" as well as a “farma " in some of the provinces, such as Bára.
* A governor of the town of Sáy is perhaps indicated under the title of Sáy-weli. - Ibid., p. 550.
three divisions of this important province specified, not even Ken. ga or Zágha. This is to be regretted, as they appear to have been of ancient origin, and as their history, especially that of Zágha, which seems to have derived its name from the more celebrated town of the same name on the upper course of the river, would be highly interesting.
The country from hence toward the capital we never find comprised by A’hmed Bábá under a general name, nor do we meet with the names of Zabérma or Zérma, which I therefore conclude to be of more recent origin, although that country, at present so named, was evidently comprised in the kingdom of Songhay. West of Gágho, on the banks of the river, we next find the province of Banku or Bengu, * which evidently comprised that part of the river which is studded with islands, as we find the inspector of the harbor of Kabara taking refuge in the district of Banku, with the whole of his fleet, after the capture of the town by the people of Morocco. Passing then by the province of Bantal, the limits of which I have not been able to make out, we come to the province of Bel or Bal, which evidently comprised the country on the north side of the river round about Timbuktu, and perhaps some distance westward ; but without including that town itself, which had a governor of its own, nor even the harbor of Kabara, which at that time was of sufficient importance to be placed under the inspection of a special officer or "farma,” who, however, seems to have been subjected in a certain degree to the inspection of the Bal-m'a, or the Governor of Bal, who was able to call him to account. The governor of the province of Bal, who bore the peculiar title of “Bal-m'a," a word likewise of Mandingo origin, m'a corresponding to the Songhay word “koy," seems to have been of great importance in a military respect, while in a moral point of view the governor of the town of Timbúktu enjoyed perhaps greater authority, and the office of the Túmbutu-koy seems always to have been filled by a learned man or fäkih, proving that this town was regarded at that time as the seat of learning; and that the fakih who governed the town of Timbúktu possessed great power is evident from the fact that A’hmed Bábá mentions it as as a proof of great neglect on the part of Al Hádi, the Governor of Tindírma, that he did not go in person to the kadhi to pay him his compliments.
* That Banku lay between Timbuktu and Ghágo is evident from the fact that the governor of that province fled to Gágho, when Mohammed Sadík, the Governor of Bel or Bal, marched upon the capital of the empire. + See the account in the Journal of the Leipsic Oriental Society, p. 545. VOL. III.-T
Proceeding then westward from Bal and Timbuktu, we come to the very important province of Kúrmina, with the capital Tindírma, which very often served as a residence for the king himself, and became the chosen seat of A'skía Dáúd. The importance of this province of Kúrmina seems to have been based, not merely upon its military strength and populousness, but upon the circumstance of its having to supply Songhay Proper, together with its two large towns of Gágho and Kúkia, with grain; and it is evidently on this account that the governor of that province is on one occasion called the store-keeper and provider of the king. * Southwest from the province of Kúrmina there were two provinces, Dirmat and Bara, the exact boundaries of which it is difficult to determine, except that we know that Bara must have lain rather along the southeasterly branch of the river, while Dirma, having probably derived this name from the town of Díre, is most likely to be sought for on the northwesterly branch, although Caillie places Diriman, as he calls it, south of the river. The province or district of Sha'at may probably be identical with the district round the important town of Sa, situated a short distance to the northeast of the lake Debu, and of which farther notice will be taken in the itineraries. Proceeding farther in the same direction, we have the province of Másina, a name which, under the form of Másín, is mentioned as early as the latter part of the eleventh century by El Bekrí, S but the limits of which it is very difficult to define, although it is clear that its central part comprises the islands formed by the different branches of the river, the Máyo balléo and the Mayo ghannéo or dhannéo, and probably comprised in former times the ancient and most important town of Zágha, the chief seat of Tekrúr, which Háj Mohammed A'skía had conquered in the beginning of his reign. It is peculiar, however, and probably serves to show the preponderance of the element of the Fúlbe in Másina, where they seem to have es
* Journal of the Leipsic Oriental Society, p. 541: “Then he made Kishya feréng of Kúrmina, and gave him the office of mezr'a Espoo
It is not improbable that Dirma was originally the name or title of the Governor of Dire, as Balm'a was that of the Governor of Bal, and that it was in after-times conferred upon the province of which he was the ruler.-Caillié, vol. ii., p. 29.
1 Journal of the Leipsic Oriental Society, p. 544.