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Chap. LXVI. A’HMED BA'BA’ THE HISTORIAN. 407 the highest interest in an historical and geographical point of view.
These annals, according to the universal statement of the learned people of Negroland, were written by a distinguished person of the name of A'hmed Bábá, although in the work itself that individual is only spoken of in the third person; and it would seem that additions had been made to the book by another hand ; but on this point I cannot speak with certainty, as I had not sufficient time to read over the latter portion of the work with the necessary attention and care. As for A'hmed Bábá, we know from other interesting documents which have lately come to light*, that he was a man of great learning, considering the country in which he was born, having composed a good many books or essays, and instructed a considerable number of pupils. Moreover, we learn that he was a man of the highest respectability, so that even after he had been carried away prisoner by the victorious army of Múláy А’hmed el Dhéhebi, his very enemies treated him with the greatest respect, and the inhabitants of Morocco, in general, regarded him with the highest veneration. †
* Revue Africaine, vol. i. p. 287, “ Conquête du Soudan par les Marocains,” par le Baron Macguckin de Slane. Journal Asiatique, 1855, “Litérature du Soudan,” par M. le Professor Cherbonneau.
† This character is most strikingly indicated in those very remarks which M. le Baron de Slane has published in the notice (see preceding note) which was intended to depreciate the merit of A’hmed Bábá as a historian.
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This character of the author would alone be sufficient to guarantee the trustworthiness of his history, as far as he was able to go back into the past with any degree of accuracy, from the oral traditions of the people, or from written documents of an older period: for that the beginning of his annals, like that of every other nation, should be enveloped in a certain degree of mystery and uncertainty is very natural, and our author himself is prudent enough to pass over the earlier part in the most rapid and cursory manner, only mentioning the mere name of each king, except that he states the prominent facts with regard to the founder of each dynasty. Nay, even what he says of the founder of the dynasty of the Zá, allowance being made for the absurd interpretation of names, which is usual with Arabs and Orientals in general, and also the particulars which he gives with regard to Kilun, or Kilnu, founder of the dynasty of the Sonni *, is very characteristic, and certainly true in the main. For there is no doubt that the founder of the first dynasty immigrated from a foreign country,—a circumstance which is confirmed by other accounts,and nothing is more probable than that he abolished the most striking features of pagan superstition, namely, the worship of a peculiar kind of fish, which was probably the famous ayú, or Manatus, of which I have spoken on a former occasion t, and of whose
Gaurd interprentals in generad to Kilun,
* According to Leo, this dynasty emigrated from Lybia. † Vol. II. p. 507.
A'HMED BA'BA'S AUTHORITY.
habitat in the waters of the Niger I shall say more further on; while ‘Ali Killun succeeded in usurping the royal power by liberating his country from the sovereignty of the kings of Melle, who had conquered Songhay about the middle of the fourteenth century. Nor can there be any doubt of the truth of the statement that Zá-Kasí, the fifteenth king of the dynasty of the Zá, about the year 400 of the Hejra, or in the beginning of the eleventh century of our era, embraced Islám, and was the first Mohammedan king of Songhay. No man who studies impartially those very extracts which I have been able to make from the manuscript, in great haste and under the most unfavourable circumstances, and which were translated and published in the journal of the Leipsic Oriental Society* by Mr. Ralfs, can deny that they contain a vast amount of valuable information. But the knowledge which Europeans possessed of those countries, before my discoveries, was so limited, as to render the greater part of the contents of my extracts, which are intimately related to localities formerly entirely unknown, or in connection with historical facts not better ascertained, difficult of comprehension. But with the light now shed by my journey and my researches over these regions and their inhabitants, I have no hesitation in asserting that the work of A’hmed Bábá will be one of the most important additions which the present age has made to the
* Journal of the Leipsic Oriental Society, vol. ix. p. 518.
history of mankind, in a branch which was formerly almost unknown.
A’hmed Bábá, however, limits himself to the records of the political relations of Songhay, and does not enter into any ethnological questions, leaving us entirely in the dark as to the original seats of the tribe ; for while in general, on the banks of the Niger, the towns of Tindírma and Díre are supposed to be the original seats of the Songhay, Aʼhmed Bábá apparently restricts the limits of the ancient Songhay to the eastern quarter around Kúkiya, stating distinctly* that the town of Timbúktu was not under the authority of any foreign king before it became subjected to the dominion of Kunkur-Músa, the celebrated king of Melle. Yet from this statement we cannot conclude with absolute certainty that the banks of the great river to the south-west of that town were not comprised in the kingdom of Songhay before that period; for Timbuktu, lying on the north side of the river, and being founded by the Tawárek or Imóshagh, was an independent place by itself, and in the beginning not closely connected with the history of the surrounding region. It might easily have happened, therefore, that the Songhay language was not at all spoken in Timbúktu at a former period, without any conclusion being drawn from this circumstance respecting the country to the south and south-west of the river. But although, according to A’hmed Bábá's account, the foundation of the place was entirely
* Journal of the Leipsic Oriental Society, vol. ix. p. 525.
Chap. LXVI. THE ORIGIN OF TIMBU'KTU.
due to the Imóshagh, it is probable that, from the very beginning, a portion of the inhabitants of the town belonged to the Songhay nation*; and I rather suppose, therefore, that the original form of the name was the Songhay form Túmbutu, from whence the Imóshagh made Tumbýtku, which was afterwards changed by the Arabs into Tumbuktu.f
But the series of chronological facts which we learn from A’hmed Bábá, or from other sources, I shall give in a tabular form in the Appendix. Here I will only draw the reader's attention to a few of the most striking facts, and make some general remarks on the character of that history.
It is very remarkable, that while Islám in the two larger westerly kingdoms which flourished pre
* “ The palace which was erected in Timbúktu was called 'm'aduk,' or 'm'adugu.' This is evidently a Mandingo word, meaning the house of the king ; but it was certainly called so in the language of the conquerors, and not in that of the natives, and A’hmed Bábá understands the former when he says that the building was called by this name in their language.”—Journal of Leipsic Oriental Society, ix. p. 525.
† The u sound in the first syllable of the name is the only ori. ginal one, not only in the Songhay, but also in the Arabic form ; but it has gradually been changed into an i, and almost all the Arabs at the present time pronounce and write Timbuktu, C . The town was probably so called, because it was built originally in a hollow or cavity in the sandhills. Túmbutu means hole or womb in the Songhay language : if it were a Temáshight word, it would be written Tinbuktu. The name is generally interpreted by Europeans, well of Buktu, but tin has nothing to do with well. See Vol. I. p. 323, note.