Page images
PDF
EPUB

a distinct tribe, although the vocabulary which he col. lected of their idiom, shows it to be nothing but a slight variety of the Songhay language. However, it is clear, that under such circumstances the dominion exercised by this set of half-castes could not but be of a very precarious character; and after a protracted struggle with the smaller tribes around, they have been entirely crushed by the Tawárek, and in most of the towns of Songhay form at present an integral part of the degraded native population, although they have preserved their name of Rumá, or, as the name is generally pronounced, Rummá, and still claim a sort of moral ascendancy.

It will be seen from the preceding sketch, and become still more apparent from the chronological tables at the end of the volume, that Timbúktu has rather unjustly figured in Europe as the centre and the capital of a great Negro empire, while it never acted more than a secondary part, at least in earlier times; and this character evidently appears from the narrative of Ebn Batúta's journey, in the middle of the fourteenth century. But on account of Timbúktu becoming the seat of Mohammedan learning and Mohammedan worship, and owing to the noble character of its buildings, well deserving to rank as a city or “medina,” a title which the capital itself perhaps never deserved, it always enjoyed great respect, even during the flourishing period of the latter; and after Gágho or Gógó had relapsed into insignificance, in consequence of the conquest by the Rumá

Chap. LXVI. POLITICAL SITUATION OF TIMBU'KTU. 433

at the end of the sixteenth century, Timbuktu, on account of its greater proximity to Morocco, became the more inportant place, where gradually the little commerce which still remained in that distracted region of the Niger was concentrated. But, nevertheless, during the age of anarchy which succeeded to the conquest of the country by the Rumá, and owing to the oppression from the Tawárek tribes on the one side, and the Bambara and Fúlbe on the other, the state of affairs could not be very settled; and the town, shaken as it was to its very base by that fearful struggle of the inhabitants with the Kádhi Mustapha, with massacre, rapine, and conflagration following in its train, could not but decline greatly from its former splendour; yet under the alternately predominating influence of paganism, represented most strongly by the warlike tribe of the Bámbara, and of Mohammedanism represented by the Arab tribes *, it struggled on, till in consequence of its being conquered by the Fúlbe of Másina, in the year 1826, a few months before the unfortunate Major Laing succeeded in reaching the town, it was threatened with the loss of all its commerce. For these people, owing to the impulse given to Mohammedanism in this part of Negroland by their

* This condition of the town explains the great divergence of reports as to the creed prevalent in Timbúktu; but it is unintelligible that a person could actually visit the town without becoming aware that it contained several mosques, and very large ones, too, for such a place. For particulars, see the Appendix. VOL. IV.

FF

countryman Othman dan Fódiye*, had become far more fanatical champions of the faith than the Arabs and Moors; and treating the inhabitants of the newly conquered city, as well as the foreigners who used to visit it, with extreme rigour, according to the prejudices which they had imbibed, they could not fail to ruin almost the whole commercial activity of the place. Their oppression was not confined to the pagan traders, the Wangaráwa, who carry on almost the whole commerce with the countries south of the Niger, but extended even to the Mohammedan merchants from the north, especially the traders from Tawát and Ghadámes, against whom the Morocco merchants, instigated by a feeling of petty rivalry, succeeded in directing their rancour. It was in consequence of this oppression, especially after a further increase of the Fúlbe party in the year 1831, that the Ghadamsiye people induced the Sheikh el Mukhtár, the elder brother of El Bakáy, and successor of Sidi Mohammed, to remove his residence from the hille, or hillet e' sheikh el Mukhtár, in A'zawád, half a day's journey from the well Bel Mehán to Timbúktu. Thus we find in this distracted place a third power stepping in between the Fúlbe on the one side and the Tawárek on the other, and using the power of the latter as far as their want of centralisation allowed, against the

* See what I have said, p. 256, about the Sheikh Ahmedu, or rather Mohammed Lebbo, the founder of the kingdom of HamdaAlláhi, having brought from Gando the religious banner under which he conquered Másina.

Chap. LXVI.

LATEST EVENTS.

435

overbearing character of the former. In consequence of this continued collision, the Tawárek drove the Fúlbe completely out of the town, about the year 1844, when a battle was fought on the banks of the river, in which a great number of the latter were either slain or drowned. But the victory of the Tawárek was of no avail, and only plunged the distracted town into greater misery; for, owing to its peculiar situation on the border of a desert tract, Timbúktu cannot rely upon its own resources, but must always be dependent upon those who rule the more fertile tracts higher up the river; and the ruler of Másina had only to forbid the exportation of corn from his dominions to reduce the inhabitants of Timbúktu to the utmost distress. A compromise was therefore agreed to in the year 1846, through the me. diation of the Sheikh el Bakáy, between the different parties, to the effect that Timbuktu should be dependent on the Fúlbe without being garrisoned by a military force, the tribute being collected by two kádhis, one Púllo, and the other Songhay, who should themselves decide all cases of minor importance, the more important ones being referred to the capital. But, nevertheless, the government of the town, or rather the police, as far as it goes, is in the hands of one or two Songhay mayors, with the title of emír, but who have scarcely any effective power, placed as they are between the Fúlbe on the one side and the Tawárek on the other, and holding their ground against the former through the two kádhis, and against the latter by means of the Sheikh el Bakáy. Such is the distracted state of this town, which cannot be remedied before a strong and intelligent power is again established on this upper course of the Niger, so eminently favourable for commerce.

VI Teso

nore

After these general remarks on the character of the history of Songhay, I proceed to give a diary of my stay in Timbúktu.

« PreviousContinue »