Page images

viously to that of Songhay,—I mean Ghána, or Ghánata, and Melle, - had evidently emanated from the north, and especially from Sijilmésa, Songhay appears to have been civilised from the other side, namely, from Egypt, the intimate relation with which is proved by many interesting circumstances, although, in a political respect, it could only adopt the same forms of government which had been developed already in Ghána and Melle; nay, we shall find even some of the same titles. With respect to Ghána, we learn from A’hmed Bábá the very interesting fact* that twenty kings were supposed to have ruled over that kingdom at the time when Mohammed spread the new creed which was to agitate and to remodel half of the globe.

The kingdom of Songhay, even after 'Ali Killun had made it independent of Melle, could not fail to remain rather weak and insignificant, as even Timbúktu, and probably a great portion of the country to the east of that town, was not comprised in its limits: nay, it even appears that the kingdom was still, at times, dependent in a certain degree upon Melle, the great kingdom on the upper course of the Niger; and it was not until almost 150 years after the time of ‘Ali Killun that the powerful king Sonni 'Ali, the Sonni Héli of Leo Africanus, conquered Timbúktu, wresting it, with immense slaughter, A. H. 894, A. D. 1488, from the hands of the Tawárek, who had themselves conquered it from Melle. This king, although he is represented by all the learned men of Negroland

* See A'bmed Bábá, l. c. p. 526.


[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


as a very cruel and sanguinary prince, was no doubt a great conqueror; for although it was he who, in taking possession of this town, inflicted upon the inhabitants a most severe punishment, surpassing even the horrors which had accompanied the taking of the town by the king of Mósi, nevertheless it was he also who gave the first impulse to the great importance which Timbuktu henceforth obtained, by conquering the central seat of the old empire of Ghánata, and thus inducing the rich merchants from the north, who had formerly been trading with Biru or Waláta, and who had even occasionally resided there, to transfer their trade to Timbuktu 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 Timbúktu, where Sonni ‘Alí 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 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 Ginoria. Atlas of Santarem, pl. No. 13.

It was Háj Mohammed A'skia who founded the new homonymous dynasty of the A'skia, by rising against his liege lord, the son of Sonni 'Ali, 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 Sinder, 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 did not know how to give full vent to their indignation in heaping the most opprobrious epithets upon him.


[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

It is of no small interest to a person who endeavours 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 well-being and comfort to spring up everywhere within the borders of his extensive dominions *, and

* 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 information which he had received after he had left the country, should treat this usurper, whose identity with his Ischia cannot be doubtful, with very little indulgence; and it even seems as if he purposely intended to give a bad interpretation to everything 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 'Alí, when almost the whole population was engaged in war. We find a very heavy duty upon salt, from each load 51.


introducing such of the institutions of Mohammedan civilisation 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 foriner part of my researches I have entered into the history and the 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.

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

« PreviousContinue »