« AnteriorContinua »
Settlements of the Arabs.
THE rise and triumph of the followers of Mohammed, who in fifty years spread their arms and their creed over half the eastern world, produced an immense change in the social system of Asia, and a still greater in that of Africa. Their ascendency at first was by no means inauspicious, and portended little of that deep darkness and barbarism in which it has since involved these two continents. After the first violences to which fanaticism had prompted the more ardent converts, the Saracen sway assumed a milder aspect, and their princes cultivated the arts, and even the sciences, with a zeal which had expired among the effeminate and corrupted descendants of the Greeks and Romans. Even the remote Mauritania, which seemed doomed to be the inheritance of a barbarous and nomadic race, was converted by them into a civilized empire; and its capital, Fez, became a distinguished school of learning. Their love of improvement reached even the most distant regions. They introduced the camel, which, though a native of the sandy wastes of Arabia, was equally adapted to the still more immense and awful deserts that stretch so wide over Africa. Paths were opened through wilds which had hitherto defied all human efforts to penetrate. An intercourse by means of caravans was formed with the interior countries, to obtain a supply of gold and slaves; and, amid the sanguinary disputes which arose among the descendants of the prophet, many, whose ill fortune exposed them to the enmity of successful rivals, sought refuge on the opposite side of the Great Desert. By successive migrations, they not only became numerous in Central Africa, but, from superior skill in the art of war, rose to be the ruling power. They founded several flourishing kingdoms in that part of the continent which Europeans vainly sought to reach, till they were recently explored by our enterprising countrymen. Of these states Ghana was the most flourishing, forming the great market for that gold in search of which merchants
came from the remotest regions. Its sovereign was acknowledged as supreme by all the neighbouring princes; while his court displayed a splendour, and was adorned with objects, hitherto unexampled in Central Africa. Among its ornaments were painting, sculpture, and glass windows, which, being before unknown, excited the surprise and admiration of the natives. The king is said to have rode out attended by elephants and camelopards, tamed by an art then first introduced, and since lost. The natives were also dazzled by the display of a mass of solid gold, weighing thirty pounds, with which the throne was embellished. This prince is reported to have made a great profession of justice, going out twice every day, and presenting himself to all who wished to offer petition or complaint. The vicissitudes of fortune have subverted the kingdom of Ghana, and made its territory successively subject to Timbuctoo, Kashna, and Sackatoo; but our late travellers found it, under the changed name, or rather orthography, of Kano, still extensive and populous, and continuing to be the chief seat of the interior commerce of Africa.
Tocrur, about twenty-four days' journey north-west of Ghana, was a kingdom inferior indeed to the other, yet powerful and independent. It carried on an extensive traffic with the people of the "remotest west," who brought shells (cowries?) and brass, for which they received gold and ornaments. Mention is made of the fine cotton cloths which still form the staple manufacture. Tocrur appears evidently to be Sackatoo or Soccatoo, now the capital of an empire which comprehends Ghana and all the neighbouring countries. Indeed, in an official document communicated by Major Denham, we find this called the empire of Takror.
Kuku, to the eastward of Ghana, forms another kingdom, on whose power and extent the Arabian writers largely dilate. The sovereign is said to have a very numerous train of attendants, and the people to be uncommonly warlike, though rude in their manners and attire. The merchants, however, are represented as very richly dressed, and accustomed to visit and converse with the governors and nobility. This country is manifestly Bornou, named from its capital, which bears still the same appellation. Twenty
days' journey to the south was Kaugha, a city famous for industry and useful arts, and the women of which were skilled in the secrets of magic. Though the resemblance of name is rather imperfect, this seems to be Denham's Loggum, much celebrated by him for its ingenious labours and fine manufactures, as well as for the intelligence of its females; and, among a rude people, wit and witchery are always imagined to have a close connexion.
To the south of Ghana lay Wangara, a district that is said to have contained gold, the commodity for which African commerce was so much prized. This region is described as intersected and overflowed during the rainy season by the branches of the Nile (of the Negroes, or Niger), which impregnate the earth with the sand, it is said, whence this precious metal was extracted. As soon as the waters have retired, the inhabitants eagerly dig the ground, and every one finds more or less, "according to the gift of God." There seems to be some confusion of ideas about this country and its golden products. A district in the southern part of Soudan is called Oongoroo, or Ungura; but it no longer furnishes gold; nor is Ghana, at the present day, the market for that valuable staple of Central Africa. In the mountainous countries to the southwest this metal is still collected abundantly, in the very manner described by the Arabian writers.
The whole range of alpine territory to the southward of the regions now described was called Lamlam, and presented a continued scene of barbarous violence. It was branded as the land of the infidels, of a people to whom none of the charities of life were due, and against whom the passions of cruelty and of avarice might be gratified without remorse. Expeditions or slave-hunts were therefore made into these unfortunate countries; when, after a bloody conflict, numerous victims were seized, carried off, and sold to the merchants of Northern Africa, who conveyed them to all parts of the eastern world. The same cruel and iniquitous traffic is carried on in a similar manner, and with unabated activity, at the present day.
Respecting Western Africa, the Arabians do not seem to have been very accurately informed. They describe the Atlantic as only about five hundred miles beyond Tocrur, although two thousand would have been nearer the truth;
perhaps they mistook the great lake Dibbie for the sea. They mention the island of Ulil, whence were brought great quantities of salt, an article which is in constant demand throughout Soudan. Ulil, though called an island, was probably Walet, the great interior market for that mineral; but all the features of the country around and beyond it seem to have been confusedly blended together by the Mohammedan authors.
At the time when the Arabian geographers flourished, the Christian religion was professed, not only in Abyssinia, but even in Nubia, to its northern frontier at Syene. The bigotry and dislike produced by hostile creeds, not only deprived these writers of the means of information, but led them to view with contempt every thing relating to coun tries accounted infidel. Their notices, therefore, of the regions in the Upper Nile, and along the western shores of the Red Sea, are exceedingly meager. It was otherwise, indeed, with the eastern coast of Africa on the Indian Ocean. The people of Southern Arabia, who were then actively employed in commerce and navigation, had not only explored, but formed establishments at Mombaza, Melinda, Mozambique, and at all the leading points on that coast; which were still found in their possession by the early Portuguese navigators.
For this general view of Central Africa in the twelfth century, we are indebted to Edrisi, Abulfeda, Ibn-al-Vardi, and other writers, who do not however pretend to have visited in person the regions which they describe. Arabic literature has, notwithstanding, been also enriched by the productions of some eminent travellers. Wahab and Abuzaid, in the ninth century, penetrated into China, and communicated to the western world the first distinct idea of that remarkable empire and people. Their career, however, was far surpassed in the fourteenth century by Ibn Batuta, a learned Mohammedan, who traversed the continents of Asia and Africa from the eastern ocean to the banks of the Niger. For a knowledge of his narrative the English public have just been indebted to the learned labours of Professor Lee of Cambridge, as a member of the Society for Oriental Translation. Unfortunately, he could only procure the work in a very abridged form, which renders it more an object of curiosity than as fitted to convey full information of the state of the world at that early period.
It was from Fez that Ibn Batuta commenced his peregri nation through Interior Africa. He went first to Segilmissa, which he describes as a handsome town, situated in a territory abounding with date-trees. Having joined a caravan, he came, after a journey of twenty-five days, to Thargari, which some manuscripts make Tagaza, and is therefore evidently the Tegazza of Leo, supposed by Major Rennel to be the modern Tishect, containing the mine whence Timbuctoo is chiefly supplied with salt. To our traveller the place appeared to contain no object desirable or agreeable there was nothing but salt; the houses were built with slabs of that mineral, and roofed with the hides of camels. It even appeared to him that nature had lodged this commodity in regular tables in the mine, fitted for being conveyed to a distance; but he probably overlooked an artificial process by which it is usually brought into this form. From Thargari he went in twenty days to Tashila, three days beyond which commenced a desert of the most dreary aspect, where there was neither water, beast, nor bird, "nothing but sand and hills of sand." In ten days he came to Abu Latin, a large commercial town, crowded with merchants from various quarters of the continent. The manners of the people, as is indeed too common in the scenes of inland traffic throughout Africa, appeared to him very licentious, and wholly destitute of that decorum which usually marks a Mussulman residence. The women maintained a greater share of respectability than the other sex; yet this did not prevent them from hiring themselves as temporary wives to those whom the pursuits of trade induced to visit Abu Latin. The editor has not hazarded a conjecture what place this is; but on finding it in one manu nuscript called Ayulatin, and in another Ewelatin, I think there is no doubt of its being Walet, which lay completely in the route of our traveller, and is the only great city in that quarter of Africa.
From Abu Latin the adventurer proceeded in twenty-four days to Mali, then the most flourishing country and city in that part of the continent. This Mali is evidently the Melli of Leo, who described it as situated on a river to the south of Timbuctoo; but it is not so easy to identify it with any modern position. Our traveller makes heavy complaints of the cold reception and narrow bounty of an African potentate in this district. After waiting upon his majesty, he