13th to 16th Centuries


Southeast of Takrr, south of Ghna and at the headwaters of the Senegal and Niger rivers lay the land of the Malinke people. Malinke is a Fulani name for the people who call themselves variously Mandingo, Mandinga or Mandinka. Their language is called Mande, and the land Manding, or Mali by the Fulani. Arab geographers at first referred to people of this region as Lamlam, and regarded them as primitive and savage peoples. Being without elaborate political organization, they were easy prey to slave raiders from Takrr, Sil and Ghna.

One group of Malinke people, however, commanded the respect of friend and enemy alike. These were the Dyula or Wangara, as Arab and Portuguese sources called Malinke traders, and they held the secret and monopoly of the gold production in the Bambuk region between the Senegal and Fameme rivers. The Wangara traded with Ghna and Takrr, giving the gold for salt brought from the desert.

Muslims eager to buy gold settled in the town of Ghiyr in the middle of the Bambuk gold territory. Nearby on the Senegal river was the town of Yaresn, otherwise known as Barsa, which was completely Muslim. These towns engaged in the gold trade as well as slave raiding among the non-Wangara Malinke.

The exploited Malinke hunters began to organize their defences, and al-Bakr mentions the existence of two principalities among them, one called Do and the other Malal. We have seen above, in chapter 7, how the king of Malal became Muslim when a Muslim guest prayed for and obtained rain. Islam did not take root among the Malinke at this time, as we saw in chapter 9 from al-Idrss description of the Lamlam, but its revival in a cultural form in the time of Sundiata.

The Malinke found further impetus to political development when the Bambuk gold fields began to run out and the Bure gold fields on the Niger, deep within Malinke territory, began to be exploited. The gold producers continued to maintain their independence from Mali as they did from Ghna, but Mali controlled the trade and was the middle party with customers from the north.

The Keita clan of Malinke, whose territory was on the Sankarani river (a tributary of the Niger), was ruled by a dynasty which became strong and prominent among the Malinke. At the beginning of the 13th century the Susu King Sumanguru, who ruled over Ghna, subjugated the land of the Malinke. The Keita king Sundiata (1230-55) led a war of independence which culminated in the defeat of Sumanguru and the establishment of the Mali empire that rivalled and eventually superseded Ghna.

The capital of the new empire, according to Levtzion and others, was Niani, far to the south of Kumbi Saleh. According to John Hunwick, there is better evidence that the capital was located on the south bank of the Niger in the Kori region (upstream from Bamako).1

Under Sundiatas successor Mansa Wl who made the hajj during the time of the Egyptian sultan Baybars (1260-77) Mali seems to have spread its authority over Walata, Timbuktu and Gao, but shortly afterwards these towns broke away. The kings of Mali, even before Sundiata, were Muslim, but not very seriously so. At the critical moment when Sundiata was to face Sumanguru he did not turn to Islamic ways of getting divine help but made use of the traditional methods. Stealing some of Sumangurus wine, he prepared a poison which could be used with a white cocks nail, since Sumanguru had been treated for immunity against iron.

Under Mansa Ms (1312-37) Mali reached the peak of its greatness, swallowing up the territories of Takrr on the Atlantic, the rest of the former Ghna empire, including Walata and Timbuktu, and the lands of Gao as far as present-day Niamey. To reinforce the unity of such a huge and heterogeneous empire, Mansa Ms promoted the supra-tribal identity of Islam rather than Malinke nationalism. The trade routes he controlled brought him great wealth, and on his pilgrimage of 1324 he upset the economy of Egypt with all the gold he brought and liberally expended. This visit put Mali on subsequent maps of the world.

Mss son Mansa Magha succeeded him, but in little more than three years was replaced by his uncle, Mss brother Sulaymn. Mansa Sulaymn (1341-60) preserved the greatness of the empire, which in 1352-3 was visited and described by the historian Ibn-Battta.Ibn-Battta was impressed by the security of the country, the study of the Qurn, and the observance of the Friday prayers and the two great Islamic festivals, but was shocked at the persistence of pre-Islamic customs such as eating forbidden meat, making the religious festivals an occasion for rituals celebrating the king, the fact that young women went completely naked before the king, and the homage visitors paid the king by sprinkling dust and ashes on their heads. All had to observe the latter custom before the Muslim king of Mali, whereas in Ghna the pagan king did not require it of his Muslim subjects.

When Mansa Sulaymn died, war broke out between his house and that of his brother and predecessor Ms. The succeeding years were full of conflicts and coups, and the empire began to disintegrate. Tadmakka broke away and around 1380 repelled a Malian force sent to retake it.Timbuktu fell prey to raids by the Mossi and the desert Tuareg, and in 1433 it declared its independence from Mali.This town had been founded by Berbers around 1096 but became an important town only in the 14th century when it was the principal terminus of the trans-Saharan trade of the Mali empire.At the same time that Timbuktu broke away, the Tuaregs conquered Walata. Province after province along the Niger and Senegal rivers broke away, to enjoy a few years of independence before they were absorbed by the Songhay empire.

The original nucleus of the Mali empire was safe from permanent occupation by Songhay because its land access was defended by forests, and the Sotouba falls south of Bamako prevented any invasion by way of the Niger. Cut off from Timbuktu, Jenne and other Islamic centres and gateways to the wider Muslim world, the Mali kings drifted from Islam. Only the Dyula or Wangara traders kept Islam alive in the region. The reduced kingdom of Mali retained its independence until the 17th century, when the Bambara states of Kaarta and Segu absorbed it. Mali bequeathed to Songhay the successful use of Islam as an integrating force in a heterogeneous multi-tribal empire. It provided a common ground for traders and political agents spread over vast distances in a loosely organized empire whose common people were largely untouched by Islam. Songhay

Gao, called Kawkaw by the Arabs, was a kingdom of the Songhay people, otherwise known as Jerma or, in Hausa, Zabarmawa. It began around the 7th century when the Gabibi farmers and Sorko fishermen allied to form the town of Kukia (south of Gao on the Niger).Around the 10th century a dynasty took over whose kings bore the title Z/ J/ Sh. At some time these rulers transferred their capital to Gao itself, where the king lived on the west side of the river and the merchants on the east.Trans-Saharan trade seems to have brought about the foundation of this state and exposed it very early to Islamic influence, but, as discussed above in chapter 9, the evidence is conflicting as to the earliest date its rulers became Muslim.

Gao remained an independent kingdom except for two periods of subjection to Mali. Mali conquered Gao around 1260, but later in the 13th century two Gao princes, cAl Kolon and Salman Nari, who were hostages with the king of Mali, escaped and reestablished the independence of Gao. Their successors bore the title Sonni instead of the former Z. Mansa Ms subjected Gao to Mali once more when he passed that way on pilgrimage in 1324. At the end of the 14th century Songhay became independent again and began to expand westward along the Niger during the reign of Sonni Silmn Dandi (d. 1464).

Sonni cAl (1464-92) continued the conquests, taking Timbuktu from the Tuareg in 1468 and Jenne in 1473, and in 1483 defeating the Mossi who had constantly been raiding Songhays new territories. Sonni cAl mistreated the Muslim learned class in Timbuktu because he thought they were favouring the Tuareg who often raided Songhay territory from the desert. For this reason the Timbuktu historians, cAbdarrahmn as-Sacd (in Tarkh as-Sdn) and Ibn-al-Mukhtr (in Tarkh al-Fattsh), condemn him.

When Sonni cAl died, his son Ab-Bakr was proclaimed king but was immediately overthrown by the general Muhammad ibn-ab-Bakr at-Tr (1492-1529), who accused Ab-Bakr of rejecting Islam. The kings of the new dynasty, who were given the title Askiya, relied on Islam more than their predecessors as a support for their regime.One of the first things Askiya Muhammad did was to go on pilgrimage (in 1496 or 7), retracing the route of Mansa Ms and imitating his style by going with a large entourage and plenty of money to spend. While in Cairo he allegedly got the cAbbsid caliph (and figurehead of the Muslim world) to recognize his legitimacy by appointing him his deputy as ruler of Songhay.Askiya Muhammad gained further support for the legitimacy of his rule by giving favours to the Muslim learned class in his domains. This class took over the influential and privileged social position traditional priests had enjoyed under the previous regime.

Askiya Muhammad expanded the borders of Songhay westward as far as the Atlantic, and northward in the desert to include the salt mines of Taghma, while in the southwest he exercised partial control over some of the Malinke provinces. In 1498 he waged a jihd against the Mossi (of present Burkina Faso), inflicting heavy losses on them, but Mossiland, being difficult to penetrate, was never subjugated by a neighbouring power and has been little affected by Islam until recent times. In the east Songhay power was felt by Agadez and much of northwest Nigeria.In 1513 Askiya Muhammad campaigned against Katsina, and the same year Leo Africanus notes that Gobir, Zamfara, Katsina, Zaria and Kano were all ruled by Songhay governors. But Songhay influence in the present Nigeria was curtailed when the Songhay general, Kanta, who built the Kebbi capital of Surame (near Sokoto), revolted in 1516 and created an independent state for himself.Songhay never subjected the Tuareg, and could not hold the Tuareg town of Walata, but the Tuareg rallied to Songhay as allies because of the economic benefits of the empire.

An important economic base for the Songhay empire were the newly opened Akan gold fields. These were exploited by the Dyula of Gegho (in modern Ghana) who from 1471 traded also with the Portuguese at Elmina. They founded the state of Gonja towards the end of the 16th century, by which time the Portuguese had been pushed out of Elmina (and most of Morocco) and the gold trade was redirected to North Africa, leaving only the slave trade on the Atlantic.Gold and slaves were Gonjas major exports, while its imports were cloth, copperware, beads, perfume and horses.The last item was crucial for military superiority and getting a supply of slaves. The other items were mainly luxury goods for the enjoyment of the upper classes. Essentially the Songhay empire was an exploitative trading oligarchy where the common man did not benefit and even suffered.

In his later years Askiya Muhammad became blind and incompetent.His son Ms deposed him on the occasion of the cd al-adh in 1529, and the old man lived in retirement until his natural death in 1538. Askiya Ms was assassinated in 1531 and his place taken by one of Muhammad Benkan, who ruled until 1537 when he was deposed by Ismcl, another son of Askiya Muhammad. Askiya Ismcl restored the legitimacy of the dynasty. Askiya Ishq (1539-49) raided the very capital of Mali, and his successor Askiya Dwd (1549-82) further strengthened Songhay power.

In the meantime, in the 1580s, Morocco was relieved from pressure from Spain (occupied with a revolt in Holland) and the Ottomans (tied up in a war with Persia), and turned its attention to the outlying territories (bild as-sib) which it always held pretensions to control. Al-Mahd (1576-8) and his son al-Mansr (1578-1603) attempted to control the trans-Saharan trade routes both along the Atlantic and through Tuwt and Taghza. The Moroccans took Taghza from Songhay in 1586, whereupon Askiya al-Hjj (1582-6) decreed a trade boycott of Taghza. Al-Mansr was infuriated by this successful action and by the insulting reply of the next Askiya, Ishq II, to his threats to depose him. So he sent Judar Pasha, a Spaniard captured as an infant in a raid on the coast of Spain, with a force of 4,000 men, including many European mercenaries, against Songhay. Judar Pasha first took the coveted salt mines of Taghza and then marched across the desert. In a battle in 1591 near Tondibi (just north of Gao) the Moroccan troops, though weakened from crossing the desert, overpowered Songhay without difficulty because it was a battle of firearms against the bows, spears and swords of the Songhay.After entering Gao, the town seemed so humble and poor that after 17 days Judar Pasha moved on to Timbuktu.There he was replaced by another officer named Mahmd.

In the meantime Askiya Ishq fled south to the Gurma people whom he had devastated in two wars. The Gurma king welcomed him, but the next day the people pelted Ishq and his companions with arrows and killed them. The Songhay who remained in Gao proclaimed Ishqs brother Muhammad as Askiya.Forty days later Askiya Muhammad was lured to Timbuktu to pledge loyalty to the Moroccan governor Mahmd, and there was treacherously killed. The people of Gao then made Nh, son of Askiya Dwd, their Askiya, while at the same time in Timbuktu the governor Mahmd made Nhs brother Sulaymn a puppet Askiya. Mahmd vainly pursued Askiya Nh into the Dandi (Borgu) bush, and after two years of skirmishes and elusive chase Mahmd returned to Timbuktu and vented his frustrations on the independent minded people there. His soldiers sacked the town, and he deported seventy leaders and Islamic scholars to Morocco, among them the famous writer Ahmad Bb whose biographies give us much information on West and North Africa.

The Moroccan sultan Ahmad was not pleased with Pasha Mahmds activities and sent another pasha named Mansr to replace him. Mahmd at this time recklessly went out to fight the pagans of the hills and was killed. The hill people sent his head to Askiya Nh, who in turn sent it to the king of Kebbi who put it on display for a long time. The next pasha, Mansr, set out against Askiya Nh and defeated his army once and for all. Although Nh escaped alive, he no longer was able to challenge the Moroccans.

Islam in the Songhay empire was pragmatically accommodated to the ambitions of power and luxury-hungry askiyas and to the realities of a society where the traditional religion was still strong. Al-Maghl tried to win Askiya Muhammad to a strict application of Sharca and wrote him some replies on legal questions, but his efforts were in vain, and he had to leave Songhay territory. Some Muslims culam played the role of court chaplains and fit in with this system, but the Muslim scholars of Timbuktu, in contrast, kept to a strict Islam and Arab way of life. Ahmad Babas writings indicate a strong attachment to Sfism, although no Sfic brotherhood was known there at that time. In the Songhay empire Sfism was still a phenomenon of the elite and had no popular base. Organized Sfism became popular in West Africa only in the mid-17th century.

The conquest of the Songhay empire was no gain for the Moroccans.The former voluminous trade in gold and slaves with North Africa was greatly reduced, and what was left depended on peace and security.2 This the Moroccans could not guarantee. The pashas soon ruled independently of Morocco and in the 17th century Timbuktu, Jenne and Gao all became the prey of raiders, either Bambara from Segu, or Tuareg from the Sahara, or Fulani who were beginning to migrate eastward from Senegal.

Until the jihd movements, mostly in the 18th century, no empire arose to take the place of the Songhay empire. Even in the best conditions empires are difficult to organize and maintain. Songhay suffered particularly from a lack of provision for leadership succession.The death of an Askiya was usually the occasion of a civil war. Nevertheless well over a century of stagnation cannot be merely the effect of the Moroccan invasion. The main reason for the decline of the Sudan at this period was the Turkish occupation of most of North Africa, starting with Egypt in 1517 and Algiers in 1525.The northern coast, from Egypt to Algiers, became part of the Ottoman empire, which extended around the whole eastern and northeastern Mediterranean to the borders of Austria. The Mediterranean itself was an Ottoman lake and a self-contained economic zone. The Turks in North Africa, who controlled only the towns and land along the coast, were interested only in the Mediterranean world and Istanbul, leaving the Sahara to the bedouins and their shaykhs.3 Trade on a small scale, however, continued with Morocco (outside Ottoman control) and the desert tribes, especially with Senegambia, which exchanged horses for slaves.4

Also at this time American silver and gold was flowing into Europe and European interest dropped in the more difficult to obtain African gold traded on the West African coast or in North Africa.

With the northern terminus of the trans-Saharan trade cut off, the sub-Saharan empires had no other choice but to die to die, that is, until the Atlantic trade provided a sufficient substitute to cause a revival. The coastal empires were the first to be born: Benin, Oyo, Dahomey, Ashante, the major ones, while the jihd empires of the interior followed once they were touched by the reverberation of trade routes to the coast.

Kanem: decline (1350-1507) and restoration in Borno (1507-1670)

Already in the time of Mai Dunama II a revolt broke out. According to Ibn-Fartuwa, Dunama opened the sacred Muani box and by doing so let all the power of the dynasty escape. Dunamas two sons followed him on the throne and a rivalry grew up between their two families. One family was eliminated and the second split into two more rival clans.Mai Dwd (1353-56) not only had to contend with civil war, but also with external aggression from the Bulala, a people east of Kanem related to the Kanuri. In the reign of Mai cUmar (1380-88) the royal family abandoned Kanem to the Bulala and fled to Borno, where the Kanuri immigrants proceeded to subjugate and gradually assimilate the native So people.

Dynastic strife continued in Borno, leaving the land in anarchy, except for the few years of Mai Ibrhm (1432-40) who reimposed tribute on Kano, Katsina and Gwangara ( a state subsidiary to Katsina). Mai cAli Gaji Dunama (1476-1503) restored stability to the dynasty and peace to Borno. He built Ngazargamu, which remained the capital of Borno until 1811, and maintained diplomatic relations with Tripoli. cAl Gajis son, Mai Idrs Katakarmabe (1503-26), defeated the Bulala and reincorporated Kanem into the empire, leaving the Bulala dynasty to rule as his vassals. His grandson, Mai cAl (1545-7), joined the Tuaregs of Agades against Kanta of Kebbi, but Kanta drove him back. The next two rulers suffered reverses in raids from the Tubu and the Tuareg from the north, from Kano in the west, from the Bulala of Kenme in the east, and from the Kwararafa (Jukun) in the south.

In 1551 the Ottomans took Tripoli form the Knights of St. John who had held it since 1510. The Ottomans in Tripoli (in contrast to Algiers) showed a continued interest in trans-Saharan trade, again mainly in slaves. Large numbers of male slaves were destined for the Egyptian army. Even as early as the 11th century there were 30,000 black troops in Cairo, while female slaves were usually destined for the bedrooms of Arab shaykhs in North Africa and the Middle East. The Borno empire owed its existence to the demand for slaves, and regularly carried out raids on peoples living to the south. Practically no gold passed through Borno to North Africa, but ivory was a second export article of value. For local currency, copper imported form Takedda was used. Other trade items were salt and alum (imported from Bilma), natron (exported to other West African regions), perfume (imported or produced locally from civet cats) and ostrich feathers (exported to North Africa). Kola was imported form Gonja from the 15th century, but cowries became common currency only in the mid-19th century. Like Songhay, the Borno empire appears to have served only the interests of a trading oligarchy by importing luxury goods for their enjoyment without developing local production and the lot of the common man.

Idrs Aloma (1571-1603), whose first twelve years of rule are recorded by his imm Ibn-Fartuwa, restored the power of the empire. Early in his reign he went on pilgrimage, and in Egypt learned about firearms and brought supplies of them back to Borno together with Turks to teach his army how to use them. Although Borno soldiers learned the art of using guns, this expertise never took root in West Africa until late in the 19th century. Even when guns were available, the horsemen were more adept at traditional weapons and fired shots mainly to cause panic. With his military advantage, Mai Idrs expanded his empire in all directions. In the south he took many slaves, as was usual in a jihd against pagans, but spared many of the conquered peoples and tried to incorporate them into his empire.In the west he punished Kano, taking all but their Dala hill. In the north he chastened the Tubu and Tuareg who were raiding his people.Although he reimposed his authority over Kanem, he never tried to retake Fezzn, the fief of the former Kanem empire.

Ibn-Fartuwa praised his master Mai Idrs for his promotion of Islam and its laws, and notes that in the time of his grandson Idrs ibn-cAl ibn-Idrs, all the notable people became Muslims except atheists and hypocrites and malevolent persons.5

The Hausa and related states

The Hausa states had their beginnings in the Middle Ages, but did not come into prominence until the 17th century after the disintegration of Songhay and the involvement of these states in other trading systems. One of these was the old Tripoli network that reached Borno and spread to neighbouring termini. A newer route was to Gonja, which involved the import of European goods from the coast via Ashanti, gold form the Akan fields and kola. These goods were used for local consumption and for trans-Saharan re-export. A third route was through the Oyo empire to the coast, where slaves were exchanged for European imports. The demand for slaves on the coast was perhaps the principal stimulus for the continual wars among the Hausa states, where captives were frequently sold.

Daura and the Bayajidda legend

A well-known legend makes Daura the mother of the Hausa states. Following the pattern of so many other Muslim-inspired legends in West Africa, the founding ancestor of the Hausa states was an Arab, in this case a man from Baghdad named Bayajidda, the Hausa equivalent of Ab-Yazd. He first migrated to Borno but because of plots against him fled to Daura. There he killed the sacred snake which lived in a well, and as a reward was married by the queen. Their son Bawo had seven children who founded the seven states (Hausa bakwai) of Biram, Daura, Katsina, Zaria, Kano, Rano and Gobir. Of these Biram and Rano never became important. Another spurious seven states (Banza bakwai) are added: Zamfara, Kebbi (both Hausa speaking), Gwari (with its own language), Yauri (a Hausa colony among other peoples), Nupe, Yoruba and Kwararafa (Jukun). The latter three are in no way Hausa. Muhammad Bello, in his Infq al-maysr, substitutes Borgu for Gwari. These spurious seven are places which came under Hausa influence. Any of the Hausa kingdoms is made up of many subgroups brought together by political expediency or the imposition of one group on its neighbours. There are Hausa people who belong to none of the above mentioned kingdoms, such as the Mawri and Arawa, clusters of Hausa clans who were subject at times to Kebbi or Gobir, but most often lived in independent isolation.

Daura was a small town which never was very important, but its pre-eminence in the legend may be due to its proximity to Borno, and tribute from the Hausa states to Borno likely passed through Daura.


Gobir began as a state around the 12th or 13th century in the Ar mountains. Leo Africanus in the 16th century says that Gobir was surrounded by high mountains but that Askiya Muhammad had killed its king and enslaved most of its inhabitants. According to Boubou Hama, this conquest was the beginning of two centuries of Islamic culture in the Gobir court.6 But the blow that it was, with the addition of Tuareg pressure, may have been the occasion for the Gobir to move their capital to Birnin Lalle in the south.The first king with a Muslim name, however, appears in 1593. After that names are not consistently Muslim.7

Because of renewed Tuareg pressure, Ciroma, who was king around 1700, moved the capital further south to Maigali and later to Goran Rami in Zamfara territory near the present Sabon Birni.In the early 18th century Gobir became strong, raiding the Jerma and Gurma to the west and Ilorin territory, where many Gobir people settled. Thus the Yoruba word for a Hausa man is Gambari, perhaps from Gobir.

During the reign of Babari (1742-70) Gobir turned its aggression eastward to Katsina, Kano and Borno territory, and attacked its former ally Zamfara. Babari also built the new capital Alkalawa. Under Bawa Jan Gwarzo (1777-95) Gobir was weakened by many battles on all fronts. The kings two sons were killed fighting against Katsina, and Bawa died of sorrow 40 days afterwards. His brother Yakuba an Babari (1795-1800) continued battling on all sides until he himself was killed while fighting against Katsina. Yunfa an Nafata (1803-8) was defeated by the fulani forces of cUthmn dan Fodiye who destroyed Alkalawa in 1808. Gobir lost much of its territory to Sokoto, but survived throughout the 19th century in what is now Niger Republic, with its capital at Birnin Konni.


As a historical state Kebbi began as a province of the Songhay empire. The general Muhammad Kanta brought the area under Songhay control in campaigns between 1512 and 1517. During the division of spoils after a Songhay victory against the town of Agadez, Kanta, thinking he was not getting his fair share, revolted against the Askiya and set up Kebbi as an independent state. He built the towns of Gungu, the nearby Silame (whose ruins are 50 kms west of Sokoto), and his capital Surame, 16 kms north of Gungu.

Kanta expanded his realm to include Yauri and Nupeland, setting up the vassal state of Gabi at Mokwa. Kanta and Mai cAl of Borno contested hegemony over the Hausa states lying between them. while once returning form the pursuit of Mai cAl, Kanta engaged the Katsina army and was killed by an arrow at Rimin an Ashita (southeast of Katsina) around 1561.

Kebbi survived the fall of Songhay in 1591. Perhaps out of fear of the Moroccans, it did not intervene to the save the insurgent Askiya Nh, even though the latter complimented the Kebbi king by sending him the head of the Moroccan Pasha Mahmd. Around 1700, because of insecurity in the kingdom, the king Tomo moved the capital from Surame to Birnin Kebbi. In 1715 a successful coup and a severe defeat by Zamfara greatly weakened Kebbi.In 1805 Muhammad Hodi was driven out of Birnin Kebbi by cAbdallh dan Fodiye (brother of cUthmn), but the kingdom continued at Argungu until the coming of the British, when it was subjected to Sokoto.

[Leo Africanus (on Gobir & Kebbi):] The kingdom of Gobir is about 300 miles east of Gao. Between these two kingdoms there is a desert with little water, since it is about 40 miles the Niger. Gobir has very many shepherd villages, and they have many sheep and cattle, but they are small. The people generally are very civilized. They have many weavers of cloth and shoe-makers, who produce shoes like those worn by the Romans long ago. The export these shoes to Timbuktu. I have never seen the like in Italy, but I think they can be found in Spain.When the Niger fills up, iit floods all the plains and surrounds the inhabited areas. They have the custom of sowing grain on the flood plain. One of the villages is very large, having 6,000 households. It is inhabited by local and foreign traders. The residence and the court of the king used to be there, but in our times he was captured and put to death by Askiya, king of Timbuktu.8 Ishq also took the grandchildren of the king of Gobir as hostages and made them serve in his palace. He is now master of this kingdom and has placed his governor there. The people are weighed down by taxes. Before it was prosperous because of booming trade.But now it is empovrished and half as populated as it used to be, since Askiya took away a great number of the men.He keeps them captive and some of them as slaves.


Much of our information about pre-19th century Hausaland comes form the Kano Chronicle, an oral story of origins first written down in the late 19th century. Bagauda, a son of Bawo of Daura, is said to have come among some previous settlers and become their king around the 10th century. The Chronicle tells of a long struggle of the Bagauda dynasty to discover the secrets of the traditional religion, centred around Tsumburburai, the spirit of Dala hill. Greenberg argues from linguistic evidence (e.g. the word rubuta for read) that Islamic culture first came to Kano from Borno around the 11th or 12th century.9 But the Kano Chronicle lists Yaji as the first king to become Muslim, in the 14th century when 40 Wangara missionaries came form Mali. This first planting of Islam seems to have dried up, and in the second half of the 15th century during the reign of Yakubu more Fulani and Wangara missionaries came from Mali with books on Muslim law, theology and Arabic grammar, reviving Islam. During the reign of his successor Sarki Muhammadu Rumfa (1463-99), the greatest of the Hausa kings of Kano, al-Maghl visited Kano and advised Rumfa on government. Shortly afterwards another Islamic scholar, Makhlf ibn-cAl of Timbuktu, spent some time teaching in Kano.10

As if the Hausa states did not have enough to worry about with Songhay or Kebbi on one side and Borno on the other, they were constantly embroiled in war with one another. Kano is reported to have been at war with Zaria around 1400 and 1500 and with Katsina from 1488 to 1499 when Kano defeated Katsina.Kano, along with the other Hausa states, was conquered by Songhays Askiya Muhammad in 1513 but, while still paying tribute to Kanta, Kano fought successfully against Borno in 1550.Katsina inflicted heavy losses on Kano in 1570-80, but in intermittent wars from 1582 to 1645 Kano had the upper hand. Around 1655 and again in 1671 the Jukun, whom the Hausa call Kwararafa and whose capital was Pi on the Benue river, invaded Kano city. The sarkin Kano fled, but not before risking his life to save the Tsibiri shrine and take it with him. In 1700 Kano suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of Zamfara, and in 1731-43 fought a drawn out indecisive war with Gobir. In the meantime by 1734 Borno imposed its overlordship on Kano and exacted a yearly tribute until Kano was taken over by the Fulani in 1805.

[Leo Africanus:] Kano is a large region of about 500 miles to the east of the Niger. This region contains various peoples who live in villages, making their living either by raising sheep and cattle or by farming. This area produces much grain, as well as rice and cotton. There are uninhabited mountains full of forests and springs. In these forests there are many orange and wild citrus trees which produce fruits that taste not much different from domestic citrus trees.

In the centre of the region there is a town that bears the name Kano. It has a wall around it made of [wooden] pillars and mud. The houses are made of the same material. The people are civilized artisans and rich traders. Their king was formerly very powerful. He had an important court, a large cavalry force, so that he had even made the kings of Zagzag and of Katsina his tributaries. But Askiya, the king of Timbuktu, pretended to come to the aid of these two kings, deceived them and took over their kingdoms. Three years later he declared war on the king of Kano, but after a long impasse, he got him to agree to marry one of his daughters and pay him each year a third of his revenue, leaving several attendants and accountants in his kingdom to assure the payment of this levy.


Traditions on the beginnings of Katsina go back to around the 12th century. It was an annual meeting site for two nearby towns at that time.Borno invaders took over the area around 1250 and held it until 1468 when it came under Songhays sphere of influence, then under the leadership of Sonni cAl.

Also around the 12th century another state came into being with its capital at Yandoto (a ruins near the new Yandoto north of Chafe in Zamfara State). This state was later called Katsina Laka or Gwangara/Wangara after its Malian inhabitants. It was an Islamic intellectual centre known throughout the western Sudan. From Yandoto in the middle of the 13th century an Islamic scholar named Korau moved up to Katsina and killed the king, establishing his own dynasty. Gwangara, however, continued to exist independently at least as far as the 15th century (when Borno attacked it). Possibly the Gwangara are related to the Gwandara of Gitata (north of Keffi) who speak a kind of either simplified or proto-Hausa that has linguistic characteristics of a different family of languages.11

Muhammadu Korau (1492-1541) was the first really Muslim king of Katsina, probably as a result of the visit of al-Maghl in 1493 (and during the 11 year war with Kano). A few years later the Islamic scholar Makhlf ibn-cAl, who was also in Kano, came to teach in Katsina. Another scholar, Muhammad ibn-Ahmad ibn-ab-Muhammad of Tzakhta (near Walata), who studied under al-Maghl at Takedda and later studied in Mecca and Egypt, settled in Katsina and the king made him q. He died in 1530.

During Muhammadu Koraus reign there were wars with Nupe and Kano. In a battle with Kanta in 1513 Katsina became tributary to Songhay, but won its independence in a battle in 1554. Katsina had the upper hand in wars against Kano in 1570-80, but from 1582 the tables were turned. When Songhay fell in 1591 Katsina came under Bornos sphere of influence, but flourished as a trans-Saharan terminus with the former trade of Songhay diverted to it.In 1645 Sarki Muhammad dan Wari of Katsina inflicted a defeat on Kano and then signed a mutual defence pact against the invading Jukuns. This was the time of the Katsina Islamic writers an Marina (also known as Muhammad ibn-Marna al-Kashinw or Ibn-a-abbgh), who died around 1655, and an Masanih (also known as Ab-cAbdallh Muhammad ibn-Masni ibn-Ghumahu ibn-Muhammad ibn-cAbdallh ibn-Nh al-Barnw al-Kashinw), who died in 1667 at the age of 75; many of these mens works survive.

In the 18th century, even though still tributary to Borno, Katsina came to its greatest strength, extending its sway over Maradi in the north, Zamfara to the west and Birnin Gwari to the far southwest. From 1750 the major threat to Katsina was Gobir, which took over much of Zamfara territory and the land around Maradi. Katsina held its own and in 1801 its army killed the king of Gobir, Yakuba. In 1805 Katsina fell to the Fulani allies of cUthmn dan Fodiye.

[Leo Africanus:] Katsina is a neighbour of Kano to the east. It has many mountains and sharp soil, but which is good for barley and millet.The people are very black. They have terribly wide noses and thick lips.All the inhabited places are straw huts that look miserable. No village has more than 300 families. Here poverty goes along with lack of development. This people formerly had their own king, but he was killed by Askiya.Half of the people were wiped out and Askiya became master of the kingdom.


The ancient name of Zaria was Zazzau; it was also known as Zakzak or Zagzeg. A state of some sort may have existed in the area around the 12th century, based at Turuku, about 30 kms south of the present Zaria city. The 18th king, Muhammad Ab (c. 1505-30) seems to have been the first Muslim. In the reign of Queen Bakwa (1536-67) the capital was moved to its present site.In 1566 this queen was succeeded by her general Karama until in 1576 her daughter mina became queen. She and her younger sister Zaria, after whom the city is named, were great fighters and extended their power south of the Niger-Benue confluence. mina died at Ategara, near present-day Idah, and her sister Zaria died at Yauri.

From 1734 Zaria, with the other Hausa states, was overrun by Borno and became tributary to it. Islam was quite weak among the Zaria kings at the end of the 18th century. The Hausa dynasty was expelled by the Fulani in 1808 and fled to Abuja (now Suleja) where it continues today.

[Leo Africanus:] Zagzag is a land that lies southeast of Kano, but is about 150 miles from Katsina. It is inhabited by a rich population that is engaged in trading throughout the region. One part of the region is very hot, another very cold, so much so that to survive the cold season the inhabitants light many fires on the floors of their houses. When they sleep, they put them under their beds, which are raised over the ground.Nevertheless the land produces fruit and has much water and grain. Their houses and villages are like those described above. There was an independent king in this country, but he was killed by Askiya who declared himself ruler of this kingdom as well.


Lying between Kebbi and Katsina, Zamfaras early history is obscure except for a king list, which shows the first kings with Muslim names in the 17th century. In 1715 Sarki Babba revolted against Kebbi, to which Zamfara was then subject, and with the help of Gobir and the Tuareg inflicted a severe defeat on Kebbi. But in 1756 Sarki Maroki had to flee his capital Birnin Zamfara because of attacks by Gobir. He set up the new capital of Kiawa about 60 kms to the south-southeast. Gobir attacked Kiawa also, but Katsina helped Zamfara and its capital was not taken. Kiawa fell to Muhammad Bello in 1807 and the whole kingdom of Zamfara was absorbed by Sokoto.

Leo Africanus:] Zamfara is a region east of Zagzag. It is inhabited by several dirty and crued peoples. The coutnry abounds in grain, rice, millet and cotton. The Zamfara people are tall, but blacker than can be described, with long faces like animals. They are more like beasts than men. Askiya poisoned their king and destroyed a large part of the people.


Leo Africanus mentions the kingdom of Guangara, which Epaulard (with H. Lhote) tries to identify with Tessaoua.Yet its location to the south brings immediately to mind Guandara, a people of southern Kaduna State, whose name may be confused with the far more important Middle Belt kingdom of that time, the Kwararafa (Jukun).

[Leo Africanus:] Guangara is a territory bordering on Zanfara to the southeast [and west of Borno]. It is inhabited by a numerous people governed by a king who commands 7,000 soldiers armed with bos and 500 foreign horsemen.He has much revenue from trading and taxes on trade. All the villages are made of straw huts except for one which is more beautiful.Its people are very rich because they do long distance trading and get plentiful gold from a neighbouring country to the south. Today, however, this country cannot carry on foreign trade because it has two powerful and cruel enemies, Askiya in the west and the king of Borno in the east. When I was in Borno, its king, Ibrhm, gathered his whole army to go and attack the king of Guangara. But when he came near that kingdom he learned that cUmar, the ruler of Gaoga, was preparing to march against Borno; so he immediatley abandoned his enterprise and returned in haste to his kingdom.That was a good opportunity for the king of Guangara. When the traders of Guangara go to the land of gold, they are obliged to cross high and steep mountains where pack animals cannot cross. So they organise their slaves to carry all merchandise and necessary goods on their heads inside large calabashes. Each slave can do ten miles or more with a load of 100 pounds on his head.I have seen them do this distance twice in the same day. They have no more hair on their heads because of the considerable weight they are used to carry. Besides merchandise, they carry food for thier masters and for all the slaves who are armed and emplyed to guard the merchandise.


Archaeological evidence shows that a settlement existed at Yauri, on the Niger, form early in this millennium.Hausa settlers, allegedly from Katsina, founded the nearby Bin Yauri in the midst of Kanbari and Gunga people perhaps in the 15th century. The location was important as a port for river traffic and became more important as a crossing point over the Niger on the route from Hausaland to Gonja. In the 15th century Yauri came for a time under Zarias control. In the 16th century Kanta of Kebbi brought Yauri under his control. At some time (the 17th century?) the kings of Yauri became Muslim. Albishir (1799-1829) surrendered to the Fulani and became a vassal of cAbdallh an Fodiye of Gwandu.

Because of wars with Kontagora, King Abarshi (from 1888) founded the present town of Yelwa as the new capital of the kingdom.


The territory of Nupe was under Idah up to the latter half of the 16th century. Then, according to Nupe traditions, a young man named Tsoede (= Etsu), who was sent as a slave to Idah according to the stipulations of tribute, succeeded in returning home where he became king and built up the Nupe state. Nupe grew in importance in the 16th century because it lay on the southern branch of the route form Hausaland to Gonja, and also was on the route to y and the Atlantic. Nupe traded in kola, iron and eunuchs, getting horses form the north in exchange.

Etsu Jibrilu (1746-59) was the first Muslim king. At the end of the 18th century there was a dynastic dispute and the kingdom was divided between two rulers.

In 1805 the Fulani mallam Dendo Helped Majiya, who ruled the west at Raba, to defeat Jimada, who was ruling the eastern part of the kingdom from Gbara. Then Majiya, fearing Dendos power, expelled him to Ilorin. Dendo then joined Idrisu, son of the defeated Jimada, and in turn defeated Majiya. Dendo then left Idrisu as a puppet king in Adam Lelu (near Eggan), while he himself became the real ruler in Raba. Idrisu revolted in 1830 and was killed, leaving the Fulani in sole control of Nupeland, except for some later unsuccessful attempts of the Nupe to restore their indigenous dynasty.

A Muslim missionary, al-Maghl

Ab-cAbdallh Muhammad ibn-cAbdalkarm ibn-Muhammad al-Maghl was born around 144012 in Tilimsn, Algeria. Around 1480,13 while in Tuwt in the Sahara, his religious zeal brought him into conflict with the Jews who had built a new synagogue in the land of Islam, which was forbidden by the strict exponents of Islamic law. Al-Maghl brought upon them humiliation and degradation; moreover he fell upon them, fought them and demolished their synagogues. The qd of Tuwt, cAbdallh al-cUmn, condemned this action. Legal opinions were sought form seven eminent Maghriban jurists, and al-Maghl was exonerated by at least two of them, including the jurist-theologian Muhammad ibn-Ysuf as-Sans. On receiving the replies, al-Maghl went ahead and ordered his band to demolish the [remaining] synagogues, killing anyone who opposed them.No one opposed them. Then he said, Anyone who kills a Jew will have seven weights of gold for me; and this was done.14

Possibly because his fanaticism was not tolerated in North Africa, al-Maghl moved south, passing through Ar where he stopped in Takedda to teach the people. He then went on to Kano where he settled for some time, teaching Islam and writing a book for Sarki Muhammad Rumfa on the duties of a Muslim king, and other works. Leaving three children in Kano, he visited Katsina in 1493 where he also was strongly influential in establishing Islam. After a short time he moved to Gao, where he wrote a book for Askiya Muhammad answering various questions, particularly concerning the legitimacy of his coup against Sonni cAl.

While in Gao al-Maghl heard that one of his sons was killed by some Jews in Tuwt. Al-Maghl first asked Askiya Muhammad to arrest all the Tuwt people in Gao. The Askiya did so, but one of his counsellors persuaded him to let them go because they were innocent. So al-Maghl set off for Tuwt to take revenge, but died when he arrived there in 1504. Al-Maghl is the author of at least 25 works, many of which have survived, and he is a revered figure among traditional Muslims of West Africa.15

Chapter 9

The Spread of Islam
Through North to West Africa

Chapter 11

1The mid-fourteenth century capital of Mali, J.A.H. 14 (1973), 200; cf. David C. Conrad, A town called Dakajalon: the Sunjata tradition and the quest of ancient Malis capital, J.A.H. 35 (1994), 355-377.

2A.C. Hopkins, in An economic history of West Africa (1973), thinks that the trans-Saharan trade did not decline at all; cf. Eugenie Herbest, Timbuktu: a case study of the role of legend in history, p. 440, in B.K. Swartz & R.A. Dumett (eds.), West African culture dynamics (The Hague: Mouton, 1980). But cf. N. Levtzion, North-West Africa: from the Maghrib to the fringes of the forest, Cambridge History of Africa, vol. 4, pp. 145-6 & 151. 3Cf. N. Levtzion, North-West Africa: from the Maghrib to the fringes of the forest, Cambridge History of Africa, vol. 4, pp. 145-6 & 151.

4Cf. James L.A. Webb, The horse and slave trade between the western Sahara and Senegambia, J.A.H. 34 (1993), 221-246.

5H.R. Palmer, Sudanese memoirs, v. 1, p. 18.

6Histoire du Gobir et de Sokoto (Niamey, 1967), p. 44

7Ibid., p. 14.

8This should be Askiya Muhammad, who invaded Katsina around 1513.

9J. Greenberg, Historical inferences from linguistic research in sub-Saharan Africa, in Bennett (ed.), Boston papers in African history, I (Boston, 1964), pp. 3-15, p. 12.

10Ahmad Bb, Nayl, 344.

11Information from Kevin Carroll, S.M.A.

12Judging from the life span of his teacher ath-Thaclab, 1385-1470.

13Judging from the death of ar-Rassc, a consultant in the dispute.

14 Ahmad Bb, p. 330.

15Cf. J.O. Hunwick, Sharca in Songhay: the replies of al-Maghl to the questions of Askia al-jj Muhammad (O.U.P., 1985).