quotations in italics in this article are taken from the book
Ibn Battuta in Black Africa by
Said Harridun and Noël King (Rex Collings,
to More details and price of Ibn Battuta in Black Africa] I am indebted to Prof. Beckingham for
the latest interpretation of the place names mentioned by Ibn
Battuta These are detailed in green.
My own additions are in blue.
out in 1352, lbn Battuta went by way of Fez and Sijilmasa (identified
as Medinet el'Arnira in the Tafilelt, Morocco by FR Rodd.)
It is a lovely city. In it there a great
deal of sweet dates. The town of Basra is like it for the abundance
of its dates, but the dates of Sijilmasa are sweeter.
arrived after 25 days at Taghaza. (Terhazza
as marked on 153, about 150 km NW of Taoudenni) It
is a village with no good in it. Amongst its curiosities is
the fact that the construction of its houses and its mosques
is of rock salt with camel skin roofing and there are no trees
in it, the soil is just sand. In it is
a salt mine. It is dug out of the ground and is found
there in huge slabs, one on top of another as if it had been
carved and put under the ground.
The blacks exchange the
salt as money as one would exchange gold and silver. They cut
it up and trade with it in pieces.
We stayed in it but
ten days in miserable condition, because its water is bitter
and it is of all places the most full of flies.
He then set out across the desert.
This desert is a travelling
distance of ten days and there is no water in it except rarely.
But we found much water in it in pools left by the rains. One
day we found a pool of sweet water between two hillocks of rocks.
We quenched our thirst from it and washed our clothes. In that
desert truffles are abundant. There are also so many lice in
it that people put strings around their necks in which there
is mercury which kills the lice
They we arrived at Tásarahlá
where water is exuded by the ground.
[R Mauny, V Monteil, A Djenidi, S Robert and J Devisse in Extraits
tires des Voyages d'Ibn Battuta, in the series Textes et documents
relatifs a' l'histoire de l'Afrique, No.9, published by the
University of Dakar, 1966. p.38, n.4, say Tásarahlá «ne peut
čtre que Bir al-Ksaib ou Le-Gçeyb, point d'eau au bord de Ia
falaise du Khnachich, a 480 km a vol d'oiseau d'Oualata. C'est
le seul qui existe sur l'itineraire Tagázá -Oualata, et les
10 jours que mentionne notre auteur entre Tagázá at Tasarahlá
correspondent bien aux 250 km qui les separent».] From
there they travelled to Iwalatan (Walata or Oualata in Mauritania)
and on to Malli (south of Bamako),
a journey of twenty four days for a person
who exerts himself
has many trees which are tall and of great girth: a caravan
can find shade in the shadow of one tree
Some of those
trees have rotted inside and rainwater collects in them... Bees
and honey are in some and people extract the honey from the
trees. I have passed by one of these trees and found inside
it a weaver with his loom set up in it - he was weaving. I was
amazed by him.... There are trees whose fruits are like those
of plums, apples, peaches and apricots, though they are not
quite the same as these. There are trees that bear fruit like
the cucumber, when it ripens it bursts uncovering something
like flour, they cook it and eat it and it is sold in the markets.
They dig out from the ground a crop like beans and they fry
it and eat it. Its taste is like fried peas. Sometimes they
grind it and make from it something like a sponge cake, frying
with gharti; gharti is a fruit like a plum which is very sweet
and harmful to white men when they eat it. The hard part inside
is crushed and an oil is extracted from it. From this they derive
a number of benefits. Amongst these are: they cook with it,
fuel the lamps, fry that sponge I mentioned with it, they use
it as an ointment, and they mix it with a kind of earth of theirs
and plaster the houses with it in the way whitewash is used.
.... After a distance
of ten days' travel from Iwalatan, we arrived at the village
of Zaghari, which is a big place with black merchants living
in it. [The
name Zaghari represents Malinke Diaghara or Fula Diagari in
western Massina. The village meant may be Diabali, east of Sokolo,
where there are old ruins-see Mauny again p.46 n.9. C Meillasoux
on the other hand, in a paper he gave to an International Conference
on Manding studies at the School of Oriental & African Studies
in London in 1972, maintained that lbn Battuta travelled southwest
from Walata and that Zaghari was Diara in Futa Kingui. J 0 Hunwick
(Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois) on the other hand,
in Journal of African History, 1975, pp 195-206, claims that
Zaghari was near Sokolo.]
we went from Zaghari and arrived at the great river, the Nile.
(To call the Niger the Nile was
Ibn Battuta's big mistake. He assumed it flowed eastwards and
joined the Nile in Upper Egypt which he had already visited-an
easy mistake.) On it is the town of
Karsakhu. [Karsakhu is perhaps
Kara Sakho, Kara market', on the Niger above Diafarabe.]
The Nile (Niger)
descends from it (Karsakhu)
to Kabara, then to Zagha.
Then the Nile
(Niger) comes down from Zagha to Tunbuktu
(Timbuktu), then to Kawkaw (Gao), the two places we shall mention
below. Then the river flows to Yufi (Nupe?), which is one of
the biggest cities of the blacks. A white man cannot go there
because they would kill him before he arrived there. Then the
river comes down from there to the land of the Nubians who follow
the Nasraniyya (Christian) faith, and on to Dunqula (Dongola),
which is the biggest town in their land.
Then it descends
to the cataracts. This is the last district of the blacks and
the first of Uswan (Aswan) in Upper Egypt.
I saw a crocodile
in this place (i.e. at Karsakhu) on the Nile (Niger)
near the shore like a small canoe.
we went from Karsakhu and reached a river called Sansara, which
is about ten miles from Malli. [Meillasoux
(see above) maintains that the capital of MalIi was on the Gambia.
Hunwick (see above) believes that the capital was somewhere
between Segu and Bamako.]
into Malli was on the fourteenth of the first month of Jumada
in the year '53 (i.e., 753 A.H., 28th June A.D. 1352), and my
going out from there was on the twenty-second of Muharram in
the year '54 (i.e. 754 AH., 27 February A.D. 1353). I was accompanied
by a merchant known as Abu Bakr ibn Yacqub. We set out on the
Mima road. I was riding a camel because horses were dear, costing
about one hundred mithqals apiece. We reached a large arm of
the river which comes out of the Nile (Niger)
and which cannot be crossed except
in boats. That place has many mosquitoes and nobody passes through
except at night. We arrived at the arm of the river in the first
third of the night and it was moonlight ... I saw on its bank
sixteen beasts with enormous bodies. I was astonished by them.
I thought they were elephants because there are plenty there.
Then I saw them entering the river and said to Abu Bakr ibn
Yacqub. 'What beasts are these?' He said 'These are horses of
the river (hippopotami), they have come out to graze on the
dry land.' They are more thickset than horses and they have
manes and tails, their heads are like the heads of horses and
their legs like the legs of elephants. I saw these horses another
time when we were travelling on the Nile (Niger)
from Tunbuktu to Kawkaw: they were swimming
in the water and raising their heads and blowing. The boatmen
feared them and came in close to the shore so as not to be drowned
we departed from this village which is by the branch of the
river I mentioned, and we arrived at the town of Quri Mansa
(or: the built up area of the villages of Mansa). There my camel
vhich I was riding died. When I was told by its keeper I came
out to look at it. I found the blacks had eaten it as their
custom is in eating a dead animal. I sent the two boys I had
hired to serve me to buy me a camel at Zaghari which was a distance
of about two days journey. Some of the friends of Ibu Bakr son
of Yacqub stayed with me while the latter went ahead to receive
us at Mima. I stayed there (Quri Mansa) for six days and was
entertained by one of the pilgrims in this town until the two
boys arrived with the camel.
I departed for the town of Mima [Mima
is the Soninke name of a site near Nampala in northern Massina,
with ruins.]; in its neighbourhood
we dismounted by some wells. We travelled then from there to
the city of Tunbuktu, which is four miles from the Nile. Most
of its inhabitants are Massufa, people of the veil. Its governor
is called Farba Musa. I was present with him one day when he
appointed one of the Massufa as amir over a company He placed
on him a garment, a turban and trousers, all of them of dyed
material. He then seated him on a shield and he was lifted up
by the elders of his tribe on their heads.
Tunbuktu I embarked on the Nile
(Niger) in a small vessel carved from
one piece of wood. We used to come ashore every night in a village
to buy what we needed of food and ghee in exchange for salt
and perfumes and glass ornaments. Then I reached a town whose
name I have been caused by Satan) to forget. This town had as
its amir an excellent man, a pilgrim called Farba Sulaiman,
well known for his bravery and tenacity, no one was able to
bend his bow. I did not see among the blacks anyone taller than
he nor more massive in body.
I travelled to the city of Kawkaw (Gao). It is a big city on
the Nile, one of the best of the cities of the blacks. It is
one of the biggest and most fertile of their places, with much
rice. milk, chicken and fish. In it there are inani pumpkins
which have no rivals. The transactions of its people in buying
and selling are carried out by means of cowriesas is the
case among the people of Malli. I staved there about a month
and was the guest of Muhammad ibn cUmar of the people of Miknasa.
He was a gentle person, fond of making jokes, a man of merit.
He died there after I left.
I travelled from there in the direction of Takadia (Takidda)
(Lord Rodd rejected the 3 Tagiddas
W or NWN of Agades) [Tigidda is
a common name, or constituent element in place names, in kir.
There has been much argument about lbn Battuta's Takadda, but
it is reasonably certain that it was Azelik. see Djibo M Hamani,
Au Carrefour du Soudan et de Ia Berberie; le sultanat Touareg
de L'.4yar, 1989, pp 95-98. His view is shared by Prof Beckingham's
friend and erstwhile colleague Prof H T Norris] in
the hinterland (that is, away from the river) with a large caravan
of the men of Ghadamas (Ghadames in Libya), whose guide and
leader was al-Hajj Wujjin (the meaning of this word is 'jackal'
in the language of the blacks).
I had a camel for riding
and a she-camel for carrying provisions. When we set out on
the first stage the she-camel broke down. AI-Hajj Wujjin took
what was on her and divided it among his companions. They shared
out the burden. There was in the caravan a Maghribin (man of
Arab north-west Africa) of the people of Tadala who refused
to carry any of it in the way other people had done. My servant
lad was thirsty one day. I asked the Maghribin for water; he
did not give it.
Then we arrived at the
land of the Bardama people (a Tuareg group). a tribe of the
Berbers. The caravan cannot travel except under their protection;
and amongst them the protection of a woman is more important
than that of a man. They are nomads, they do not stay in one
place. Their dwelling places are strange in form: they set up
poles of wood and place mats around them, over that they put
interwoven sticks and over them skins or cotton cloth. Their
women are the most perfect of women in beauty and the most comely
in figure, in addition to being pure white and fat. I did not
see in the land anyone who attained to their standard of fatness.
These women's food is cow's milk and pounded millet; they drink
it mixed with water, uncooked, morning and evening. A man who
wants to marry among them has to settle with them in the country
near them, and not take his spouse farther than either Kawkaw
exerted ourselves in travelling till we reached the city of
Takadda…The houses of Takadda are built of red stone. Its water
supply flows over the copper mines (The
comment about copper mines in this area appears to be an inversion
of memory) and its colour and taste
are changed by that fact. There is no cultivation there except
a little wheat which is eaten by the merchants and visitors.
It is sold at the rate of twenty of their mudds for a Mithqal
The people of Takadda
carry on no business but trading. Every year they travel to
Egypt and bring from there everything there is in the country
by way of fine cloths and other things. For its people ease
of life and ample condition are supreme; they vie with one another
in the number of slaves and servants they haveas likewise
do the people of Malli and Iwalatan. They do not sell educated
women-slaves, except very rarely and at a great price.
There is a copper
mine outside Takadda. The people dig for it in the earth, bring
it to the town, and smelt it in their houses. This is done by
their men, and the women-slaves. When they have smelted it into
red copper, they make it into rods about the length of a span
and a half: some are of fine gauge and some thick. The thick
are sold at the rate of four hundred rods for a mithqal of gold,
the fine for six or seven hundred to the mithqal it is their
means of exchange. They buy meat and firewood with the fine
rods: they buy male and female slaves, millet, ghee, and wheat
with the thick. Copper is carried from there to the city of
Kubar (Gobir) in the land of the unbelievers, to Zaghay and
to the country of Barnu (Bornu) which is at a distance of forty
days from Takadda. Its people are Muslim; they have a king whose
name is Idris, who does not appear before the people nor speak
to them except from behind a curtain. From this country are
brought beautiful slave women and eunuchs and heavy fabrics.
Copper is also taken from Takadda to Jujuwat and to the land
of the Murtibin and to other places.
...I wanted to travel to
Tuwat. I carried provisions for seventy nights since (normal)
food is not to be found between Takadda and Tuwat, only meat
and milk and ghee which are bought in exchange for cloth. I
left Takadda on Thursday, the eleventh of Shacban in the year
'54 (AH. 754, 11th September A.D. 1353) in a big caravan which
included Jacfar al-Tuwati, who is an eminent person, and the
faqih Muhammad ibn cAbd Allah, qadi of Takadda. In the caravan
there were about six hundred slavewomen. We arrived at Kahir
in the land of the sultan of Karkari. It is a land of plentiful
grass. The people buy sheep therefrom the Berbers and cut the
meat into strips. This is carried by the people of Tuwat to
that land we entered into a wilderness with no buildings in
it and no water: it is three days journey. Then we travelled
after that fifteen days through a wilderness which has no buildings
but there is water. We reached the place from which the road
to Ghat (which continues to Egypt) and the road to Tuwat (In
Azaoua) bifurcate. And there are there
water-beds whose water flows over iron; when white cloths are
washed in it, their colour becomes black. We travelled from
there for ten days, and arrived at the country of the Hakkar
(Ahoggar) who are a tribe of the Berbers and wear face-veils.
There is no good in them
We journeyed a month in the land
of Hakkar: it has a scarcity of plants and an abundance of stones,
the road too is rough.
we reached Buda [40 km NW of Adrar]
which is one of the biggest villages of Tuwat.
Its soil consists of sand and saline swamp. Its dates are plentiful
but not sweet; yet its people prefer them to the dates of Sijilmasa.
There is no cultivation there, no ghee, no olive oil. These
things are brought to it from the land of the Maghrib. The food
of its people is dates and locusts which are plentiful in their
area. They preserve them as they store dates and feed on them.
They go out to hunt locusts before sunrise when they cannot
fly because of the cold.
We staved at Buda some
days, then we travelled in a caravan and in the middle of Dhu
al-Qada we arrived at the city of Sijilmasa. I went out from
it on the second of Dhu ' al-Hijja (29 December A.D. 1353) during
a period of fierce cold. A lot of snow came down on the road.
I have seen many rough roads and much snow in Bukhara and Samarkand
and in Khurasan (in Persia), and in the land of the Turks, but
I have never seen anything more difficult than the road of Umm
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