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Leo Africanus
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Leo Africanus

Leo Africanus was born in Granada in 1485 and died in Tunis in 1554. He was educated in Fez and travelled widely in Africa, visiting Timbuctoo twice. The following description of the town is taken from John Pory's translation of 1600 modified in places with that of Francis Moore in 1738.
Of the Kingdom of Tombuto
This name was in our times (as some think) imposed upon this kingdom from the name of a certain town so called, which (they say)- king Mense Suleiman founded in the year of the Hegira 610, and it is situate within twelve miles of a certain branch of the river Niger. The houses here are built in the shape of bells, the walls are stakes or hurdles plastered over with clay and the houses covered with reeds. Yet there is a most stately temple to be seen, the walls whereof are made of stone and lime; and a royal palace also built by a most excellent artist from Granada. Here are many shops of artificers, and merchants, and especially of such as weave linen and cotton cloth. And hither do the Barbary merchants bring cloth of Europe. All the women of this region except maidservants go with their faces covered, and sell food. The inhabitants, and especially strangers that reside there, are exceeding rich, inasmuch, that the king that now has married both his daughters unto two rich merchants. Here are many wells, containing most sweet water; and so often as the river. Niger overfloweth, they convey the water thereof by certain sluices into the town. Corn, cattle, milk, and butter this region yieldeth in great abundance, but salt is very scarce here; for it is brought hither by land from Tegaza, which is five hundred miles distant. When I myself was here, I saw one camel's load of salt sold for 8o ducats. The rich king of Tombuto hath many plates and sceptres of gold, some whereof weigh 1300 pounds: and he keeps a magnificent and well furnished court. When he travels anywhere he rideth upon a camel, which is led by some of his noblemen ; and so he doth likewise when he goes to war, and all his soldiers ride upon horses. Whosoever will speak unto this king must first fall down before his feet, and then taking up earth must sprinkle it upon his own head and shoulders: which custom is ordinarily observed by them that never saluted the king before, or come as ambassadors from other princes. He hath always three thousand horsemen, and a great number of footmen that shoot poisoned arrows, attending upon him. They have often skirmishes with those that refuse to pay tribute, and so many as they take, they sell unto the merchants of Tombuto. Here are very few horses bred, and the merchants and courtiers keep certain little nags which they use to travel upon: but their best horses are brought out of Barbary. And the king as soon as he heareth that any merchants are come to town with horses, he commandeth a certain number to be brought before him, and choosing the best horse for himself, he payeth a most liberal price for them. He has such an inveterate hatred for all Jews, that he will not admit any into his city: and whatsoever Barbary merchants he understandeth have any dealings with the Jews, he immediately causeth their goods to be confiscated. Here are great store of doctors, judges, priests, and other learned men, that are bountifully maintained at the kings cost and charges. And hither are brought diverse manuscripts or written books out of Barbary, which are sold for more money than any other merchandise. The coin of Tombuto is of gold without any stamp or superscription: but in matters of small value they use certain shells brought hither out of the kingdom of Persia, four hundred of which shells are worth a ducat: and six pieces of their golden coin with two third parts weigh an ounce. The inhabitants are people of a gentle and cheerful disposition, and spend a great part of the night in singing and dancing through all the streets of the city: they keep great store of men and women slaves, and their town is much in danger of fire: When I was there the second time almost half the town was burnt in the space of five hours. Outside the suburbs there are no gardens nor orchards at all.

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