Decline and fall of Songhai Internal causes
Monday, May 19, 2008
In 1528, Askia Mohammed had been on the throne for thirty-five years. He was now a grand old man of eighty-five years and for the last ten years he had become increasingly blind and infirm. His children took advantage of this and deposed him sending him to exile on a small island in the Niger called Kankaka.
The treatment of Askia the great caused dissension and rivalry which inevitably weakened the unity of the empire. What followed the overthrow of Askia Mohammed in Songhai was a series of dynastic intrigues and short and unsuccessful reigns by sometimes-incompetent rulers.
In a relatively short period of twenty-one years, between 1528 and 1549, as many as four kings occupied the Songhai throne, each one deposing his predecessor. Askia Musa, who came to the throne in 1528 after his father was deposed, was himself overthrown after only five years reign. Askia Musa was known to be cruel ruler and was assassinated in 1533. Askia Musa was succeeded to the throne by Askia the Great's nephew, Askia Bankouri. Like his cousin, Musa, he ruled harshly and was himself deposed after an uneventful four-year rule.
Following Askia Bankouri's overthrow, the throne went back to the direct line of Askia the great when his son Askia Ismail was made king of Songhai. One of his first acts was to bring his father home from exile. Unfortunately this very promising ruler died only two years after mounting the throne.
The next ruler, Askia Ishak I, reigned for ten years, from 1539 to 1549. He had a certain amount of success in reducing rebellious vassal states to submission and he rejected the Moroccan claims on the salt mines to the North of the empire. But when he came to the throne the series of short reigns before him had already weakened Songhai.
However, Songhai's prestige was partially revived under the next ruler Askia Daud who had a very long reign lasting some thirty-three years. Askia Daud succeeded in regaining most of the territories lost since the time of his great grand father, Askia the great by suppressing all the turbulent peoples especially the Tuareg in the north. Askid Daud also established further posts in the Sahara to ensure the security of the trade routes. Even though in his long reign Askia Daud was able to restore much of Songhai's power and prestige, he could not heal all the wounds which has been inflicted on Songhai during the previous twenty-one years.
To make matters worse, after Askia Daud's death in 1582, the three Askias who followed, like many before them, were known to be very immoral and weak rulers. It was during the reign of the last of these three rulers, Askia Ishak II, that Songhai was invaded by Morocco.
Effects of the Conquest of Songhai
The Moroccan conquest of the empire of Songhai had several consequences on the history of the western Sudan. In the first place, the Moroccans failed to establish any system of government in place of the one they had destroyed. Thus with no effective central government to maintain peace and order,chaos and anarchy set in.
This state of instability naturally helped the process of distintegration in the Western Sudan. Different peoples such as the Tuareg, the Fulani and the Bambara fought against each other for the control of the region and these struggles continued till the nineteenth century. During these wars cities like Gao, Timbuctu and Jenne declined both as centres of trade and as seats of learning. As a result of the anarchy and insecutrity, trade was greatly disturbed and the Trans-Saharan trade became an annual affair.
By a coincidence Portuguese, Dutch and English trading activities on the Guinea Coast combined with the disturbed situation in the Western Sudan, meant that the centre of West African trade shifted from the North to the Western and southern coasts of west Africa. Finally as the Moroccan invaders paid no attention to religion and learning, Islam declined in these regions and animism began to flourish. It was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century that the islamist revivalist movements were launched by the Fulani in the Western Sudan.
When Arabic-writing historians first mentioned the Western Sudan in the tenth and eleventh centuries A.D, the also wrote of a series of African states along the river Senegal. On the coast North of the Senegal estuary was the town of Awlil, which exported salt to the states along the river. Near the estuary on both banks was the kingdom of Saghana. Further up river was the Kingdom of Futa Toro originally known as Tekrur.
The ancestors of the Tukulor founded Tekrur probably as early as the birth of Christ, By the time the first surviving records in Arabic were written, its rulers were over lords of all peoples on both banks of the lower and middle Senegal and their authority stretched towards the Gambia. Tekrur's importance is demonstrated by the fact that early Arabic writers the western Sudan described the whole region as "the land of Tekrur".
The greatest part of Tekrur imperial expansion may have taken place under the Dya'ogo dynasty, which came to power in about A.D. 850 and which became the first ruling family to earn a place in the history of Tekrur. The Dya'ogo rulers were overthrown in about A.D. 980 by the Mandinka manna dynasty which came from Diara and probably consolidated the wealth and power of Tekrur.
Little is known about individual rulers of the manna dynasty except that one of them war-Jabi, who died in about A.D. 1040 became one of the first muslin rulers in West Africa. War-Jabi compelled his leading subjects to become Muslims and also introduced' Islamic Law into his empire. Thus it was that when a Muslim missionary Abdullah Ibn Yacin, fled from persection by the Sanhaja Berbers, he sought refuge in the Senegal Valley. From a base in the Senegal estuary, he taught the need for a jihad against non-Muslims and in preparation for this he built up a body of fanatical and devoted supporters, mainly from the Lamtuna tribe of the Sanhaja Berbers, with the intention of converting all the Sanhaja by force.
War-Jabi's Son, Lebi, saw the political and economic advantages for Tekrur if Abdullah Ibn Yacin was given support in his mission against the Berbers. The Sanhaja Berbers, a Confederation of the Goddala, Lamtuna and Mesufa peoples, controlled the desert trade routes northwards from both Tekrur and her more powerful neighbour to the east, the Serahule empire of Ghana. By this time, Ghana, as we know was the most powerful state in the Western Sudan; it enjoyed the major share in the export of gold from the upper Senegal, and it had already forced Tekrur to become a semi- independent state of the Serahule empier.
Alliance with Ibn Yacin thus offered Lebi two important opportunities. In the first, place a joint effort by the Sanhaja Confederation and Tekrur to crush pagan Ghana's power might enable Tekrur to regain its independence and to win ascendancy in the gold trade. In the second place, even if Ibn Yacin failed the Sanhaja might be sufficiently weakened for Tekrur to extend its political authority over the Goddala to the north.
Thus Ibn Yacin, with his followers converted into a militant Islamic force, known as the almoravids, and aided by the forces of Tekrur waged a long campaign that led to the conquest of Kumbi, Ghana's capital in 1076. For a time, Tekrur enjoyed a period of independence but it could not replace Ghana as the imperial power of the Western Sudan. That status was of course filled by the rising star of Manding which annexed Tekrur as a vassal state.
Futa Toro and the Denianke
Soon after 1500 a group of Fulani cattle breeders ruled by a prince called Tenguella waged a revolt against the over lordship of Askia Mohammed of Songhai. These groups of fula were living at this time in the plains between Thermesand Nioro, lands that were once the homeland of ancient Ghana in the area between the Upper Niger and the Sahara. This area had passed from the control of Ghana to the control of Manding, and was now under the authority of the kings of Songhai.
Tenguella and his 'band of fula warriors revolted against Askia Mohammed of Songhai mainly because they wanted freedom of movement for their cattle. Perhaps they also resented the taxes which they were supposed to pay their Songhai overlords.
Tenguella led his warriors across the plains against Diara. one of the old successor states of Ghana whose king was now a vassal of the Songhai emperor, perhaps encouraged by the reigning king of manding, who was now a declining rival of Askia Muhammed of Songhai. Askia Muhammed's brother, Amar, led an army against the fulani raiders.
When the two armies met near Diara in 1512 Amar won and Tenguella was killed. This death of Tenguella only marked the beginning of further Fulani adventure.
Tenguella had a son named Koli by a wife who belonged the ruling family of Manding. Tenguella Koli led his fathers warriors South - Westward, crossed the upper Senegal river and arrived in Badiar, a regin which lie to the North-West of the Futa Jallon mountains. Here he was joined by many Mandinka warriors, who saw in him a bold leader as well as a relation of their own overlord, the king of Manding.
Seeking a new home, these Fulani and Mandinka allies marched roud the fringe of the Wollof states and attacked the ancient state of Tekrur. Tenguella Koli and his Fulani-Mandinka army overthrew the ruling chiefs and set up a new line of kings as well as changing the name Tekrur into Futa Toro. These new rulers in futa toro were called the Denianke and proving themselves to be strong and capable rulers, they remained in control of this country until A.D. 1776, more than two centuries.
Decline and Fall
The Fulani who conquered an settled in Futa Toro were a people ready to abandon their nomadic ways and build a state of their own. It would appear that this change was largely due to their long contact with Mandinka people who were themselves not nomads. The Fulani who had now adopted new ways of living together also accepted the political authority of chiefs and ruling families settled in one place.
There were, however, certain factors that militated against the further growth of Futa Toro to a higher imperial status in the Western Sudan. One of these factors was that Ghana's former supremacy in the area had permanently diverted the bulk of the gold trade along routes east of the Senegal and this went to benefit the successor state of Manding which arose in the area between the upper Senegal and Niger.
New immigrants such as the wollof also at various times carved out their own kingdoms from Futa Toro so that the area of its former empire became divided into a number of insignificant states.
The Fulani-Mandinka state builders in Futa Toro were people who held fast to their own traditional religions and resisted Islam. Because the new ruling class resisted Islam, the Muslim trader class of Futa Toro began to quit the trading towns which had long existed there just like the Muslims traders did in old Ghana when the non-Muslim rulers of old Tekrur had attacked and taken Kumbi, Ghana's ancient capital. There followed from this clash of religions and movement of traders, a real decline in the commerical importance of Futa Toro, a decline that eventually led to its disappearance from the stage of history.
The Wollof Empire
The Wollof Empire emerged soon after A.D. 300 in the Senegambia valley between the rivers Gambia and Senegal and covered most of modern Senegal. To the north it was bounded by the river Senegal across which were to be found the moors of present day Mauritania.
To the North East it was bounded by the semi desert ferlo, beyond which lay Futa Toro. To the East it was bounded by states which came under the rule of Manding. To the South it was bounded by the river Gambia. By the end of the fifteenth century, the Wollof states of Jolof, Kayor, Baol, and Walo had become united in a federation with Jolof as the metroplitan power. Sine and Saloum were later brought within the union.
As the story of Ndyadyane Ndyaye reveals, here again was a case where an important descent-line chief who had religious duties, as the leader of ceremonies by which one people linked themselves with their founding ancestors' in the world of spirits, was given political duties as well. Exercising these religious and political duties together, the king became powerful.
Before they became involved in trading with Portuguese merchants on the coast, the Wollof people had enjoyed the fruits of long established trading and cultural ties with the western Sudanese empires and had also benefited from trading with Futa Toro and the Berbers from North Africa. Through their own resourcefulness and these early trading links, the Wollof states grew wealthy and powerful.