West Africa and Mali 1351 - 1353
Through the West African Desert to Mali
Ramadan caravan at the edge of the desert
Photo werner daehler, Panoramio
Marrakush I travelled with the suite of our master [the Sultan] to
Fez, where I took leave of our master and set out for the Negrolands.
I reached the town of Sijilmasa, a very fine town, with quantities of
I stayed there with the learned Abu Muhammad al-Bushri, the man whose brother I met in the city of Qanjanfu in China. How strangely separated they - are !
At Sijilmasa I bought camels and a four months' supply of forage for them. Thereupon I set out on the 1st Muharram [February] of the year 1352 with a caravan including, amongst others, a number of the merchants of Sijilmasa.
Caravan in the the desert
Photo Michael S. Lewis, Panoramio
this point a takshif is hired. The takshif is a man of the
Massufa [Berber] tribe who is hired by the persons in the caravan.
That desert is haunted by demons; if the takshif is alone, they make sport of him and disorder his mind, so that he loses his way and perishes. For there is no visible road or track in these parts— nothing but sand blown hither and thither by the wind. You see hills of sand in one place, and afterwards you will see them moved to quite another place.
Our guide there was one who had made the journey frequently in both directions, and who was gifted with a quick intelligence.
I noticed, as a strange thing, that he was blind in one eye, and diseased in the other, yet he had the best knowledge of the road of any man. We hired the takshif on this journey for a hundred gold mithqals, he was a man of the Massufa.
Rihla 14, 1352
Salt panning in Taghasa
Photo muzungu03, Panoramio
is an abandoned town in the desert region of northern Mali. Founded
in the 10th century, it was once an important salt-mining centre,
visited by Ibn Battuta in 1352. Slaves quarried the salt in 200 lb.
blocks, which were then transported 500 miles by camel to Timbuktu
and exchanged for gold. Taghaza produced salt throughout the
fourteenth and fifteenth centuries under Berber supervision. It was
drawn into the Songhay Empire in the late 15th century.
After the town's destruction by Moroccan forces in 1591, Taoudenni took its place as the region's key salt producer. (Wikipedia)
twenty-five days we reached Taghaza, an unattractive village, with
the curious feature that its houses and mosques are built of blocks
of salt, roofed with camel skins. There are no trees, nothing but
sand. In the sand is a salt mine; they dig for the salt, and find it
in thick slabs, lying one on top of the other, as though they had
been tool-squared and laid under the surface of the earth. A camel
will carry two of these slabs.
No one lives at Taghaza except the slaves of the Massufa [Berber] tribe, who dig for the salt; they subsist on dates imported from Dar'a and Sijilmasa, camels' flesh, and millet imported from the Negrolands.
The negroes use salt as a medium of exchange, just as gold and silver is used [elsewhere]; they cut it up into pieces and pay with it. The business done at Taghaza, for all its meanness, amounts to an enormous figure in terms of hundredweights of gold-dust.
Photo Philippe Buffard, Panoramio
supplies are laid in at Taghaza for the crossing of the desert which
lies beyond it, which is a ten-nights' journey with no water on the
way except on rare occasions. We indeed had the good fortune to find
water in plenty, in pools left by the rain. One day we found a pool
of sweet water between two rocky prominences. We quenched our thirst
with it and then washed our clothes.
This desert swarms with lice, so that people wear string necklaces containing mercury, which kills them. At that time I used to go ahead of the caravan, and when we found a place suitable for pasturage we would graze our beasts.
We went on doing this until one of our party was lost in the desert; after that I neither went ahead nor lagged behind. We passed a caravan on the way and they told us that some of their party had become separated from them. We found one of them dead under a shrub, of the sort that grows in the sand, with his clothes on and a whip in his hand. The water was only about a mile away from him.
Shadows in the Sand
Photo Hanson Hosein, amistrel.tripod.com
came next to Tasarahia, a place of subterranean water-beds, where the
caravans halt. They stay there three days to rest, mend their
waterskins, fill them with water, and sew on them covers of
sack-cloth as a precaution against the wind.
From this point the takshif is despatched to go ahead to Iwalatan, carrying letters from them to their friends there, so that they may take lodgings for them. These persons then come out a distance of four nights' journey to meet the caravan, and bring water with them.
It often happens that the takshif perishes in this desert, with the result that the people of Iwalatan know nothing about the caravan, and all or most of those who are with it perish.
Houses in Qalata
Photo vincenzo francaviglia, Panoramio
the night of the seventh day [from Tasarahia] we saw with joy the
fires of the party who had come out to meet us. Thus we reached the
town of Iwalatan [Walata] after a journey from Sijilmasa of two
months to a day.
Iwalatan is the northernmost province of the negroes. When we arrived there, the merchants deposited their goods in an open square, where the blacks undertook to guard them.
The merchants presented themselves to then governor of Iwalatan. The merchants remained standing in front of him while he spoke to them through an interpreter - although they were close to him - to show his contempt for them. It was then that I regretted of having come to their country, because of their lack of manners and their contempt for the whites.
Later on the mushrif [inspector] of Iwalatan invited all those who had come with the caravan to partake of his hospitality. At first I refused to attend, but my companions urged me very strongly, so I went with the rest.
The repast was served—some pounded millet mixed with a little honey and milk, put in a half calabash shaped like a large bowl. The guests drank and retired. I said to them " Was it for this that the black invited us?" They answered "Yes; and it is in their opinion the highest form of hospitality."
This convinced me that there was no good to be hoped for from these people, and I made up my mind to travel [back to Morocco at once] with the pilgrim caravan from Iwalatan. Afterwards, however, I thought it bettert to go to see the capital of their king [at Malli].
Qualata, The Morals of the Massufa
My stay at Iwalatan lasted about fifty days; and I was shown honour and entertained by its inhabitants. It is an excessively hot place, and boasts a few small date-palms, in the shade of which they sow water-melons. Its water comes from underground waterbeds at that point, and there is plenty of mutton to be had. The garments of its inhabitants, most of if whom belong to the Massufa tribe, are of fine Egyptian fabrics.
...and their women.
Photos Mathilda's Anthropology Blog
women are of surpassing beauty, and are shown more respect than the
men. The slate of affairs amongst these people is indeed
Their men show no signs of jealousy whatever; no one claims descent from his father, but on the contrary from his mother's brother. A person's heirs are his sister's sons, not his own sons. This is a thing which I have seen nowhere in the world except among the Indians of Malabar. But those are heathens; these people are Muslims, punctilious in observing the hours of prayer, studying books of law, and memorizing the Koran. Yet their women show no bashfulness before men and do not veil themselves, though they are assiduous in attending the prayers.
Any man who wishes to marry one of them may do so, but they do not travel with their husbands, and even if one desired to do so her family would not allow her to go.
The women there have "friends" and "companions" amongst the men outside their own families, and the men in the same way have "companions" amongst the women of other families. A man may go into his house and find his wife entertaining her "companion" but he takes no objection to it.
One day at Iwalatan I went into the qadi's house, after asking his permission to enter, and found with him a young woman of remarkable beauty. When I saw her I was shocked and turned to go out, but she I laughed at me, instead of being overcome by shame, and the qadi said to me "Why are you going out? She is my companion." I was amazed at their conduct, for he was a theologian and a pilgrim to boot.
The Niger near Karsakhu
Photo Galen Frysinger
leaving Zaghari we came to the great river, that is the Nile on which
stands the town of Karsakhu.
Battuta believes the Niger is the upper end of the Nile. He gives a long geographical description, recounting all the sultans along its course. The deception is made complete, because the Niger flows towards the East in this part of Africa. It discharges in Southwestern Nigeria into the Gulf of Guinea.
I decided to make the journey to Malli, which is reached in
twenty-four days from Iwalatan, if the traveller pushes on rapidly, I
hired a guide from the Massufa (for there is no necessity to travel
in a company on account of the safety of that road), and set out with
three of my companions.
A traveller in this country carries no provisions, whether plain food or seasonings, and neither gold nor silver. He takes nothing but pieces of salt and glass ornaments, which the people call beads, and some aromatic goods. When he comes to a village the womenfolk of the blacks bring out millet, milk, chickens, pulped lotus fruit, rice, funi (a grain re-sembling mustard seed, from which kuskus and gruel are made), and pounded haricot beans.
Ten days after leaving Iwalatan we came to the village of Zaghari, a large village, inhabited by negro traders called wanjardta, along with whom live a community of whites of the Ibadi Sect [For a description of this Islamic sect see my marker for Nizwa in Oman]. It is from this village that millet is carried to Iwalatan.
I saw a crocodile in this part of the Nile, close to the bank; it looked just like a small boat. One day I went down to the river to satisfy a need, and lo, one of the blacks came and stood between me and the river. I was amazed at such lack of manners and decency on his part, and spoke of it to someone or other. He answered "His purpose in doing that was solely to protect you from the crocodile, by placing himself between you and it."
Malli -Bamako 1352/53
On the riverbank across from Bamako
arrived at Karsakhu on the river of Sansara, which is about ten miles
from Malli. It is their custom that no persons except those who have
obtained permission are allowed to enter the city. I had already
written to the white community [there] requesting them to hire a
house for me, so when I arrived at this river, I crossed by the ferry
without interference. Thus I reached the city of Malli, the capital
of the king of the blacks.
I met the qadi of Malli, 'Abd ar-Rahman, who came to see me; he is a negro, a pilgrim, and a man of fine character. I met also the interpreter Dugha, who is one of the principal men among the blacks.
All these persons sent me hospitality-gifts of food and treated me with the utmost generosity—may God reward them for their kindnesses!
Ten days after our arrival we ate a gruel made of a root resembling colocasia [Taro or Elephant Ear, a leaf vegetable - in its raw form it is toxic due to the presence of calcium oxalate, although the toxin is destroyed by cooking], which is preferred by them to all other dishes. We all fell ill—there were six of us—and one of our number died. I for my part went to the morning prayer and fainted there. I asked a certain Egyptian for a loosening remedy and he gave me a thing called baydar, made of vegetable roots, which he mixed with aniseed and sugar, and stirred in water. I drank it off and vomited what I had eaten, together with a large quantity of bile. God preserved me from death but I was ill for two months.
The date of my arrival at Malli was the 28th of June 1352 and of my departure from it the 12th of February 1353.
Rihla 14, 1352/53
At the court of Mansa Sulayman 1352/53
The Mansa of Mali
The sultan of Malli is Mansa Sulayman, mansa meaning [in Mande] sultan, and Sulayman being his proper name. He is a miserly king, not a man from whom one might hope for a rich present.[sic!] It happened that I spent these two months without seeing him, on account of my illness. Later on he held a banquet to which the commanders, doctors, qadi and preacher were invited, and I went along with them. Reading-desks were brought in, and the Koran was read through.
When the ceremony was over I went forward and saluted Mansa Sulayman. The qadi, the preacher, and Ibn al-Faqih told him who I was, and he answered them in their tongue. They said I to me " The sultan says to you ' Give thanks to God,' so I said "Praise be to God and thanks under all circumstances."
When I withdrew the [sultan's] hospitality gift was sent to me. It was taken first to the qadi's house, and the qadi sent it on with his men to Ibn al-Faqih's house. Ibn al-Faqih came hurrying out of his house bare-footed, and entered my room saying " Stand up; here comes the sultan's stuff and gift to you." So I stood up thinking [since he had called it " stuff"] that it consisted of robes of honour and money, and lo! it was three cakes of bread, and a piece of beef fried in native oil, and a calabash of sour curds. When I saw this I burst out laughing, and thought it a most amazing thing that they could be so foolish and make so much of such a paltry matter.
For two months after this I received nothing further from the sultan, and then followed the month of Ramadan. Meanwhile I used to go frequently to the palace where I would salute him and sit alongside the qadi and the preacher. I had a conversation with Dugha the interpreter, and he said "Speak in his presence, and I shall express on your behalf what is necessary."
I rose and stood before him and said to him: "I have travelled through the countries of the world and have met their kings. Here have I been four months in your country, yet you have neither shown me hospitality, nor given me anything. What am I to say of you before [other] rulers?" The sultan replied "I have not seen you, and have not been told about you." The qadi and Ibn al-Faqih rose and replied to him, saying "He has already saluted you, and you have sent him food." Thereupon he gave orders to set apart a house for my lodging and to pay me a daily sum for my expenses.
Later on, on the night of the 27th of Ramadan, he distributed a sum of money which they call the Zakdh [alms] to the qadi, the preachers, and the doctors. He gave me a portion along with them of thirty-three and a third mithqals, and on my departure from Malli he bestowed on me a gift of a hundred gold mithqals.
On certain days the sultan holds audiences in the palace yard, where there is a platform under a tree, with three steps; this they call the “pempi." It is carpeted with silk and has cushions placed on it. [Over it] is raised the umbrella, which is a sort of pavilion made of silk, surmounted by a bird in gold, about the size of a falcon. The sultan comes out of a door in a corner of the palace, carrying a bow in his hand and a quiver on his back. On his head he has a golden skull-cap, bound with a gold band which has narrow ends shaped like knives, more than a span in length. His usual dress is a velvety red tunic, made of the European fabrics.
On reaching the pempi he stops and looks round the assembly, then ascends it in the sedate manner of a preacher ascending a mosque-pulpit. As he takes his seat drums, trumpets, and bugles are sounded....
The interpreter Dugha comes with his four wives and his slave-girls, who are about a hundred in number.
They are wearing beautiful robes, and on their heads they have gold and silver fillets, with gold and silver balls attached. A chair is placed for Dugha to sit on. He plays on an instrument made of reeds, with some small calabashes at its lower end, and chants a poem in praise of the sultan, recalling his battles and deeds of valour. The women and girls sing along with him and play with bows. Accompanying them are about thirty youths, wearing red woollen tunics and white skull-caps; each of them has his drum slung from his shoulder and beats it. Afterwards come his boy pupils who play and turn wheels in the air, like the natives of Sind. They show a marvellous nimble-ness and agility in these exercises and play most cleverly with swords. Dugha also makes a fine play with the sword....
If anyone addresses the king and receives a reply from him, he uncovers his back and throws dust over his head and back, for all the world like a bather splashing himself with water. I used to wonder how it was they did not blind themselves.
Rihla 14, 1352/53
The Character of Malli's Inhabitants
Mali women in their compound
negroes of Malli are of all people the most submissive to their king
and the most abject in their behaviour before him. They dislike Mansa
Sulayman because of his avarice and swear by his name.
Among their reprehensible qualities are that the women servants, slave-girls, and young girls go about in front of every-one naked, without a stitch of clothing on them. Women even go into the sultan's presence naked and without coverings, and his daughters also go about naked.
Another reprehensible practice among many of them is that they eat carrion, dogs, and asses.
However, they also possess some admirable qualities. They are seldom unjust, and have a greater abhorrence of injustice than any other people. Their sultan shows no mercy to anyone who is guilty of the least act of it. There is complete security in their country. Neither traveller nor inhabitant in it has anything to fear from robbers or men of violence.
Another of their good qualities is their habit of wearing clean white garments on Fridays. Even if a man has nothing but an old worn shirt, he washes it and cleans it, and wears it to the Friday service. Yet another is their zeal for learning the Koran by heart.
Return from Mali
The startling hyppopotami
Photo mamadou, everythingspossible.wordpress.com
came to a wide channel which flows out of the Nile and can only be
crossed in boats. The place is infested with mosquitoes, and no one
can pass that way except by night.
We reached the channel three or four hours after nightfall on a moon-lit night. On reaching it I saw sixteen beasts with enormous bodies, and marvelled at them, taking them to be elephants, of which there are many in that country.
Afterwards I saw that they had gone into the river, so I said to Abu Bakr "What kind of animals are these?" He replied: "They are hippopotami which have come out to pasture ashore." They are bulkier than horses, have manes and tails, and their heads are like horses' heads, but their feet like elephants feet.
I saw these hippopotami again when we sailed down the Nile from Tumbukt to Gawgaw. They were swimming in the water, and lifting their heads and blowing. The men in the boat were afraid of them and kept close to the bank in case the hippo-potami should sink them.
They have a cunning method of catching these hippopotami. They use spears with a hole bored in them, through which strong cords are passed. The spear is thrown at one of the animals, and if it strikes its leg or neck it goes right through it. Then they pull on the rope until the beast is brought to the bank, kill it and eat its flesh. Along the bank there are quantities of hippopotamus bones.
Return from Mali: Segou
Sunset on the River Niger
Photo iursound, Panoramio
halted near this channel at a large village, which had as governor a
negro, a pilgrim, and man of fine character, named Farba Magha. He
was one of the negroes who made the pilgrimage in the company of
Sultan Mansa Musa [father of present Mansa].
Farba Magha told me that when Mansa Musa came to this channel, he had with him a qadi, a white man. This qadi attempted to make away with four thousand mithqals and the sultan, on learning of it, exiled him to the country of the heathen cannibals. He lived among them for four years, at the end of which the sultan sent him back to his own country. The reason why the heathens did not eat him was that he was white, for they say that the white is indigestible because he is not " ripe," whereas the black man is " ripe" in their opinion.
Sultan Mansa Sulayman was visited by a party of these negro cannibals, including one of their amirs. They have a custom of wearing in their ears large pendants, each pendant having an opening of half a span. They wrap themselves in silk mantles, and in their country there is a gold mine.
The sultan received them with honour, and gave them as his hospitality gift a servant, a negress. They killed and ate her, and having smeared their faces and hands with her blood came to the sultan to thank him.
Someone told me that they say that the choicest parts of women's' flesh are the palm of the hand and the breast.
This hearsay tale may have been connected with the mysterious Dogon people who live off Battuta's tracks to the east. The Dogan have mined iron and possibly gold since prehistoric times. The canibal tale may have been invented to scare people from going to that region.
Return from Mali: Segou, Djenne
The Great Mosque of Djenne
Rihla 14, 1353
The annual re-mudding of the Great Mosque of Mopti
The mosque is almost entirely built in banco (raw earth). The mosque's maintenance consists mainly of repairing the mud rendering. The sticks serve as scaffolding for this annual renewal of its outside.
The mysterious Dogon Villages
Dogon Village of Dourou
Photo coolgarey, Panoramio
Rihla 14, 1353
The Mosque of Korienze
Photo Sebastian Schutyser, Archnet.com
Rihla 14, 1353
East façade and rooftop minaret of Djingareyber Mosque the oldest mosque in Timbuktu.
stands four miles from the river. Most of its inhabitants are of the
Massufa tribe. In this town is a mosque built by the meritorious poet
Abu Ishaq as-Sahili of Gharnata [Granada].
Born in Granada, Andalusia (Muslim Spain), Abu Ishaq Ibrahim al-Sahili studied the arts and law in his native land. Al-Sahili gained a reputation as a man of letters and an eloquent poet in Andalusia.
In 1324 al-Sahili met the ruler of Mali, Mansa Musa, during his pilgrimage to Mecca. According to the chronicler, Mansa Musa was so delighted by the poetry and narrative talents of al-Sahili that he invited him to Mali. Al- Sahili settled in the growing intellectual and commercial center of Timbuktu, where he built an audience chamber for Mansa Musa.
So impressed was Musa that he engaged the Andalusian to construct his new residence and the Great Djingereyber Mosque in Timbuktu. While the residence has been lost to time, the Great Mosque still stands in Timbuktu. (Wikipedia)
An example for the accuracy of Battuta's information.
Sailing down the Niger
Sailing down the Nile [aka. the Niger!] in a barga. Notice the sail's rigging.
Photo Dottor Topy, Panoramio
From Tumbuktu I sailed down the Nile on a small boat, hollowed out of a single piece of wood. We used to go ashore every night at the villages and buy whatever we needed in the way of meat and butter in exchange for salt, spices, and glass beads.
Drying laundry on the banks of the Niger
Photo mamadou, everythingspossible.wordpress.com
Eventually I reached Gawgaw [Gao], which is a large city on the Nile [Niger], and one of the finest towns in the Negrolands. It is also one of their biggest and best-provisioned towns, with rice in plenty, milk, and fish, and there is a species of cucumber there called inani which has no equal. The buying and selling by its inhabitants is done with cowry-shells, the same as at Malli. I stayed there about a month, and then set out in the direction of Tagadda by land with a large caravan of merchants from Ghadamas.
Pulling water from a well
now entered the territory of the Bardama, who are another tribe of
Berbers. No caravan can travel [through their country] without a
guarantee of their protection, and for this purpose a woman's
guarantee is of more value than a man's.
The houses at Tagadda are built of red stone, and its water runs by a copper mines, so that both its colour and taste are affected. The inhabitants of Tagadda have no occupation except trade. They travel to Egypt every year, and import quantities of all the fine fabrics to be had there and of other Egyptian wares. They live in luxury and ease, and vie with one another in regard to the number of their slaves and serving-women.
Their women are the most perfect in beauty and the most shapely in figure of all women, of a pure white colour and very stout; nowhere in the world have I seen any who equal them in stoutness. They never sell their educated female slaves, or but rarely and at a high price. When I arrived at Tagadda I wished to buy an educated female slave, but could not find one. After a while the qadi sent me one who belonged to a friend of his, and I bought her for twenty-five mithqals. Later on her master regretted having sold her and wished to have the sale rescinded.
Dancing the takamba
Photos Galen Frysinger
wished to meet the sultan, who is a Berber called Izar, who was then
at a place a day's journey from the town. So I hired a guide, and set
out thither. He was informed of my coming and came to see me, riding
a horse without a saddle, as is their custom. In place of a saddle he
had a gorgeous saddle-cloth, and he was wearing a cloak, trousers,
and turban, all in blue. With him were his sister's sons, who are the
heirs to his kingdom.
He had me lodged in one of the tents of the Yanatibun, who are royal guards, and sent me a sheep roasted on a spit and a wooden bowl of cows' milk.
Near us was the tent of his mother and his sister; they came to visit us and saluted us, and his mother used to send us milk after the time of evening-prayer, which is their milking time. They drink it at that time and again in early morning, but of cereal foods they neither eat nor know.
I stayed with them six days, and every day received two roasted rams from the sultan, one in the morning and one in the evening. He also presented me with a she-camel and with ten mithqals of gold. Then I took leave of him and returned to Tagadda.
Tamarasset, Crossroads of Sahara Routes
left Tagadda in September 1353 wlth a large caravan which included
six hundred women slaves. We came to Kahir, where there are abundant
pasturages, and thence entered an uninhabited and waterless desert,
extending for three days march.
We journeyed next for fifteen days through a desert which, though uninhabited, contains water-points, and reached the place at which the Ghat road, leading to Egypt, and the Tawat road divide. Here there are subterranean water-beds which flow over iron; if a piece of white cloth is washed in this water it turns black.
Ten days after leaving this point we came to the country of Haggar, who are a tribe of Berbers; they wear face veils and are a rascally lot. We encountered one of their chiefs, who held up the caravan until they paid him an indemnity of pieces of cloth and other goods.
Our arrival in their country fell in the month of Ramadan, during which they make no raiding expeditions and do not molest caravans. Even their robbers, if they find goods on the road during Ramadan, do not touch them. This is the custom of all the Berbers along this route.
We continued to travel through the country of Haggar for a month; it has few plants, is very stony, and the road through it is bad.
The Moon at Sunrise near Ain Salah
Photo Nabil Benmoussa, Panoramio
came next to Buda, one of the principal villages of Tawat. The soil
there is all sand and saltmarsh; there are dates, but they are not
good, though the local inhabitants prefer them to the dates of
Sijilmasa. There are no crops there, nor butter, nor olive oil; all
these things have to be imported from the Maghrib.
The food of its inhabitants consists of dates and locusts, for there are quantities of locusts in their country; they store them just like dates and use them as food.
They go out to catch the locusts before sunrise, for at that hour they cannot fly on account of the cold.
Dar at-Tama on the return Winter 1353
Ruins of Dar-at-Tama, 1950 m high
Photo pera, Panoramio
I set out from Sijilmasa on 29th December 1353, at a time of intense cold, and snow fell very heavily on the way. I have in my life seen bad roads and quantities of snow, at Bukhara and Samarqand, in Khurasan, and the lands of the Turks, but never have I seen anything worse than the road of Umm Junayba. On the eve of the Festival we reached Dar at-Tama. I stayed there during the day of the feast and then went on.
Writing the Rihla
arrived at the royal city of Fa's [Fez], the capital of our master
the Commander of the Faithful (may God strengthen him), where I
kissed his beneficent hand and was privileged to behold his gracious
countenance. I settled down under the wing of his bounty after my
long journey. May God Most High recompense him for the abundant
favours and ample benefits which he has bestowed on me; may He
prolong his days and spare him to the Muslims for many years to
Here ends the travel-narrative entitled la Rihla, a Gift to those interested in the Curiosities of the Cities and Marvels of the Ways of the World. Its dictation was finished on the 9th of December 1355. Praise be to God, and peace to His creatures whom He hath chosen.