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Futa Toro (aka Fuuta Tooro / Tekrur)

The West African Kingdom of Futa Toro (aka Fuuta Tooro - formerly Tekrur) is the region on the Senegal River in what is now northern Senegal and southern Mauritania. When Arabic historians first mentioned the Western Sudan in the 10th and 11th centuries A.D. they also wrote about 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 Futa Toro.

The founding dynasty of Takrur, the Jaa-Ogo, was of iron-producer extraction. The exclusive control of the craft, and its concomitant esoteric knowledge, was the core reason for their accession to kingship. In West Africa, metal producers ranged all along the spectrum from a despised caste-like group at one end to a tight association with rulership at the other. In all the Sahelian countries, from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the east, metalworkers belonged to endogamous caste-like groups. They were feared and despised and, at the same time, performed a broad range of services as healers, negotiators, speakers, circumcisers, and grave-digger/undertakers.

The radical change in the social status of metalworkers took shape in the first half of the second millennium AD in West Africa. The exclusive control of the craft, and its concomitant esoteric knowledge, was the core reason for their accession to kingship. Takrur was invaded and conquered by a Soninke army from the neighboring kingdom in Ghana in the eleventh century AD. The ruling Jaa-Ogo dynasty was removed from power. The relative and paradoxical marginalization of iron-workers was a by-product of the Islamization process.

Though the people of Ghanah always kept in view the original application of the name Tekrur, even after the territory where it grew into importance became part of the empire of Mali, yet beyond the circle of exact local knowledge, such propriety of language was never thought of, and at a distance the name Tekrur was employed in a very comprehensive and indefinite manner. According to Ibn Said (Hamaker, Specimen Cat. p. 209), Tekrur, which thus appears to have been east (rather south-east) of Kaukau (Kaghd), was also the western boundary of the Zagha'i (of Zaghawah), or the empire of Kanem. Not. et Extr. tom. xn. p. 637-8, note. 64 See ante, Note 69. Mollien (Voyage dans l'lnterieur de l'Afrique, i. p. 176) says, that in the Fellatah language, the word Toucolor signifies a Mohammedan priest. But he elsewhere (pp. 207,215) seems to use that name as the designation not of a class but of a community. Toucolor, whence the Tucorones of De Barros, is an obvious corruption of Tokrur.

The history of Tekrur may be thus briefly recapitulated. The Zenagah early established themselves on the Great River, above Lake Debu, where the continued tract of desert conducted them to its banks, and there founded the city of Zaghah, from which they afterwards took their name. They embraced Mohammedism, nearly half a century before the Blacks in their neighbourhood, and thereby obtained a reputation of sanctity which was nowise diminished by their activity as slave hunters. The general conversion of Western Negroland compelling them to go to a distance for their prey, they proceeded eastwards to Marra or Western Houssa, where the hilly region has been always, in an eminent degree, the country of slaves. They thus broke the path in which they were afterwards followed by the people of Mali, and more recently still by the Fellatah.

Ibn Batutah was an enterprising, experienced, well-informed traveller, whose ambition it was, apparently, to explore all the known parts of the earth. In 1352, Ibn Battuta joined a desert caravan headed for Mali on his last great adventure. Ibn Batutah, in describing the course of the Great River below Karsekho, makes no mention of Tekrur, the first converted of the communities in that quarter. That designation, though widely and vaguely extended in process of time, was certainly at first applied to a spot between Silla and Singhanah, and not far from the former of these places.

The ancestors of the Tukulor founded Tekrur probably as early as the 2,000 years ago. The significance of Tekrur is illustrated by the fact that early Arabic scholars of the Western Sudan described the whole area as "The Land of Tekrur". The high point of Futa Toro's territorial growth might have been under the Dya'ogo dynasty, which came to rule around 850 AD. They royal house was bought down by the Mandinka's Manna dynasty around 980 AD.

Not much is known about the Manna's rulers with the exception of the Jihadist King Warjani [War-Jabi] who ruled in the 1030s and died in 1040. Warjani, the chief of Tekrur who first adopted the Mohammedan faith, and induced his subjects to follow his example, died in 432 AH (AD 1040-1); so that the conversion of his principality preceded, by thirty-five years at least, that of Ghanah and Western Africa in general. Such a priority explains at once the religious eminence implied in the title Tekrur (whatever may have been its original signification), and which caused it to be usurped till its proper application was at length forgotten. He was one of the first rulers to convert to Islam in the Western Sahara. He also forced his subjects to convert as well as introducing Sharia Law within the empire in the 11th century.

A Muslim Jihadist named Abdullah Ibn Yasin, who was fleeing from persecution by the Sanhaja Berbers, sought sanctuary in the Senegal Valley. From here his teachings emphasised the need for a Jihad against the areas Kafirs and over time he build up a loyal and dedicated number of followers particularly from the Lamtuna branch of the Sanhaja.

Leb, son of War Jabi, envisioned that there could be economic and political benefits for Tekrur if Abdullah Ibn Yasin was given military backing against the Berbers, Sanhaja, Mesufa and Goddala. These groups controlled the commercial trade routes which ran north as well as the route from the Ghana Empire. Ghana had also forced Tekrur to become a partially-independent state within their dominion. An alliance with with Yasin offered the kingdom two advantages. The first was to win them their full independence as well as a chance to take a share of the trade in gold. The second benefit would be that if Yasin failed then chance lay whereby Tekrur could expand its power to Goddala which lay to the north. Ibn Yasin, with his followers converted into a militant Islamic movement called the Almoravids. Together with Tekrur they waged a holy war that led to the eventual conquering of Kumbi (Ghana's capital) in 1076.

The kingdom of Tekrur being extinguished in the west by the empire of Mali, rose more conspicuously in the east: though the people retained their old habitations, the political denomination completely shifted its place, and Tekrur stood between Mali and Bornu. In the meantime the religious title Tekruri being widely usurped, the original and proper application of the name fell into neglect and oblivion.

Shortly after 1500 a group of Fulani cattle herders ruled by a prince called Tenguella waged a revolt against the rule of Askia Mohammed of Songhai mainly because they wanted their cattle to move freely & maybe due to the taxes levied on them. These groups of Fula were living in the plains between Thermes and Nioro between the Sahara and Upper Niger. Tenguella led his soldiers 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.

Askia's brother, Amar, led an army against the Fulani (Fulbe) invaders. When the two armies met near Diara in 1512 Amar's won the day and Tenguella was killed. Tenguella's son, Koli, took over and led his army south west, over the Senegal River and arrived at Badiar, a region which was situated to the north-west of the Futa Jallon Mountains. Here he was joined by many Mandinka fighters.

Looking for a new home to settle, these Fulani and Mandinka marched round the fringe of the Wollof states and attacked Tekrur. The ruling chiefs were overthrown and a new royal lineage was established. The name Tekrur was changed to Futa Toro. These new rulers were known as the Denianke. They remained in control until 1776.

During the 19th century the Almamate survived in its basic institutions, but it never recovered the strength and zeal of the earlier period. It was officially governed by the Almamy of Futa Toro, picked from a group of "qualified" lineages who possessed the necessary credentials of education, but effective control lay with regional chiefs of the central provinces who possessed large land estates, constituents and slaves. Most of these chiefs served in the capacity of "electors" (jaggorde, sg. jaggorgal) of the Almamy; their electoral council contained a fixed core and fluctuating periphery of members.

Two families who were "eligible" for the post of Almamy, the Lih of Jaaba in Hebbiyaabe province and the Wan of Mbummba in Laaw province, also succeeded in maintaining considerable power during the 19th century. The Wan in particular used their growing wealth in land and slaves to establish a power base in Laaw, compete for the Almamy-ship, and at times threaten to turn the national post into their own fiefdom. The struggle of various coalitions of "electors" and "eligibles" for power constitutes the third part of the anthology.

The Fulani who conquered and settled in Futa Toro were people ready to abandon their nomadic way of life and create their own state. This may have been caused by their extended contact with the more settled Mandinka.

A number of mitigating factors prevented Futa Toro from expanding its territory. The first is that Ghana's former supremacy in the area had diverted the majority of the gold trade along routes east of Senegal and this went to benefit the successor state of Manding which emerged in the area between Niger and northern Senegal. The second reason is that new Wollof arrivals to Futa Toro began carving out their own mini-kingdoms thus reducing the kingdom to smaller, weaker states.

The Fula and Mandinka founders of Futa Toro had steadfastly held onto their animist beliefs which was at odds with the Muslim commercial class who began to leave the towns thus depriving the state of important tax revenue and reduced its commercial significance.

In the mid 19th century Futa was endangered much more seriously by two external forces. The French began to transform the relations of mutual inter-dependence into relations of colonial domination, particularly under the leadership of Governor Louis Faidherbe (1854-61, 1863-5). The second threat came from a native son, Omar Taal. Omar came from Toro province, whose grievances against the domination of the central region he expressed during his entire career. He left home early in the century, made the pilgrimage to Mecca, and returned with considerable prestige, ambition and following.

In the 1850s he launched a holy war against the predominantly non-Muslim Mandinka and Bambara to the east. To achieve his goals he recruited heavily in Senegambia, especially in his native land. The recruitment process, in which Umar evoked the founders of the Islamic regime, reached its culmination in a massive drive in 1858-9. It had the effect of undermining the charter and position of the Almamy even more. The French and Umarian intrusions constitute the fourth portion of the anthology.

The authority of the regional chiefs, and particularly that of the electors, was compromised much less than that of the Almamy. One of these leaders, Abdul Bocar Kan, emerged as the dominant force in the middle valley between 1860 and 1890. He was able to fend off the challenges of Islamic reformers, who now evoked the example of Umar Taal as well as Abdul Kaader. He effectively challenged the authority of the Klan lineage, who in turn came increasingly to rely upon French support.

By the late 1880s it was obvious that the French would conquer all of the land of Futa as part of their subordination of Senegal and conquest of the Western and Central Sudan. The middle and upper valley became essential staging areas for the expansion into the regions today known as Mali, Niger and Upper Volta. Abdul Bocar resisted the conquest, as long and effectively as possible, but succumbed in 1891, the year which effectively marks the end of Futa independence.

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