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Toucouleur Empire

The lands watered by the Upper Niger as far as the Benue confluence comprise a large number of tribes and nations with little ethnical coherence, but constituting three main political groups. Like most of the empires developed since the Mohammedan invasion, the southern state was of religious origin. It dated only from about the year 1875, when mention first occured of the new prophet Samburu, or Samory, who was then reported to be agitating the Wassulu and other Upper Niger lands, destroying the towns of the unbelievers, and enrolling the Faithful for the Holy War. The French had no direct relations with him until 1881, when they sent him a native envoy, who ran great risk of his life in undertaking this mission. Soon after their respective forces came into collision, with the result that Samory acknowledged the French protectorate on the left bank of the Niger below Tankisso or Bafing [the term "left bank" refers to the left bank in the direction of flow], while consolidating his own power in the upper regions and eastwards beyond Wassulu.

Since the foundation of this Mussulman kingdom a veritable social revolution was said to have been accomplished by the new Mandingan sultan, who had generally suppressed the slave trade, enlisting the captives as soldiers, arming them with modern rifles, and accustoming them to European discipline. These tactics will probably lead to fresh conquests, especially in the direction of SierraLeone, by the absorption of the Kuranko and Timni territories.

On the other hand, the Toucouleur [French for "all color"] empire below the French protectorate on the left bank of the Niger had entered on a state of decadence. It was founded in 1850 by the pilgrim Omar, who after overrunning the Jallonke country, received a first serious check at the French station of Medina in 1857. But although defeated on the Senegal, Omar was still victorious on the Niger, reducing Kaarta and Bele-dugu, and advancing through Segu and Massina to Timbuktu. After his death family dissensions, followed by the revolt of the oppressed Bambaras and Mandingans, brought about the dismemberment of the state, which was broken into detached fragments by the advance of the French to the Niger. The instability of the states in this region is well expressed by the Bambara proverb: "No king can cross the Joliba twice in his lifetime."

The real development of French interests only commenced with the able administration of Colonel Faidherbe (1854-1865). He extended the colony of the Senegal from the coast towards the interior and pointed to the upper Niger as the next object of French ambition.

In the latter half of the eighteenth century, Demba Sega, the Kasso chief of that time, was able to levy tribute on all who came that way; and Demba Sega is accordingly reckoned “the first Kasso” king. This was naturally the beginning of a more sedentary life than that previously lived by the Kasso, who as cattle owners had hitherto roamed the country. It also marks a period of serious opposition against their growing power, and conflicts henceforth were continuous. Finally, outnumbered by the Toucouleurs, a more recent commingling of Fulah and Negro, they appealed to the French at St. Louis. Their appeal fitted in most opportunely. It was the era of French expansion: after years of stagnation in the Senegal the energetic and progressive General (then Captain) Faidherbe ha become Governor, and under him French trade and French influence were in the ascendant.

So the French made their first advance into the interior of the Senegal; by July 23rd, 1857, the Toucouleurs under El Haj Omar were definitely beaten off and defeated, and for a time French power was predominant around Medina. El Haj Omar turned away from the Kasso, but after some minor successes elsewhere eventually surrendered in 1859. By a strange turn of fortune, owing to the fact that the River Sene al was made the boundary between the French sphere and that of El Haj Omar, a considerable number of Kasso people—all, in fact, who lived on the right bank of the river—found themselves under Toucouleur lordship and not French.

On the left bank Medina and fully half the people of Kasso remained to the French. Faidherbe retired about 1874. The Toucouleur power on the right bank, ever restless, became threatening; added to all this the colony of French Guinea, then known as Les Ri'viéres du Sud, was engrossing all the attention of the Administration. French progress in Senegal towards the Sudan was arrested and only saved by the loyalty of the Kasso at Medina.

In 1866 France possessed only the Atlantic coast from Cape Blanco to Sieira Leone (except Gambia and Portuguese Guinea) as well as the upper Senegal; the vast expansion of this territory had taken place since 1880. By the 1880s it was no longer possible to restore unity to an empire consisting of the three widely separated sections of Kaarta in the north-west, Segu in the east, and Jallonke dugu in the southwest. As Faidherbe had conquered the Marabout El Haj Omar, his military successors overthrew the Toucouleur empire of Ahmadou by a series of glorious victories, conquered the Almamy Samory, and from 1883 to 1894 pushed the French arms from Bammako, the first post on the upper Niger, to Timbuktu. Thus the colony of the French Sudan was added to those of Senegal and the Southern Rivers (Casamance, Pongo, Mellacoree, &c).

Through the forward movement of General Bonnier in 1893 to Timbuktu, a movement which brought General Jofl're into prominence in the following year, Medina was once more firmly occupied, and the French passed rapidly to Timbuktu and the Lake Chad region of the Central Sudan.

A Lieutenant Paulhiac, membre de la Socicte de Geographie de Paris, related in 1905 that the Toucouleur were rebellious and intractable. They were said to love war for its devastation, for rapine and loot; he was said to despise work, to be fond of palaver, perfumery, jewels, and good cheer. Because he was not so black as his fellows he considered himself their superior; he treated those under him with disdain, and reviled them as a race of captives. The Toucouleur woman was said to be tall and well formed, with regular features and delicate extremities. The Lieutenant regarded her as graceful and beautiful, which led to the conclusion that the Toucouleur was more Arab than negro.





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Page last modified: 03-05-2017 19:10:58 ZULU