Journal of Negro Education

The Search for Timbuctoo Author(s): John Henrik Clarke Source: The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 33, No. 2 (Spring, 1964), pp. 125-130 Published by: Journal of Negro Education Stable URL: . Accessed: 10/04/2011 21:29
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The Search Timbuctoo for

Associate Editor, Freedomways, York,N.Y. New Abderrahman Es- amount help and respect The African writer, of givento all Sa'di, in his great Tarikhes-Sudan schools work, and men of learning." (Historyof the Sudan), says that Timto contributing Perhapsthe one reason buctoowas foundedat the end of the the renownof Timbuctoo been the has fifth afterthe Hegira (Muslim odd soundof its nameto European century ears. calendar) which corresponds with the The writer, Es-Sa'di, tells us that the eleventhcentury our era. It began city of a was namedafter slavewomanwho as a camp of the Tuaregs,the strange was sometimes in charge the days. in left veiledtribe theSouthern of Sahara,who when it was a Tuareg camp and that incidentally still the main trouble- the name meant"Old Woman." Other are makers the area aroundpresent in day translations the wordinclude"She-ofof Timbuctoo. Es-Sa'dicalledit "an exqui- the Big-Navel." is Another explanation site city, pure, delicious,blessed with thatthe namemeantthe "Well of Bucluxuryand full of life." Furthermore, too." he boaststhat Timbuctoo was noble in and conjectures These suppositions thatitspeoplehad "never been soiledby in circulated Europeand coneventually theworship idols." of of to tributed the advertisement this and legend shrouded city "Timbuctoo," goeson to say,"grad- tantalizing he ually developed into a tradecenter; were told had houses its which Europeans greatest daysdid not start untilthe end withroofsof gold and to whichforso of thefifteenth whenit became long no outside travelers couldpenetrate. century, themeeting place fortraders from Egypt, Two hundred miles down the Niger the Libyan Desert,Fezzan, Ghadames, fromTimbuctoothe competing city of the Oases of Tuat, Syelmassa, and Gao stood. It was foundedabout the Fez the Gold Lands." and was the capitalof century seventh In another workon thehistory the of Western Sudan, Tarikhel Fettash (History theSeeker)by Muhammed of Kati, it is said that"Timbuctoo, its zenith, at had no equal among the cities of the Balad es Sudan (countries theblacks). of The peopleof Timbuctoo boast of "the of solidarity its institutions, political its liberty, purity its morals, the of public security, compassiontowardthe poor, to clemency foreigners, courtesy stuto dents and men of science, and the of the largeblackempire Songhai. Like position it Timbuctoo, was in a favorable trade,in the days for the trans-Saharan of the regular caravans from North Africa. Like Timbuctoo,the greatest and days of Gao came in the fifteenth sixteenth centuries.

on willingness Thereis now a growing number of the part of an increasing are to scholars admitthat the Africans past. historical people with a respectable A few years ago, Dr. Ethel Alpenfels,




New YorkUniversity told anthropologist, imposingbuildingsin Timbuctooand a highschoolconference humanrela- other on partsof his realm. tions:'There was a NegroUniversity at of world, the late mein which exchanged To the outside Timbuctoo, Africa, the Manca Mussa dievalperiod, Emperor professors Moorish with universities hunwas morethan an individual. He -was dredsof years to ago. It is believed have the Africa. He conquered SonghaiEmflourished earlyas 600 A.D." as of pire and rebuilt the University SanDr. Alpenfelswas referring the kore. He figured, name, on every to by University Sankore, Timbuctoo.In map. In his lifetime becamein perof at he the years whenTimbuctoo the great son the symbolof the mystery was and of intellectual nucleusof the SonghaiEm- thefabulous Afriwealth theunknown of pire, Africanscholarswere enjoying can continent. was themost a colorful He renaissance was known that and respected of the black kings of the fourteenth throughout mostof Africaand in parts century.He stillheld thisposition nearof Europe. At thisperiod African in his his- ly two centuries after death. torythe University Sankorewas the of After death of Manca Mussa, the the educational capital of the WesternSuEmpireof Mali declinedin importance. dan. In his book,Timbuctoo Mysthe terious, Felix DuBois givesus thefollow- Its place was taken by Songhai,whose greatest kingwas Askia the Great(Moing picture: hammed Toure). Askia came to power The scholars Timbuctoo of yielded in 1493, one year afterColumbusdisin nothingto the saints and their the in sojourns the foreign universities coveredAmerica. He consolidated of Fez, Tunis and Cairo. They astound- territory conquered the previous by ruler ed the mostlearnedmen of Islamby SonniAli andbuiltSonghai intothemost theirerudition. That theseNegroes powerful state in the WesternSudan. were on a level with the Arabian it thanall savants proved thefactthatthey His realm, is said, was larger is by Europe. were installed professors Morocas in co and Egypt. In contrast this, to we The Germanwriter, HenryBarth, in findthat the Arabswere not always work, Travelsand Discoveries equal to the requirements Sankore. his famous of in Northand Central calls Askia Africa, The famous Emperor Mali, Manca the Great"one of themostbrilliant of and Mussa,stopped Timbuctoo his pil- enlightened at on administrators all times." of grimage Mecca in 1324. He wentin He to reorganized army Songhai, the of imregalsplendor with an entourage 60,- proved system banking of the of and credit, 000 persons, including12,000 servants. and madethecitystates of Gao, Walata, Five hundred slaves,each of whomcar- Timbuctooand Jenne into intellectual Tied a staff pure gold weighing of six centers. Timbuctoo during reign, his was pounds, marched front theEmperor. a cityof more in of than100,000people, filled of Eighty camelsbore2400 poundsof gold to thetop,saysa chronicler thattime, withgoldand dazzling women. which this African monarch distributed as almsand gifts. Mussa returned from Askiaencouraged scholarship literaand Mecca with an architect who designed ture. Students from overtheMoslem all



worldcame to Timbuctoo study to until 1591. The prosperous gram- Timbuctoo mar,law and surgery theUniversity cityof Timbuctoo plundered the at was of by scholars came from Sankore; A NorthAfri- armyof freebooters. stateof anarchy ca and Europe to conferwith learned prevailed. The University Sankore of historians writers thisblack em- whichhad stood for over fivehundred of and pire. A Sudanese literature exiland developed yearswas destroyed thefaculty Sudanese and many bookswerewritten.Leo Afri- ed to Morocco. The greatest canus,who wrote one of thebestknown scholarof that day, Ahmed Baba, was works the Western on Sudan, says: "In amongthoseexiled. Baba was a scholar Timbuctoothere are numerous He judges, of greatdepthand inspiration. was doctorsand clerics,all receiving bookson of good the author morethanforty salariesfromthe king. He pays great such diverse astronothemes theology, as to respect men of learning. There is a my, ethnography and biography. His big demand booksin manuscript, for im- richlibrary 1600 bookswas lostdurof ported fromBarbary(North Africa). inghisexpatriation Timbuctoo. from More profit made from book trade is the the most terrible Timbuctooprovides thanfrom line of business." any other of example of the struggles the West Askia has been hailed as one of the African statesand townsas theystrove wisest monarchs the Middle Ages. to preserve of what was once theirGolden Alexander in Chamberlain, his book,The Age. The Arabs,Berbers and Tuaregs Contribution the Negro to Human fromthe north of themno mercy. showed Civilization, says of him: "In personal Timbuctoo previously sacked been had by in character, administrative in ability, de- the Tuaregs as earlyas 1433 and they votionto the welfare his subjects, of in had occupiedit for thirty years. Beopen-mindedness towardsforeigninflu- tween1591 and 1593, the Tuaregshad ences,and in wisdom theadoption in of alreadytakenadvantage the situation of enlightened ideas and institutions from to plunderTimbuctoo once more. Beabroad, King Askia was certainly the tween1723 and 1726 the Tuaregsonce equal of the averageEuropean monarch more occupied and looted Timbuctoo. of the time and superiorto many of Thus Timbuctoo, once the queen cityof them." theWestern Sudan,withmorethantwo hundredthousand inhabitants and the After deathof AskiatheGreat, the in centerof a powerful state,degenerated 1538, the SonghaiEmpire beganto lose intoa shadowof its former stature. its strength its control and overits vast territory.When the Songhai Empire At thebeginning thenineteenth of cencollapsed after capture Timbuctoo tury, the of Europeans who had been hearing and Gao by the Moroccans 1591, the exaggerated in stories about Timbuctoo for wholeof theWestern Sudan was devast- nearly thousand a years, began to search atedby theinvading troops. The Sultan forthephantom on the Nigerriver. city of Mrorocco, El-Mansur, senta large This had been the mostfabled, most had the armywith Europeanfireacrossthe Sa- exotic city in the world. Tales about hara to attack the once powerful empire its wealth, remoteness thebeauty its and of Songhai. The armydid not reach of itswomen whetted greedy the curiosity


THE JOURNAL OF NEGRO EDUCATION Caillie,gave Europethe first witness eye accountof Timbuctoo.

then,preFinallythe searchforTimbuctoo was and act like a Mohammedan; to tending be an Arab returning from taken out of the hands of mere advencaptivity Egyptto his nativeMecca, in and summer turers soldiers. The Paris for depending a Geographical Societyoffered prize of he set out forTimbuctoo, on with support thegoodshe had bought 10,000 francsto the first Europeanto of reachTimbuctoo return and witha fact- his life'ssavings 2,000 francs. ual report itslocation itsmysteries. To conceal European his of Rene identity and that he was of Egyptian told everyone Duringthisperiod, explorers two wrote parentage, had been takenprisoner, but their names history.After in many hard- sent to Franceduring the occupation of bothof themarrived ships safely Tim- Egyptby Napoleon's at army. Further, he buctoo. One was an Englishman, Major stated to thathe had been brought SeneAlexander GordonLaing, the otherwas gal as a slave and had sinceobtained his French. Only the Frenchman lived to freedom. tell the story. This Frenchman, Rene As he moved intotheinterior Africa of

reof The story Rene Caillieis briefly lated as follows:Rene Caillie was born cn September 19, 1799, in Mauza, in the Poitoudistrict France. His father of no was a shiftless bakerwho took interest in his son's education verylittleinand terest therestof his family. He had in time otherthanthebrief littleeducation school. He behe spent in a charity came an avid readerof booksaboutthe and Timbuctoo" became part livesof greatexplorers was especial"Mysterious ly excitedby Daniel DeFoe's storyof of thelanguage European of adventurers. he The citybecamea splendidbut elusive RobinsonCrusoe. Already was obto sessedwiththeidea of penetrating the prize. It was said thatwhosoever capheartof Africa and, although had no he tures Timbuctoo therestof Africa has at the his feet. Near theend of theeighteenthmeansofhis own,and neither French nor the English governments could be the became century finding Timbuctoo of induced to give him any assistance, he the goal of European exploration. A clung tenaciously his purpose to and his of to flood adventurers wanted be thefirst of European look to to reachthe fabulouscity. RobertAd- dream beingthefirst upon thephantom of Timbuctoo. city Americansailor, mans, a shipwrecked claimed he was taken captiveby the In May 1825, he set out from Tripoli Arabsin 1810 and spentsix months as and presently headedfor joineda caravan a slave in Timbuctoo. His storywas Timbuctoo. had spentmonths He among vague and the detailssupposedly sup- the Moorsundermosttrying conditions. it porting leftmuchto be desired. was His intention to learn how to live

the of Europeans and stimulated search. in A Christianized Moor,Leo Africanus, his book, Historyand Description of the reintroduced subjectof TimAfrica, in buctoo Europe. He visited West Africa in 1515,whilehis uncle was Ambassadorto the Court of Askia the Great. the In his bookhe richly describes City of Timbuctoo and the SonghaiEmpire, he with whoseking, said,was so glutted wealththathe ownedgoldplatesweighing 1300 pounds.



made good prog- Frenchconsul: "My name is Rene Cailhe and his companions Timbuctoo." ressuntil the rainyseason started. He lie. I have just comefrom and was nursed becameill with scurvy readiSociety Geographical The French back to health an old African by woman, 10,000 francs gave him the promised ly the mother one of his companions. of Europeanto reachTimbucas the first He put downthefollowing of description He aliveto tellthestory. too and return the event: "Alone in the interior a of the also awarded Crossof theLegion was stretched the damp on wild country, of Honor. His book abouthis journey, groundwith no pillow but the leather CentralAfricato TimTravelsthrough bag thatcontained luggage, my withno buctoo;and acrossThe GreatDesert to medicineand no attendant but Baba's in Morocco,Performed the years 1824old mother." is 1828, in twovolumes, stillone of the By January9, 1828, he was well greatest of stories traveland adventure enough to continuehis journey. By ever recorded. March23rd,he had reachedthe cityof of For the remainder the nineteenth Djenne and was now close to Timbucand was discovered Timbuctoo century, too. When he, at last,reached city the of by rediscovered a new generation adhe madethefollowing in entry his journventurers.Early in 1894, the French al: "At length, arrived we at safely TimTimbuctoo and becamemasters occupied buctoo, just as the sun was touching the by of thisarea of Africa theend of the horizon. I now saw thiscapitalof the is century. Timbuctoo now a part of Sudan, to reachwhichhad so longbeen the Mali Republicand the cityis being the object of my wishes. On entering rebuilt. New or old, it is stilla legendthismysterious whichis an objectof city, shrouded city. Who can tell,it mayonce curiosity and' researchto the civilized attendrawing becomethe magnet again nationsof Europe,I experienced inan tionto Africa. describable satisfaction. neverfeltbeI forea similar emotion and my transport References was extreme.I was obligated, however, to restrain feelings to God alone my A. and Georgina Gollack.Sons of Africa. did I confide joy." my London, 1928. Pp. 20-30. FelixDuBois. Timbuctoo The MysteriAnd thus,Rene Caillie reached Timous. New York,1896. buctoo became and one of thegreatest exE. W. Bovill. The GoldenTradeof the of plorers all times. He stayed Timin Moors.London,1958. Chapters15, 16, buctoofortwoweeksavidlytaking notes 17. of thecity's architecture thecustoms and to J. D. Fage. An Introduction the of the people. London, 1955. History West Africa. of On September 1828, fivehundred J. D. De Graft-Johnson. 7, African Glory. and six daysafter start his journey, London,1954. Pp. 92-120. the of covering roughly 3,150 milesof Africa, WillisN. Huggins. Introduction Afto morethan the distance from New York rican Civilization.New York,1937, P. to San Francisco, Rene Caillie arrived 123. in Tangierand announced a shocked J. G. Johnson. Account theEmto An of



and theDistrict Suse, of W. F. Conton.West Africain Hispireof Morocca VolumeI. London,1961. With Accountof Timbuctoo.London, tory, The Lost Citiesof AfBasil Davidson. 1886. 1959. R. J. Wingfield. The Storyof Old rica.Boston, W. E. B. Du Bois. The World and Ghana, Melle and Songhai. London, 1957. New York,1946. Africa.

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