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El Hasan ben Muhammed el-Wazzan-ez-Zayyati was born a Muslim Spaniard in 1485, but was expelled along with his parents and thousands of other Muslims by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. He settled in Morocco, and traveled broadly through North Africa. He was captured by Christian pirates and ended up as a slave to Pope Leo X, who converted him to Christianity and freed him. He commissioned him to write a detailed survey of Africa, and his work became a very important source of knowledge for several centuries. He visited the Ghanaian city of Timbuktu, a thriving Islamic city famous for its learning, and wrote these observations. Before his death he reconverted to Islam.
The large province of Borno bordering westward upon the province of Guangana, and from thence extending eastward five hundred miles, is distant from the fountain of Niger almost one hundred and fifty miles, the south part thereof adjoining unto the desert of Set, and the north part unto that desert which lieth towards Barca. The situation of this kingdom is very uneven, some part thereof being mountainous, and the residue plain. Upon the plains are sundry villages inhabited by rich merchants, and abounding with corn. The king of this region and all his followers dwell in a certain large village. The mountains inhabited by herdsmen and shepherds do bring forth millet and other grain altogether unknown to us. The inhabitants in summer go all naked save their private members which they cover with a piece of leather: but all winter they are clad in skins, and have beds of skins also. They embrace no religion at all, being neither Christians, Mahumetans, nor Jews, nor of any other profession, but living after a brutish manner, and having wives and children in common: and (as I understand among them) they have no proper names at all, but every one is nicknamed according to his length, his fatness, or some other quality. They have a most puissant prince, being lineally descended from the Libyan people called Bardoa. Horsemen he hath in a continual readiness to the number of three thousand, and a huge number of footmen; for all his subjects are so serviceable and obedient unto him, that whensoever he commandeth them, they will arm themselves and follow him whither he pleaseth to conduct them. They pay unto him none other tribute but the tithes of all their corn; neither hath this king any revenues to
maintain his estate, but only such spoils as he getteth from his next enemies by often invasions and assaults. He is at perpetual enmity with a certain people inhabiting beyond the desert of Sau; who in times past marching with a huge army of footmen over the said desert, wasted a great part of the kingdom of Borno. Whereupon the king of Borno sent for the merchants of Barbary, and willed them to bring him great store of horses; for in this country they use to exchange horses for slaves, and to give fifteen, and sometimes twenty slaves for one horse.
Source: Leo Africanus, The History and Description of Africa (New York :Burt Franklin [n.d.]), 833.