The Canarian: Or, Book of the Conquest and Conversion of the Canarians

“A reference to the map of Abul Hassan Ali Ben Omar (1230) shows us this Western Nile, under the name of Nil Gana, falling into the Atlantic in about the latitude of the Gambia.”

“The map of Ibn Said (1274) has it, under the name of Os Nili Ganah, a little more northward. That of Abulfeda (1331) with the same name, yet a little more northward.”

“The retention of the belief in this river as a branch of the Nile by the Arab geographers is shown by an Arabic map, preserved to us by M. Jomard in his Monuments de la Georgraphie, by a Moor named Mohammed Ebn Aly Ebn Ahmed al Charfy of Sfax, and bearing date 1009 of the Hegira, which corresponds with A.D. 1600.”

“That the river itself was Senegal is shewn by Azurara, the chronicler of the conquest of Guinea in the time of Prince Henry, who speaks of it as the Ryo do Nillo, which they call the Canega. Both in the Pizzigani map and in the Catalan map which records the voyage of Ferrer, this river, whose existence was thus learned from Arab sources, is called the River of Gold.”

“But while this notion of a river of gold, debouching on the west coast of Africa, was thus handed down geographically from ancient times, the mercantile cities of Italy would have the impression more immediately brought home to them by the gold brought across the desert from Guinea into the Mediterranean.”

“We find in the treatise Delle Decima of Balducci Pegolotti, who was a factor in the great Florentine house of the Bardi, and who wrote in the first half of the fourteenth century that the malaguette pepper, which was the product of the Guinea coast, was then among the articles imported into Nismes and Montpellier; and De Barros expressly states (Dec. I, fol. 33) that the malaguette imported into Italy before Prince Henry’s time was brought from Guinea by the Moors, who, crossing the vast empire of Mandingo and the deserts of Libya, reached the Mediterranean at a port named Mundi Barca, corrupted into Monte de Barca, and as the Italians were not acquainted with the locality whence it came, they called it “grains of Paradise.”

“It would be unreasonable to doubt that, with the malaguette from Guinea, gold was also transported by these merchants across the desert to their port in the Mediterranean, and though the Italians were ignorant of the country whence it came,…”

Source: Canarian Or Book of the Conquest and Conversion of the Canarians in the Year 1402 by Messire Jean De Bethencourt

Empires of Medieval West Africa: Ghana, Mali, and Songhay


“From ancient times to the middle of the 19th century, one of the biggest groups within Mande society was slaves. In a great medieval state like the Mali Empire, many slaves were captured during wars of expansion. Slaves were an extremely important part of the economy because their labor had great value. They also brought in wealth when they were sold across the trans-Saharan trade routes.”

“When soldiers returned from a successful raid or battle, roughly half the loot, including slaves, was taken by the ruler on behalf of the state. Many slaves were exported across the Sahara or traded in slaves. They would simply enter the service of their captors and continue to practice their occupations. In the case of a woman of high status, it was possible for her to become a wife of her captors.”

“If a captive who had previously been free was from a family that held the kind of special relationship, known as senankuya, with the captor’s family, he would probably be freed. A legendary example of this happened when a chief named Nynyekoro knew he was going to be attacked by the army of Segu, led by Faama Da Diarra. He also knew he had no chance against their superior strength. He told all his advisers to take off their clothes, thus reducing their social status to the level of uncircumcised boys. “

“During the period of colonial rule, Guinea was referred to as the jewel of French West Africa. It had beautiful white sand beaches, Paris-style restaurants, and luxurious hotels. Guinea exported coffee, peanuts, mangos, and pineapples. Guinea gained its independence from France on October 2, 1958, by voting against remaining in the French Community. The people who ran the government and the technicians who maintained utility services were angry at Guinea’s vote against remaining with France. They left the country almost overnight.”

“When the European powers divided up the African continent into colonies in the 19th century, they established artificial boundaries that cut right through ancient cultures and political systems. By the beginning of the 1960s, when the former French West African colonies had gained their independence, the former territories of medieval Ghana, Mali, and Songhay were located in several different nations.”

“The ruins of Ghana’s cities of Kumbi Saleh and Awdaghust are in southern Mauritania, the goldfield of Bure is in Guinea, and the rest of ancient Ghana is in Mali. The heartland of the old Mali Empire is divided between Mali and Guinea, but its outer territories extend into Senegal, Mauritania, Cote d’Ivoire, and Burkina Faso. The former territories of medieval Songhay now lie in Mali, Niger, and Mauritania. The ancient heartland of these empires, however, was located in what is now Guinea and Mali.”

Source: Empires of Medieval West Africa: Ghana, Mali, and Songhay By David C. Conrad

Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire

“Timbuktu is a town inhabited by people of various races, but the greater part is made up of Whites, such as Arabs; they are subject to the king of Gao. This town is the entrepot for all goods in transit from the kingdom of Morocco to the kingdom of Gao. The king Mulay Ahmad has a fortress in the province of Lektaoua where everything was exchanged against gold dust that came from these kingdoms. From Timbuktu a Moorish qa id, a renegade, and an Andalusian were sent to Marrakesh with news of what happened during the expedition.”

“They arrived on 1 June of the present year 1591. Great celebrations were held to mark this happy success. But the king, although proud to be the first king of Morocco to have carried his victorious arms as far as Guinea, felt much resentment at Jawdar’s having withdrawn from Gao without having first constructed a fortress, as he had orders to do; or rather that, having withdraw, he had done so without having previously taken some good hostages from the black king as surety for his carrying out his promises. But in fact, it is within his power to do so or not to do so.”

“It is said that two months journey from Gao, in the interior lands, there is another kingdom of the Blacks that is called Bornu, whose king is very powerful. The Turks, having marched by way of Egypt to conquer this kingdom suffered so much from thirst while crossing the sandy deserts, that when attacked by the king of Bornu in this exigency, they could not defend themselves because of their thirst, and were beaten. Some who survived received such good treatment from the king that they remained in his service.”

“Through the industry of these individuals, and with the arms they took off the others, he has armed about five hundred musketeers, who, together with the numerous troops of his kingdom, make him very formidable in these regions of Guinea. It has been learned that this kingdom borders on some kingdoms of black Christians, who have been recently converted by the Portuguese during the discoveries they have made in Guinea. The judgment made about this expedition by natives of the kingdom of Morocco who have experience of these regions is as follows.”

“There are various opinions about this expedition. Some think it is very advantageous for the king of Morocco, because besides the glory he gets from carrying his victorious arms into Guinea–something none of his predecessors dared do because of the difficulty of the route, the length of the journey and lack of water they think he will get a lot of gold from this conquest, by means of which he will enhance his greatness.”

Source: Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Saʻdī’s Taʼrīkh Al-Sūdān Down to 1613 By ʿAbd al-Raḥmān ibn ʿAbd Allāh al- Saʿdī…

The Moroccan Conquest of the Songhay Empire

“Every year [prior to 1591], on the order of the king of Timbuktu [the askiya]… two hundred quintals of gold were sent to the Barbary; the war so upset everything that once could not produce four [quintals of gold], because the gold washers had fled for they did not want to work for others; and gold from the deserts of the interior came virtually no more, and this did not suffice for the price of the merchandise in the kingdom from where they came.”

“Ahmad al-Mansur’s invasion of Sudan created fresh illusions, but neither the circus of Marrakech nor even the vast curtain of the Sahara could long hide the truth. The conquistadors of the Red City destroyed everything in their path, real and otherwise–the heyday of the Saharan caravans, the glory days of Timbuktu, the empire of the Songhay, and the Island of Gold. Behind, they left only wistfulness.”

“Ghana was the first of the West African empires. A Soninke ethnic state that emerged around the fourth century, Ghana eventually came to control the area of present western Mali and southeastern Mauritania. Its power lay in the gold fields of Boure and Bambouk, and it was the first black African state to benefit from the camel-powered trans-Saharan trading system. This empire grew and flourished largely in anonymity until Berber and Arab raiders came calling.”

“By the eleventh century, the Ghanaians had been weakened by attacks from a Moroccan Berber dynasty, the Almoravids. The empire quietly disappeared a few decades later. The cause of this collapse is not known, but the Almoravids probably hastened its end. Gradually, over the next century, a successor state began to take shape from the ruins, Mali.”

“The Mandinka kingdom of Mali gradually extended its control over the gold fields through conquest and tribal alliances and by the early thirteenth century, it had crowned its first emperor, Sundiata Keita. In the decades that followed, the Malians embarked on conquest in Senegal, Guinea, and against the tribes of the eastern Niger, amassing a near monopoly on the West African gold trade.”

“By the middle of the fourteenth century, the empire reached from the Atlantic Ocean to Gao and spanned the modern-day countries of Senegal, southern Mauritania, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Mali, northern parts of Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, and western niger. The Malian Empire dominated West Africa, extending over 1,300,000 square kilometers, more than any Western European state, but it took a new religion and a larger-than-life character to make anyone outside the region take notice.”

“The religion was, of course, Islam. Mali was the first of the great West African empires to embrace Islam, though in its own distinct and limited way. Some Arab Scholars claimed it was Ghana, but the ruling class never adopted the new religion. Though the Malian nobility gradually converted to Islam, the faith was not imposed upon the populace. Islam remained confined to the capital and the desert “ports” where it had arrived centuries earlier with Berber traders. Many more years would elapse before Islam would start to dissipate from these points to the villages and towns of the savanna and the forest belt.”

“Islamic teaching and law became prestigious metiers and, and in the words of one historian, a “cult of the aristocracy. But, in the end, in West Africa, Islam was for the ruling elite and the tiny literate class, and it was a distinctly urban phenomenon. In the countryside, the majority lived as they had for centuries, with their nature gods, black magic and witch doctors.”

“The twenty-year Morocco-Songhay war seriously undermined the caravan trade networks and economic triad. Salt and gold were no longer meetings in abundance along the river. The salt mines were not secure, and that traffic slowed considerably. Gold traders began to prefer the Guinea coast, where the Portuguese coastal trading posts offered closer and more stable trading partners. However, this alternative provided only temporary relief. Line the Moroccan sugar industry, the West African gold market would soon plummet under competition from the Americas.”

Source: Conquistadors of the Red City: The Moroccan Conquest of the Songhay Empire By Comer Plummer

“When analyzing al-Mansur’s Songhay effort we are fortunate to possess the work of authors unattached to al-Mansur’s court, through which we have an opportunity to evaluate events presumably unencumbered by the flattering official portrayals that are so often the product of official dynastic secretaries and chroniclers. The work of the Arab historian and native of Timbuktu, Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di, is one example. Al-Sa’di eventually secured employment in the Moroccan administration at Timbuktu, but his loyalties lay with the native elites of the Middle Niger. From him we gain a local perspective on the Moroccan invasion and conquest of the Songhay Empire, and well as on the Moroccan administration of the Middle Niger up until the middle of the seventeenth century”

“Early Sa’di attempts to control the salt resources of the desert date from at least 1526, when a Moroccan force temporarily occupied the Tuwat Oasis. Over the next thirty years al-Mansur’s predecessors launched additional expeditions against Tuwat, Taghaza, and into Mauritania. But the importance of salt was too great for the Songhay to consider relinquishing control. According to al-Sa’di, in the early 1540s the Songhay rulers responded to one Moroccan request by ordering a raid of two thousand Tuareg on Morocco’s Dra’a Valley.998 Later, they foiled an otherwise successful Moroccan conquest of Taghaza by simply redirecting traders to another location.999 Al-Mansur’s first effort, however, fared much better. Al-Sa’di reports that the Sultan requested of the Songhay one year’s worth of tax from the mines of Taghaza, and received instead a goodwill gift of more than ninety pounds of gold, the generosity of which allegedly led to a great friendship between the sultan and the Songhay Askiya (emperor) Dawud.1000 Some see the rivalry with the Ottoman Empire as an important factor in al-Mansur’s Songhay venture. Ottoman agents were indeed active in sub-Saharan Africa. Bornu, a central Sudanic empire in the area adjacent to Lake Chad, attracted Ottoman mercenaries and technology with a series of aggressive jihads. In the middle of the century the Ottomans themselves extended their reach into Fezzan, a territory also claimed by Bornu. The latter sent an embassy to the Ottomans, but negotiations came to naught.1001 It is unclear whether or not military conflict ensued, though the anonymous Spaniard claims that the Turks marched through Egypt to conquer Bornu, but so weakened by thirst could not defend themselves.1002 Whatever may have occurred, the Ottoman supply of arms to Bornu dried up, and in 1582-83 its leaders turned to al-Mansur to meet their needs.  Al-Sa’di identifies a Songhay slave imprisoned at Taghaza, Wuld Kirinfil, as the impetus. According to al-Sa’di it “was God’s decree and His destiny that he [the slave] should break out from that prison and flee to the Red City, Marrakesh….”1014 There he wrote a letter to al-Mansur describing the difficult circumstances under which the Songhay were living and the resulting ease with which they could be conquered.1015 The anonymous Spaniard asserts that the ostensibly same escapee claimed to be the brother of the Songhay ruler, Askiya Ishaq, that his throne had been usurped, and that in return for support in regaining his kingdom he would acknowledge al-Mansur’s suzerainty and reward him with great wealth. “Account of the Anonymous Spaniard,” in Hunwick, Timbuktu, 318-319”

“Al-Mansur adopted the Ottoman practice of incorporating non-Turkish and non-Muslim elements into the army. Among the most prominent were European Christian renegados and Muslim Andalusians. Unlike the tribal corps these two groups often carried firearms, often filled senior posts in the army, guarded the sultan when he led campaigns, and received their pay before all others.1032 Neither group, as their names imply, were fully integrated into Maghribi society, and thus their allegiance to the ruler could be more readily ensured since it was through him alone that they enjoyed special status. The comparatively sizeable contingent of renegados and Andalusians in the Sa’di expedition is open to several possible interpretations. They were certainly among the best of the sharīf’s troops, and in this sense it is no surprise to see them in the invasion force. At the same time, dispatching some of his most loyal forces on an uncertain mission across nearly a thousand miles of desert also held special risks for al-Mansur’s domestic position. Revolts had under his predecessors been commonplace in sixteenth-century Morocco. In fact, al-Mansur was returning from the suppression of a rebellion in Fez when Wuld Kirinfil arrived and spurred renewed consideration of a Saharan venture.1033 Consequently, the extended absence and potential loss of loyal, effective troops was not a light matter.”

Source: MOROCCO IN THE EARLY ATLANTIC WORLD, 1415-1603 A Dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of Georgetown University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in History By Earnest W. Porta, Jr., J.D

Portuguese Explorers took every opportunity of kidnapping Moors on Saharan Coast

“During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the great inducement that brought Europeans to the West Coast of Africa was not merely the trade in gold, ivory, camwood, and pepper, but it was first and foremost, slaves. Liberia, however, for reasons which will be shown, suffered perhaps less than most parts of the West African Coast, the adjoining district of the Ivory Coast having even greater immunity. Nevertheless, it was the slave trade that indirectly gave birth to Liberia as a recognized state, and it is, therefore, necessary to treat it to some extent as part of Liberian History. Negro slaves were used by the Ancient Egyptians, and from Egypt, in later days they were sent to Rome and to the Byzantine Empire.”
“Carthage also procured Negroes for the Roman galleys, possibly from Tripoli. Under Islam, however, the modern trade in Negro slaves as we know it really began. The Arab wars of conquest in the Egyptian Sudan and along the East African Coast, and Arab and Berber raids across the Sahara Desert from North Africa to the regions of the Niger,rapidly led to the dispatch of Negro slaves to Southern Persia, Western India, the coast of Arabia, Egypt, the whole of North Africa, and most parts of the Turkish Empire.”
“Negro slaves were occasionally imported into Italy as curiosities during the Middle Ages. The early Portuguese explorers sent out by Prince Henry at first took every opportunity of Kidnapping the Moors whom they met on the coast of the Sahara, and these people were dispatched as slaves to Portugal. Prince, Henry, however, came in time to realize the iniquity of this proceeding and its bad policy on the part of a nation which at that time was aspiring to colonize and rule Morocco.”
“He, therefore, ordered that they should be given a chance of ransoming themselves. One of these Moors explained that he was a nobleman by birth and state that he could give five or six Negroes for his own ransom and another five for the freedom of those amongst his fellow captives who were also men of position. The result was that Antao Goncalvez, their captor, on returning to the Rio de Oro, received ten Negroes, a little gold-dust, a shield of ox hide and a number of ostrich eggs as ransom.”
“The Portuguese learned in this way that by pursuing their journeys father south they might come to a land where it was possible to obtain “black Moors” as slaves. It was already appreciated that the Negro as a captive was a far more tractable and manageable person than anyone akin to the white man in race. Consequently, during the first hundred years of their African exploration, the Portuguese picked up Negroes by purchase from the Fula and Mandingo chiefs of Senegambia, and also by kidnapping them occasionally on the peninsula of Sierra Leone and on the Liberian Coast. They traded for them on the Gold Coast, in the Congo and Angola countries.”
“These slaves were mostly sent to Portugal as curiosities, quite as much as for domestic service. Care was generally taken to have them baptized and even to a certain extent educated. Meantime, North and South America had been discovered and the West India Islands settled by Spaniards. As early as 1501, only nine years since the West Indian Islands had been discovered by Christopher Columbus, it was found that the wretched inhabitants of the Antilles were dying out under the treatment of the colonizing Spaniards. In 1502, therefore, it was decided to export from Spain and Portugal to the West Indies some of the Negro slaves who had been reached converted to Christianity.”
“By 1503 there were already quite a number of Negroes in Hispaniola (Hait–San Domingo). In 1510 the King of Spain (Ferdinand) dispatched more Negro slaves, obtained through the Portuguese from West Africa, to the mines in the island. The celebrated Bartolomeo de las Casas, Bishop of Chiapa in Hispaniola, came to Spain in 1517, to the court of the young King-Emperor Charles V., to protest against the wicked treatment which the West Indian indigenes were enduring at the hands of the Spaniards.”
“As a remedy he proposed that the hardier Negroes of West Africa should be imported directly into the West Indies, to furnish the unskilled labor for which the native Americans were unsuited by their constitution. Charles V. had, however, already anticipated this idea, and a year or two previously had granted licenses to Flemish courtiers to recruit Negroes in West Africa for dispatch to the West Indies. One of these patents issued by Charles gave the exclusive right to a Flemish courtier named Lebrassa to supply four thousand Negroes annually to Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamacia, and Puerto Rico.”
“This Fleming sold his patent to a group of Genoese merchants, who then struck a bargain with the Portuguese to supply the slaves. But the trade did not get into full swing till after the middle of the sixteenth century, when, amongst others, the English seaman John Hawkins took up a concession for the supply of Negroes from Guinea to the West Indies. He mad in all three voyages, the first of which was undertaken in 1562. He obtained his slaves first from the rives between the Gambia and the confines of Liberia, visiting Sierra Leone amongst other places.”
“One the last of these journeys he was accompanied by Drake. (afterward Sir Francis), then a mere youth. They probably touched at the Liberian coast for water on their way to Elmina, where two hundred slaves were obtained by joining a native king in a raid. The coast of Liberia was not so much ravaged by the slave trade as were the regions between the Gambia and Sierra Leone, the Dahome or Slave Coast, the Niger Delta, Old Calabar, Loango, and Congo. Perhaps in all the ravages which the over-sea slave trade brought about, the Niger Delta and the Lower Congo suffered the worst.”
“What damage was done to the coast of Liberia seems to be chiefly attributed to the English, who had already begun to visit that coast at the close of the sixteenth century, and were very busy there all through the seventeenth, The French traveler Villault de Bellefonds mentions repeatedly in his writings the damage the English did on the Grain Coast (Liberia) in attacking the natives for little or no cause, and in carrying them off as slaves.”
“In fact, a slang term, “Panyar (from the Portuguese Apanhar, to seize, catch, kidnap), had sprung up in the coast jargon to illustrate the English methods. Even English travelers such as William Smith (who went out as a surveyor to the Gold Coast early in the eighteenth century) admit that the English had become very unpopular on the Gold Coast, owing to these aggressions on the natives; and William Smith and his companions endeavored to pass as Frenchmen when they visited Eastern Liberia and the Ivory Coast, ‘because of the bad name the English had acquired.”