The Tata of Sikasso: an African Fortifying Wall

Mali_Tata de Sikasso
The tata of Sikasso, illustration by Édouard Riou published in Du Niger au golfe de Guinée, Hachette, 1892, by L.G Binger, p. 95

Have you ever heard about the Tata of Sikasso or Sikasso Tata, a fortifying wall built in Mali which sustained attacks by some of the greatest conquerors of its time, including none other than the great Samori Touré ? and which was destroyed by the French colonial army ? This structure was probably stronger than some forts found in Europe. This defensive wall is quite reminiscent of the Great Wall of China.

Mali_Tieba Traore
Monument of Tieba Traore in Sikasso (Source: Wikipedia)

The Tata of Sikasso, locally known as Tarakoko, is a fortress built during the reign of King Tieba Traoré between 1877 and 1897, in modern Mali. Tieba Traoré, whose mother came from Sikasso, became King of the Kénédougou Empire and moved its capital to the city of Sikasso. He established his palace on the sacred Mamelon hill and constructed a tata or fortifying wall to defend against the attacks of both the Malinke conqueror Samori Touré and the French colonial army. The city withstood a long siege from 1887 to 1888 but fell to the French in 1898. This fortified wall was reinforced by Babemba Traoré, Tieba Traoré’s brother, who had succeeded him as king.

The Tata of Sikasso was built for the protection of the city, in a military style. It used to extend through an area of 41 hectares, with its walls reinforced with the addition of earthen walls, bars, and alternate stone beds; the intervals of which were filled with ferrous gravel, earth, and stones. At the time of Samori Touré’s unsuccessful siege, which lasted 15 months from March 1887 to June 1888, the tata had three concentric enclosures.

The exterior of the tata was 9 km long, 6 m (∼20 ft) wide at the base and 2 m (∼7 ft) high at the summit. Its height varies between 4 to 6 m.

Samori
Samori Touré

The intermediary tata walls were not as big, and also not as wide. Those were meant for merchants, soldiers and nobles.

The inner enclosure encircled the Dionfoutou, which was the part of the city inhabited by the king and his family.

The fortress is still visible today in the actual landscape of the city of Sikasso in neighborhoods such as Mancourani, Medina, Wayerma, Bougoula city and Fulasso. Seven monuments, in the shape of doors, have been built with modern materials on the site of the passages of yesteryear to preserve their memory.

The Tata of Sikasso has been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative list: « Le Tata de Sikasso ».

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