Why the Name: Sfax ?

View of Sfax from Ksar Ben Romadhane (Source: Wikipedia)

I have always loved the name of the second city of Tunisia, Sfax… think about it for a second: S-FAX… the name does not seem to sound one bit Arabic… it would seem so reminiscent of Rome…

 

Well, it is said that a  Cucurbitaceae gourd plant (such as a cucumber) gave its name to the city of Sfax, or rather that fakous which means cucumber in a local Tunisian language (most likely Berber) gave rise to the name Sfax.

Bab Diwan and Old view of Sfax in 1954

Thomas Shaw who visited Tunis in 1732 claimed in his book Observations geographiques sur le royaume de Tunis, Voyages de M. Shaw dans plusieurs provinces de la Barbarie et du Levant, ed Jean Neaume, La Haye 1743, P. 249, that, “Sfakès is the city of cucumbers.”

However, in his book Fastes chronologiques de la ville de Sfaks, Antoine du Paty de Clam, mentioned that Sfaks could be decomposed into s fa ekez, meaning in Berber, « the one who extends the surveillance » and whose Greek translation is equivalent to Taphrouria (look-out post or monitoring station or surveillance post) transcribed to Taphrura by historians such as Ptolemee.

View of the Medina in Sfax

Other historians have assumed that the name of Sfax must have originated from the name of the governor of the city, Sfâ. According to them, the governor of the city went to visit the Sultan of Mahrès (Mahares) to solicit his help in building the city’s ramparts to protect it from invasion; he exposed his plan on a cow hide that was drying under th sun. In response, the sultan gave him a pair of scissors while saying, “Sfâ qoçç” or “Sfâ cut!”

So which meaning do you think it is?

The city was founded in AD 849 on the ruins of the Roman city of Taparura. It is located on the Mediterranean, and is a major port. The main industries are phosphate, olive, nut (almond) processing, leather, wool, fishing, and international trade. After the capital Tunis, it is the second most populous city of Tunisia. Rich of its prehistoric, Roman, and Islamic heritage, Sfax is a vibrant port city full of life. If you ever visit Sfax, do not forget to visit its museums, enjoy the history, and the city, and maybe look for a fakous?

How to Sign over a River? : British Colonial Treaties in Africa – The Case of the Gambia River

Map and Flag of The Gambia

As I read more colonial treaties signed on the continent, it is hard for a modern mind to understand the concept of ceding over rivers. How do you know where the river ends? Is the river part of just one kingdom? What do you do when it is split among several kingdoms? Did the Europeans take that into consideration, if they only had the signature from one king, and not others? Or did they just cause war to get the remainder of the river? What do you think?

Below is the example of the Gambia River.

On the 3rd September, 1783, a Treaty was concluded between Great Britain and France, by Article X of which the King of the French guaranteed to the King of Great Britain the possession of Fort James (Albreda) [located on modern-day Kunta Kinteh Island] and of the River Gambia.

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Cession of the River Gambia to Great Britain. (The map of Africa by Treaty, Vol 1, P.367 – 368)

On the 15th June, 1826,+ a Convention was signed between the Acting Governor of Sierra Leone and the King of Barra and of the River Gambia, with his Chiefs and headmen, for the cession of the Gambia to Great Britain.

Map of the River Gambra (now Gambia) in 1732

It contained the following stipulations:

* * *

“ 2nd. The said Brunay, King of Barra, by and with the advice and consent of his Chiefs and headmen before named, cedes, transfers, and makes over to his Honour Kenneth Macaulay, Acting Governor of  Sierra Leone, and his successors, Governors of Sierra Leone for the time being, on the part and behalf of His Majesty the King of the United Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland, his heirs, and successors forever, the full, entire, free, and unlimited right, title, sovereignty; and possession of the River Gambia, with all the branches, creeks, inlets, and waters of the same, as they have been held and possessed by the Kings of Barra from time immemorial ; and the said Brunay, King of Barra, with the advice and consent of his said Chiefs and headmen as aforesaid, does further cede and forever relinquish all and every right, claim, or demand for customs or duties of any description on British or other vessels entering or navigating the River Gambia, or any of the waters thereof (as have been formerly demanded and taken).

+ S.P., vol. xlviii, p. 882; H.T., vol. xii, p. 5. See also Treaties, 6th January, 1832, p. 824, and 18th November, 1850, p. 326.

Why the Name : Banjul ?

Map and Flag of The Gambia

Have you ever wondered what the name of the capital of The Gambia, Banjul, could mean? To me, the name sounds like it has some strength into it… try it: “BANGJUL.” Well, it turns out that Banjul takes its name from the Mandé people who gathered specific fibers on the island, which were used in the making of ropes. Bang julo is the Mandinka (Mande) word for rope fiber. The mispronunciation of this word led to the name Banjul.

Bathurst (modern-day Banjul) in 1824

As we learned earlier in the week (A Polish-Lithuanian or Latvian Colony in Africa?), the King of Kombo leased the area encompassing modern-day Banjul to the Duke of Courland in 1651. One could say that Banjul was a vassal possession of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth or Latvian colony in Africa. Prior to 1816, Portuguese referred to the area as Banjulo, while the British called it Banjola. In 1816, the then king (Mansa) of Kombo, Tomani Bojang, ceded the area to Alexander Grant, a British commander, who turned it into a trading post and base to control the entrance to the Gambia estuary, enforce the Slavery Abolition Act, and protect British commercial interests in the region. The British first named the area St Mary’s Island (then known as Banjulo by the Portuguese), and later renamed it Bathurst after the 3rd Earl of Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and the colonies. It became the center of British activity in the Gambia Colony and Protectorate. The town kept the name Bathurst, until independence when it was changed to Banjul in 1973.

A marketplace in Bathurst in 1910

As you look at the painting of Bathurst in 1824, you can clearly see that Gambians were fully dressed, thus once again destroying the idea repeated by Europeans that Africans were roaming naked (Description of African Dressing in 1400s) throughout the continent, or that they did not have a textile industry (History of African Fabrics and Textiles).

Banjul is the capital and fourth largest city of The Gambia. It is located on St Mary’s Island (Banjul Island) where the Gambia River enters into the Atlantic Ocean. It is The Gambia’s largest and most densely populated metropolitan area. It is a vibrant city, with great hospitality. So, as you visit Banjul, remember to look for the fiber that gave its name, and most importantly look to the spirit of the people which is strong, warm, and welcoming. Enjoy!

Why the Name: Port-Gentil?

Map of Gabon

I have always wondered why the second largest city of Gabon is named Port-Gentil… Is it full of kind agreeable souls? Is it a gentle town, very laid-back? Otherwise, why will it be named that way?

Emile Gentil in 1902

Well, to my surprise, Port-Gentil is named after the French colonial administrator Émile Gentil who served there in 1902. I have a lot of doubts that the man was a kind or gentle soul. From stories of these colonial administrators in Africa, many were more on the ruthless and disagreeable side, particularly towards Africans, whom they saw as savages. Indeed, after investigation into Emile Gentil, it turns out that he had been accused of massacres in Congo in 1905, but had been cleared by the Lanessan commission (what are indigenous’ words against a European’s?… particularly in those days); he was also part of the expedition that was trying to conquer Rabah, a powerful warrior leader in Chad. Gentil is best known for heading two military missions to conquer and consolidate territories north, from modern Gabon up to Chad. … Thus it is only a tiny shot to imagine the atrocities left in his wake… So why is the second largest city of Gabon still named after someone like that? Someone who murdered Gabonese, and other Africans? I know, it sounds sweet, “gentil”, but knowing the source of the name and the atrocities committed against the indigenous populations, why keep the name? If “gentle” is so important, why not translate it into the local language, or roll back to the original name, which is Mandji. It absolutely makes no sense for a city on African soil to bear the name of someone who has been accused of massacres by contemporaries on that very land!

Port-Gentil, Gabon

For completeness, Port-Gentil is located on Lopez Island (in the mouth of the navigable Ogooué River) and on a bay sheltered by Cape Lopez, which juts into the Atlantic Ocean. As the nation’s chief port and industrial centre, it is linked by air to Paris and major West African hubs as well as many Gabonese towns. Life in Port-Gentil is much more laid-back than Libreville. It is Gabon’s economic engine, and massive oil and gas rigs loom just off the coast. The city stretches along the beach, is full of pleasant wide streets and a bustling port. One block back from the corniche, Ave Savorgnan de Brazza (named after another European who massacred Africans) has most of the banks, shops and restaurants. Port-Gentil sits on a peninsula; it is actually an island, cut off from the mainland by the delta of the Ogooué River.

Surprisingly, just like many places coveted by Europeans on the African continent, there are no roads connecting Port-Gentil to the rest of the country. How outrageous! How come in 2021, there are no roads connecting the second largest city of a country, the industrial hub, to the rest of it? This seems like a wanted political decision, especially when the country, Gabon, has been the milk cow of Elf, the defunct French oil company (now Total), and is still a big milk cow of France today.

So even though, as always, I would like you to visit the sandy beaches of Port-Gentil, and enjoy the warm hospitality of the Gabonese, I think it is about time that the city be renamed! Lastly, ROADS, connections to the rest of the country are a MUST!!!

Why the Name: Dodoma ?

Tanzania_Dodoma city center
Dodoma city center (Source: The East African)

I always loved the sound of the name Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania: the way it rolls off your tongue like a dearly beloved, like something or someone so sweet and precious… DO-DO-MA, almost like musical notes! So what do you think Dodoma means?

Well, the name Dodoma is derived from Idodomya, a word in the Chigogo (Gogo) language, which means, “it has sunk.” Tradition says that, an elephant once came to drink at a nearby creek, and got stuck in the mud, and gradually sank. It was then that the villagers exclaimed in amazement, “idodomya!” And from that moment, the place was known as Idodomya, the place where the elephant “has sunk.” It later became Dodoma in 1907 when the Germans colonists, who were probably struggling to pronounce Idodomya, came for the construction of the Tanzanian central railway. The layout followed the typical colonial planning of the time with a European quarter segregated from a native village (European-Only Neighborhoods in African Cities before Independence).

Tanzania_Dodoma 1912
Dodoma in 1912 (Source: Museum of World Cultures)

In 1967, following independence, the Tanzanian government made plans to reorganize its then capital Dar es Salaam, which was undergoing rapid urbanization and population growth. In 1974, after a nationwide party referendum, the capital was moved from Dar es Salaam to a more central location to create significant social and economic improvements for the central region and to centralize the capital within the country. With an already-established town at a major crossroads, the Dodoma region had an agreeable climate, room for development and was located in the geographic centre of the nation. Its location in a rural environment was seen as the ujamaa (family-hood) heartland. The ujamaa concept was a concept championed by the first president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere as part of his social and economic development policies: it was to serve as the basis for an African model of development, or African socialism.

Tanzania_Dodoma Julius Nyerere Square1
Julius Nyerere Square in Dodoma

However, over the past 40 years, much of the initial design, and intents never came to fruition, and to this day many government offices and embassies have remained in Dar es Salaam, which remains the economic and the de facto capital of Tanzania.

The story of Dodoma and Dar es Salaam is similar to that of Abuja and Lagos in Nigeria, of Brasília and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, and even Washington, D.C. and New York City in the United States, to name just a few. In many of these cities, there is always an economic capital which is the lung of the country, which dwarfs the political capital in size and energy. Nonetheless these political capitals are still special and unique.

Well, if you ever visit Dodoma, remember that elephant who sank there, try and visit them in all the national parks of the country, but most importantly remember to take with you the ujamaa spirit!

The African Crow: The Crow with a Nike Collar

Nike Crow_1
A crow snacking on some bread

A few years back, my father was visiting Melbourne in Australia, when he heard a bird crowing around. So he asked an Australian lady nearby what bird that was, and she answered the crow… and my dad went on to tell her that in his country, the crow had a white collar, and sounded just like that… so the lady chuckled and said, “so you have a Nike-collar crow in your country.” So meet the Nike-collared Crow.

Nike Crow_Rwanda_1
Crows in Rwanda

When I first moved to the West, I never understood why people taught of the crow as a bad bird, or rather a bird of bad omen. When I asked, they told me because of its black coat, and black feathers, and because of its cry. This sounded totally weird to me… why? Because in African culture, the crow is not a bad bird, or a bird bringing ominous news. It is actually a good bird. Not only that, but the crow is not an all-black bird, but it has a white collar. I was surprised to find this white-collared bird in Cameroon, in Rwanda, and in other places, thus telling me that the white-collared crow is indigenous to Africa.

With the white collar, isn’t your perception of the crow changed?

Nike Crow_Cameroon_2
Crows in Cameroon

Why the Name: Annaba ?

Annaba_Ancient city of Hippo Regius
Ruins of the Ancient city of Hippo Regius, modern-day Annaba (Source: Wikipedia)

I always loved the name of the city Annaba in Algeria. From the name, one could think that we are talking about a city in subsaharan Africa. I used to think that the origin of its name would be Berber or from somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.

Annaba is the 4th largest city of Algeria, after AlgiersOran, and Constantine. It is a coastal city which has grown tremendously, like most cities around the globe, in the 20th century. Present-day Annaba grew up on the site of Aphrodisium, the seaport of the Roman city Hippo Regius. The modern city has since expanded south over Hippo’s ruins as well. Its former names Bône and Bona derived from “Ubbo“, a local form of the name Hippo. Its informal name “Land of the Jujubes” derives from that abundance of that fruit in the region.

Algeria_Annaba
Bona, Algeria in 1899 (modern-day Annaba)

Annaba, as one of the most ancient cities of Algeria, founded in 1295 BC, has had different names during her life: Ubbo, Hippo Regius, Hippone, Bona, Bled El Aneb, Bône, and nowadays Annaba. It was known as Balad al-Unnab or the “Land of the jujubes” from which the name Annaba is derived, because of the abundance of that fruit in the region.

During the rule of France (empire and republics), the city was called Bône. It was one of the main French settlements, and it still has a sizeable minority of the “Pied-Noir” to this day. During World War II in 1943, Bône was a crucial highway and sea location for the invasion of Tunisia, and thence the driving of the Axis Powers (Germany and Italy) out of Africa in May 1943. Bône remained in Allied hands until the end of the war in 1945, and then it remained a part of French Algeria until the independence of Algeria in 1962.

Annaba_Bone Hotel de ville epoque coloniale
Bone, Hotel de Ville during the colonial period

The city is an important hub of the world steel industry with the steel complex of El Hadjar, eight kilometres south of the city. It is the largest in Africa. Phosphate and metal industries are also prominent in the area. Other industrial sectors, private, focus on agri-food, metal processing, wood products, and construction.

Annaba is an important centre for tourism, and is one of the major tourist attractions in the western Mediterranean. It is located in the north east of the country, at 536 km east of Algiers and 105 km from the Tunisian border.

Annaba_panorama sea front
Panoramic view of Annaba’s sea front (Source: Wikipedia)

The downtown district of Annaba is on the sea-front, and includes the promenade called the Concours de la Revolution (previously called Le Cours Bertagna) which is a lively area, brimming with arcades and all kinds of covered restaurants, terraced cafes and kiosks. If you visit Annaba, remember to taste the Jujubes and enjoy the sea!!!

 

German Colonies in Africa: Togoland – Protectorate in Little Popo March 5, 1884

Togoland - flag
Flag of the German colony of Togoland

Below is the translation of a letter in which the Kings and Chiefs of Little Popo and Grigi in Togoland (actual Togo) are asking for their lands to be placed under the protection of the German Imperial Majesty the Kaiser, i.e. to be placed under German protection, or rather placing (not knowing the full extent) their lands under German protectorate. This was signed on March 5th of 1884. Remember that Little Popo is now known as Aného in Togo. Grigi might have been the town of Glidji.

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Togoland_Map of Togoland in 1885
Map of Togoland in 1885

I. We, the signatories, Kings and chiefs of Little Popo and Grigi, express our gratitude to Your Majesty for having assisted us in upholding peace in our land.

II. There would be no threat and no uncertainty, if the British government would refrain from interference in the affairs of our lands, which it desires, while we desire her not to have it.

III. We ask Your Majesty to provide us with protection and to avoid such an annexion.

IV. We implore Your Majesty to come to our aid, as we have placed ourselves fully under your protection.

V. We humbly request to take quick action.

signed
King Aiaushi Agbanor of Little Popo and Grigi,
Caboceer Quadjovi,
chief Pedro Quadjo
and 11 other signatures

to His Majesty, the Kaiser of Germany

German Colonial Treaties in Africa: Togoland July 5th 1884

Togoland - flag
Flag of the German colony Togoland

Today, I present to you the text of the treaty signed between King Mlapa – the King of Togo, or rather his representative Chief Plakko or Plakkou, and the Consul General Gustav Nachtigal thereby placing his land under German protectorate. This is the famous July 5th 1884 treaty which marks the beginning of the German protectorate in Togoland and the birth of this German colony in West Africa. As you read it, remember that Porto Seguro is now Agbodrafo and Bagida is Baguida in Togo. Note also that when it is said ‘King of Togo,’ Togo in this case refers to the area around Togoville, the village which gave its name to the entire country. As always, European colonizers used one main treaty in one area of the country (mostly coastal) to claim ownership over the rest of the country. The original in German can be found in Geschichte der deutschen kolonien by Horst Gründer, UTB (2018) p. 91-92

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Nachtigal
Gustav Nachtigal

Bagida, July 5th 1884

The Consul General for the German Reich, Dr.  Gustav Nachtigal, in the name of His Majesty the Kaiser of Germany, and Mlapa, King of Togo, represented for himself, his heirs and his chiefs by Plakkou, carrier of King Mlapa’s stick, have come to the following agreement :

Article 1
King Mlapa, desiring to protect legitimate trade, which mostly is carried out by Germans, and to grant the German merchants full security for their lives and property, requests the protection of His Majesty the German Kaiser, so that he is enabled to uphold the independence of his territory, which stretches from Porto Seguro‘s eastern border to the western border of Lomé or Bey Beach. His Imperial Majesty grants such protection, with the reservation of legitimately acquired rights of third parties.

Article 2
King Mlapa will cede no part of his lands and sovereignty rights to any foreign country of person, and he will not sign any treaty with any foreign power without the previously given approval of His Imperial Majesty.

Togo, Lome, Verladen von Baumwollballen
Lome, Togo: loading of cotton bales, early 1900s

Article 3
King Mlapa grants protection and free trade to all German subjects who live in his land, and promises never to grant merchants of other nations privileges, preferential treatment or protection beyond what is granted to the Germans. King Mlapa, without His Imperial Majesty’s approval, will refrain from collecting tariffs other than those presently collected, which are
1 Shilling for every ton of palm kernels
1 Shilling for every barrel of palm oil
which are to be paid to the chief of the respective location.

Article 4
His Majesty the German Kaiser will respect all trade treaties previously signed by King Mlapa and others, and will in no way place burdens upon free trade in King Mlapa‘s land.

Togoland_Map of Togoland in 1885
Map of Togoland in 1885

Article 5
His Majesty the German Kaiser will not interfere in the manner the tariff so far has been collected by King Mlapa and his chiefs

Article 6
The signatory parties reserve matters of mutual interest, not included in this treaty, for future agreements.

Article 7
This treaty takes force immediately, reserved ratification by the German government.
In order to testify, we have signed in the presence of the witnesses which have signed

Witnesses

Togoland_1908
Painting of Togoland in 1908 (R. Hellgrewe)

J.J. Gacher, J.B. Ahpevon, interpreters
H. Randad 
Josua Lenze
Mandt, Lt. at sea
Dr. Max Buchner
Chief Plakko 
Chief Adey of Lomé or Bey
Coodaycee 
Hadji, 2nd chief of Bey 
Okkoo
Nukoo
King Garsa of Bagida

signed Dr.  Nachtigal

1 Translator’s footnote : Here a text originally written in English, and printed in German translation in the RTA, has been re-translated into English. Thus it might differ slightly in diction from the original text. 

Why the Name: Togo?

Map of Togo
Map of Togo

A few years back, a Malagasy friend of mine was telling me how upset he had been to find out that his name’s short version, Togo, had been made by Americans to sound like ‘to-go‘ as in ‘to-go containers‘ as opposed to ‘Togo‘ (pronounce ‘Tow – go’ or ‘Taw -go’) as it was supposed to be. This got me thinking about the name of one of the smallest countries in Africa, Togo, which had undoubtedly also gone through that transformation to sound like ‘to-go containers.’ Well, do you think the meaning of Togo could in some way be related to leftover containers or food-on-the-run?

 

Togoland_1908
Togoland in 1908

Togo lies in the Bight of Benin, surrounded by Ghana in the west; Benin in the east; and Burkina Faso in the north. To many, the name Togo stands for “land where lagoons lie“. In reality, the name Togo was the name of a small village Togodo which means in the Ewe language, “the land (or city) beyond the cliff” or “land on the other side of the shore.” This became Togoville, a town and canton in southern Togo, lying on the northern shore of Lake Togo; it was originally known as Togo. The country took its name from the town of Togoville when Gustav Nachtigal signed a treaty with the town’s chief, Mlapa III, on 5 July 1884, from which Germany claimed ownership over what became Togo. Togoland, a  German colony, was born. The village which gave its name to the country, mean originally “city or land beyond the cliff” and not “city beyond the river.” It is in reality located on the edge of a very shallow lagoon, whose name is Lake Togo, which had the effect of misleading many people about the origin of the word.

 

Sylvanus Olympio
Sylvanus Olympio

Archaeological finds indicate that ancient tribes which inhabited the area were able to produce pottery and process iron. From the 11th to the 16th century, various tribes entered the region from all directions. From the 16th century to the 18th century, the coastal region was a major trading center for Europeans to search for slaves, earning Togo and the surrounding region the name “The Slave Coast“. In 1884, a treaty was signed at Togoville with King Mlapa III, whereby Germany claimed a protectorate over a stretch of territory along the coast and gradually extended its control inland; its borders were defined after the capture of hinterland by German forces and signing agreements with France and Britain. In 1905, it officially became the German colony of Togoland. After Germany lost the First World War, the land was divided between France and Great Britain to be ruled as mandates. After World War II, these mandates became UN Trust Territories. In 1957, the residents of British Togoland voted to join the Gold Coast as part of the new independent nation of Ghana; while French Togoland became an autonomous republic within the French Union in 1959, as France (as always) retained the right to control the defense, foreign relations and finances. The Togolese Republic was proclaimed on 27 April 1960. In the first presidential elections in 1961Sylvanus Olympio became the first president of the country. Since the coup that led to his assassination in 1963, Togo has been ruled 3 presidents, the most notorious being Olympio’s murderer Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who ruled Togo for 38 years, and after his passing, his son Faure Gnassingbé has now been president.

Togo_Beach in Lome
Beach in Lome, Togo (Wikipedia)

The coast of Togo in the Gulf of Guinea is 56 km long and consists of lagoons with sandy beaches; thus the reason why people think its name is associated with lagoons and mean “land where lagoons lie“. If you ever visit Togo, do not forget to check out its lagoons, its sandy beaches, and above all its people.