The French Capture of the Tata of Sikasso on May 1, 1898

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

In 1898, the French colonial forces attacked the Tata of Sikasso which had resisted the tireless assaults of Samori Touré and his army for 15 months a decade earlier. Despite strong resistance from Babemba Traoré and his people, they could barely resist the French canons and barbary, and succumbed on May 1, 1898.  As always, the French used treachery: the French colonel Marie Michel Alexandre René Audéoud wanted to install a garrison at Sikasso; but Babemba Traoré flatly refused. This resulted in a war between the French colonial forces and the people of Sikasso, which lasted 2 days. In the end, Babemba Traoré, the king, ended his life, abiding by the famous Bamanankan saying “Saya ka fisa ni maloya ye” (literally: death is preferable to shame). The city was then ransacked and plundered.

Below is an account of the barbary of the French colonel Audéoud and his men after their victory in Sikasso. The original in French can be found here on Jacques Morel’s page; the translation to English is brought to you by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com .

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

In April 1898, the colonel Audéoud who is looking for a boost for his promotion, sends captain Morisson demand from Babemba, Tieba’s successor, the “Fama” of Sikasso (in modern-day Mali), and ally – imprudent – of the French in their war against Samori, the establishment of a French garrison in his capital. Babemba refuses. It is war, and the siege of Sikasso where violent counter-attacks of the besieged repeatedly endanger the French troops. But with only three remaining enclosures still standing after resisting for fifteen months to Samori, “the fortress does not last two days when faced with modern artillery,” says Gilbert Comte.

Sikasso resists street by street. A French officer, taking part in the capture of Sikasso, describes the city as such:

“After the siege, the assault. Babemba kills himself. We give the order to plunder. Everything is taken or killed. All the captives, roughly 4000, are herded together.

The colonel [Audéoud] starts the distribution. He himself used to write in a notebook, then gave it up saying, “Share this among yourselves!”. The sharing took place with arguments and blows. Then back on our way! Each European is given a wife of his choice… On our way back we did intervals of forty kilometers with these captives. Children and all those who are tired are killed with the butt of the gun and the bayonet…

Babemba Traore
Monument of Babemba Traoré in Sikasso (Source: Face2FaceAfrica.com)

The corpses were left by the roadsides. A woman is found crouching. She is pregnant. We push her with the butt of the gun. She gives birth standing while walking. Has cut the umbilical cord and abandoned the child without looking back to see whether it’s a boy or a girl.

During those intervals, the men requisitioned on the way to carry millet stay five days without rations; receive fifty strokes of rope if they take a handful of the millet they are carrying. 

The sharpshooters got so many captives that it was impossible to house and feed them.”

Sources: P. Vigné d’Octon, La Gloire du sabre, Paris, Flammarion, 1900; cité par Jean Suret-Canale, Afrique Noire, Occidentale et Centrale, Éditions sociales, 1968, page 274-275; Gilbert Comte, L’empire triomphant, Denoël, 1988, page 85-86.

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 ».

At the Almamy Samori Touré’s Court

Samori Toure holding the Coran
Samori Toure

What happens when a colonizer visits the court of an African King in the 19th century? How do the two cultures collide? Below is a description of an audience at the court of the great king Samori Touré, by the French commander Marie Étienne Péroz who even wrote a book later “Au Soudan français : souvenirs de guerre et de mission,” C. Lévy, 1889.  As you can see, the European man is in awe at what he sees in court, the arrangement, and most importantly the calm confidence and simplicity emanating from  Samori Touré. Also note the importance of Samori’s griot, Ansoumana, “without whom no decision is taken.” Enjoy! The original in French can be found on p. 281 of Les Africains, Vol.1, Editions du Jaguar, 1977. The English translation is brought to you by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com.

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The number of important personalities who had been summoned to it [the meeting], the riches and the pomp of the occasion, indicated the importance the almamy attached to it.

We were, ourselves, very impressed by the skill of the décor of which the original setting of the mosque, dungeon, high huts and ramparts of the palace had been done to enhance its brilliance (beauty). We slowly get closer, guided by Karamoko, towards the large canopy which shelters the Almamy and its court.

The Almamy is half lying on an elevated tara where blankets with bright patterns are piled up. He is simply dressed: Moorish boots, a black turban, a dark-colored caftan under which can be seen a white boubou. His headgear, a kind of diadem in finely chiseled gold and a necklace of the same metal deliciously crafted are the only insignia revealing his rank. His entourage, on the contrary, sitting on very low armchairs, brings out the severity of this costume by means of garments in showy colors in which they are clothed: this variegation of colors gives a warm tone to the entire scene. On his left, squatting on the ground and against his tara, Ansoumana, his family griot, without whom no decision is taken: he is wearing a blue boubou, and a black smock. Then, on the same side, Kissi, the head of treasury, whose green boubou constellated with grigris, throws the first happy note.

Samory does not get up when we dismount [from the horse]. We stop in front of him after greeting him and he extends his hand in a very affable way. From all sides explode the raucous accents of the horns, adding into the hum of the tam-tams, and the rumbling of the Almamy’s war drum. […]

20190804_172909_1
Vivid reception at the Almamy’s court (Les Africains, Vol.1 , P. 281, editions Jaguar)

The dreadful noise of instruments of all kinds greeting our arrival prevents at the beginning of all conversation, and covers the words of welcome he addresses us in a veiled tone; thus do we take this reprieve to admire in all sincerity the striking spectacle taking place in front of us.

What strikes us at first sight is the form he affects as a whole: the crescent. Just as his entourage is arranged in such a way which may appear to be the results of chance, but which, in reality, is very skillfully calculated so as to form a happy harmony of colors and forms, just as the security escorts of the different leaders who accompany him form in front of his dais a perfect half-oval, which leaves between him and them a vast place covered with white sands brought in from the river.  

Commandant Péroz

French Sudan

Samori Touré: African Leader and Resistant to French Imperialism!

Samori
Samori Touré

This post on Samori Touré has been an all-time favorite post on Afrolegends.com . I am reblogging it here, because on this 10-year anniversary of the African Heritage Blog, it has been the most viewed and loved article. As you know, Samori Touré, grandfather to the African president Sekou Touré (another resistant to French imperialism – Guinea: the country who dared say ‘NO’ to France), was a leader and ruled over a vast empire which spanned big areas of West Africa from Guinea all the way to modern-day Côte d’Ivoire. He was a strong fighter to France imperialism in Africa, and opposed a great resistance to the French several times. This is to one of Africa’s great kings, warriors, and resistant.

African Heritage

Samori Toure holding the Coran

One of the great kings, and fighters of African freedom was the great Samori Touré. Over 100 years ago, Samori Touré was captured by the French and deported to Gabon where he died of pneumonia.

But who was Samori Touré?

Well, Samori Touré was born in 1830 in Manyambaladugu (some texts mentionSanankoro instead), a village southeast of Kankan in present-day Guinea. Samori was a great warrior who fought imperialism in the 19th century such as many leaders today. He refused to submit to French colonization and thus chose the path of confrontation using warfare and diplomacy.

Until the age of 20, Samori was a trader. After his mother was captured in a slave raid by the king Sori Birama, he offered to serve in his army and excelled by his military prowess and skills.

Samori Touré had a vision of unity for the Malinké people, and…

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The Wassoulou Anthem: to the Glory of the Great Samori Touré

Samori
Samori Touré

The beautiful words of the anthem below were composed by the Griots of the Wassoulou empire (or Mandinka empire) which went from 1852 to 1898, to the glory of the then Fama (King), the Almamy Samori Touré. The words are quite deep and celebrate courage, vigor, and righteousness. Enjoy! In recent times, this anthem was sung by the Bembeya Jazz National.

 

If you cannot organize, lead, and defend the country of your fathers, call upon the most valiant men;

If you cannot say the truth, at all times and all places, call on the most courageous men ;

If you cannot be impartial, give the throne to righteous men;

If you cannot protect the iron to face the enemy, give your sword of war to women who would point you to the path of honor;

If you cannot courageously express your thoughts, give the floor to the griots talk.

Oh Fama ! The people trust you, it trusts you because you embody its virtues.

From the journal l’Autre Afrique N° 01, juillet 2001, new version. Translated to English by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com

 

Description of Kong, Capital of Samori Touré, in 1892

Cote dIvoire_Kong_Une Mosquée de Kong 1892
A mosque in Kong, 1892

Below is a description of Kong, the last capital of Samori Touré, by a French explorer back in 1892. In 1892, it was a delight to the eyes, and even the French explorers and conquerors were stunned by its beauty! Enjoy!

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Cote dIvoire_Binger Arrivée_à_Kong-1892
Arrival of the French explorer Louis-Gustave Binger in Kong in 1888

Kong is infinitely less dirty that Bondoukou, even though its population is six (6) or seven (7) times higher. The deleterious miasmas are less persistent probably because of the altitude (about 700 meters). At these heights, the wind beats any infection. Built on an elongated rump, the city is freshened up by the least breeze. The surroundings, except a few groups of large trees used as sheds for animals, are deforested as far as the eye can see. At this time of the year, this immensity is of a deep green similar to English lawns, the whole landscape is of an exquisite charm. – And the grace, charm, are rare things on this

Samori
Samori Touré

morose continent ! – The city, especially from the northwest, gilded by the setting sun, with its pyramidal minarets of its five mosques, the palm trees separating their thin silhouette from the sky, the superimposed terraces where groups of faithful appear at the time of prayer, is an unforgettable vision.  This is how Binger saw Kong for the first time, and I can imagine what must have been his surprise.

Marcel Monnier, France Noire, Plon ed. Paris, p. 204, 1894 . Translation to English by Dr. Y. Afrolegends.com

Deportation of African Heads of States

prempeh_i
Prempeh I of Ashanti Kingdom

History repeats itself! Over 100 years ago, African Heads of states, Emperors and Kings, were deported by European colonizers for defending their people, lives, independence, land, livelihood, and themselves. Some were killed, and others were exiled. In those days, they were deported to other territories in Africa, far from their lands. Today, 100 years later, they are being deported to the Hague or to some other African lands again. Here are a few, and I am sure you know others.

Prempeh I, Asantehene of Ashanti Kingdom deported to Seychelles in 1896 by British forces. His throne is still displayed at the Royal Signals Museum in Blandford, England. He was allowed to return after 24 years in exile.

asantewaa
Yaa Asantewaa of Ashanti Kingdom

Queen Yaa Asantewa of the Ashanti Kingdom was deported to Seychelles in 1902 by the British. She arose her people to fight against the British. She died in exile.

Samori Toure, Founder and leader of the Wassoulou Empire, was deported to Gabon (on an island of the Oogoue) in 1898 by the French. He died in exile.

Samori
Samori Touré

Behanzin, King of Dahomey,was deported to Martinique and then later Algeria by the French. He died in exile in Algeria in 1906.

The Oba of Benin Kingdom deported to Calabar by the British in 1897. He died in exile.

Gungunyane, King of Gaza in Mozambique, first sent to Lisbon, and then later to the island of Terceira on the Portuguese Azores. He died in exile in 1906.

Behanzin, the Last King of independent Dahomey
Behanzin, the Last King of independent Dahomey

Cheikh Amadou Bamba, of Senegal, deported to Gabon in 1895 by the French. He was brought back 7 years later in 1902, but deported to Mauritania in 1903 for 4 years, before being brought back to Senegal. He died in Senegal.

Nowadays, Laurent Gbagbo, President of Côte d’Ivoire, deported to the Hague in the Netherlands 2011 by the French and the Ivorian Ouattara. He is still there.

Laurent Gbagbo
Laurent Gbagbo

Charles Ble Goude, Youth Minister of Côte d’Ivoire deported to the Hague in Netherlands in 2011 by the French, and the Ivoirian Ouattara. He is still there.

Moussa Dadis Camara, President of Guinea, shot and almost left for dead, deported to Burkina Faso(let’s call the cat by its name). …

And the list goes on… How long will it last? Can we not judge our people ourselves? Is this a choice by the people for the people? Are we really independent?

The Diisa : Malian Men’s Life Scarf

I recently learned about the Diisa, a long fringed indigo shawl worn by men in Mali, and men across the Sahara Desert. I knew of the  shawl, but never knew its name. I also knew of the shawl and always wondered why it was always blue, and not any other color. The Diisa has been worn by African men for centuries. Its ‘blue-ness’ comes from the ‘diisatogène‘ which is one of the strongest artificial component of Indigo dye.The shawl itself takes a long time to weave, and is later on indigo dyed. Our ancestors probably knew all this chemistry that I just learned today, and probably honed down the recipe. Samori Toure, the great African leader, can be seen wearing his diisa shawl on several occasions.

The excerpt below is from the Adire African Textiles blog. Enjoy!

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Malian artist and master dyer Aboubakar Fofana commented:

mali003
Samori Toure wearing his diisa

… The dissa shawl was such an important piece for a man from this region. It was given to a young man by his mother when he got married. She would have saved for this shawl since her son was very young they were a lot of work and were worth the same as 10 head of cattle. They were indigo dyed, and when the man died, this shawl would be his shroud. The celestial blue of indigo would help him pass from this world to heaven. I’m very proud to be making a modern interpretation of the dissa, with its long fringes, and I hope I am carrying on the tradition of something important in my culture.

And Belgian art historian Patricia Gerimont, who is working on a book on indigo dyeing in Mali, supplied this information on indigo in Burkina Faso (my translation): “the indigo shawls and wrappers in Burkina are dyed by a specific group called the Yarsé, and also by other groups of Marka dyers. The Yarsé speak Mossi but are of Marka origin, you also find them in Dogon country under the name Yélin.

 

Portrait of Samori Touré

Samori Toure holding the Coran
Samori Toure holding the Coran

All, I am giving you below a portrait of Samori Touré made by Commandant Binger, a contemporary of Samori Touré, one of the great kings and fighters for African freedom. Bear in mind that this description is certainly  tainted by the European (Binger) colonizer’s stereotypes of Africans. The original text in French is found on page 255 of Les Africains, Tome 1. Translation to English by Dr. Y. Afrolegends.com. Enjoy!

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Samori Touré
Samori Touré

The almamy is a tall handsome man of about 50 years of age; his features are a bit hard, and, unlike men of his race, he has a long slim nose, which gives a refined expression to his entire physiognomy; his eyes are very mobile, but he does not often look across his interlocutor.

His exterior appears to me affable rather than hard: very attentive when a compliment is made to him, he can be distracted and indifferent when he does not want to answer a question categorically. He speaks with great volubility, and I think him capable of being warm and persuasive when the occasion arises.

Sitting in a cotton hammock with white and blue rays brought to him from Paris by his son, he holds in his hands, a big piece of tender wood which is called in Bambara niendossila, or ngossé (it is sotiou in Wolof) and with which he cleans his teeth.

"L'Almami Samori Toure" de Khalil Fofana
“L’Almami Samori Toure” de Khalil Fofana

He is dressed with a big doroké in purple florence, of inferior quality, and wears indigenous cotton pants with black and red rays of European make; his legs, a brown chocolate lighter than his face, are coated with shea butter; he is wearing indigenous red leather sandals.

On his head is a red fez of sharpshooter around which is wrapped a thin white turban which goes on his mouth and frames his black face. On his shoulders, he negligently wears a haïk of low price.

Imaginary portrait of Samori Touré
Imaginary portrait of Samori Touré

Sitting at his feet are: an old kokisi who never leaves him, two marabouts, a few griots, and the four captives assigned to the hammock, the chair, the camping  bowl in which he washes his hands, and the kettle containing water for occasional rinsing of the mouth. These objects and captives rarely leave his side; wherever he goes, this paraphernalia follows.

Within his reach, and under the same shelter (sort of shed to which the hammock is docked), two tailors are busy sewing yellow florence for his wives. One of the griots carries a big red umbrella, while the other one carries a crank-rod gun. All the objects mentioned above are of English make, except the hammock and the camping bowl, which is a regular bowl.

Commandant Binger

“From Niger to the Gulf of Guinea”

Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj: Senegalese Queen leading the Resistance against French Colonization

Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj
Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj (from the cover of Kings and Queens of West Africa, by S. Diouf)

In 1855, when the French arrived to colonize Senegal, the first power of resistance they encountered was a woman. Her name was: Ndate Yalla Mbodj. While in France, women were not recognized as citizens until 90 years later, the French were stunned by this woman of beautiful stature, face, and strong body, and who headed an immense army. She was a beautiful and proud warrior, who inherited a rich tradition of bravery and gallantry.

The Lingeer or Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj (1810 – 1860) was the last great queen of the Waalo, a kingdom in the northwest of modern-day Senegal.  She was a heroine of the resistance against French colonization and Moors invasion. She was also the mother of Sidya Leon Diop or Sidya Ndate Yalla Diop, who went on to become one the greatest resistants to the colonization of Senegal.

Map of Senegal
Map of modern-day Senegal

Queen Ndate succeeded to her sister Ndjeumbeut Mbodj. She was officially crowned Queen of the Waalo on October 1st 1846 in Ndar (now called Saint-Louis), the capital of the Waalo.  Her reign was marked by an ongoing defiance of the French against which she fought a fierce battle. By 1847, she opposed the free passage of Sarakolé people by sending a letter to the governor expressing her willingness to defend the respect of her sovereignty over the valley in these terms: “We guarantee and control the passage of cattle in our country and we will not accept it the other way. Each leader governs his country as he pleases.

Warrior from the Waalo Kingdom, 1846
Warrior from the Waalo Kingdom, 1846

She fought both the Moors who happen to encroach on her territory, and the colonialist army led by Louis Faidherbe, the butcher, and bandit, who later became governor of Saint-Louis and colonial head of administration and army. Almost 10 years into her reign in 1855, she encountered the greatest colonialist pirate Faidherbe, with an army of 15,000 strong, fully armed and ready to fight her, dethrone her, and colonize Waalo and Senegal. Faidherbe defeated her army in bloody battles, before capturing Saint-Louis. In February 1855, while the Faidherbe’s troops were entering the Waalo, the Lingeer spoke to the principal dignitaries of her country as such: “Today, we are invaded by the conquerors.  Our army is in disarray.  The tiedos of the Waalo, as brave warriors as they are, have almost all fallen under the enemy’s bullets.  The invader is stronger than us, I know, but should we abandon the Waalo to foreign hands?” (Aujourd’hui nous sommes envahis par les conquérants. Notre armée est en déroute. Les tiédos du Walo, si vaillants guerriers soient-ils, sont presque tous tombés sous les balles de l’ennemi. L’envahisseur est plus fort que nous, je le sais, mais devrions-nous abandonner le Walo aux mains des étrangers?) … “This country is mine alone!”

She eventually lost the battle, but not the war; which continued to be a war of resistance until the early part of the twentieth century by Lat Dior Diop, and many other ‘Gelewars’. This conquest would forever change the trajectory of her reign and the geopolitical, military, and geographical road map of Senegambia, “Ganaar” (now called Mauritania), Mali (formerly called French Sudan), and Fouta.

Senegambia in 1707, with the Kingdom of Waalo written as 'R. d'Oualle ou de Brak'
Senegambia in 1707, with the Kingdom of Waalo written as ‘R. d’Oualle ou de Brak’

Her father was Brak (King) Amar Fatim Borso Mbodj, and mother was Lingeer (Queen) Awo Fatim Yamar Khuri Yaye Mboge. Her son, Sidya Leon Diop, who would later too become an anti colonialist, and fight the French until his capture, and exile to die in Gabon in 1878. Her son Sidya was captured as a hostage in Saint-Louis by General Faidherbe during their bloody war with Ndate, and was baptized ‘Leone’ and sent to Algiers for schooling in 1861. When he returned to Senegal two years later in 1863, he was enlisted in the French colonial army; the first African or Senegalese to hold such a post. But as the saying goes —like mother, like son, he refused to do their dirty job of joining forces with the European colonial foreigners and mercenary apparatus, against his mother’s kingdom and people. He then changed strategy and rallied with Lat Dior Diop and others, which resulted in his betrayal, and capture by the colonial forces; and exile to Gabon (just like Samori Toure).

Ndate Yalla Mbodj
Ndate Yalla Mbodj

Queen Ndate Yalla Mbodj, as a true ‘lingeer’, developed the women’s army as one of the most formidable forces to recon with in her reign. The story of this Senegambia Queen is best amplified in oral tradition by the local griots. Her women army was similar to the “Amazon” women army of Benin, Behanzin’s fearless protective women’s army. She later went into exile in Ndimb in the northern part of the Waalo and died in Dagana, where today a statue has been erected in her honor (the only one erected in honor of a queen nationwide). To learn more, check out: Maafanta.com, Matricien.org, au-Senegal.com; the book Kings and Queens of West Africa by Sylviane Diouf has an entire chapter dedicated to this great queen.