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

 

Samori Touré: African Leader and Resistant to French Imperialism!

Samori Toure holding the Coran
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 mention Sanankoro 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 thus started organizing his empire using traditional and innovative methods. He effectively organized Malinké chiefdoms into a single state under his authority, at the core of which was the army. He managed to increase loyalty to the state in the Malinké people who now thought as one united people… this intensified their allegiance to him. His state was well-organized and efficient. Samori’s army was powerful, disciplined, professional, and trained in modern day warfare. They were equipped with European guns. The army was divided into two flanks, the infantry or sofa, with 30,000 to 35,000 men, and the cavalry or sere of 3,000 men. Each wind was further subdivided into permanent units, fostering camaraderie among members and loyalty to both the local leaders and Samori himself. Talk about African organization and discipline… this was really a strong army! His empire reached his apogee between 1883 and 1887, and he took the title of Almami or religious leader of a Muslim empire.

"L'Almami Samori Toure" de Khalil Fofana
"L'Almami Samori Toure" de Khalil Fofana

Samori Touré created the Mandinka empire (the Wassoulou empire) between 1852 and 1882. His empire extended to the east as far as Sikasso (present-day Mali), to the west up to the Fouta Djallon empire (middle of modern day Guinea), to the north from Kankan to Bamako (in Mali); to the south, down to the borders of present-day Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Cote d’Ivoire. His capital was Bisandugu, in present day Gambia.

In the 1850s, slavery being abolished, European powers decided to establish colonies in Africa, and could not tolerate strong states like the Mandinka empire, and strong leaders like Samori Touré. These African leaders had to be crushed!

In 1882, at the height of the Mandinka empire, the French accused Samori Touré of refusing to comply to their order to withdraw from an important market center, Kenyeran (his army had blockaded the market). They thus started war on him. This was an excuse to start war! From 1882 to 1885, Samori fought the French and had to sign infamous treaties in 1886 and then 1887. In 1888, he took up arms again when the French reneged on the treaty by attempting to foster rebellion within his empire. He defeated the French several time between 1885 and 1889. After several confrontations, he concluded several treaties with the French in 1889.

Stamp from the Republic of Guinea
Stamp from the Republic of Guinea

In 1890, he reorganized his army, and signed a treaty with the British in Sierra Leone, where he obtained modern weapons. He re-organized his army so as to stress defense, and employed guerilla tactics.

In December 1891, French forces overran the major cities of the Mandinka empire, leaving death and desolation in their wake (sounds familiar? Côte d’Ivoire April 2011). These incursions into Touré’s empire led to exodus of the entire nation eastward. In 1893, Samori moved his capital east from Bisandugu to Dabakala. In 1894, the French assembled all their troops in western sudan (Senegal, Mali, Niger, etc…) to fight Samori.

Capture of Samori
Capture of Samori

Between 1893 and 1898, Samori’s army retreated eastward, toward the Bandama and Como (in modern day Cote d’Ivoire), conquering huge territories in the northern part of modern-day Cote d’ivoire. He led the scorched earth tactic, destroying every piece of land he evacuated. Although that tactic cut him from his new source of weapons in Liberia, he still managed to delay the French. He formed a second empire, and moved his capital to Kong, in upper Cote d’Ivoire. On May 1, 1898, the French seized the town of Sikasso and his army took up positions in the Liberian forests to resist a second invasion. This time Samori’s army fought valiantly but was no match to the power of the French arsenal. Samori forced to fight a total war against a foreign invader, and fighting against all odds, was captured on September 29, 1898, in his camp in Gué(lé)mou in present-day Côte d’Ivoire. He was exiled to Gabon where he died two years later on June 2, 1900.

Samori Touré was a warrior, a fighter, an empire builder, and one of the greatest African military leaders ever seen… he fought and won against the French army several times before his capture.

Interestingly enough, over 50 years later, the grandson of Samori, Sekou Touré, was the only one to say ‘NO’ to France, and to General De Gaulle: they preferred freedom over slavery under the European master… that was in Guinea!

Samori's empire
Samori’s empire

Please check out the work of Pr. Yves Person on WebMande.net who wrote a book on Samori Touré, BlackHistoryPages, and this article published by the New York Times in 1898 about the Capture of Samori Toure by the French. According to the New York Times, Samori, “for nearly 13 years, was the most dangerous antagonists Europeans had had to deal with“. I could not find a good map of Samori’s empire anywhere… so I made my own based on all the boundaries and main cities conquered and his capitals: Bisandougou, Kankan, Bamako, Sikasso, Kong, Dabakala, Guelemou, etc… some of the cities may not be the same today (or even exist after 100 years), particularly the city of Dabadugu: Samori Toure defeated the French at Dabadugu, was it the city of Dabadugu near Kankan, or was it the city of Dabadugu near Nzerekore? I used Google map and made my own, respecting all the information found in all the different books and atlases I read. This is the entire kingdom, without taking into account the first and second empires. If you have further information, I will be happy to hear more.