Below is a description of the great city of Ségou (pronounce Segu) in Mali by the Scottish explorer Mungo Park in 1795. Here he describes the city’s population density, dynamism, architecture, and even their ways of life. He amply describes the roominess and surprised sturdiness of Ségou’s canoes which could host 4 horses. Mungo Park is simply astounded by the greatness of the civilization he encounters there, and concludes, “the crowded population and the cultivated state of the surrounding country, formed altogether a prospect of civilization and magnificence, which I little expected to find in the bosom of Africa.” Note that the city is surrounded by high mud walls probably similar to the Tata of Sikasso: an African Fortifying Wall.
Sego, the capital of Bambarra, at which I had now arrived, consists, properly speaking, of four distinct towns ; two on the northern bank of the Niger, called Sego Korro, and Sego Boo and two on the southern bank, called Sego Soo Korro and Sego See Korro. They are all surrounded with high mud walls ; the houses are built of clay, of a square form, with flat roofs ; some of them have two storeys, and many of them are whitewashed.
Besides these buildings, Moorish mosques are seen in every quarter ; and the streets, though narrow, are broad enough for every useful purpose, in a country where wheel-carriages are entirely unknown. From the best enquiries I could make, I have reason to believe that Sego contains altogether about thirty thousand inhabitants. The king of Bambarra constantly resides at Sego See Korro ; he employs a great many slaves in conveying people over the river, and the money they receive (though the fare is only ten cowrie shells for each individual) furnishes a considerable revenue to the king in the course of a year. The canoes are of a singular construction, each of them being formed of the trunks of two large trees, rendered concave, and joined together, not side by side, but end ways ; the junction being exactly across the middle of the canoe ; they are therefore very long and disproportionably narrow, and have neither decks nor masts ; they are, however, very roomy ; for I observed in one of them four horses, and several people crossing over the river. When we arrived at this ferry, with a view to pass over to that part of the town in which the king resides, we found a great number waiting for a passage ; they looked at me with silent wonder, and I distinguished, with concern, many Moors among them. There were three different places of embarkation, and the ferrymen were very diligent and expeditious ; but, from the crowd of people, I could not immediately obtain a passage ; and sat down upon the bank of the river, to wait for a more favourable opportunity The view of this extensive city ; the numerous canoes upon the river ; the crowded population and the cultivated state of the surrounding country, formed altogether a prospect of civilization and magnificence, which I little expected to find in the bosom of Africa.
Mungo Park, Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa: Performed Under the Direction and Patronage of the African Association, in the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797.
Sego = Ségou
Bambarra = Bambara
Sego Boo = Ségou-Bou
Sego Korro = Ségou-Koro
Sego See-Korro = Ségou-Sikoro
*The four cities mentioned here are actually on the southern shore, but there are on the northern shore some neighborhoods to which Mungo Park attributed excessive importance.