Mungo Park describes Ségou in 1795

Mungo Park
Portrait of the Scottish explorer Mungo Park

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.


Mali_Ségou_La Mosquée (AOF)
The Mosque in Segou at the beginning of the 20th century

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.

Mali_Segou_Palais d'Ahmadou Tall
Entrance to Ahmadu’s palace in Segou-Sikoro published in the 1868 edition of the book by Eugene Mage Voyage dans le Soudan occidental (Sénégambie-Niger), Paris: Hachette

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.

Maryse Condé raconte Ségou

Bonjour a tous,

Je voulais partager avec vous ce rare bijou: une interview de la grande écrivain Maryse Condé dans laquelle elle discute de son livre Ségou, le premier roman épique africain.


Dear All,

I just wanted to show you this rare jewel: an interview of the great writer Maryse Conde where she talks about her book Segu, the first epic African novel. Enjoy!

Maryse Condé: The Birth of the African Epic Fiction

Maryse Condé
Maryse Condé

Maryse Condé is a Guadelopean/ French writer.  She was married to a Guinean actor, and as such has always kept the patronym ‘Condé’ which hails from Guinea.  She is a strong writer, and in my opinion, one of the best female writers of African descent.  Her writing is deep, and encompasses a mixture of creole ancestry, and African culture.  She has had a distinguished career as a writer and has taught at several prestigious universities in the US and France: Columbia University, University of California Berkeley, Harvard University, UCLA, University of Maryland, University of Virginia, Sorbonne, and Nanterre.

She tends to write historic fiction where she focuses on racial, gender, and cultural issues. I am an avid reader of Condé’s books.  In I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem [Moi, Tituba Sorciere] she explores slavery, and black presence during the Salem witch trials (until I read this book, it had never crossed my mind that there could be Blacks in Salem at that time).

'Segu' by Maryse Conde
‘Segu’ by Maryse Conde

One of the best novels ever written on an African kingdom was that of the capital of the Bambara Empire  Segu [Ségou] by Maryse Condé, which is deep and resurrects a very well-known kingdom in Mali, as well as slavery at that time, tribal warfare, the advance of islam in West Africa, the clash of cultures between muslims and animists, as well as muslims and Christians later on, and finally the presence of the white colons and the start of European imperialism in Africa. Through her novel, one finds strong historical facts, such as the battle between Fanti and Ashanti people in Ghana divided between French and English (An African version of the French-Indian war), the presence of Yoruba people in Sierra Leone, the presence of slave communities of Yoruba descent in Brazil and Jamaica, the different historic places such as the Gold coast, the Slave coast, the Grain coast, the weakening of the Bambara by the Islamic conquest which left them vulnerable to any advance by the French colonizers, etc… The depth of this book makes it one of the best African epic novel. For anybody craving for a history of Africa in the 18th/19th century, Segu is the best out there!

Moi, Tituba Sorciere
Moi, Tituba Sorciere

Asked about the meaning of her writing, Condé says: Je ne suis pas un ‘écrivain à message.’ J’écris d’abord pour moi, pour m’aider à comprendre et supporter la vie. En racontant des histoires que j’espère signifiantes, je souhaite aussi aider les autres, ceux de mon peuple en particulier, à comprendre et à la supporter à leur tour. [I am not a ‘writer of messages’. I write first for myself, to help me understand and bare life. By telling stories that I deem meaningful, I hope to help others also, particularly my people, to understand and bare life as well.]

Condé has received several awards, including the Prix Liberatur (Germany) for Segu, the Grand Prix Littéraire de la Femme for I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem, the Prix Carbet de la Caraïbe for Desirada, the Prix Marguerite Yourcenar for Le Coeur À Rire et À Pleurer (1999, Tales from the Heart: True Stories from my Childhood), and Le Grand Prix du roman métis for En Attendant la Montée des Eaux (2010). In 2001 she was ordained Commandeur dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de la France and in 2004 she was made Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.  Please help me acclaim one of the greatest writers of African descent!!!  Enjoy this interview given by Maryse Conde to Elizabeth Nunez on   The website “ile-en-ile” provides a complete bibliography of her work. You will find a detailed biography of Condé on Kirjasto, and this interview of Maryse Conde where she discusses her book Victoire: My Mother’s Mother, about her grandmother.