Traditional clothing of West Africa:

  1. A woman in ceremonial dress (Benin)
  2. Dancers in traditional wear (Ashanti-Ghana)
  3. Girl in traditional dress (Burkina Faso)
  4. Woman in traditional dress (Togo)
  5. Woman in traditional dress (Fulani-Gambia)
  6.  A women in traditional clothing (Itsekiri-Nigeria)
  7. Girl in traditional dress (Niger) 
  8. Girl in traditional dress (Songhai-Mali)
  9. A group of women in traditional dress (Senegal)
  10. Woman in traditional clothing (Mauritania)

If you have any corrections, please notify me directly as opposed to reblogging it or else I may not see it. 

Request for Resources: Late Antiquity-Medieval Period in Northern Africa

Hello! I apologize in advance for the wall of text ahead. I’ve been following your blog for a couple months now and I absolutely love having you on my dashboard. I’m constantly blown away by the legacy of whitewashing and the fact that non-Eurocentral historical sources are too few and far between.
I am one of a few people working on a mod project for a popular real-time strategy game called Crusader Kings II. As you can probably infer from the title, the game itself is set in the Middle Ages and focuses on… guess which “continent”? The mod project is called Lux Invicta (the link won’t work unless you have an account with Paradox Interactive), and is an alternate history mod focusing primarily on the conquests of Alexander the Great, along with many other famous conquerors from antiquity. Most of them are from European stock, but there are also famous PoC empires and legends, including the Sassanid Empire and the legacy of Kahina.
Right now the mod uses the map from the main game, which consists of Europe and parts of North Africa, almost all the way to the Indus River. As a part of a time-consuming and painstaking process, I have been working on an expansive map for the mod which would encompass India, Central Asia, and almost the entire African continent. For time’s sake and because of limited resources (as well as historical accuracy, since many parts of the African continent are difficult to inhabit even today, let alone with the technology of antiquity), the only parts of Africa that will be inhabitable for now are the eastern coast along the Indian Ocean and the Niger Basin, with trans-Saharan trade routes and river navigation along the Nile. The Atlantic coast may be filled in later on, depending on popular opinion.
One of the main overtones of the mod is indigenous resistance; many groups such as the Berbers, the Sabaeans, the Slavs, the Norse, the Turks, and so forth have been largely resistant to Roman (both Christian and pagan) and Islamic conversion, and many are powerhouses in their own might. I would like to carry this aspect over with the new map, and I want most of Africa to be as in-depth and… well, African as possible. Historical accuracy isn’t the most important in this case because the mod is an alternate history timeline, and certain things – so long as they make logical sense – can be altered to make the game more interesting. Ultimately, though, the goal is not to make Africa “that extra place to conquer”, but rather another point from which to conquer the world, complete with its own history and background. Your resource list on black royalty has been very helpful, and I was wondering if there’s any helpful advice on representation of PoCs in a late antiquity/medieval setting you might have which could help to make this mod project a diverse – and therefore realistic – success.
Also, one of the group members is quite handy in graphic design, and thanks to him the mod is complete with its own (frankly better-looking) character portrait set, which is almost entirely based on depictions of people from the appropriate setting. I know your blog features depictions of people of color in a realistic way, though most of the sources are European, and thus largely feature those people of color in a post-colonial setting. Do you by chance happen to know where I can find accurate depictions of the kind of clothing, armor, and hairstyles/headgear that people living along the Indian Ocean coast and in West Africa would wear around the time of late antiquity?
The biggest wall we’ve run into in this department is the fact that, in the mod’s timeline, Islam was not able to push past the Berbers, and thus most of the Sahara south of the Mediterranean Sea does not follow Islam. Because of this, it makes little-to-no sense to have Arabic influence in our depictions of the people living there, which poses a problem because most if not all of the depictions of people are heavily influenced by Islamic culture. If you happened to know of any sources on pre-Islamic African history, particularly in the north, could you please tell me where I can find them? :)

Whew! That’s a LOT of stuff to cover, and I have to go to work, but I’ll give you some quick hits for starting points and hopefully my readers will add some more!!!

I know you did specify Northwestern, but if you leave out Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia, you’ll probably end up really disappointed:

Ancient Sudan

Medieval Sudan

Mali Empire and Djenne Figurines

ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World

Empires of the Western Sudan: Ghana

Empires of the western Sudan: Overview

Empires of the Western Sudan: Mali

The Trans-Saharan Gold Trade: 700-1400

Western North Africa 1-500 A.D.:

In the period from 1 to 500 A.D., western North Africa is one of the most prosperous and stable regions of the Roman empire, supplying the capital with staple crops and luxury goods. Peace and wealth create ideal conditions for a flowering of artistic and intellectual life.

West North Africa (The Maghrib) 500-100 A.D.

Songhai Empire Culture, Government, Arts

This is FAR from comprehensive; everyone feel free to add their resources and suggestions!

Sunni Ali Ber - King of Songhai 15th Century AD

In the sixteenth century the Songhay land awoke. A marvelous growth of civilization mounted there in the heart of the African Continent. And this civilization was not imposed by circumstances, nor by an invader, as is often the case even in our day. It was desired, called forth, introduced and propagated by a man of the Negro race.
—Félix Dubois, Tombouctou, la mystérieuse
Gao was established by the Songhai people at about the same time as the Soninke established Ghana. Gao never flourished as Ghana did and, after the fall of Ghana, Gao became a vassal state of Mali. In 1335, Gao became independent of Mali.

It was not until Sunni Ali Ber, a member of the Sunni dynasty, ascended to the throne in 1464, that the rulers of Gao looked beyond the confines of the Niger valley. In 28 years he turned the kingdom of Gao into the Songhai empire, which stretched from the Niger in the east to Jenne in the west and from Timbuktu in the north to Hombori, the wide arch formed by the Northern Niger bend, in the south. Songhai ultimately developed into the greatest of the Sudanic empires and, like Mali and Ghana, was strategically located along trans-Saharan trade routes.

Sunni Ali Ber’s reign was one military campaign after another, extending the frontiers of his kingdom through conquest. Sunni Ali Ber built a well-organized army, which consisted of infantry, cavalry and a powerful navy—a fleet of ships manned by Sorko fishermen—which patrolled the Niger. Sunni Ali Ber cut a wide swath across the Western Sudan and punished his enemies mercilessly.

In 1468, supposedly invited by the people of Timbuktu, Sunni Ali Ber embarked on his military career by invading Timbuktu to oust the Tuaregs, who had wrested control from Mali in 1434. Timbuktu fell easily as Akil, the Tuareg chief, fled to Walata. Sunni Ali Ber looted and burned the city and is said to have murdered most of the priests and scholars there. Sunni Ali Ber then headed south and, in 1473, captured Jenne after a siege reputed to have lasted seven years, seven months and seven days. By contrast, Sunni Ali Ber was merciful at Jenne.

Sunni Ali Ber regarded the Mossi as a serious threat to his burgeoning power. In 1480, he encountered them after they had sacked Walata. He hounded them throughout the Western Sudan and succeeded in driving them back to their home. Next, he defeated the Fulani of Massina. Sunni Ali Ber had an intense hatred for them as he did all foreigners. In 1483, he went to war with the Mossi, repulsing them again and finally ending the Mossi threat in 1486.

In 1492, Sunni Ali drowned while returning home after a victory against the Fulani of Gurma.

In the same year Christopher Columbus, harbinger of the Atlantic slave trade, set sail for the New World.

During his reign, Sunni Ali Ber showed little respect for the Muslim religion. He kept up the outward appearance of a Muslim, primarily for political purposes, as parts of his kingdom practiced the faith. He neither relinquished the traditional Songhai religion, or did he recognize Islam as the state religion.

Although it is purported that he ruled from horseback, Sunni Ali Ber did establish an effective system of government. He turned the conquered states into provinces, with a combination of his choices and extant rulers as governors. Consequently, Songhai became a centralized state dominating the entire Niger region. Special organizational arrangements were made for Timbuktu and other Muslim provinces. Additionally, he installed a commander-in-chief for his navy.

Arab historians have been harsh in their assessment of Sunni Ali, as expected from his anti-Muslim stance, and have depicted him as a tyrant and despot. Nevertheless, he positioned Songhai as Sundiata did for Mali and laid the foundation for Askia Mohammed to take Songhai to its greatest heights as an Islamic state. Books
African Glory, J. C. Degraft-Johnson. Black Classic Press, 1986. Buy it in paperback:
Africans and Their History, Joseph E. Harris. Penguin USA, second revised edition, 1998. Buy it in paperback: |
Ancient African Kingdoms, Margaret Shinnie. E. Arnold. Buy it in hardcover:
Buy it in paperback:
Cambridge History of Africa, Vol. 2, J.D. Fage (ed.). Cambridge University Press, 1979. Buy it in hardcover: |
General History of Africa, Vol. IV: Africa from the Twelfth to Sixteenth Century, UNESCO. University of California Press, 1986. Buy it in hardcover: |
Buy it in paperback: |
A Glorious Age in Africa: The Story of Three Great African Empires, Daniel Chu and Elliott P. Skinner. Africa World Press, 1990. Buy it in hardcover: |
Buy it in paperback: |
The Lost Cities of Africa, Basil Davidson. Little, Brown & Co., 1959. Buy it in paperback: |
The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa, Patricia and Fredrick McKissack. Henry Holt, 1995. Buy it in hardcover:
Buy it in paperback: |
Topics in West African History, A. Adu Boahen, Jacob F. Ade Ajayi, and Michael Tidy. Addison-Wesley, 1987. Buy it in textbook binding: |
The Western Sudan: Ghana, Mali, Songhay, Kenny Mann. Dillon Press. Buy it in hardcover:
Buy it in paperback:

There were many other Kingdoms in Africa, not just the Kingdom of Egypt, that are worthy of praise and honour. Indeed, Egypt played a great role in civilization, but it was only one of many on the continent.  Below are few of the many greats:

While Europe was experiencing its Dark Ages, a period of intellectual, cultural and economic regression from the sixth to the 13th centuries, Africans were experiencing an almost continent-wide renaissance after the decline of the Nile Valley civilizations of Egypt and Nubia.

The leading civilizations of this African rebirth were the Axum Empire, the Kingdom of Ghana, the Mali Empire, the Songhai Empire, the Ethiopian Empire, the Mossi Kingdoms and the Benin Empire.

Axum Empire

The Aksum or Axum Empire was an important military power and trading nation in the area that is now Eritrea and northern Ethiopia, existing from approximately 100 to 940 A.D.

At its height, it was one of only four major international superpowers of its day along with Persia, Rome and China. Axum controlled northern Ethiopia, Eritrea, northern Sudan, southern Egypt, Djibouti, Western Yemen, and southern Saudi Arabia, totaling 1.25 million square kilometers, almost half the size of India. Axum traded and projected its influence as far as China and India, where coins minted in Axum were discovered in 1990.

Axum was previously thought to have been founded by Semitic-speaking Sabaeans who crossed the Red Sea from South Arabia (modern Yemen) on the basis of Conti Rossini’s theories —but most scholars now agree that when it was founded it was an indigenous African development.

Kingdom of Ghana

Centered in what is today Senegal and Mauritania, the Kingdom of Ghana dominated West Africa between about 750 and 1078 A.D. Famous to North Africans as the “Land of Gold,” Ghana was said to possess sophisticated methods of administration and taxation, large armies, and a monopoly over notoriously well-concealed gold mines.

The king of the Soninke people who founded Ghana never fully embraced Islam, but good relations with Muslim traders were fostered. Ancient Ghana derived power and wealth from gold and the use of the camel increased the quantity of goods that were transported. One Arab writer, Al-Hamdani, describes Ghana as having the richest gold mines on Earth. Ghana was also a great military power. According to one narrative, the king had at his command 200,000 warriors and an additional 40,000 archers.

Mali Empire

After the fall of the Kingdom of Ghana, the Mali Empire rose to dominate West Africa. Located on the Niger River to the west of Ghana in what is today Niger and Mali, the empire reached its peak in the 1350s.

The Mali Empire was founded by Mansa (King) Sundiata Keita and became renowned for the wealth of its rulers, especially Mansa Musa. He was the grandson of Sundiata’s half-brother, and led Mali at a time of great prosperity, during which trade tripled. During his rule, Mansa Musa doubled the land area of Mali; it became a larger kingdom than any in Europe at the time.

The cities of Mali became important trading centers for all of West Africa, as well as famous centers of wealth, culture and learning. Timbuktu, an important city in Mali, became one of the major cultural centers not only of Africa but of the entire world. Vast libraries and Islamic universities were built. These became meeting places of the finest poets, scholars and artists of Africa and the Middle East.

The Kingdom of Mali had a semi-democratic government with one of the world’s oldest known constitutions – The Kurukan Fuga.

The Kurukan Fuga of the Mali Empire was created after 1235 by an assembly of nobles to create a government for the newly established empire.  The Kurukan Fouga divided the new empire into ruling clans that were represented at a great assembly called the Gbara. The Gbara was the deliberative body of the Mali Empire and was made up of 32 members from around 29 clans. They were given a voice in the government and were a check against the emperor’s (mansa’s) power. It was presided over by a belen-tigui (master of ceremonies) who recognized anyone who wanted to speak including the mansa. The Gbara and the Kurukan Fuga remained in place for over 40o years until 1645.

According to Wikipedia, Disney’s “Lion King” movie was based on the real life narrative of Mansa Sundiata Keita.

Songhai Empire

The Songhai Empire, also known as the Songhay Empire, was the largest state in African history and the most powerful of the medieval west African states. It expanded rapidly beginning with King Sonni Ali in the 1460s and by 1500s, it had risen to stretch from Cameroon to the Maghreb. In 1360, disputes over succession weakened the Mali Empire, and in the 1430s, Songhai, previously a Mali dependency, gained independence under the Sonni Dynasty. Around thirty years later, Sonni Sulayman Dama attacked Mema, the Mali province west of Timbuktu, paving the way for his successor, Sonni Ali, to turn his country into one of the greatest empires sub-Saharan Africa has ever seen.

Perhaps, it’s most popular leader was Muhammad Askia the Great. At its peak, the Songhai city of Timbuktu became a thriving cultural and commercial center. Arab, Italian and Jewish merchants all gathered for trade. By 1500, the Songhai Empire covered over 1.4 million square kilometers.

The Ethiopian Empire

The Ethiopian Empire also known as Abyssinia, covered a geographical area that the present-day northern half of Ethiopia covers. It existed from approximately 1137 (beginning of Zagwe Dynasty) until 1975 when the monarchy was overthrown in a coup d’état.  In 1270, the Zagwe dynasty was overthrown by a king claiming lineage from the Aksumite emperors and, hence, Solomon. The thus-named Solomonic Dynasty was founded and ruled by the Habesha, from whom Abyssinia gets its name.

The Habesha reigned with only a few interruptions from 1270 until the late 20th century. It was under this dynasty that most of Ethiopia’s modern history occurred. During this time, the empire conquered and incorporated virtually all the peoples within modern Ethiopia. They successfully fought off Italian, Arab and Turkish armies and made fruitful contacts with some European powers, especially the Portuguese, with whom they allied in battle against the latter two invaders.

Mossi Kingdoms

The Mossi Kingdoms were a number of different powerful kingdoms in modern-day Burkina Faso which dominated the region of the Upper Volta River for hundreds of years. Increasing power of the Mossi kingdoms resulted in larger conflicts with regional powers. The Kingdom of Yatenga became a key power attacking the Songhai Empire between 1328 and 1477, taking over Timbuktu and sacked the important trading post of Macina.

When Askia Mohammad I became the leader of the Songhai Empire with the desire to spread Islam, he waged a Holy war against the Mossi kingdoms in 1497. Although the Mossi forces were defeated in this effort, they resisted attempts to impose Islam. Although there were a number of jihad states in the region trying to forcibly spread Islam, namely the Massina Empire and the Sokoto Caliphate, the Mossi kingdoms largely retained their traditional religious and ritual practices. Being located near many of the main Islamic states of West Africa, the Mossi kingdoms developed a mixed religious system recognizing some authority for Islam while retaining earlier African spiritual belief systems.

Benin Empire

Once a powerful city-state, Benin exists today as a modern African city in what is now south-central Nigeria. The present-day oba (King) of Benin traces the founding of his dynasty to A.D. 1300. The Benin Empire was a pre-colonial Edo state. Until the late 19th century, it was one of the major powers in West Africa. According to one eye witness report written by Olfert Dapper, “The King of Benin can in a single day make 20,000 men ready for war, and, if need be, 180,000, and because of this he has great influence among all the surrounding peoples… . His authority stretches over many cities, towns and villages. There is no King thereabouts who, in the possession of so many beautiful cities and towns, is his equal.”

When European merchant ships began to visit West Africa from the 15th century onwards, Benin came to control the trade between the inland peoples and the Europeans on the coast. When the British tried to expand their own trade in the 19th century, the Benin warriors killed their envoys.


We must not reduce African societies to just villages. We are talking about the destruction of empires, states and nations. Even if we just talk about West Africa, Dahomey was a state; Benin was a state; Ashanti was a state. And it is important not to see Africa as just a collection of underdeveloped villages. For this is part of the European lie to claim an undeserved and untenable superiority…When the European first came to Africa, he had to pay taxes and tribute on the coast and had to stay on the coast. And in Dahomey, they made him build his houses in mud, not in stone to show how impermanent his residence was. And he exchanged ambassadors where he could. He exchanged ambassadors not only with Songhai, but also with Angola, Congo and other states. It was at first a necessary mutual respect for policy…But eventually, Africa, an old centre of civilisation, began to decline and capitalism began to rise, and you have a shift then in the balance of power. And the Europeans began to strengthen themselves on the coast. And appropriating knowledge from Africa and Asia and synthesising technique, they began to shift the balance of power. They began to go inland.
—  Maulana Karenga
March 12th, 1591 | The Battle of Tondibi

I think you could partially define the word “empire” as “a bunch of people, temporarily united in cause, stealing a lot of land, then eventually falling out, and getting face-punched into oblivion by a neighboring empire.”

Let’s take The Songhai as an example.

“The who?” I hear you ask, to which I spin the globe and tap on it with a little cane; ‘cos it looks all professor-like.

“These guys:” I respond.

And I think you would agree, familiarity with Africa or not, that this is a good chunk of turf. In fact, it’s one of the largest in Islamic and African history; they really were not playing around. So what happened to them?

Well, let’s start here:

The Niger River: As the world’s third-longest river, it’s 2,600 miles of annual-flooding, crop-boosting, awesome-fishing, fertile goodness. It would only be natural if ancient man would congregate around it in much the same way that the Egyptians did around the Nile. And that’s exactly what several groups of people did in the Gao region. Small settlements of Sorko, Do, and Gow cropped up like an anti-vaccer’s kid’s measles, and little fishing boats, rampant hippo hunting, and luscious farms became aplenty.

Which is a perfect target for a more rambunctious type of person: enter, the horse-riding Songhai, who – around the 11th Century – burst onto the scene, said “freaking hell mate, nice farm!” and then they promptly kicked the Sorko, Do and Gow in the nads and took over the joint. And as easy as that, the country of Songhai was born.

A dynasty of kings started to nurture our fledgling country into something quite respectable, and camel-riding tribes headed out of the desert to establish trading routes with other settlements. In no time at all, the Sahara is sporting trade-routes like a BOSS and wealth starts to flood in and out of the area; it quickly becomes known as the “land of gold.”

And sitting on top of this humongous pile of salt, slaves, kola nuts, leather, dates, ivory, and – of course – gold, the Songhai chiefs established Gao as a small kingdom, and turned to all of the people living along the trade routes, and said “you bitches now work for us.”

But you can’t go walking around town just wafting big fat wads of cash in people’s faces, without expecting to get shanked at some point. Once the Mali Empire saw how much phat lewts was just springing out of the ground in a constant shower of boss-drops, they were utterly compelled to drop Songhai onto their heads and steal it all. By 1430, Songhai was no more.

Except nothing is that cut and dry in history. The Mali ended up having their own infighting and bickering; rebellions cropped up, people punched people, insults were thrown, and once the dust settled Songhai were standing there at Gao, with no Mali invaders lording it over them. “Cool!” exclaimed Songhai, and a new era of the empire was born.

Their king now was Sonni Ali, and from 1464 to 1492, he ushered Songhai into prosperous times. And typically –as an empire – you do that by squishing all the little guys around you, which is exactly what these guys did. Ali was a formidable military strategist, and under his rule the Songhai reached a size of almost 900,000 square miles. And that right there is no chump change.

The Mossi to the south were elbowed to the face, the Dogon to the north were throat punched, the Mali were kicked into next week, and even Timbuktu fell under his control, and this – with its own wealthy trade routes – pumped even more cash into Songhai pockets.

After Sonni Ali came Askia the Great, which – honestly – I’m not sure how this whole moniker thing fell out of vogue, but we need to get it back.

So “Askia Awesomesauce Asskicker Look at these Abs” extended his power further north and east, and while not having the military smarts of Ali, he could hang, and the empire did pretty damn good under his rule. On top of that, he was a devout Muslim, opened up schools, constructed mosques, opened up his court to scholars, and enforced – without being intolerant of other religions – Islamic practices. Under his enlightened rule, astronomy flourished in the capital and observatories were established.

Goa was quickly becoming a freaking jewel to behold. Trade boomed, administration was refined and made more efficient, canals were built, agriculture was improved, and a standardized system of weights and measures to be used throughout trading was introduced.

But this is almost too rosy.

Askia got older, and as he did so his sons decided that it was time for them to take over. Humans man, we’re greedy little rats. In 1528 this erupted into open revolt, and Musa – one of his many sons – started strutting around like he’s king. This lasted 3 years, before renewed infighting started to ring the death knell for Songhai and the Empire.

Which is when we now get to these guys:

The Moroccans.

The Moroccans are enjoying a plum strategic spot in the world, and a good share of prestige; they are doing a-okay with things. But, like everyone else, they’re also enjoying their own little succession wars and infighting. Sultan Abu Abdallah Mohammed II has just been ousted by his uncle, Abd Al-Malik, which had the younger Abu heading over to the nearby Portuguese for assistance. Now the Portuguese were already talking about heading over to Morocco to stop the advancing Turkish military presence, so when Abu turns up in court looking for a handout, the Portuguese fell over themselves to help.

The merchants loved the idea of a Moroccan invasion, because a little gold, cattle, wheat, and sugar never hurts the bottom line. The nobility loved the idea, because they – quite literally – just wanted to get into a large scale scrap in Africa. And, finally, the King of Portugal, Sebastian I, was a religious nut and totally dug the idea of spreading Christianity to the infidels.

Sebastian gathered about 30,000 of the finest troops, 40 cannon, a small armada, and headed over to Morocco to open up a can of whoop ass. Unfortunately for him and the Portuguese, they ran face first into 50,000 very angry Moors and 10,000 cavalry. And ten thousand cavalry gets into the range of boggling the brain, but they “boggled” the Portuguese more, as they rode into the flanks and pretty much folded up the entire fucking army with very little effort.

FIFTEEN THOUSAND Portuguese were slaughtered and another FIFTEEN THOUSAND were captured, and if you are now rubbing your chin while thinking “hold on, that’s the entire army,” well you’d be correct! Only 100 survived to get back home. King Sebastian? Never found, and presumed dead. Abu Abdallah Mohammed II? Drowned in a river trying to escape.

And – perhaps oddly – Sultan Abd al-Malik of the Moroccans also died during the battle, but from natural causes, as he’d been quite ill and the ride there ultimately did him in. Which means that The Battle of Three Kings - quite literally - was also the same battle from which all three never walked away.

This guy did, though: Ahmad I al-Mansur, brother to al-Malik, he walked off the battlefield as the new Sultan and all of the prestige of 15,000 prisoners and one fine, glorious fucking battle. Once he ransomed the pioneers back to Portgual, al-Mansur found himself sitting on a fat, fat stack of gold, and what do you do what you win the lottery? You splurge it all, of course!

First we have to pimp out the army, maybe snag us some new cannon from England, then we better set up a kick-ass spy network, incase those bastards come back again, and then – of course – we need to live the fucking life of a Sultan (“drinks are on me!”), and – the pièce de résistance – a new fucking crib to make all of those bitches jelly! Thus the grand palace of Marrakesh was constructed.

But all of this also drained the royal coffers, and Morocco was quickly looking at bankruptcy.

If only there was somewhere close by, dripping in cash, and maybe having a few internal problems to make them real easy pickings …

Al-Mansur figured that he knew where the gold mines of Songhai were, and he fancied a little slice of that action. So he called over his most trusted eunuch, Judar of Granada, slapped on the title of “Pasha” and said “be a good chap, take some of our finest men and go and kick those chaps in the soft spot, ta very much.”

Pasha Judar was very much the man for the job, but the task was not a straight forward one; what lay ahead was an intimidating trek through the Sahara with a small army, and a need to arrive at the other end with enough strength and numbers to be able to fight the formidable Songhai forces.

He handpicked 3,500 of his very finest men; the type of guys with balls of steel and biceps bigger than your head. The force was heavily drawn from the multiple cultures available, with Spanish Moors providing power and structure. The only Moroccans were 1,500 light cavalry, with 1,000 arquebusiers,  500 horse-mounted arquebusiers, 500 other footmen, 6 cannon, and a scattering of mortars just rounding off a little tiny fist of face destruction.

Now, the arquebus was a pretty primitive weapon in this period; its inaccuracy, terrible load time, and tendency to kill the wielder vs. who it was being pointed at, all meant that the Moroccans would probably only get off one volley before battle was joined. The lynch pin here was the cannon … these were guaranteed to wreak some major flesh-shredding among the enemy. But an important note is that the Moroccan force had a solid knowledge of advanced military tactics, training, and coordination.

Finally, Pasha Judar selected ten captured European Kaids (lieutenants), a private bodyguard of eighty Christians, and organized an army train of eight thousand camels, one thousand horses, and six hundred sappers.

And they set off.

They followed a path very similar to the established trade routes, but it was an extremely long, and arduous 135 days in the desert. Despite being well supplied and water wells not being ruined in advance of their arrival, the army started to suffer debilitating losses.

Finally, they emerged near Gao, which was completely news to the Songhai, because they expected the invading force to veer off toward Timbuktu. Askia Ishak, the current king of Songhai at this point of their dynasty wars, shouted out to all of the clans and tribes to send their warriors … which was met by the sound of crickets, because no one turned up. As far as the tribes were concerned, no army could get through the desert, so Askia must have been smoking some form of crack pipe.

Askia had to withdraw to Tondibi, a large cattle pasture outside of Gao. Here he formed up what men he did have, which – in all truth – was a staggering count of 20,000 men, over half of which were cavalry. Even without reinforcements, he had the invaders drastically outnumbered, especially in light of the attrition the Moroccans had suffered in the desert.

Never-the-less, Pasha Judar formed up, and when I say “formed up,” I mean something like this:

That’s the military training for you. It was a freaking wall of lead and iron hurling, bone-splitting, misery-making, hell. And Askia could see that, so here he drew out his ace card: 1,000 cows.

Yup, cows.

The plan was actually as genius as it was simple: drive the cattle towards the Moroccan lines and use the weight of the cattle to break the formation apart. Dust would be kicked up behind them, in which the Songhai cavalry and infantry would advance, masked from any possible incoming fire. With the Moroccan lines broken, they’d be easy meat for the 4-to-1 larger force, now battling them hand-to-hand.

Except …

When the cattle were driven forward, the Moroccan’s opened with all manner of uncompromising fire: cannon exploding and thousands of arquebus launching a cacophony from the depths of the abyss.

The cows? They’d never fucking heard anything like that in their life! So what did they do? They turned tail and fucking ran as fast as their little legs could carry them. Right back into, and through, the Songhai lines.

By the time there was a second volley, the Songhai were now the ones to be broken and in disarray, and they were instantly tore into with a furious tsunami of “bits of metal, where metal really shouldn’t be.” They, too, were completely unfamiliar with such weaponry, and – with cannon balls pulverizing heads and torso alike, or just skipping on by exuding all manner of intimidation – they instantly broke and ran.

Except there was a fucking 1,000 strong cattle herd in their way.

The slaughter was terrible and the Songhai army was utterly smashed; Pasha Judar had earned him a solid victory. He pressed on into Gao itself, expecting gold covered streets and baskets of jewels, but instead he got something more like this …

“The palace of the Askiya is not equal to the house of the chief muleteer of Marrakesh.”
~ Judar Pasha

Judar was mightily unimpressed. So they sacked and destroyed the city anyway, ‘cos: “we’re here now, we may as well.”

Askia Ishak – who had survived the battle - offered the Moroccans 100,000 pieces of gold and 1,000 slaves in exchange for “please just fuck off,” in response to which, Al-Mansur – back home – went into a rage. You see, he was in a bit of a tight spot, because the country was slowly being driven into the ground, taxes necessary to support the army were making for an unhappy populace, and if he didn’t show something solid from this expedition, he’d be done for; a few coins were not going to cut it.

His response? He sent off another army, just as bad ass, just as tooled up as the other one, and seven weeks later it was raising everything in sight in order to find the elusive gold mines. A large battle at Gurma saw the Songhai defeated again, and this time Askia Ishak was brutally cut down.

Al-Mansur never did find the gold. What he didn’t know was that the location of the gold mines was only known to one, secret village, and in time he had to call it quits. Morocco remained partially in control of the area for the next seventy years, but with their sacking of Gao, and the richer trading centers of Timbuktu and Djenné, the Songhai never recovered.

As for al-Mansur; he made it until 1603, plague swept through the region, saw him off, and heralded in a fresh age of succession wars. Soon all that was left of his legacy was Marrakesh; local warlords, the Portuguese, and the Spanish took over the rest.

History, it’s a bitch.

 Faden Disclaimer: A small note here, folks; in reading about Tondibi from numerous sources, a couple of things became apparent: the start date was kind of up in the air, the number of forces present, and the casualties sustained. But I like to think that the following is a good, accurate blend of the source materials. Still, if you come to me and say “hey, the start date is wrong,” I’m not exactly going to argue with you, because doubtlessly there’s a paper or book somewhere that would agree with you.

More Cows to the Face:

Wait … What?


Empires of Medieval West Africa (Ghana, Mali, and Songhai)

Medieval West Africa: Views From Arab Scholars and Merchants

The Invasion of Morocco in1591 and the Saadian Dynasty [J. Michel]

Medieval Africa sees the rise and fall of large Western Sudanic Empires like Ghana, Songhai and Mali. There’s the Fatamid Caliphate in the North, not to mention other polities like Kanem-Bornu and the Swahili States, or the Kongo Kingdoms further South and those of Zimbabwe. We have Axum/Abyssinia in the Northeast, along with the Nubian Christian kingdoms. All of these feature “fascinating, dynamic, cataclysmic and downright exciting events” for which any fantasy writer should salivate. Abyssinia even has a castle called Gondar–no kidding! Gondar!

The world’s largest and most populated landmass, Asia, is brimming with medieval histories. From the complicated intrigue that sees the rise and spread of Islam in Western Asia, to the nearby Sasanids (Iran) and later Safavids, the numerous Caliphates, the expansive Gupta period of India, the Tang to Yuan dynasties of China or Queen Himiko of the Yamato to the Kamakura Shogunate, Asia has all the “religious, political, social and economic upheavals, the rise and fall of dynasties, conquest, epidemics” that should keep both fantasy writers and readers satisfied through the Butlerian Jihad and possibly the discovery of the spice melange!

I don’t even have the blog space to touch on the continents of North and South America–from mound builders in Mississippi to pyramids in Mesoamerica. And the best thing is, all of this offers us not only diverse faces, but (most important in my estimation) wholly different folklore, mythologies, cultural dress, weaponry, building structures and more to inspire our dreams. So the question remains, why is the fantasy genre so self-limiting? Why is it so few writers have bothered to expand beyond the western end of Middle Earth and give us instead stories out of Far Harad?

Sunni Ali Ber - King of Songhai 15th Century AD

When Sunni Ali Ber came to power, Songhay was a small kingdom in the western Sudan. But during his twenty-eight-year reign, it grew into the largest, most powerful empire in West Africa.
Sunni Ali Ber built a remarkable army and with this ferocious force, the warrior king won battle after battle. He routed marauding nomads, seized trade routes, took villages, and expanded his domain. He captured Timbuktu, bringing into the Songhay empire a major center of commerce, culture, and Muslim scholarship.

Patricia and Fredrick McKissack~The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa. EXCELLENT book for introducing young children to the great urban empires of Medieval West Africa. The people, wars, culture, architecture, international commerce, religion etc. This book provides alotta info on this much ignored epoch. #books #MedievalAfrica #AfricanHistory #Mali #Songhay #Songhai #Ghana #Sundiata #MansaMusa

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Nigeria Name Should Change From “Nigger Area” To “United Rep. Of Songhai” - Prof. Akin Oyebode

Professor of International Law And Jurisprudence at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Professor Akin Oyebode, who is also a delegate at the ongoing National Confab in Abuja suggested among other things that “Nigeria” is a colonial name bequeathed by colonial ruler, Lord Lugard as suggested to him by his “girl friend”, Flora Shaw.