Failed Islamic States in Senegambia

David Robinson

Struggle between Ahmad and Muntaga

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[112]...Called by events at Segu, Ahmad left the Sahel, forcefully taking with him twelve slave villages, invaluable contingents for future wars." He brought Mustafa along and replaced him [as governor] at Nioro by one of the leaders of his [elite guard of] slaves known as Almamy. The following rainy season he sent from Segu to the Sahel seven of his brothers, one of whom was Muntaqa, the oldest, and to him he gave the command [113] of Nioro. Sa'id would govern [sic] Kanyareme; Nur, Diafunu; Bashir, Konyakary; Da'i, Diala.

Numerous conquests defined the rule of Muntaqa. He took possession of Sero, and he killed its king, Moriba, at Tambacara. He conquered Sac without firing a shot. Comintara [also fell] with slightly greater effort.

On his side, Ahmad waged numerous battles against the Bamana.' Victor at Kantegela and Diogo, he clashed without success at Nonko, and at Dorobugu which he could not take. The following rainy season, he took possession of Baukoli and Baufo, but his lieutenant Cerno al-Hasan failed before Kunia and Tugune. Happily he took his revenge in destroying Moribugu and Sanankoro.

After other expeditions, notably that of Kana which he commanded himself, Ahmad left Segu and travelled up the Niger [River] to Nyamina.

There, surprised by Nto, chief of Beledugu, he suffered a setback which he soon rectified with a victory.

As we said before, he had left in Nioro, to manage the country, one of his brothers named Muntaqa. The news that he [Ahmad] received of him [Muntaqa] confirmed his suspicions and he formed a plan to return to the Sahel by lesser-known routes, hoping thereby to surprise Muntaqa. He found a guide who led him in secret, in eight days, to Bassaga in Bakhunu. There, he dispatched to Muntaqa, Bashir, Munir [and] Ahmid [his envoy] 'Ali 'Uthman to ask them to travel to Bassaga.

As soon as he received the messenger, Muntaqa called to Nioro all the notables of the country (Tokolor,26 Sarracolet,27 and Bamana) and announced to them the desires of his brother. "Ahmad," he said, "wrote me this letter out of distrust. His only motive in coming from Segu is to punish me, and yet, what wrong have I done to him? I know that some have taken complaints against me to him, and, unfortunately, events outside my control have prevented me from exonerating myself in time." "Have no fear," responded his brothers, "Ahmad insists that you go and receive him since he is the leader of the country."

The evening brought counsel and dissipated a few of the apprehensions of Muntaqa. The next day he made preparations to depart, and, accompanied by a large escort, he began the journey. When [114] he arrived at Bassaga, he had nothing about which to complain regarding Ahmad, who received him cordially and gave a grand drum ceremony in his honor. Despite these amicable demonstrations, he held his guard and, when Ahmad proposed to him to leave the people of Nioro camped on the outskirts of Bassaga and to reside with him in his compound,29 he declined the invitation, invoking the anxiety that would gain control over his men if he left them. Outside of that, nothing would prevent him from always being at his [Ahmad's] disposition, day and night, as soon as he [Ahmad] expressed the desire. "I am happy to leave you with your men," responded Ahmad, 'but I find that they are too numerous. You seem to have come with an army with the intention of treating me as an equal or an enemy."

Muntaqa, his fears dissipating a little, and in order to satisfy Ahmad, agreed to keep only 300 horsemen, all mounted on white horses. Each morning, at their head, he went and greeted his brother. But this did not satisfy [Ahmad], and on the fourth day, when Muntaqa presented himself, he [Ahmad] said to him, "Is it necessary for such a [large] escort to come and greet one's brother? One would truly say that you wish to humiliate me. Remember that I alone command here, and I ask you, beginning tomorrow, to leave your cavalry behind when you bring me your greetings."

For two days, Muntaqa went to Ahmad's compound with his slave, Fadiala, but the third day, he brought along a sofa, to whom entry was denied. Muntaqa did not dare complain and completed his visit as usual, but he did not breathe freely until he was outside, among his men. [He said:] "My friends, every hour I tremble for you and for me, a mere captive of my brother who dares to impose his will on me. Here we are nothing, at the mercy of whim. They suspect us already, and I tremble for you and for me."

Immediately, a meeting was convoked and they decided that Muntaqa, with one hundred cavalry, would profit from the [cover of] evening to escape to Nioro. This decision taken, Muntaqa, without divulging the plan which he harbored, informed his brothers of his fears regarding Ahmad; he held them responsible for what might happen, since it was their exhortations which had brought him to Kassaga [sic]. If he was a victim of misfortune, then he would appeal to the superior court of God.

In order to arrange the time necessary to prepare his [115] bags without raising the suspicions of Ahmad, he [Muntaqa] let him know that he was ill and asked to be excused if he did not bring his greetings until the evening. Then [Muntaqa gave orders] to bar entry [to his compound] to anyone, made his final arrangements and escaped without [any further] obstacles 30

But all secrets are difficult to protect, and by the next morning several things had already transpired. Some of Ahmad's men came and prowled around Muntaqa's camp and asked if he was in his hut. "Yes," they responded, "he is praying." "Are you certain?" the others responded, "for we believe that he no longer is here." Despite the denials which met their inquiries, they went back to Ahmad to warn him of the flight of Muntaqa.

Immediately Ahmad 'Umar and some cavalry were sent in his pursuit. They caught up with him [Muntaqa] not far from Turugumbe, but they dared not attack him because of the escort which protected him. He [Muntaqa] received Ahmad 'Umar calmly and informed him of his firm intention not to return to Bassaga. Ahmad 'Umar, after a discussion for the sake of form, had no choice but to withdraw, which he did discretely. When he returned to Ahmad, he did not dare inform him of the results of the discussion, but only reported that he had been unable to overtake the fugitive.

The people whom Muntaqa had left at Bassaga were called by Ahmad, who obliged them to swear their loyalty to him. They gave their oaths under duress and several days later returned to their master.

The next day Ahmad left Bassaga and went to Turugumbe. He immediately told Muntaqa to come and meet him at this spot. The response was negative. A second messenger, a venerated marabout from Futa, was sent to Nioro with the same mission. He had no more success. For Muntaqa, going to Ahmad [now] was like exposing himself to prison and perhaps death. He preferred to live freely at Nioro rather than to be confined to chains in the Tokolor camp!

From Turugumbe, Ahmad advanced as far as Yerere, where he remained three months. Everyday he invited Muntaqa to make his submission. During these negotiations, Muntaqa assembled many soldiers at Nioro, collected a large quantity of millet and excavated wells in the fort. He was preparing to hold out in a siege. When he received [116] an order to evacuate the fortress, he responded, "Al-Hajj is my father. I am in his fort. I am staying here.'

From Norma,' where Ahmad was camped, he [Muntaqa] received another call to reconciliation and refused to respond to it. Ahmad was not yet discouraged. He told the father of Kaba Cisse, a friend of Muntaqa, Cerno Samba, and others: "Go [and tell] him to leave the fort, I promise him no ill will befall him."

At Nioro, the sofas watched. When they saw from a distance cavalry gallop toward the village, they prepared to fire; but recognizing the father of Kaba, they lowered their guns. The envoys were received by Muntaqa in the name of the long-standing friendship which united them. However, this testimony of sympathy was all that he would grant them. He remained resolute in his intention to resist his brother.

The next day, Ahmad, drawing nearer, camped near Diamwele, then at Nioro-Tugune. There, new negotiations [occurred] with Muntaqa, who responded: "I will leave the fort tomorrow morning, but not today."

The next day Muntaqa had not budged and he put off till the evening [his intention] to honor his promise. Ahmad's lieutenants, irritated by the long wait, exclaimed: "There are [in the fort] means to drag out things a long time. Muntaqa will only leave if we enter Nioro." With the authorization of their leader [Ahmad], a portion of the army advanced up to the walls of the fort, where shots were exchanged. The next day, Ahmad occupied the town.

The fortress was impenetrable; they had to be content with surrounding it. Now Muntaqa still possessed numerous friends in the Tukulor camp. One of them, Cerno Mahmud [ibn] Khayar, was profoundly devoted to him, and kept up secret communications with him. Each moonless night, he approached the walls of the fort and spoke with Muntaqa, who dreamed of searching for military support and of sowing [seeds of] disunity in the army of his father. Cerno took charge of this delicate mission and received as subsidy 28 large gold bracelets and seven magnificent amber necklaces. With these means, he began his perilous propaganda. Soon some Futanke,45 some Diawara, some Fulbe Samburu from Gidibine, and one of Muntaqa's brothers, the one from Lambedu, joined the plot. But a Futanke, a spy for the king, having uncovered the secret, divulged it to his master.

Without delay [117] they held an investigation and obtained the proof of Cerno Mahmud [ibn] Khayar's disloyalty. At once Ahmad took certain measures. He ordered the Mashzuf to take a position between Kamandappe and Nioro: he ordered his sofas [to stand] between the mosque and the town, [with orders] not to allow anyone to pass. At noon, all the marabouts of Futa and Muhammad Yahya of Walata were called, as was Cerno Mahmud [ibn] Khayar. When they were assembled, Ahmad called for their judicial opinions to settle an affair which existed between Cerno and himself, and he revealed the betrayal of the former. This betrayal was all the more inexplicable to him because Ahmad had done nothing to antagonize Muntaqa, since for six months he had attempted by all peaceful means [to resolve the conflict]. He was astonished that after that, there were people who took sides against him.

Cerno began to deny [the charges], but in the face of the conclusive evidence that his adversary brought [forward], he made a complete confession and acknowledged that he merited death. The tribunal delivered its sentence and ordered, to add to the severity of the torment, that Cerno have his head severed by a member of his own family.

Learning of the failure of the plot, Falil, leader of the Fulbe Samburu, did not hesitate to expose himself. He assembled a small column and called to Daha, one of Ahmad's brothers, who brought him a contingent of Sarracolet. The rebels concentrated themselves at Gidibine, then at Makana. With this news, Ahmad entrusted several troops to Bubacar Samba. Three hours later, an engagement took place, where Ahmad's army was victorious. Falil was killed, and his head was sent to Nioro. Bubacar seized all the villages of the Samburu -- Gidibine, Gulombe, Makhana Kar Salla, Diadebugu.

Muntaqa's situation after these successive defeats became critical. As a crowning misfortune, an epidemic burst out in the fort, and every day took numerous victims. Finally, the leader of the slaves deserted along with the few men remaining. Muntaqa then assembled his talibes and said to them, "We have lost. Those who wish to leave the fort may leave. For myself and my family, we will stay here until our last hour."

All the talibÈs departed and left open the door which opened upon the mosque. In the fort were Muntaqa and his family, Da'i, and the griot Farangalli. They asked Ahmad for a respite until the next day. Ahmad had accepted this proposition until someone persuaded him that it was a trick, [another] lie, and that it would be better to go and get them because he would never leave himself. [118] The Futanke, by the door to the mosque which remained open after the departure of the talibe, entered into the fort; it was five o'clock. Muntaqa, leaving his family, withdrew into the powder room with Da'i and Farangalli. A woman and Muntaqa's good horse were taken to Ahmad, who advised wisely to guard all exits so that his brother could not escape. All the army, from the evening until the next day, surrounded the fortress. With sunrise, the sofas approached the powder room and, as they entered the first chamber, a terrific noise was heard -- it was the room which exploded. [The bodies of] Muntaqa, Da'i, Farangalli and several Futanke lay in the ruins. Muntaqa had, by this heroic ending, kept his word -- he had abandoned the fort only with his life. After this Ahmad, dressed in a white robe, buried the dead, except for Farangalli.

Despite the demise of Falil, Daha assembled the Sarracolet of Karta [at Lambedu] where, besieged by Ahmad himself, he offered a very energetic resistance, and only after several violent clashes was Lambedu taken. When defeat was certain, Daha and Muhammad, his friend and favorite captive, preferred to die rather than fall into the hands of the conquerors.
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Related Essay
The Reign Of Ahmad Al-Kabir
Creator: Kaba Jakhite
Description: Translation from the French which in turn is a translation from an Arabic chronicle of the history of the area of Karta. The chronicle was written by Al-Hajj Umar Kaba Jakhite, an important Soninke leader and scholar living in Nioro. Much of the chronicle deals with the Umarian history of Karta, which is to say the late 19th century.
Date Range: Late 19th Century
Location: Nioro, Mali
Format: Text/txt
Language: Arabic
Rights Management: For educational use only.
Contributing Institution: David Robinson; MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters, and Social Sciences Online at Michigan State University
Contributor: M.G. Adam
Digitizer: MATRIX
Source: M.G. Adam, Legendes historiques du pays de Nioro (Sahel). Paris, 1904. Pp. 112-8. An English translation from the French translation of the relevant parts of the chronicle can be found in John Hanson and David Robinson, eds. and trans., After the Jihad: the Reign of Ahmad al-Kabir in the Western Sudan. Michigan State University Press, 1991. Pages 219-29, 381-7.