Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ibn Battuta

Setting out in 1352, lbn Battuta went by way of Fez and Sijilmasa

It is a lovely city. In it there a great deal of sweet dates. The town of Basra is like it for the abundance of its dates, but the dates of Sijilmasa are sweeter. …We arrived after 25 days at Taghaza. It is a village with no good in it. Amongst its curiosities is the fact that the construction of its houses and its mosques is of rock salt with camel skin roofing and there are no trees in it, the soil is just sand. In it is a salt mine. It is dug out of the ground and is found there in huge slabs, one on top of another as if it had been carved and put under the ground. …The blacks exchange the salt as money as one would exchange gold and silver. They cut it up and trade with it in pieces. …We stayed in it but ten days in miserable condition, because its water is bitter and it is of all places the most full of flies.

This desert is a travelling distance of ten days and there is no water in it except rarely. But we found much water in it in pools left by the rains. One day we found a pool of sweet water between two hillocks of rocks. We quenched our thirst from it and washed our clothes. In that desert truffles are abundant. There are also so many lice in it that people put strings around their necks in which there is mercury which kills the lice …They we arrived at Tásarahlá where water is exuded by the ground.

From there they travelled to Iwalatan (Walata or Oualata in Mauritania) and on to Malli a journey of twenty four days for a person who exerts himself.

That road has many trees which are tall and of great girth: a caravan can find shade in the shadow of one tree … Some of those trees have rotted inside and rainwater collects in them... Bees and honey are in some and people extract the honey from the trees. I have passed by one of these trees and found inside it a weaver with his loom set up in it - he was weaving. I was amazed by him.... There are trees whose fruits are like those of plums, apples, peaches and apricots, though they are not quite the same as these. There are trees that bear fruit like the cucumber, when it ripens it bursts uncovering something like flour, they cook it and eat it and it is sold in the markets. They dig out from the ground a crop like beans and they fry it and eat it. Its taste is like fried peas. Sometimes they grind it and make from it something like a sponge cake, frying with gharti; gharti is a fruit like a plum which is very sweet and harmful to white men when they eat it. The hard part inside is crushed and an oil is extracted from it. From this they derive a number of benefits. Amongst these are: they cook with it, fuel the lamps, fry that sponge I mentioned with it, they use it as an ointment, and they mix it with a kind of earth of theirs and plaster the houses with it in the way whitewash is used.

.... After a distance of ten days' travel from Iwalatan, we arrived at the village of Zaghari, which is a big place with black merchants living in it.

Then we went from Zaghari and arrived at the great river, the Nile. On it is the town of Karsakhu. The Nile (Niger) descends from it (Karsakhu) to Kabara, then to Zagha.

Then the Nile (Niger) comes down from Zagha to Tunbuktu (Timbuktu), then to Kawkaw (Gao), the two places we shall mention below. Then the river flows to Yufi, which is one of the biggest cities of the blacks. A white man cannot go there because they would kill him before he arrived there. Then the river comes down from there to the land of the Nubians who follow the Nasraniyya (Christian) faith, and on to Dunqula (Dongola), which is the biggest town in their land. …Then it descends to the cataracts. This is the last district of the blacks and the first of Uswan (Aswan) in Upper Egypt.

I saw a crocodile in this place on the Nile (Niger) near the shore like a small canoe.

Then we went from Karsakhu and reached a river called Sansara, which is about ten miles from Malli.

My entry into Malli was on the fourteenth of the first month of Jumada in the year '53 (i.e., 753 A.H., 28th June A.D. 1352), and my going out from there was on the twenty-second of Muharram in the year '54 (i.e. 754 AH., 27 February A.D. 1353). I was accompanied by a merchant known as Abu Bakr ibn Yacqub. We set out on the Mima road. I was riding a camel because horses were dear, costing about one hundred mithqals apiece. We reached a large arm of the river which comes out of the Nile (Niger) and which cannot be crossed except in boats. That place has many mosquitoes and nobody passes through except at night. We arrived at the arm of the river in the first third of the night and it was moonlight ... I saw on its bank sixteen beasts with enormous bodies. I was astonished by them. I thought they were elephants because there are plenty there. Then I saw them entering the river and said to Abu Bakr ibn Yacqub. 'What beasts are these?' He said 'These are horses of the river (hippopotami), they have come out to graze on the dry land.' They are more thickset than horses and they have manes and tails, their heads are like the heads of horses and their legs like the legs of elephants. I saw these horses another time when we were travelling on the Nile (Niger) from Tunbuktu to Kawkaw: they were swimming in the water and raising their heads and blowing. The boatmen feared them and came in close to the shore so as not to be drowned by them.

…Then we departed from this village which is by the branch of the river I mentioned, and we arrived at the town of Quri Mansa. There my camel which I was riding died. When I was told by its keeper I came out to look at it. I found the blacks had eaten it as their custom is in eating a dead animal. I sent the two boys I had hired to serve me to buy me a camel at Zaghari which was a distance of about two days journey. Some of the friends of Ibu Bakr son of Yacqub stayed with me while the latter went ahead to receive us at Mima. I stayed there for six days and was entertained by one of the pilgrims in this town until the two boys arrived with the camel.

…Then I departed for the town of Mima. In its neighbourhood we dismounted by some wells. We travelled then from there to the city of Tunbuktu, which is four miles from the Nile. Most of its inhabitants are Massufa, people of the veil. Its governor is called Farba Musa. I was present with him one day when he appointed one of the Massufa as amir over a company He placed on him a garment, a turban and trousers, all of them of dyed material. He then seated him on a shield and he was lifted up by the elders of his tribe on their heads.

…At Tunbuktu I embarked on the Nile (Niger) in a small vessel carved from one piece of wood. We used to come ashore every night in a village to buy what we needed of food and ghee in exchange for salt and perfumes and glass ornaments. Then I reached a town whose name I have been caused by Satan) to forget. This town had as its amir an excellent man, a pilgrim called Farba Sulaiman, well known for his bravery and tenacity, no one was able to bend his bow. I did not see among the blacks anyone taller than he nor more massive in body.

Then I travelled to the city of Kawkaw (Gao). It is a big city on the Nile, one of the best of the cities of the blacks. It is one of the biggest and most fertile of their places, with much rice. milk, chicken and fish. In it there are inani pumpkins which have no rivals. The transactions of its people in buying and selling are carried out by means of cowries—as is the case among the people of Malli. I staved there about a month and was the guest of Muhammad ibn cUmar of the people of Miknasa. He was a gentle person, fond of making jokes, a man of merit. He died there after I left.

…Then I travelled from there in the direction of Takadia (Takidda) in the hinterland with a large caravan of the men of Ghadamas (Ghadames in Libya), whose guide and leader was al-Hajj Wujjin.

I had a camel for riding and a she-camel for carrying provisions. When we set out on the first stage the she-camel broke down. AI-Hajj Wujjin took what was on her and divided it among his companions. They shared out the burden. There was in the caravan a Maghribin of the people of Tadala who refused to carry any of it in the way other people had done. My servant lad was thirsty one day. I asked the Maghribin for water; he did not give it.

Then we arrived at the land of the Bardama people, a tribe of the Berbers. The caravan cannot travel except under their protection; and amongst them the protection of a woman is more important than that of a man. They are nomads, they do not stay in one place. Their dwelling places are strange in form: they set up poles of wood and place mats around them, over that they put interwoven sticks and over them skins or cotton cloth. Their women are the most perfect of women in beauty and the most comely in figure, in addition to being pure white and fat. I did not see in the land anyone who attained to their standard of fatness. These women's food is cow's milk and pounded millet; they drink it mixed with water, uncooked, morning and evening. A man who wants to marry among them has to settle with them in the country near them, and not take his spouse farther than either Kawkaw or Iwalatan.

…We exerted ourselves in travelling till we reached the city of Takadda…The houses of Takadda are built of red stone. Its water supply flows over the copper mines and its colour and taste are changed by that fact. There is no cultivation there except a little wheat which is eaten by the merchants and visitors. It is sold at the rate of twenty of their mudds for a Mithqal of gold.

…The people of Takadda carry on no business but trading. Every year they travel to Egypt and bring from there everything there is in the country by way of fine cloths and other things. For its people ease of life and ample condition are supreme; they vie with one another in the number of slaves and servants they have—as likewise do the people of Malli and Iwalatan. They do not sell educated women-slaves, except very rarely and at a great price.

…There is a copper mine outside Takadda. The people dig for it in the earth, bring it to the town, and smelt it in their houses. This is done by their men, and the women-slaves. When they have smelted it into red copper, they make it into rods about the length of a span and a half: some are of fine gauge and some thick. The thick are sold at the rate of four hundred rods for a mithqal of gold, the fine for six or seven hundred to the mithqal it is their means of exchange. They buy meat and firewood with the fine rods: they buy male and female slaves, millet, ghee, and wheat with the thick. Copper is carried from there to the city of Kubar in the land of the unbelievers, to Zaghay and to the country of Barnu which is at a distance of forty days from Takadda. Its people are Muslim; they have a king whose name is Idris, who does not appear before the people nor speak to them except from behind a curtain. From this country are brought beautiful slave women and eunuchs and heavy fabrics. Copper is also taken from Takadda to Jujuwat and to the land of the Murtibin and to other places.

...I wanted to travel to Tuwat. I carried provisions for seventy nights since food is not to be found between Takadda and Tuwat, only meat and milk and ghee which are bought in exchange for cloth. I left Takadda on Thursday, the eleventh of Shacban in the year '54 (AH. 754, 11th September A.D. 1353) in a big caravan which included Jacfar al-Tuwati, who is an eminent person, and the faqih Muhammad ibn cAbd Allah, qadi of Takadda. In the caravan there were about six hundred slavewomen. We arrived at Kahir in the land of the sultan of Karkari. It is a land of plentiful grass. The people buy sheep therefrom the Berbers and cut the meat into strips. This is carried by the people of Tuwat to their country.

From that land we entered into a wilderness with no buildings in it and no water: it is three days journey. Then we travelled after that fifteen days through a wilderness which has no buildings but there is water. We reached the place from which the road to Ghat and the road to Tuwat. And there are there water-beds whose water flows over iron; when white cloths are washed in it, their colour becomes black. We travelled from there for ten days, and arrived at the country of the Hakkar who are a tribe of the Berbers and wear face-veils. There is no good in them… We journeyed a month in the land of Hakkar: it has a scarcity of plants and an abundance of stones, the road too is rough.

Then we reached Buda which is one of the biggest villages of Tuwat. Its soil consists of sand and saline swamp. Its dates are plentiful but not sweet; yet its people prefer them to the dates of Sijilmasa. There is no cultivation there, no ghee, no olive oil. These things are brought to it from the land of the Maghrib. The food of its people is dates and locusts which are plentiful in their area. They preserve them as they store dates and feed on them. They go out to hunt locusts before sunrise when they cannot fly because of the cold.

We stayed at Buda some days, then we travelled in a caravan and in the middle of Dhu al-Qada we arrived at the city of Sijilmasa. I went out from it on the second of Dhu ' al-Hijja (29 December A.D. 1353) during a period of fierce cold. A lot of snow came down on the road. I have seen many rough roads and much snow in Bukhara and Samarkand and in Khurasan (in Persia), and in the land of the Turks, but I have never seen anything more difficult than the road of Umm Janaiba.


Other websites about Ibn Battuta

Ibn Battuta

Saudi Aramco World Magazine

Ibn Battuta

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