HIS 311 Lecture on West Africa, as seen by Ibn Battuta

by Jim Jones (Copyright 2003, All Rights Reserved)

This file contains notes for the lecture based on reading from Said Hamdun & Noel King, Ibn Battuta in Black Africa (Princeton, NJ & New York: Markus-Wiener Publishing, Inc., 1994), 27-75. For additional information on Ibn Battuta, visit

PREFACE: Ibn Battuta was born in Tangier in 1304 and died near there in 1369. Ibn Battuta left at age 21 on his trip and travelled until he was nearly fifty (1325-1353/4). He crossed North Africa, Palestine as far north as Syria, and Arabia to Mecca. After several years there, he went on to Iraq, Iran and southern Arabia. From Aden, he sailed to Somalia and Tanzania, then back to the Persian Gulf, overland to Mecca, then Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, the Crimea and the Balkans, to Constantinople. Then through southern Russia to central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, then south to the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Assam, and Bengal (all in either India or Bangladesh), then to Malaysia and Indochina to China. After he returned to Tangier, he traveled to Spain, then went south and walked across the Sahara to Mali.

Most of Battuta's story was written from memory, since he could not carry notes for decades, and several times he lost everything to bandits or storms. Battuta first told his story to a scribe on orders from the sultan (of Morocco?) and the notes were edited by ibn Juzayy. Juzayy's job was to make it readable, entertaining, and stylish--he did not correct errors or even question anything, since Battuta states when he saw something himself and when he learned about something through hearsay.

The Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris has several early manuscript copies of Battuta's narrative. Defrémery & Sanguinetti prepared the French edition on which this book is based. The authors also consulted a Beirut edition.

The West African Journey     (page 27)

A Resumption . . .     (page 29)

Battuta traveled with a caravan of the Sultan of Morocco from Marrakech to Sala, Meknes, Fez (the capital) and Sijilmasa. He described Meknes as "Miknasa, the wonderful, the green, the many- flowered, which has gardens and orchards surrounding it and is in a sea of plantations of olive trees in all directions." He described Sijilmasa as a town that produced excellent, sweet dates, and compared it to Basra in Persia. Battuta also refered to the region to the south as the bilad as-Sudan, or "land of the blacks."

Battuta stayed in Sijilmasa with the faqih Abu Muhammed al Bushri, the brother of a man that Battuta had met in the town of Qanjanfu, China. While there, Battuta bought four camels and fodder for four months. [COMMENT: A faqir is a member of any of a number of ascetic Muslim sects who takes a vow of poverty and devotes himself to religious study. Many became pilgrims.]

On February 18, 1352 (AH 1 Muharram, 753), Battuta left for the south in a caravan of Sijilmasa merchants led by Abu Muhammed Yandakan al-Massufi.

They reached Taghaza after 25 days on the road. Battuta wrote "It is a village with no good in it. Among 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. [COMMENT: Herodotus reported the same thing in the 5th century BCE.] In it [the village] 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 ground. A camel can carry two slabs of salt. Nobody lives in it except the slaves of the Massufa who dig for the salt and live on dates brought to them from Dar'a and Sijilmasa, and on the meat of camels, and onli [COMMENT: a grain which we call millet] which is brought from the land of the blacks."

A load of salt (two slabs) traded for 8-10 mithqals in Walata and 20-30 mithqals (perhaps even 40) in the town of Malli.

"The blacks exchange the salt as money as one would exchange gold and silver. They cut it up and trade it in pieces. In spite of the insignificance of the village of Taghaza, the trading in it comes to the equivalent of many qintars of gold dust."

It is ten day's journey through the desert from Taghaza to the next town. Battuta mentioned that the desert was normally waterless, but that his group found rainwater in pools. They also found truffles, lice, and pasture land for their animals.

Two cousins, ibn Ziri and ibn 'Adi, were members of the caravan. They had a quarrel and ibn Ziri lagged behind until he was lost and never seen again. Battuta advised the surviving cousin to hire one of the Massufa Berbers [local inhabitant] to search for him, and after he refused, a Massufa man voluntarily went out to look for him. However, nothing was found. Battuta also mentioned that they crossed paths with another caravan who also lost members after they lagged behind. Battuta's caravan found one of them, dead in the desert, about a mile from water.

They arrived in Tasarahla, where there was a spring of water that oozed from the ground. They rested for three days while they watered their animals, repaired their water bags, and sent the takshif on ahead.

An Account of the Takshif     (page 34)

A takshif is a member of the Massufa Berbers who is hired by caravans to go on ahead and alert the inhabitants of Walata that a caravan approaches. If he fails, the caravan perishes. The people of Walata send out animals with water to meet the caravan four days north of their town. The merchants of the caravan establish social and commercial links with merchants from Walata.

Battuta's caravan hired its takshif for 100 mithqals. On the seventh day out of Tasarahla, they saw the lights of an approaching group from Walata.

Battuta described the desert as a place "bright, full of sunshine, one's chest is dilated, the soul finds good in it, it is secure from robbers." He also mentioned many wild cattle that humans could hunt with bows and dogs, but whose meat created thirst and was therefore to be avoided. However, since the wild cattle have water in their stomachs, Battuta reported that he had seen Massufa kill one of the cattle and get the water out of its stomach.

Battuta added, almost as an afterthought, that there were many serpents in the desert as well.

An Anecdote     (page 35)

One of the merchants in the caravan was al Hajj Zayyan, from Tlemcen. He received a snake bite and his finger swelled up, but he saved his life by killing a camel and placing the afflicted finger in the camel's stomach overnight.

The last four days of travel before Walata required travel through the most intense desert of Battuta's experience. They rested during the day and traveled only in the dark after the late afternoon prayer. Local people brought loads of water for sale. [COMMENT: Think of the caravan as offering business opportunities to the people of the region through which it passed. What kinds of opportunities did it present?]

After two months, they reached Walata, arriving at the beginning of the month of Rabi'i al'Awwal.

Walata is the northernmost town of the blacks. The sultan's farbä [representative] was named Husain. After the caravan arrived, the first thing the merchants did was go to see the farbä. He received them in a roofed open hall, flanked by Massufa elders and spoke to the foreigners through an interpreter. [QUESTION: If the Malian sultan was a black Africa, what does the conduct of the Sultan's representative suggest about the political relationship between the Massufa Berbers and the Malian blacks?] The footnote says that Battuta's initial negative reaction to what he considered rudeness and anti-white prejudice was in fact the consequence of Battuta's ignorance of local customs. The "interpreter" was in fact a herald or spokesman, common to West African monarchy.

Battuta stayed with a man named ibn Badda, from a merchant family of the Moroccan town of Sala [mentioned above]. Battuta contacted him in advance by letter, and ibn Badda had a rental house waiting for Battuta when he arrived.

Battuta tried to refuse an invitation from Mansha Ju, the "Overseer of Iwalatan" but his friends pressed him to go. Battuta was disappointed with the food, which consisted of millet mixed with milk and honey.

At first Battuta wanted to leave immediately with a group of pilgrims from Walata, but then decided to remain and visit the Mali capital. Battuta ultimately spent about 50 days in Walata, and left this description of the town: "The town of Iwalatan is very hot and there are in it a few small date palms in whose shade they plant melons. They obtain water from the ground which exudes it. Mutton is obtainable in quantity there. The clothes of its people are of fine Egyptian material. Most of the inhabitants belong to the Massufa, and as for their women--they are extremely beautiful and are more important than the men."

Anecdote concerning the Massufa who inhabit Iwalatan     (page 37)

The society had a matriarchal lineage; i.e. Although lineage was led by males, inheritance passed to the sons of the sister [COMMENT: or to the nearest surviving female] of the deceased male, rather than to the sons of the deceased. Battuta thought this remarkable and claimed that the only other place where he knew of such a practice was among the non-Muslim Indians of Malabar.

The Massufa were devout Muslims who said their prayers, learned the law, and memorized the Qu'ran. But their women were "not modest in the presence of men" and did not wear a veil. Although people married, "but the women do not travel with the husband, and if one of them wanted to do that, she would be prevented by her family." Each was free to take other sexual partners from outside the "prohibited degrees of marriage" [father, brother, son, etc.]. "One of them would enter his house to find his wife with her companion and would not disapprove of that conduct."

Anecdote     (page 38)

Battuta reported seeing the qadi of Walata with a beautiful, young female companion. Battuta was shocked, especially after he learned that the qadi had asked the sultan for permission to take a female companion on the hajj with him. The sultan refused.

An Anecdote Like It     (page 38)

Battuta visited Abu Muhammed Yandakan, the Massufa who had led Battuta's caravan across the desert to Walata. Battuta found him and his wife at home, but his wife was in bed with another man, and the husband seemed to think this was normal. Battuta was so insulted that he refused to visit him again.

Malli was at least 24 days of travel from Walata. Battuta hired a Massufa guide and went with three friends, but he needed no caravan since the country was safe for travellers.

The road from Walata to Malli was lined by large trees [baobab] that provided shade, rainwater, and honey. The trees "are tall and of great girth; a caravan can find shade in the shadow of one tree; some of them have no branches and no leaves, but the shadow of its trunk is such that a man can find shade in it. Some of these trees have rotted inside and rainwater collects in them. Such a tree is like a well and people drink of the water which is in it. Bees and honey are in some and people extract the honey from the trees." [COMMENT: In a digression, ibn Juzayy describes two hollow chestnut trees in Andalusia where weavers have set up their shops.]

Among the trees on the road between Walata and Malli, there are some with fruits that resembled plums, apples, apricots, and peaches. Battuta described other edible plants, including the Karit‚ palm and the Baobab fruit, which yielded a sort of flour. Battuta also mentioned the large calabashes that were common to the region.

Travellers in this region needed neither money nor food for their trip. Instead, they carried slabs of salt, glass trinkets [beads] and perfumery, which they traded for their needs. The local blacks had millet porridge, chicken, milk, rice, flour and fonio to trade. Battuta warned that the rice was bad for white men, and wrote that the fonio was better.

Ten days from Walata, they reached the village of Zaghari, where black merchants called Wanjarata lived. There was also a community of white Muslim Kharrijite followers of the Ibadi called the Saghanagbu. Zaghari was tributary to Malli.

After the town of Zagbari, Battuta reached the town of Karsakhu, on the Niger River, upstream from Kabara [Timbuktu] and Zagha. Kabara and Zagha each have a sultan who is loyal to the king of Malli. He also mentioned that "the people of Zagha are old in Islam, they are religious and seekers after knowledge."

Battuta listed the names of towns downriver on the Niger below Zagha. There was Tunbuktu [Timbuktu], then Kawkaw [Gao], then Muli in the land of the Limuyyun, at the frontier of the kingdom of Malli. Beyond Muli lay Nupe (located in northwestern Nigeria), "one of the biggest cities of the blacks. Their sultan is one of their great sultans. A white cannot go there because they would kill him before he arrived there." After Nupe, Battuta listed Nubia, home to Nasraniyya (Christians), then Dongola (under the authority of sultan ibn Kanz al-Din, a convert to Islam in the "days of al-Malik al-Nasir"), the Nile river cataracts, in "the last district of the blacks and the first of Uswan [Aswan] in Upper Egypt." [COMMENT: Battuta believed the Niger River was a tributary of the Nile River, which he knew from his travels in Egypt.]

Battuta thought the Niger River crocodiles were exotic enough for him to tell how a local black stood guard while he urinated along the river bank.

Battuta gave a clue as to the location of the capital of Malli by mentioning that they reached the River Sansara, about ten miles before Malli. According to a footnote,"Malli" means "capital" and the "River Sansara" may correspond to the River Sankarani, about 80 miles upstream from Bamako.

In Malli, Battuta's contact, Muhammed ibn al-Faqih had a house rented for him. When Battuta arrived, his host's son-in- law, Abd al-Wahid, the local faqih and "reciter," brought food and candles. The next day, Battuta received visits from several learned men of Malli, including Muhammed ibn al-Faqih, Shams al-Din ibn al-Naqwish, Ali al-Zudi al-Marrakushi (a scholar), and the qadi of Malli, Abd al-Rahman.

The qadi of Malli, Abd al-Rahman, was a black who had made the pilgrimmage to Mecca. Battuta described him as "a noble person with good qualities of character." He sent a cow to Battuta as a hospitality gift.

Battuta also met the interpreter, a black named Dugha, who sent a bull as a hospitality gift. The local faqih, Abd al-Wahid, sent two sacks of fonio and a calabash of gharti. Ibn al-Faqih sent rice and fonio. Shams al-Din sent a gift too, and Battuta wrote that all of the men fulfilled their obligation to provide hospitality. He also added that Ibn al-Faqih was related to the sultan by marriage to his cousin by a paternal uncle.

Within ten days after they arrived, Battuta and five others became ill after eating a local porridge called qafi. One died, and Battuta fainted during morning prayers. He took a laxative and vomited up the remains of the porridge, but remained sick for another two months.

An Account of the Sultan of Malli, Mansa Sulaiman     (page 44)

The sultan is named Mansa Sulaiman. "He is a miserly king, not much giving is to be expected from him. It happened that I stayed this period and did not see him because of my sickness. Then he made food on the occasion of [a celebration] . . . he invited the amirs and faqirs and the qadi and the khatib [preacher], and I attended with them. They brought reading stools and the Qur'an was read through completely." They prayed for both Mansa Sulaiman and "Our Lord Abu'l Hasan" [the Moroccan sultan]. Then Battuta was introduced to the sultan, who expressed concern over Battuta's condition. The sultan spoke in the Malinke lanuguage (not Arabic).

Anecdote Concerning Their Insignificant Hospitality and their Ostentation Concerning It     (page 45)

The sultan sent a hospitality gift arrived with great pomp and ceremony. It consisted of three circular pieces of bread, some beef fried in gharti, and a bowl of sour milk. Battuta "laughed and wondered a lot at their weakness of mind and their magnifying of the insignificant."

Account of My Speaking to the Sultan After That and His Kindness To Me     (page 46)

During the next two months of Battuta's stay, he received nothing more from the sultan. Finally, after consulting with the interpreter Dugha, Battuta asked the sultan at a public audience why he had not provided any hospitality. The sultan answered that he did not know that Battuta was a guest in his kingdom. Others answered that the sultan had previously greeted Battuta and sent him food, so the sultan gave orders that Battuta should have a house and gave him an allowance. He also gave Battuta a share (33 1/3 mithqals) of a sum divided among the learned men of Malli. Finally, he gave Battuta a present of 100 mithqals of gold when he left.

An Account of the Sultan's Sitting in his Cupola     (page 46)

This is a description of how the sultan conducts the business of government.

He sits in an ornate cupola facing an audience room. He is accompanied by a large number of slaves and retainers, plus animals whose purpose is to ward off the evil eye.

There were also musicians and instruments that resembled a xylophone.

All communication with the sultan passed through the interpreter Dugha. [COMMENT: Perhaps a better word for interpreter would be "griot." Is it possible that Dugha was descended from Gnankoman Doua, the griot of Maghan Kon Fatta and the father of Balla Fasséké, Sundiata's griot?]

An Account of the Sessions in the Place of Audience     (page 48)

On some days, the sultan held court in an outdoor area. He sat under a tree upon a raised platform with three steps called the banbi. Ir was covered with silk and pillows. The sultan sat on the highest level under a silk shelter "with a golden bird like a sparrow hawk above it." The king came out of the palace from a gate in the corner and approached the platform carrying a bow and quiver of arrows. He was accompanied by slaves and retainers, and attired in gold and imported red "Roman cloth called mutanfas." A footnote explains that this could have simply meant "European" or even Byzantine, so it's not clear where the cloth originated.

An Account of the Self-abasement of the Blacks before their King, their dusting themselves for him, and other peculiar things     (page 49)

"The blacks are the most humble of men before their king and the most extreme in their self-abasement before him." To appear before the sultan, a black took off his clothes and put on poor clothes, exposed the lower portion of his legs, and approaches the sultan "like a beggar." After the sultan heard their request and replied, the black "throws dust upon his head and back, as a person does when bathing with water."

Sometimes, supplicants to the sultan had to recite their accomplishments as evidence of loyalty. If others in the area could confirm what was said, they plucked their bowstrings to show agreement. [COMMENT: Who were the "others" who had the right to give their opinion about supplicants to the Mansa? If they plucked bowstrings, then perhaps they were hunters. How strong was this right--did they only offer advice or could they compel the Mansa to permit/deny?]

Ibn Juzzayy gave an example where the ambassador of Mali to Morocco sprinkled dust on himself as a sign of humility before the Moroccan sultan, Abu al-Hasan.

An Account of what the Sultan does at the 'Id prayers and their accompanying days     (page 50)

Battuta attended two festivals while he was in Malli, the "Feast of Sacrifices" and the "Feast of Fast-breaking."

For the festivals, the people put on good white clothes and came to the "Place of Prayer" near the sultan's palace. The sultan arrived on horse back with his head covered. He was preceded by a procession of learned men, carrying red banners made of silk. There was a tent set up near the Place of Prayer for the sultan, who entered the tent, then came out for the service. The service consisted of a prayer and a sermon, which included "exhortation, reminders (of the hereafter), praise for the sultan, encouragement to remain obedient, and to give respect as appropriate." A man carrying a spear acted as the interpreter, translating the sermon into the local language.

On festival days, the sultan held "sessions" after the late afternoon prayers ('asr). He was attended by four amirs, plus other people wearing rich clothing, "wonderful weaponry" and various expensive objects of metal and crystal. Dugha, the interpreter, sits on a chair and plays an instrument resembling a xylophone to accompany a song about the sultan's expeditions and deeds. The sultan's wives and concubines sing along and play bows. Thirty pages, dressed in red wool cloaks and white caps, play along on drums. A group of young men "play and turn in the air as they do in Sind. They have a wonderful gracefulness and lightness in this. They juggle with swords beautifully and Dugha performs a marvellous game with the sword." Then the sultan presented Dugha with a gift of 200 mithqals of gold dust, and the following day, everyone else gave a gift to Dugha according to his means. Dugha performed similar spectacles every Friday after the late afternoon prayer.

An Account of the laughable manner in which their poets hold a recital     (page 53)

On festival days after Dugha completed his performance, Jula presented poetry readings. [COMMENT: The footnote explains that the Jula were traditional Malinke griots.] Battuta described the costume that made them resemble a bird. According to an informant, the text of their poetry was a form of preaching wherein they told the king of the exploits of other good kings, implying that he should do the same.

Battuta was informed by a source that this practice was very old and predated the arrival of Islam. [COMMENT: In other words, this was part of traditional Malinke religion.]

An Anecdote     (page 54)

Battuta witnessed the arrival in the sultan's court of a faqir from a remote district who told of a plague of locusts that purported to be a response to a great evil in the land. When the sultan heard this, he told his amirs that wrongdoers would be punished and anyone who protected a wrongdoer would be punished as if the crime was his own.

An Anecdote     (page 54)

Battuta was present once at Friday prayer when a Massufa merchant named Abu Hafs accused the governor of Walata, Mansha Ju, of extorting 600 mithqals of goods from him and paying only 100 mithqals in return. The sultan sent for the governor and had a qadi investigate. He found the merchant to be correct, and removed the governor.

An Anecdote     (page 55)

While Battuta was in Malli, the sultan had a dispute with his first wife and locked her up. His first wife was the daughter of the sultan's paternal uncle, and her title was Qasa. Battuta described her as "his partner in the kingship, following the custom of the blacks. Her name is mentioned with his in the pulpit" (i.e. at prayers). [COMMENT: The sultan's paternal uncle was his father's brother. That means the son of one brother married the daughter of the other brother. What political purpose might such a union serve?]

The sultan imprisoned Qasa and appointed another wife, Banju, in her place, even though Banju was not from a royal lineage. [COMMENT: A footnote suggests that the dispute witnessed by Battuta may have resulted from an attempt by the sultan to replace his African-style queen with a less influential consort-style queen who would be entirely dependent on the sultan for her position.]

The sultan's pretext was a complaint from Banju that when the daughters of the paternal uncle of the sultan (sisters of Qasa) visited, they failed to show Banju and Qasa equal respect.

The sultan took her side because, as he finally revealed, he had evidence that Qasa had conspired to overthrow the sultan with Kanburni, another son of a paternal uncle of the sultan. At different points, the other daughters took refuge in a mosque and Qasa took refuge in the house of the preacher.

Without explanation, Battuta changed the subject to how the blacks hated Mansa Suleiman because of his miserliness. The previous two sultans were Mansa Magha and Mansa Musa.. Mansa Musa was loved for his generosity and nobility. Battuta gave examples of two gifts, one to Abu Ishaq al-Sahili for 4000 mithqals, and another to Mudrik for 3000 mithqals. Mudrik was the grandson of the man who converted Mansa Musa's grandfather, Saraq Jara, to Islam. [COMMENT: A footnote explains that Mansa Musa brought Abu Ishaq, a Muslim from Granada, back to Mali with him from Mecca. Saraq Jara was Sundiata Keita.]

An Anecdote     (page 57)

Both Mudrik the faqih and one of ibn Shaikh al-Laban's sons (a scholar teaching the Qur'an in Malli) told Battuta the story of a merchant from Tlemcen who did a kindess for the sultan when the sultan was a boy. Later in life, he came before the sultan, who recognized him and repaid him a hundred-fold for his kindness with 700 mithqals, a robe of honor, slaves and servants.

An account of what I found good amongst the blacks and of what I disliked     (page 58)

Good qualities: "small amount of injustice amongst them," and "the prevalence of peace in their country, the traveller is not afraid in it nor is he who lives there in fear of the thief or of the robber by violence. They do not intefere with the property of the white man who dies in their country even though it may consist of great wealth, but rather they entrust it to the hand of someone dependable among the white men until it is taken by the rightful claimant."

More good qualities: "meticulously observe the times of the prayers and attendance at them," "beating their children to instill [respect for religious duty]," the fact that prayers are so crowded on Friday that men send their sons ahead with a prayer mat to reserve a place at the mosque. Note: "their prayer mats are made of the leaves of a tree like a date palm but it bears no fruit."

More good qualities: they wear good white clothes, or at least clean clothes, to Friday prayers. They learn the Qur'an by heart. "They make fetters for their children when they appear on their part to be falling short in their learning of it by heart, and they are not taken off from them till they do learn by heart. I went in to visit the qadi on an 'Id day and his children were tied up. I said to him, `Why do you not release them?' He said, `I shall not do so until they learn the Qur'an by heart.' One day I passed by a handsome youth from them dressed in fine clothes and on his feet was a heavy chain. I said to the man who was with me, `What has this youth done--has he killed someone?' The youth heard my remark and laughed. It was told me, `He has been chained so that he will learn the Qur'an by heart.'"

Bad things: Serving women, slave women and little daughters appear naked before people, "exposing their private parts." Women went naked into the presence of the sultan, and his own daughters went about naked. Battuta also disliked the custom of showing respect by placing dust on one's head. He also found the griot's poetic ritual unpleasant, and he took issue with the practice of eating animals that were not ritually slaughtered, and of eating dogs and donkeys.

An account of my journey away from Malli     (page 60)

Battuta entered Mali on the 14th day of the first month (Jumada) in the year 753 AH (28 June 1352). He left on the 22nd day of Muharram in 754 AH (27 February 1353). When he left, Battuta traveled with a merchant known as Abu Bakr ibn Yaqub. They took the Mima road with Battuta riding a camel because horses were too expensive--about 100 mithqals a piece.

As they traveled, they followed the Niger River. They also encountered mosquitoes. They arrived at the river in the "first third of the night and it was moonlight."

Note on the horses which are in the Nile     (page 60)

Battuta described his first encounter with hippopotami, which he thought were elephants because they were so large. He saw swimming hippopotami later in his trip while sailing on the Niger between Timbuktu and Gao. The African boatmen were afraid of them and stayed in the shallows to avoid them.

To hunt hippopotami, Africans used spears attached to strong cords so they could pull the carcass to shore. Battuta described "great heaps of their bones on the river bank."

On night, they stayed in a village led by a black Muslim chief named Farba Magha. "He was one of those who had made the pilgrimmage with sultan Mansa Musa when he made his pilgrimmage."

An Anecdote     (page 61)

Farba Magha told Battuta a story. When Mansa Musa reached this part of the river on his pilgrimmage to Mecca, he was accompanied by a "white" faqih named Abu l'Abbas, also known as al-Dukkali (man of the Moroccan Dukkala tribe). The sultan gave him a present of 4000 mithqal for his expenses, but later Abu l'Abbas reported that his gift was stolen when he reached the town of Mima. The sultan ordered the amir of Mima to find the thief on threat of death for failure, and the amir started searching. He found nothing "for there are no thieves in their country" and went to Abu l'Abbas's house, where he became violent with the servants. One slave girl told him that Abu l'Abbas was faking his loss and that the gold was actually buried in the garden. The amir dug up the gold and returned it to the sultan, who became angry with Abu l'Abas. He was exiled to the "country of the unbelievers who eat human beings" for four years, and then the sultan sent him back to his own country. [COMMENT: Islam arrived from the north, so the unbelievers were towards the south in the forest region.]

Battuta added that the reason Abu l'Abbas was not eaten in the land of the unbelievers was because of his white skin. the unbelievers believe that white men were not "ripe," but black men were ripe to eat.

An anecdote     (page 62)

Earlier, while Battuta was still at the capital, a group of African cannibals and their leader came to see sultan Mansa Suleiman. They wore large metal rings in their ears and wore silver mantles. they came from a region that possessed a gold mine, so the sultan was gracious to them, and gave them a slave woman as a hospitality gift. The cannibals killed and ate her, then smeared her blood on themselves and went to thank the sultan. As an aside, Battuta reported that he heard the tastiest meat came from the palms and the breasts.

From the village along the Niger River, Battuta traveled on to the town of Quri Mansa (translation: the built-up area of the villages of mansa). There, his camel died, and the blacks ate it (although it was already dead and not ritually killed). Battuta sent two boys to the town of Zaghari, two days journey distant, to buy him a replacement camel. Meanwhile Battuta waited in Quri Mansa with friends of Abu Bakr, the son of Ya'qub, and Battuta was entertained by a pilgrim returned from Mecca. Meanwhile, Abu Bakr went on ahead to Mima to prepare a reception for Battuta. After six days, the boys returned with a camel and Battuta was able to continue.

An anecdote     (page 63)

During his stay in Quri Mansa, Battuta had a dream in which an unidentified person asked him why he did not read the sura yasin every day. After that, he began to do so. [COMMENT: A footnote explains that the sura yasin is chapter XXXVI of the Qur'an, which many Muslims read daily as a memorial to someone who has died, or to prepare their own death. The authors surmise that this passage shows that Battuta was beginning to feel his age.]

After leaving Quri Mansa, Battuta and others traveled on to Mima, where they dismounted by some wells, and continued on foot to Timbuktu. Battuta described Timbuktu as "four miles from the Nile. Most of its inhabitants are Massufa, people of the veil. Its governor is called Farba Musa."

Battuta observed Farba Musa one day as he appointed one of the Massufa as an amir over a company by placing a garment on his head and having him carried on a shield by his followers.

Battuta mentioned the graves of two important men in Timbuktu: the poet Abu Ishaq al-Sahili of Gharnata (Grenada) who was known in Spain as al-Tuwaljin [and who came to Mali with Mansa Musa], and a great merchant from Alexandria named Siraj al-Din ibn al-Tuwaik.

An anecdote     (page 64)

During his pilgrimmage to Mecca, Mansa Musa stayed in the garden of Siraj al-Din at Birkat al-Habash (translation: the Ethiopian's pool) near Cairo. When Mansa Musa and his entourage ran short of money, they borrowed it from Siraj al-Din. Afterwards, he sent a representative to Mali to recoup the money, but the representative refused to return. So Siraj al-Din took his son and went to Mali, where they were entertained by Abu Ishaq al-Sahili, the poet.

That same night after eating, Siraj al-Din died. People suspected poison, although his son claimed the have eaten from the same bowl with no problems. The son received the money and returned to Egypt.

Battuta reported that in Timbuktu, he boarded a small sailing vessel made from a single piece of wood. They sailed along the Niger, stopping in a village each evening to purchase food with their glass ornaments. At one village, the leader was named Farbi Sulaiman, a great and brave warrior who was stronger than anyone else in the village. Battuta tried to buy some millet from this village on the festival of Mohammed's birthday. [COMMENT: A footnote explains that the practice of celebrating Mohammed's birthday was introduced in Egypt and East Africa in imitation of the Christian celebration of Christmas. The authors feel that this reference shows close contact existed between Egypt and West Africa.] When Battuta landed, he wrote his request for millet on a writing board (presumably in Arabic) and gave it to a faqih who accompanied the amir Farbi Sulaiman, that it might be translated. Instead, the faqih read the request out loud and the amir understood it. [COMMENT: In other words, the amir was conversant in Arabic, although he was presumably not literate.]

After that, Farbi Sulaiman took Battuta to visit his home. Battuta observed many weapons and a copy of a book called the kitab al-mudhish (Book of the Astonishing) by ibn al- Jawzi. [COMMENT: A footnote explains that this book was written in Baghdad around 1200AD, so it shows how widespread books were distributed in the Muslim world by 1353.] Next, a local beverage called daqnu, consisting of water, ground millet, and a little honey or milk, was served, followed by a green melon.

Battuta received a "growing boy" as a hospitality gift, and he was served by an Arab slave girl from Damascus who spoke Arabic to Battuta.

While Battuta was in his house, one of Farbi Sulaiman's daughters died. To avoid the mourning, the Farbi invited his guest (Battuta) to accompany him to his houses along the Niger River. Battuta refused the use of a horse, since the Farbi had to walk, and when they reached the houses on the river, the Farbi ordered more food for them.

Afterwards, Battuta left, and claimed that he never saw another black so generous. Battuta kept the slave boy, and still had him at the time of this writing.

Battuta traveled on to the city of Kawkaw (Gao). It was a large city in a fertile place, with much rice, milk, chicken and fish, and "inani pumpkins which have no rivals."

Battuta mentioned that the traders of Gao used cowries as currency, just as they did in Mali.

Battuta stayed in Gao about a month as the guest of "Muhammed ibn Umar of the people of Miknasa" (Meknes), and also a guest of al-Hajj Muhammed al-Wajdi al-Tazi (who had traveled to Yaman), and of the faqih Muhammed al-Filali (imam of the mosque of the whites).

From Gao, Battuta traveled to Takadda (Takidda) with a large caravan of men from Ghadames. The leader of the caravan was al- Hajj Wujjin. (Battuta added that this name meant "the jackal" in the language of the blacks."

Battuta had a riding camel and a she-camel for his baggage, but on the first stage of the trip, the she-camel faltered. al- Hajj Wujjin distributed Battuta's load among the other camels of the caravan. However, there was one man from the Maghreb of the Tadala people who refused to carry any part of Battuta's load or even to give water to Battuta's slave.

The caravan reached the land of the Bardama (Tuaregs), where the caravan was forced to accept their protection, "and amongst them, the protection of a woman is more important than that of a man." Battuta described the Bardama as nomads who lived in tents made of sticks, mats, and skins or cotton cloth coverings.

Battuta thought the Bardama women were 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 all the land anyone who attained to their standard of fatness." The women ate a mixture of cow's milk and uncooked millet. Battuta added that a man who wanted to marry one of them had to be ready to stay in the area and not take his wife any further than Gao or Walata.

Battuta became sick due to the extreme heat while traveling in Bardama country, "being overcome by yellow bile."

Battuta reached Takadda and lived "in the vicinity of the shaikh of the Maghribins, Said ibn Ali al-Jazuli. Battuta also met the qadi, Abu Ibrahim Ishaq al-Janati, "an eminent person." Battuta was also the guest of Ja'far ibn Muhammed al-Massufi.

The houses of Takadda were built of red stone, and its water supply ran over copper-bearing earth which altered the taste and color of the water. There was almost no agriculture in the area except for a bit of wheat that was consumed locally and sold at the rate of 20 units (mudds) for a gold mithqal. Millet sold for ninety units to a mithqal. (Battuta added that the Takadda mudd was one third the size of a mudd in "our country."

Battuta also observed that there were many scorpions in the area and that they sometimes killed children who had not yet reached puberty, but they rarely killed a man. While Battuta was there, a scorpion killed a son of shaikh Sa'id ibn Ali, who died immediately. Battuta attended the funeral.

The people of Takadda were all involved in long distance trade. Every year, they went to Egypt for cloth and other fine goods. The people were accustomed to luxury and leisure. "They vie with one another in the number of slaves and servants they have--as likewise do the people of Malli and Walata. They do not sell educated women-slaves, except very rarely and at great price."

An anecdote     (page 68)

Battuta tried to buy an educated woman-slave in Takadda, but ran into trouble. After he asked for help, the qadi, Abu Ibrahim, sent a slave belonging to one of his friends, and Battuta agreed to purchase her for 25 mithqals. However, the owner changed his mind, but Battuta refused to let him cancel the sale unles he found a substitute. The man sent Battuta to Ali Aghyul, a Maghreb merchant from Tadalla, but this was the man who refused to carry any part of Battuta's baggage after Battuta's she-camel failed on the way from Gao to Takadda (see page 66). Battuta made the deal, but when the merchant had second thoughts, Battuta refused to refund his money in order to pay him back for his cruelty along the caravan trail. After the merchant "almost went mad or was about to perish from grief," Battuta cancelled the sale.

A note on the copper mine     (page 69)

There was a copper mine outside of Takadda. The people (men and women-slaves) dug the ore and brought it to their houses to smelt. They form it into rods of red copper about a span-and-a- half in length, and either thin or thick. The thick rods sell for four hundred rods to the mithqal of gold, while the fine rods sell for six or seven hundred to the mithqal. The Takadda people use the rods as currency: thin rods to buy firewood and meat; thick rods to buy male and female slaves, millet, ghee (butter), and wheat. [COMMENTS: Takadda is an extremely dry area. Where did the inhabitants get the fuel used to smelt copper?]

The Takadda people trade their copper to merchants who travel to Kubar (Gobir) in the land of the unbelievers, to Zaghay, and to the land of Bornu. Bornu is forty days from Takadda, and is populated by Muslims under a king named Idris. Idris does not appear directly before his people, but instead speaks to them from behind a curtain. In return for copper, Bornu furnishes beautiful slave women, eunuchs, and heavy fabrics.

Copper from Takadda is also traded as far as Jujuwat, to the land of the Murtibin, and to other places.

Anecdote concerning the sultan of Takadda     (page 69)

While Battuta was in Takadda, four local gentlemen, the qadi Abu Ibrahim, the preacher Muhammed, the teacher Abu Hafs, and the shaikh Sa'id ibn Ali traveled a day's journey to serve as arbitrators in a dispute between the sultan of Takkada (a Berber named Izar) and another Takarkuri who was the sultan of the Berbers. Battuta hired a guide and followed because he wanted to meet the sultan. The meeting went well and Battuta stayed for six days.

The sultan arrived wearing blue clothing, riding on a horse with a red blanket instead of a saddle. The sultan provided Battuta with lodging (which Battuta compared to servants' quarters at home), and sent two roast sheep each day, one on the morning and one in the evening. The sultan's mother and sisters sent him milk each evening after they milked the goats. "They drink it at that time and in the morning, but as to [normal] food, they do not eat it nor know of it." The sultan also gave Battuta a she-camel and ten mithqals of gold. Afterwrds, Battuta returned to Takadda.

Picture of "the valley of the wad (river) Ziz north of the ruins of Sjilmasa"

Picture of "ruins of the old city from which Ibn Battuta set out on his camel caravan journey to Mali. These walls were built some centuries after his travels, but this was the site of the 14th century city.

The mention of the arrival of the noble command I received     (page 73)

Upon his return to Takadda, Battuta received an order from the Sultan of Morocco ordering him to return immediately. The order was given to Battuta by "the young slave of al-Hajj Muhammed ibn Sa'id of Sjilmasa."

Battuta kissed the order, then bought two riding camels for 37 2/3 mithqals. He carried provisions for seventy days for the trip between Takadda and the oasis of Tuwat because "[normal] food is not to be found between Takadda and Tuwat, only meat and milk and ghee which are bought in exchange for cloth.

Battuta left Takadda on Thursday, the 11th of Sha'ban in 754 AH (11 September 1353) in a big caravan that included Ja'far al- Tuwati (an "eminent person"), the faqih Muhammed ibn 'Abd Allah (qadi of Takadda). The caravan contained about 600 slave women.

They reached Kahir in the land of the sultan of Karkari. There was plentiful grass and the people (of the caravan?) bought sheep there from the Berbers, butchered them into strips, and carried the strips to Tuwat to sell.

Beyond Kahir, the caravan entered a wilderness with neither buildings nor water for three days. After that, there was another stretch without buildings, but with water, that lasted for fifteen days.

They reached the fork between the roads to Ghat (Egypt) and Tuwat. Battuta mentioned "water beds whose water flows over iron; when white clothes are washed in it, their colour becomes black."

They traveled for another ten days to the country of the Hakkar (Ahaggar) where a tribe of Berbers lived. Their men wore face veils. "There is no good in them. We were met by one of their big men and he held up the caravan until they gave him cloths and other things. Our arrival in their country was in the month of Ramadan; they do not attack nor intercept caravans in it. When their robbers find property in the roads in Ramadan they do not bother about it, and it is likewise for all the Berbers who are along this road."

Battuta and his caravan traveled for a month in the Ahaggar region. "It has a scarcity of plants and an abundance of stones, the road is too rough."

On the day of 'Id al-Fitr (the Festival of the Fast-Breaking, which comes at the end of Ramadan and is now known as Tabaski), they reached the land of a group of veiled Berbers and obtained news of the country to the north ("our country"). They also told the caravan "that the Awlad Kharaj and the bani Yaghmur had risen up, and set themselves up in Tasabit in Tuwat. The people of the caravan were afraid because of this."

The caravan finally reached Buda in the Tuwat oasis, which was one of the biggest villages. The soil consisted of sand and swamp, and the village produced large numbers of dates, but they were not sweet like the dates from Sjilmasa. The area had no agriculture except for the dates, and the people lived on dates and locusts, which they hunted in the morning when it was too cold for the locusts to fly.

Battuta's group stayed at Buda for several days and then departed towards Sjilmasa, arriving in the middle of Dhu al- Qa'da. Battuta departed from Sjilmasa on the second of Dhu al- Hijja (29 December 1353) during a period of fierce cold. Battuta saw a lot of snow on the road, [COMMENT: which passes through the Atlas mountains] more than he had seen in mountain passes in Asia. "I have never seen anything more difficult than the road of Umm Junaiba."

The group reached Dar al-Tama on the night before 'Id al- Adha, and Battuta stayed there for the festival. The next day, Battuta continued on to Fez, where he presented himself to the sultan of Morocco.

"Here ends the travel narrative called `A Gift to the Onlookers concerning the Curiosities of the Cities and the Wonders of the journeys' The completion of its dictation was on the third Dhu al-Hijja of the year '56 (756 AH or 9 December 1355)."

"Ibn Juzayy says, `Here ends the abridgements from the dictation of the shaikh Abu Abd Allah Muhammed ibn Battuta (may God be gracious to him!)'" [COMMENT: A footnote explains that the blessing in the last line implies that Battuta was still alive at the time when ibn Juzayy wrote his version.]