Timbuktu the Mysterious

“It is a disgrace to beg here, for among us it is possible for every one to earn a living. However poor he may be, a man has but to work to become rich”Jenne Elder.The old men, with wrinkled skins and white hair and eyebrows, were my favourite historians. They could recall to me the past prosperity and great commerce of the Valley of the Niger. They told me of the desolating conquerors and disastrous wars of the present century; of Cheikou Alimadou, the fanatic Foulbe king, who changed the prosperity of former days to misery. Timbuctoo was the most frequent subject of my questions. It was the home of their youthful memories, and they would speak of it enthusiastically, and with laughter much laughter at the recollections of their gay life there, the lively frolics which sweetened their labours, and the especially vivid remembrance of the bewitching beauty of the ladies of Timbuctoo.Thou hast seen our city in ruins,” said Bossissa; ‘ its houses deserted and falling in pieces. Thou hast beheld our most unhappy Mosque. And when thou shalt be returned into the country of thy fathers, thou shalt say: I have seen Sansanding, and it is a city in ruins, a city of nothingness. But yet thou hast not seen our city, neither has the Fama beheld it. This beard and these white hairs alone have seen it. And at that time the city was cheerful and well built, containing many markets. The people were full of contentment, and were apparelled in the fine garments and rich clothing of Arabia which were brought by our canoes from Timbuctoo, together with many things both beautiful and pleasant”All this suffered sudden change forty years ago. It was the will of God ! Men came from the south hungered and thirsting for blood, as the hyena comes seeking corpses. El Hadj Omar was at their head. From the west he brought them, saying unto them : ” The Djoliba takes its source in Mecca. To look upon it is to make a pilgrimage unto the Holy City. All who bathe in it shall be received in Paradise.” We were good Mussulmans here, but they made war against us for the sake of our wealth. We fought long, and conquered many times, but our city was taken from us and set in ruins. Our people left their country. My friends wished me to depart also, but I made answer, ” I will rather die where my father died.” A life of sadness began. The Toucouleursdestroyed and pillaged ; many of the inhabitants had nothing left to them but their two ears. The fields were no longer cultivated. The country returned to the bush, and wild animals peopled it. Hyaenas came to ‘our very doors and carried away our children in the twilight.Then the Frenchmen came, and Segu was destroyed, and the Toucouleurs were swept away, and joy returned to the country. Peace reigns among us; he who does evil is of a certainty punished. Now that the harvest is no longer stolen, the fields are once more cultivated. We can travel without fear; a child, knowing its way, may walk alone along the roads. Merchants sleep in safety in the bush far from all habitations; while, formerly, we did not dare to go beyond the town. When we met others stronger than ourselves, they seized us and made us their slaves. The weak village was at the mercy of the powerful. But to-day all are equal and contented, and one may not do wrong unto another. ‘It is to the white man that we owe this ; and dost thou still ask why we are satisfied with their presence and wherefore we rejoice in it? Dost thou not now understand why the country submits unto thee and is peaceful?’1

Source: Timbuktu the Mysterious


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