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    by Felix A. Mathews, United States Consul-General At Morocco,
    Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York,
    Vol 13, 1881, p.211-219:



    From time immemorial Timbuctoo [Timbuktu, Tombouctou] has been considered as the great emporium of Central Africa, having carried on an extensive and lucrative trade with Barbary and other North African maritime states, from Morocco to Egypt.

    This trade of late years has somewhat declined, and has been carried on by means of acabahrs, or accumulated caravans, which cross the desert of Sahara between the months of September and April inclusive. The largest caravan [Azalai] which crosses the desert is the one from Morocco, and proceeds from Teneluf, in the confines of the desert, once a year in the month of October, and consists of about ten thousand camels, of which only twenty per cent. carry merchandise. The rest proceeds from Tandeny [Taoudenni], in the centre of the desert, where they load with salt.
    Besides this, there are many other caravans composed of one or two hundred camels engaged in transporting the various articles of commerce. The effects which they take to Timbuctoo and the Soudan are various kinds of linens, cotton goods, white and blue salanpores [fish], American cloth and long cloth, sugar, tea, glasses, coral beads, amber beads, pearls, shells, silks, brass nails, wool and cotton manufactures of Fez [Fes], and Morocco nutmegs, clove and ginger, cowries and a considerable quantity of tobacco, keef [kief, cannabis resin] and salt.

    The produce of Soudan returned by these caravans for the above articles, consists in gold dust and gold trinkets from Wangara and Jinnie [Djenne, Dienné or Jenne], ivory, ostrich feathers, gum of Senegal, gum arabic, incenses, Soudan blankets, and slaves from Wangara and Housa [Hausa, Houssa].

    The value of each camel-load is estimated at $250, consequently the value of the merchandise transported annually from Morocco by the great akabahr may be estimated at $500,000 and at $150,000 that of the small caravans, amounting to $650,000, the total value of the merchandise conveyed to Timbuctoo. Of this sum seventyfive per cent. belongs to the camel drivers of Sus, who transport salt from Tandeny to Timbuctoo, and twenty per cent, of the camels are sold at this place, as the return goods being light, they require a much less number of camels to perform their traverse journey to Morocco.
    The great akabahr is dissolved at Timbuctoo, the merchants returning in distinct groups and by various routes.
    At present there are four frequent routes from Timbuctoo to Wadnoon, which are:

1st. By Tisity and Wallatta [Oualata, Walata, in Mauritania].
2d. By Hammada, Teneluf, Tzidy, Tandeny and Arawan [Araouane].
3d. By the Boryle in the Ulad-Bu Oxra, Awin, Tirkis, Aits, Uxa and Wallatta.
4th. By Amayett, Teeky, Ulad, Ulad Tedlary, Ulad Dlinsa, Tiris, Waddy,
    Yedama and Wallatta.

    According to information from merchants and from Ali el Saharawi, the oldest desert guide, the itinerary in going with the Begowy (desert camels) is as follows:

From Wadnoon to Tiris 12 days
" Nammandy to Yedama 4 "
" Yedama to Wallatta 4 "
" Wallatta to Timbuctoo 10 "
  30 days

    With the ordinary camels from sixty to ninety days are employed in crossing the desert.

    The tribes inhabiting the territory between the river Draa and the Tiris are independent and warlike, and they will oppose the access of Europeans into the interior of their country. The authority of the sons of Sheik Ben Beiruk only reaches to the Tiris.

    The country extending from Wad Draa (river Draa) to Sackia el Hamra [Saguia el Hamra] is very fertile; from here to Cape Bogador [Cape Bojador] it is composed of sandhills, and from this cape it descends to an immense plain called El Yuff, extending some five hundred miles, which with desert camels they traverse in twelve days. This plain is one hundred and twenty miles in width.
    The boundaries of El Yuff are inhabited during four months of the year, in the spring, when the Arabs take their cattle to pasture towards the Gralatzy, on these grounds fertilized by the rains of winter. The amarand or gum arabic plant is found on the plains of El Yuff.

    The tribes which encamp on the El Yuff during the spring are those from Dibushaty, Ulad-Ahal-Atzmanu, Taganet, Ahal-BrikAllah, Zoowich, and from the West Ahal-el Hodh, Ulad Dleim, Arusin and Ulad Zawari.
    The three great tribes of the desert are the Arab Hassan, El Zonaya, and El Lahma. The El Zonaya is a quiet and peaceable tribe, the El Lahma is warlike and rich, and the Arab Hassan is a tribe of dreadful reputation, living off the plunder of the caravans which they* continually attack.

    The ostrich, antelope and gazelle make their appearance on the plains of the Yuff soon after the accumulated rains of winter are absorbed. During this season the most valued ostrich feathers are gathered.
    Fresh water is found near the surface of the ground from El Yuff to Yedama, from Yedama to Wallatta the water found is salt, and from Wallatta to Timbuctoo the water is again potable near the surface.

    It is asserted by those who have crossed the desert during the last forty years, that the great fatigues and mortality of the transit have lately very much diminished. The Arabs attribute this improvement to the free use of tea, which of late has been introduced in all the caravans. They also maintain that the travelling conditions of the desert are much improved, the water in the skins lasting longer, as for some unknown reason the hot winds denominated "shume" are not so violent as in former periods.

    In 1815, a caravan, proceeding from Timbuctoo to Tafilet [Tafilalt], encountered the terrible hot winds, so violent that the water in their skins was exhaled. Disappointed in not finding water at one of the usual watering-places, horrible to relate, the whole of the persons belonging to it, 3,500 in number, besides 2,000 camels, perished of thirst! Calamities of this sort account for the vast quantities of human and other bones which are found mingled together in various parts of the desert.

    The intense heat of the sun, aided by the vehement and parching wind driving the loose sand along the boundless plains, gives to the desert the appearance of a sea, the drifting sands resembling the ocean waves; hence aptly denominated by the Arabs El Bahar bella maa a sea without water.
    In their tiresome journey, the akabahrs do not proceed in a direct line across the trackless desert to their destination, but turn occasionally eastward or westward, according to the situation of certain fertile, inhabited and cultivated spots, interspersed in various parts of Sahara, like islands in the ocean, called by the Arabs El walis (oasis). These serve as watering places, as well as to refresh and replenish the hardy and patient camel. The akabahrs rest on these oasis several days.

    The akabahrs cross the desert under convoy, the "stata" being two or more Arabs belonging to the tribe through whose territory the caravan passes. Thus, in passing the territory of Ulad-el-HodhAbbusebah, they are accompanied by two sebayhees or people of that country, who on reaching the confines of the territory of Ulad Deleim [Oulad Delim], receive a remuneration, and return, delivering them to the protection of two chiefs of Ulad Deleim, these again conducting them to the confines of the territory of the Moraffra Arabs, to whose care they deliver them, and so on, till they reach Timbuctoo. Any assault made against the akabahr during this journey while in charge of the stata aforesaid, is considered an insult to the whole clan to which the stata or convoy belongs, and for which they never fail to take ample revenge.

    Besides these grand accumulated caravans, there are other flying caravans which cross the desert in much less time; they take with them a sufficient number of female camels (Niag), to supply them with food, they living altogether on the milk of that animal.

    It is not ascertained when the communication between Barbary and Soudan was first opened, yet it is certain that the enterprising expedition of Muley Arsheede [Moulay al-Rashid, Sultan of Morocco from 1666 to 1672], Emperor of Morocco, in 1670, encouraged the exchange of commodities and caused the establishment of the company of Morocco merchants from Fez, as well as that of their factory at Timbuctoo, which continued to increase and flourish until of late, when it declined.

    Sid Ali, on his flight from Muley Arsheede, after obtaining permission from the negro king of Bambara [Bamana], settled with his numerous followers at Timbuctoo and established a Moorish garrison, until the death of Muley Arsheede, when he returned to Barbary.
    Muley Ismael [Moulay Ismaïl, Ismail Ibn Sharif, Sultan of Morocco from 1672 to 1727], Emperor of Morocco, established his power in Timbuctoo, and met with no opposition in putting that place under contribution. Having sent fresh troops to occupy the Moorish garrison there, the inhabitants were glad to make a contribution in exchange for the protection and power which it afforded them, for, previous to this, they had been subject to continual depredations from the Arabs of the adjacent country, to whom they paid tribute as a security to their caravans, which were constantly passing the country of these Arabs, who are of the race of Brabeeshe.
    In the year 1727, Muley Ismael died. After his decease the tribute was not regularly transmitted, and his successors, having no means of exacting it, it was entirely discontinued to this day. The Moorish garrison, too, intermarrying with the natives and dispersing themselves about the vicinage, has given to the latter that tincture of Mussulman manners which they are known to possess, their descendants forming at this period a considerable portion of the population of Timbuctoo.

    The city of Timbuctoo, at present in much decline and less populous, is situated on a plain surrounded by sandy eminences, about twelve miles north of the Nile el Abeede (River Niger) and three days' journey from the confines of the Sahara; the city is about twelve miles in circumference, but without walls.
    The town of Kabra, situated on the banks of the river, was its great commercial depot or port. By means of a water carriage east and west of Kabra, great facility is given to the trade of Timbuctoo, from whence the various articles of European as well as Barbary manufactures brought by the akabahr from the North of Africa (now in less quantities than before) are distributed to the different kingdoms and states of Soudan and the south. This great mart is resorted to by all nations of Central Africa, whither they bring the various products of their respective countries to barter for the European and Barbary manufactures.

    The main circulating medium at Timbuctoo is (tibber) gold dust.
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    The houses of Timbuctoo have for the most part no upper apartments. They are rather spacious and of a square form, with an opening on the centre, towards which the doors open; they have no windows, but the doors are lofty. Contiguous to the entrance door is a building consisting of two rooms, called a duaria, in which visitors are received and entertained, so that they see nothing of the women. The men are excessively jealous of their wives.

    The kings, since the death of Muley Ismael, are the sovereigns of Bambara. The name of the present potentate is Said Ben Woolo; he is black and a native of Jinnie, his usual place of residence, though he has three palaces in Timbuctoo.
    Many of the civil appointments at Timbuctoo, since the decline of the authority of the Emperor of Morocco, have been filled by Moors of Maroquin origin, but the military appointments have been entirely, among negroes of Bambara. The inhabitants are also for the most part negroes, possessing much of the Arab hospitality, and pride themselves in being attentive to strangers.

    The various costumes exhibited in the market-places and streets indicate the variety and extent of the commercial intercourse with the different nations of Central Africa.
    The religious toleration in this country is complete. Every one is allowed to worship without restraint, according to the religion of his father.

    The police of this extraordinary place is extolled as surpassing anything of the kind in North Africa. Robberies and housebreaking are unknown.
    The government of the city is entrusted to a Diwan of twelve Alemma, or men learned in the Koran, and an umpire, who retain their appointments, which they receive from the King of Bambara, three years.
    The civil jurisprudence is directed by a Cadi, who decides all judicial proceedings according to the laws of the Koran; and has twelve talebs or attorneys in attendance.
    Until the year 1804 no Jews were permitted to enter the town, owing to the extreme jealousy of the individuals of the Moorish factory, whose avarice induced them to exclude every person from sharing their emoluments.

    The climate of Timbuctoo is much extolled as being salubrious and extremely invigorating. Men at the age of eighteen have their wives and concubines. It is a disgrace for a man who has reached the age of puberty to be unmarried.
    The accommodations for travellers at Timbuctoo are very simple; camels, horses, drivers and merchants rendezvous at a large house, having an open space in the middle round which are built rooms sufficiently large for a bed and low table. These inns are called Fandaks, and each merchant hires a room or more, until he has exchanged his merchandise for Soudanic produce, which he endeavors to accomplish by autumn, in order to be ready for the akabahrs, either to proceed to Morocco, Cairo, Jeddah or elsewhere.

    The soil about Timbuctoo is generally fertile, and near the river produces rice, millet, Indian corn and other grain; wheat and barley grow on the plains. Coffee grows wild here, as does also indigo, which they use in their various cotton manufactures. Honey and wax are abundant, but neither are transported across the desert; the natives use the former for food and latter for candles.
    There is a supply of fish from the river about Kabra.
    The gold mines, which lie south of the river, belong to the king, and are worked by Bambareen negroes. These mines are reported to be extremely rich.

    In a country like this, as the Africans are ignorant of geography or any other science, it is very difficult to attempt to give the exact geographical bearing and distance of places from Timbuctoo; but from the several accounts at different times received from respectable people who have resided at Timbuctoo and travelled across Africa, according to their journeys at the usual rate of 3½ miles per hour, it appears to be situated 1,500 miles S.S.E. of Fez; 1,100 miles about S.S.E. of Akka, Tatta and Wadnoon; 1,300 miles in nearly the same direction from Morocco; 1,300 miles from Tafilet. It is also about 230 miles eastward of the City of Jinnie, and 1,000 miles east of Houssa.

    Dr. Oscar Lenz, the distinguished German traveller, who is now at Tangier on his return from his remarkable journey from Morocco to Timbuctoo and Senegal, obtained through his Minister at this place letters of recommendation from the Emperor of Morocco which were of the greatest service to him on his perilous journey, which he undertook under the patronage of the Berlin societies. Starting from Tetuan [Tétouan], he visited the cities of Fez, Mequinez [Meknes] and other cities of Morocco. He crossed the desert of Sahara as a Turkish physician, Hakem Omar Ben-Ali, under the personal escort of Sheik Ali, in forty-three days, with seven other companions and nine camels, and reached Timbuctoo, where he was treated with great distinction, and which place he reports having lost some of its importance as a market, and, from his hurried observation, the place appeared thinly peopled, now scarcely containing more than 20,000 inhabitants (Hadj-Ali estimates the population at 50,000), and many of its houses in ruins.

    Dr. Lenz took three months to reach St. Louis, Senegal. The temperature rarely rose, even in the hot season, above 36 degrees Celsius.

    Toward the end of his fatiguing journey, he was menaced by one of the tribes, but was saved by his interpreter's tact. He found in several oases, points which may be of great utility for the Sahara Railway, which French expeditions are preparing by military surveys from Senegal and Algeria simultaneously.

    Mr. Gallieni [Joseph Gallieni] has been exploring the basin of the Senegal from the sea coast of Segon. Mr. Gallieni reports that a fresh map of the country lying between the Senegal and the Niger will have to be drawn, as the one now in use is altogether misleading. The watershed of the two basins is near Bamakon [Bamako], only a few miles from the Niger, and at some points the line of separation is so vague that during the rainy season the water sometimes drains into the Senegal and at other times into the Niger; this being the reason why the natives maintain that the two rivers are connected during the winter. As the basin of the Niger is only a few miles wide, the tributary streams indicated on the maps cannot empty themselves into that river, all of them finding their way into the Senegal.
    Mr. Gallieni and his companions have obtained some interesting information concerning the Boure, which has long enjoyed the reputation of possessing great mineral wealth; and it appears that this district comprises ten villages, with six thousand inhabitants, one thousand of whom are occupied in gold mining, the value of the quantity extracted in their primitive way in a year being about $150,000. Although the mission was attacked at Dio, Mr. Gallieni reports very favorably as to the attitude of the natives through whose territory the railway from the Senegal is intended to run, and says they are well disposed toward France.

    From the mountain chain of Morocco to Timbuctoo the desert of Sahara forms one vast horizontal plateau, and is not broken up into depressions of ground, as was generally believed; this plateau continuing beyond Timbuctoo and skirting the left bank of the Niger.

    On account of Morocco, the Spaniards watch anxiously the progress of the French in the Sahara.

    Note: Mathews states that Timbuktu in 1881 was ruled by the King of Bambara (Bamana) from Jinnie (Djenne). According to other sources, Bamana, and therefore Timbuktu, was under the rule of the Toucouleur Empire from 1861 to 1893, when the French completed their conquest of the area.

    The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1881 was equivalent to $22.26 in 2008.

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