Martin A. Klein
Futa-Tooro: Early Nineteenth Century
Encyclopedia of African History
Kevin Shillington, ed. Vol. 1. New York & London. Fitzroy Dearborn. p. 541-542
Three changes marked the history of early nineteenthcentury Senegal:
These events were all related and
contributed to the making of modern Senegal.
At the beginning of the century, there were two European island bases in Senegal: St. Louis in the mouth of the Senegal River, and Gorée, in what is now Dakar harbor. Both had been bases in the slave trade for centuries, but during the eighteenth century, slave exports from Senegambia declined while the sale of gum and supplies for shipping became more important. As part of its struggle with Napoléon Bonaparte, Britain occupied Gorée in 1803 and St. Louis in 1809. Thus, when Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807, the act was implemented in Senegal. Before Senegal was returned to the French, the restored French monarchy had to agree to abolition. France did not enforce its abolition ordinance rigorously until 1831, but the Atlantic slave trade was effectively over in Senegambia. This created difficulties for the Wolof and Sereer states that bordered the French ports. They all had strongly militarized state structures in which slave raiding and slave trading played an important role.
Islam was well established in Senegal, but from at least the seventeenth century there were deep divisions between an orthodox Muslim minority that supported schools and maintained strict standards of religious observance and a more lax majority. The courts were marked by heavy drinking and conspicuous consumption. The majority of commoners mixed Islam and traditional religious observance. Muslims first turned to resistance in 1673, when a Mauritanian marabout, Nasr Al Din, led a jihad directed both at the warrior tribes of Mauritania and the Wolof states south of the border. Nasr Al Din's appeal was in part to peoples threatened by slave-raiding. With the aid of the French, the traditional elites defeated Nasr Al Din, but some of his disciples founded a state in upper Senegal, Bhundu, and his ideas remained important.
The torodbe clerics of the Futa Toro maintained ties with Bhundu, with their Wolof brethren and with the Fulbe élites that were creating a Muslim state in the Futa-Jalon of central Guinea during the eighteenth century.
The Futa Toro was a narrow strip of land on both sides of the Senegal River, which was vulnerable to attack by Mauritanian nomads. The insecurity engendered by these raids and the inability of the Deniyanke rulers to protect local populations led people to turn for leadership to the torodbe. Their victory in 1776 was followed by a prohibition of the slave trade down the Senegal river and in 1785, an agreement under which the French promised not to sell Muslim slaves. The French also agreed to generous customs payments to the new Futa state.
The first Almamy, Abdul Kader, tried to extend his control. He defeated the Mauritanian emirates of Trarza and Brakna, but when he sought to extend his control over the Wolof states of Kajoor and Waalo, he was defeated and taken prisoner. The battle gave rise to a ballad that is still sung by Wolof bards. Though Abdul Kader was freed, his defeat also ended the Futa's efforts to impose its version of Islam on its neighbors. By time he died in 1806, the élan was gone from the revolution, and the Futa was transformed into a state dominated by a small number of powerful torodbe aristocratic families. The egalitarian ideals of the revolutionaries remained alive. Umar Tall, a young cleric of modest torodbe origins, left the Futa in about 1827 to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. He returned only in 1846 to recruit support for a new jihad.
With the end of the export slave trade, the commercial populations looked for new commodities to trade. In St. Louis, local merchants expanded the gum trade. Gum was used in France to provide dyes for high quality textiles and to produce medicines. Between 1825 and 1838, gum exports came close to tripling. The gum was produced by slaves from acacia trees in Southern Mauritania. The trade thus provided a continuing market for slaves. Slaves were also imported into Mauritania for herding and the cultivation of dates. Other parts of the river produced a grain surplus, which fed St. Louis, the Moors, and their slaves. These linkages also seem to have stimulated the cultivation of cotton, the mining of gold, and the production of textiles and gold jewelry.
Gorée survived on a trade in wax and hides. Its salvation came when French chemists determined how to use peanut oil to make a high quality soap. In 1833 a small purchase was made in the Gambia. In 1841 a little over a ton was purchased in Senegal, a quantity that rose in 1854 to about 5,500 tons. These changes strained social relationships. Peanuts were a smallholder's crop. The cultivation of peanuts in the Wolof states and grain in the Futa Toro provided ordinary farmers the resources to buy weapons and consumer goods. The most industrious peasants tended to be Muslim. At the same time, there were intermittent conflicts all over Senegal. In 1827 Njaga Issa revolted against Kajoor. A year later, Hamme Ba in the western Futa Toro revolted, and in 1830, the marabout, Diile Fatim Cam, revolted in Waalo.
All of these revolts were suppressed, but they reveal tensions that were to erupt in the second half of the century. In 1852 Al Hajj Umar Tal began a jihad that eventually created a series of Umarian states across the western Sudan. He did not succeed in incorporating his native Senegal in his domains, but only because a new French governor, Major Louis Faidherbe, appointed in 1854, established French control over key areas on the mainland and blocked Umar's efforts to incorporate the Futa Toro in his state. The second half of the century saw increased conflict as Muslim forces established their hegemony in much of Senegambia, but were eventually forced to yield political control to the French.
Barry, B. Senegambia and the Atlantic Slave Trade. Translated from the French by Ayi Kwei Armah. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Robinson, D. The Holy War of Umar Tal. The Western Sudan in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985.
Robinson, D. “The Islamic Revolution of Futa Toro.” International Journal of African Historical Studies 8(1975): 185-221.
Searing, J. West African Slavery and Atlantic Commerce: The Senegal River Valley, 1700-1860. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
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