Songhay Empire


The Songhay Empire (1468-1591), also written as Songhai, was an empire in West Africa centred on the Niger River. It was one of the largest and most advanced states of its time. Timbuktu, then in its golden age, was larger than London.

The three main empires of West Africa and when they reached their height:

  • 1000s: Ghana
  • 1100s:
  • 1200s:
  • 1300s: Mali
  • 1400s:
  • 1500s: Songhay

The Songhay Empire was the largest. It ruled two-thirds of all West Africans. In terms of present-day countries, it extended across Gambia, southern Senegal, almost all of Mali, western Niger and north-western Nigeria.

The backbone was the Niger River and its cities that traded among themselves and with the caravans that came across the Sahara – a pattern that goes back to -500. The river lay between the Sahara to the north and the forests to the south – a perfect place to create an empire using armed men on horseback. Think Genghis Khan. By the late 1400s, Songhay’s cavalry was the toughest and fastest of West Africa.

Cities: Its three main cities, from west to east along the Niger River, were

  • Jenne (or Djenne),
  • Timbuktu – the richest,
  • Gao – the capital.

Trade: The empire stood at the meeting point of several trade routes, coming south across the Sahara, west across the Sahel, all the way from the Nile, and north from the forests and its gold fields. It traded gold, ivory, spices, kola nuts, slaves and cotton goods for salt, cloth, arms, horses, copper, glassware, sugar and North African crafts.

Education: Its scholars went to top universities like al-Azhar in Cairo and Karrawiyin in Fez, Morocco, but soon Timbuktu’s own Sankore University was itself a top university. It had scholars from North Africa and West Asia. It taught religion, law, grammar, rhetoric, logic, astrology, astronomy, history and geography. It was heavy on Islamic law: it and other universities turned out the judges who pretty much ran many of the cities and towns.

Language: Arabic was the language of scholarship, much as Latin was in the West. The top people in Jenne, Timbuktu and Gao spoke the imperial tongue, Songhay. In the east people spoke Hausa.

Religion: Islam was common among the upper crust. The masses, though, did not become largely Muslim till the 1800s. While the empire did fight a jihad against the Mossi to the south, it generally did not force Islam on its own people. Unlike most Arabs, it sold both Muslims and non-Muslims as slaves.

Class structure: in rough terms:

  • nobles – served in government and the military, fought in the cavalry.
  • freemen – independent farmers, fought in the infantry
  • guild members – craftsmen
  • slaves – worked especially on royal estates

Military: In addition to its cavalry, it had a navy on the Niger River. But there was one thing it did not have: guns. Already weakened by civil war, it was destroyed at the Battle of Tondibi in 1591 by Morocco – armed by Queen Elizabeth I.

– Abagond, 2015.

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Repost: The comment section of the original post has grown too long and is still pretty active, so I am closing its comments and reposting here.

“Africans sold their own people as slaves” is a stock argument White Americans use when the subject of slavery comes up.

First, simply as an argument of fact it fails:

  • Africa was not a country. Africans were not selling “their own”, they were selling their enemies, just as the Greeks and Romans once did. Africa, then as now, was made up of different countries. They were no more selling “their own” than, say, “Europeans” were killing “their own” during the Holocaust.

And it overlooks a few other things:

  • Most African countries did not sell slaves and some even fought against it. But because Europeans back then could control the supply of guns there was little Africans could do to stop it.
  • The Transatlantic slave trade was on a much greater scale than anything the Africans or anyone else ever did in the history of slavery. Countries were destroyed and millions died. Over 12 million were sold in less than 400 years, something so huge that it changed the genetic map of the world.
  • The Transatlantic slave trade was racist. The African slave trade, for all of its other ills, was not that. Neither was the Greek and Roman slave trade. So slavery in places like Haiti, Barbados and America was much more cruel.

As a moral argument it fails too:

  • It uses what I call the Arab Trader argument: it excuses an evil of one’s own past by finding the same sort of evil done by others. Whites sold slaves, but Africans and Arab traders did too! Which, morally speaking, is at the same level as an eight-year-old saying, “He did it too!” when caught doing something bad. We do not accept this argument from eight-year-olds, nor from bank robbers or wife beaters. “Africans did it too!”  is no better.

But it is as a derailing argument that it comes into its own:

Its main purpose is to draw attention away from what whites did by turning the tables. That part of their past makes White Americans uncomfortable. But instead of facing up to it, they have built up defences against it:

  • Africans sold their own people as slaves.
  • Africans are still selling slaves.
  • Arab traders sold slaves too.
  • Slavery goes back thousands of years.
  • All races have practised slavery.
  • Whites stopped slavery.
  • My family never owned slaves.
  • That was Ancient History.
  • You are living in the past.
  • Get over it!
  • It was the times.
  • Slavery did not make economic sense.
  • Whites got to where they are by their own hard work
  • Blacks are better off in America than in Africa
  • Africans were savages.

And on and on.

Why not just face up to it? Because part of their sense of self worth is built on being white and how whites are better than everyone else, particularly blacks. But it is a huge lie, a lie that can only be maintained by not looking at their past – and present – squarely and honestly.

See also:

The libraries of Timbuktu

Ancient manuscripts from Mali, Niger, Ethiopia, Sudan and Nigeria line storage cases at Abdel Kader Haidara's home, the director of Bibliotheque Mama Haidara De Manuscripts, Timbuktu. These manuscripts lr_mvg6sbUVCV1qgfbgio2_1280

Ancient manuscripts from Mali, Niger, Ethiopia, Sudan and Nigeria line storage cases at Abdel Kader Haidara’s home, the director of Bibliotheque Mama Haidara De Manuscripts, Timbuktu. Image by Brent Stirton, National Geographic, September 2009.

The libraries of Timbuktu (by the 1300s) in Mali contain over 400,000 manuscripts, mostly from the city’s glory days from the 1300s to the 1500s. The manuscripts range from contracts and sales receipts to books of religion, law, poetry, astronomy and history. Thanks to Timbuktu’s hot, dry weather (it stands at the edge of the Sahara), its deep love of books and its history as a seat of high learning, it has preserved an amazing treasure from Africa’s past.

59961050_mali_north_0512In 2012, the Ahmed Baba Institute, the largest library, moved from Timbuktu to Bamako, the capital. The weather there is not as good for preserving books, but its current political climate is much better:

Ansar Dine, jihadist warlords with ties to Al Qaeda, ruled Timbuktu from 2012 to 2013. It put its own strict form of Islam into effect. While it was busy destroying the tombs of the city’s Sufi saints, the Institute was busy secretly getting its books to Bamako. When Ansar Dine at last discovered the books at the Institute’s Timbuktu building, it burned them – but did not think to look in the basement! In the end the Institute was able to save 95% of its manuscripts.

Timbuktu has been through this before – with the French. They ruled from 1893 to 1960. Like Ansar Dine, they thought they had all the answers and burned books, wanting everyone to forget the past and do things their way. So people hid their books from the French too.

And before that, the region went through jihads, holy wars, which are unkind to books.

And before that, in 1591, Morocco, armed by Queen Elizabeth I, destroyed the city and sold many of its people to work as slaves in the Americas. Among those sold were doctors, judges, writers, musicians and artists.

So a custom of hiding books took hold. Some of the older families have thousands of books. They are hidden not just in the city, but even out in the desert.

From the 1300s to 1500s, Timbuktu was part of the Mali and Songhay empires. Like Alexandria in its day, Timbuktu was a centre of international trade and a seat of high learning. The rich owned books to show off their wealth.

As a seat of learning, Timbuktu helped to interpret Islam for its part of Africa. Its sort of Islam was well-reasoned and moderate – which made its books dangerous to jihadists.


Most of the books are in Arabic, the Latin of West Africa. But there are also books written in Songhai, Wolof, Hausa, Fulfulde and Tamasheq. There are books from Mali, Niger, Ethiopia, Sudan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Spain – and even Greece: Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy and Hippocrates.

The Ahmed Baba Institute has 400,000 manuscripts as of 2015. Most have yet to be translated or studied. The Institute is working to digitize its manuscripts, putting them on computer where they can be shared with the world and be harder to wipe out.

Beyond the Institute, there are tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, of manuscripts still in hiding.

– Abagond, 2015.

Sources: The New Republic (2013), “Intellectual Life and Legacy of Timbuktu” (2010) by Robin Walker, BBC (2009), “Mirrors” (2009) by Eduardo Galeano.

See also:


“All lives matter”


“All lives matter” (2014) is what some White Americans and their hangers-on cannot seem to stop their colour-blind racist selves from saying when the phrase “Black lives matter” comes up. Not just ordinary people, but even those running for president – in both parties.

“Black lives matter” became a catchphrase and the name of a protest movement in 2013 after George Zimmerman was found not guilty and got away with killing Trayvon Martin. The phrase and the protests took off a year later after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

Over the past year or so citizen video and Black Twitter have made clear to the nation what many Blacks have long known: that police regularly kill Blacks and get away with murder. As if Black lives do not matter.

So at the very least, under the circumstances, saying “All lives matter” in answer to “Black lives matter” is like saying “All diseases matter” to an AIDS activist. A true statement, yes, but one that is so besides the point that it comes across as either wilfully obtuse or heartless.

But sometimes it is uglier than that. For example, “ALL LIVES MATTER” was written across a painting of Sandra Bland, right across her name (pictured above). As if “All lives matter” is Whitespeak for “Black lives do not matter.”

Anyone who truly believes that “All lives matter” would not say that when the issue of Black Lives Matter comes up. Because if all lives truly do matter, then so do Black lives. So they would not rub out the “Black” with the “All”, given the times we live in. They would be concerned enough to know that the phrase means

“Black lives matter TOO,”

and not twist it to mean

“ONLY Black lives matter,”

so that they can dismiss the issue.

Those who say “All lives matter” do not care about Black lives. Not one bit. Arguably, they do not even care about Whites lives. What they do care about is dismissing or avoiding issues of race. Changing “Black” to “All” does that.


Mike Huckabee, who is running for president, said last week:

“When I hear people scream ‘Black Lives Matter,’ I’m thinking, of course they do. All lives matter. It is not that any life matters more than another. That’s the whole message Dr. King tried to present, and I think he’d be appalled by the notion that we’re elevating some lives above others.”

That addition of Dr King is telling. Whites bring him up when they want to silence Blacks.

For most Whites, King’s “whole message” seems to be boiled down to just one quote from just one speech. Yet in that very same “I Have a Dream” speech Martin Luther King said:


“There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”

– Abagond, 2014.

See also:


The thief-thief technique


The thief-thief technique, as Noam Chomsky puts it, is when your hand is someone’s pocket and you point to someone else and say, “Thief! Thief!”, hoping everyone forgets you are the robber. It is used by petty crooks, tenth-rate lawyers, propagandists, the press and, when talking about race, by Whites and their hangers-on.

Many of the Broken Record arguments on this blog, the ones that are repeated over and over again almost word for word, are thief-thief ones:

  • “The Arabs traded slaves too!”
  • “Africans sold their own people into slavery.”
  • “You are the racist one!” – for talking about racism.
  • “How come you never talk about terrible thing X that took place in country Y?” – instead of racism in your own country.
  • “Whites are not uniquely evil” – pointed out even when no one said otherwise.
  • Asian Atrocity argument – Whites are not as bad as Mao, Genghis Khan, etc
  • Black-on-Black crime argument – Blacks should not talk about police brutality until they bring down their own crime rate.
  • Racist Uncle argument – A White person cannot be racist if he is not as bad as the Klan, the Republicans, Fox News, etc.

These seem to be taught at the Secret Course on Whiteness.

Each one is a moral deflection, pointing to some other wrong to draw attention away from the one in question. These arguments support moral blindness. They seem to come from White guilt, that thing Whites deny having, yet makes so much sense of their behaviour, just like how atoms make sense of chemical reactions.

The best ones for Whites to use on Blacks are those that turn the tables on them: Black-on-Black crime, Africa sold its own, and “You’re the racist one!” They force Blacks to defend themselves, letting Whites off the hook.

Likewise, the best one for Whites to use on Asian Americans is the Asian Atrocity argument.

And so on.

As a moral argument it is a logical fallacy: just because there is another thief, that hardly means you are not one too! There can be more than one thief.

big-red-arrowThe thief-thief argument points away, that is the whole point, but it should be a huge, blinking red arrow pointing at the person who makes the argument. Because while the other accused thief may or may not in fact be a thief, the person making the argument is doing so out of guilt!

The thief-thief technique seems to underlie many stereotypes, like:

  • American Indians were savages – said of the victims of genocide by Whites.
  • Blacks are thugs – said of the victims of police brutality by Whites.
  • Muslims are terrorists – said by those whose countries drop bombs on Muslims.
  • Blacks are lazy, a drain on society – said by Whites, who got rich off of Black slave labour and are unwilling to pay reparations.
  • Mexicans are taking our jobs – said by those who turn a blind eye to companies shipping jobs overseas.

So, for example, Trayvon Martin became the thug, not George Zimmerman. A complete and utter thief-thief move.

Thanks to Legion for bringing this to my attention.

– Abagond, 2015.

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This is my favourite Aaliyah song. The video and the music seem so 1999 to me, but it was shot in August 2001. In 2002 it went to #1 on the British pop chart and #7 on the US R&B chart.


Passion, Instant
Sweat beads, Feel Me
Cupid’s Shot Me
My Heartbeat’s Racing
Tempt Me, Drive Me
Feels So Exciting
Thought Of Highly
It’s Yours Entirely

I’ll Be
I’ll Be More Than A Lover
More Than A Woman
More Than Your Lover
I’ll Be
I’ll Be More Than Another
More Than A Woman
More Than Another
I’ll Be
(I’ll Be More) More Than Your Lover
(More) More Than A Woman
(More) More Than Your Lover
I’ll Be
(I’ll Be More) More Than A Lover
(More) More Than A Woman
(More) More Than Another

Midnight Grindin’
My Heartrate’s Climbin’
You Go, I Go
Cause We Share Pillows
Chase Me, Leave Me
There’s Still No Separating
Morning Massages
With New Bones In Your Closet

I’ll Be
I’ll Be More Than A Lover
More Than A Woman
More Than Your Lover
I Said I’ll Be
I’ll Be More Than Another
More Than A Woman
More Than Another
I’ll Be
(I’ll Be More) More Than Your Lover
(More) More Than A Woman
(More) More Than Your Lover
I’m Gonna Be
(I’ll Be More) More Than A Lover
(More) More Than A Woman
(More) More Than Another

I Don’t Think Your Ready
I Don’t Think Your Ready For This Thing
For This Thing
I Don’t Think Your Ready For This Thing
You’re Not Ready
I Don’t Think Your Ready For This Thing
This Thing, This Thing
I Don’t Think Your Ready For This Thing

Constant Pleasure
No Scale Can Measure
Secret Treasures
Keeps On Getting Better
Do You Wanna Roll With Me?
We Can Go To Foreign Lands Your Hand In My Hand
Do You Wanna Ride With Me?
We Can Be Like Bonnie & Clyde
Be By Your Side

I’ll Be More Than A Lover
More Than A Woman
More Than Your Lover
I’ll Be More Than Another
More Than A Woman
More Than Another
(I’ll Be More) More Than Your Lover
(More) More Than A Woman
(More) More Than Your Lover
(I’ll Be More) More Than A Lover
(More) More Than A Woman
(More) More Than Another

Lacey Schwartz


Schwartz as a little girl.

Lacey Schwartz (1977- ) was a Jewish girl who did not know she was Black till she was 18.

She grew up in Woodstock, two hours north of New York City. Her parents were both White. White people accepted her as White, but asked why she looked different. She said what her father said, that her great grandfather was Sicilian.


Her great grandfather from Sicily.

At age 11, she still thought of herself as White, yet felt out of place, felt ugly, wished her skin was lighter.


Schwartz at a family gathering.

At 16, her parents split up and, for the first time, she went to a school with plenty of Black students. They asked her, in so many words, why she was passing for White.

One day when she was walking down the street with her boyfriend, people assumed they were brother and sister. He was mixed-race!

By now she knew deep down she was not White, but could not admit it to herself. When she applied to Georgetown University and came to the box where you check race, she did not know what to put! She did not check anything. Georgetown wound up checking it for her: Black, based on her picture.


Schwartz at Georgetown University.

At Georgetown, the Black student union invited her to join. She did. She was afraid they would not accept her, that she would not fit in, that they would ask what she was. It was nothing like that:

“For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged. And somehow I just knew that Black is who I was.”

Her “bad” hair became “good” hair. Her “dark” skin became “light” skin. The ugly duckling became a swan.


Schwartz and her mother.

When she came back home for the summer after her first year at Georgetown, she asked her mother why she looked different. Her mother told her that she had had an affair with a Black man, someone Schwartz knew as a “family friend”.

Schwartz continued to live as a Black woman out in the world, but remained White at home: to “come out” as Black would lay bare her mother’s secret.

For 12 years she remained silent, afraid of losing her father, the only true father she had ever known.

And during all those 12 years, her father – already knew. It was part of why he had split up with her mother.

In time, she found it unbearable living an identity based on lies and family secrets. It meant she did not know who she truly was.

So she got to the bottom of it by making a documentary film: “Little White Lie” (2014). It became an anatomy of denial.

Her mother hated it at first, but in the end she was glad: it freed her too from living in a world of lies and the guilt that comes with it. And, instead of losing her father, it made her relationship with him way better.

It does not escape Schwartz’s notice that her family is like the US as a whole. Or like Israel: she went there to show the film to both Arabs and Jews.

– Abagond, 2015.

Sources: Mainly TV2 Africa (2015), Salon (2015) and an awesome interview on Hot 97 (2014).


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