READ THE WORLD – Niger: The Epic of Askia Mohammed by Thomas A. Hale and Nouhou Malio

Edited and translated by Thomas A. Hale and recounted by Nouhou Malio.

The Epic of Askia Mohammed is an oral epic about the Songhay Empire and its most famous leader. Songhay, approximately halfway between the present-day cities of Timbuktu in Mali and Niamey in Niger, became a political force beginning in 1463, under the leadership of Sonni Ali Ber. By the time of his death in 1492, the foundation had been laid for the development under Askia Mohammed of a complex system of administration, a well-equipped army and navy, and a network of large government-owned farms.

The Epic of Askia Mohammed is a very quick read thanks to how it’s written. As it’s a transcribed song or story, the language is pretty simple and to the point. It’s the story that would be told by older generations to younger ones to inform them of their history and so uses simple language and big events are often recounted like they’re listed in bullet points.

The story itself is broad as it covers decades of history. It’s not just about Askia Mohammed, though he is the main focus, but of the Songhay Empire as a whole which lasted for almost 130 years. It covers different kings, and battles, revenges and the conflicts over succession – a lot of the usual stuff in an Empire. The Epic of Askia Mohammed did remind me a bit of Chaka as that was a fictionalised account of a real king. While the format was different, they both face similar conflicts as rulers and they both have the vibe of being almost a folktale.

The copy of The Epic of Askia Mohammed I had has a lot of historical context and is full of annotations so any names, places, or words that might’ve been unusual are explained which is always helpful and allows for a deeper meaning of the story.

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