Skip to main content

The Economic Foundations of an Islamic Theocracy—The Case of Masina*

  • Marion Johnson (a1)

This paper is an attempt to study the economic foundations of one African state; Masina in the interior delta of the Niger south of Timbuctu, a short lived jihad state of the nineteenth century, has been chosen because it is relatively well-documented, literate, and followed an established pattern of Islamic taxation. Some attention is paid to the special needs of public expenditure in an Islamic theocracy; the system of taxation is examined, and it is shown that the revenue from the pastoral sector was probably greater than that from trade. Each section of the economy, pastoral, cultivating, fishing and trade is considered, and some attempt is made at estimating the scale of trade. Finally the process of state formation is discussed; it is suggested that there was little change in the means of production, but radical changes in the relations of production. Religious, military and fiscal aspects of the state were intimately interconnected, with Islam providing the ideological basis. Lack of foreign exchange was a continuing weakness, and the state ultimately went down in military defeat because of its inability to import firearms.

Hide All

1 Arhin, K., ‘The financing of the Ashanti expansion’, Africa, xxxviii (1967), 283–91; Wilks, I. (Asante in the nineteenth century, Cambridge, 1975) also pays some attention to revenue and taxation.

2 Law, R. C. C., ‘Slaves, trade and taxes: the material basis of political power in pre colonial West Africa’, unpublished symposium paper, ASAUK. symposium, September 1975.

3 Last, M., The Sokoto Caliphate (London, 1967); Smith, M. G., Government in Zazzau(London 1960); Hiskett, M., The Sword of Truth (New York, 1973); etc.

4 Oloruntimehin, B. O., The Segu Tukulor Empire (London, 1972).

5 Brown, W. A., ‘The Caliphate of Hamdallahi’, Ph.D. thesis (Wisconsin, 1969).

6 Monteil, Ch., Monographic de Djénné (Tulle, 1903; cited as Djénné 1903); revised edition with omissions and additions, Une cité soudanaise: Djénné (Paris, 1932; cited as Djénné 1932). Further (unpublished) French reports are cited in Brown, W. A., ‘The Caliphate of Hamdallahi’.

7 Ba, A. H. and Daget, J., L'empire peul du Macina, vol. 1. (IFAN-Dakar, 1955; reprinted Paris, 1962).

8 Brown, W. A., ‘The Caliphate of Hamdallahi’.

9 Caillié, R., Journal d'un voyage à, Tombouctou et à Fenné (reprinted Paris, 1965), 3 vols.

10 Barth, H., Travels and discoveries in North and Central Africa (3-volume English edition, reprinted 1965), Reisen und Entdeckungen in Nord und Central Afrika (5-volume edition, 1857) (contains passages not included in English edition).

11 By John Hunwick, Abdulaziz Batran, Abdelkader Zebadia.

12 E.g. Raffanel, A., Nouveau voyage dans le pays des nègres (Paris, 1856); Duncan, J., Travels in Western Africa, (London, 1847); see also Beaumier, V., ‘Premier établissement des Israelites à Timbouctu’, Bull. Soc. Geog. de Paris, April-May 1870, (account of Rabbi Mardochie Abi Serour, who visited Timbuctu, 1859–63).

13 Gallais, J., Le delta intérieur du Niger: étude de géographie régionale, IFAN-Dakar, 1967; Vincent, Y., ‘Pasteurs, paysans et pêcheurs du Guimballa’ (esp. pp. 53 ff), and Forget, M., ‘Populations et genres de vie dans le Kounary’, in .Galloy, P, Vincent, Y., Forget, M., Nomades et paysans d'Afrique noire occidentale (Nancy, 1963) (cited as Galloy, etc.).

14 The account of the organization of the Masina state which follows, if not otherwise noted, is taken from Ba, and Daget, , L'empire peul du Macina, 4383, and Monteil, Ch., Djénné (1932), 104–15.

15 Barth, , Travels and discoveries, 111, 216, 368; Brown, W. A., ‘The Caliphate of Hamdallahi’; Caillié, , Journal, ii, 168; cf. also the article by Stewart, Charles in this issue of the Jour. Afr. Hist., 497514.

16 Caillié, , Journal, 11, 246; Barth, , Travels and Discoveries, iii, 216.

17 Brown, W. A., ‘The Caliphate of Hamdallahi’.

18 Monteil, Ch., Djénné (1903), 108 suggests that it was under Tokolor rule that the mutassib became an inquisitor.

19 Vincent, , ‘Guimballa’, in Galloy etc. note 55. A similar policy was followed in the Sokoto theocracy: Last, M., ‘An aspect of the Caliph Muhammad Bello's social policy’, Kano Studies, 2 July 1966, 54. See also Norris, H. T.The Tuareg (Warminster, 1975), 149–50.

20 Ibid. 59 ff.; Ba, and Daget, , L'empire peul du Macina, 44; similar Fulani ‘suburbs’ were reported by Barth in the Songhai country of the Niger Bend.

21 Levtzion, N., ‘An eighteenth century chronicle by Ibn al-Mukhtar’, Bull. SOAS, xxxiv (1971). 571–93.

22 Monteil, , Djénné (1903) 105; Barth, , Travels and discoveries, 111, 394.

23 Sheku Ahmadu regarded towers on mosques as an ‘innovation’ (and therefore bad). Letter from Sheku Ahmadu, recovered by A. A. Batran, microfilm in Centre of West African Studies, Birmingham. I am indebted to John Hunwick for this reference.

24 Letter of al-Bakkai, quoted by Zebadia, A. ‘The career and correspondence of Ahmad al-Bakkai of Timbuctu’, Ph. D. thesis (London, 1974), 109, 122, 431.

25 Ba, and Daget, , L'empire peul du Macina, 44. Cf. Last, , ‘Aspects …’, 54.

26 Doutressoulle, G., L'élevage en Afrique occidental française (Paris, 1947), 64.

27 Monteil, , Djénné (1932), 224.

28 40,000 cattle and 15,000 horses and some gold and silver are given as the central government's one-fifth share of booty in a single campaign! On another occasion, booty is said to have amounted to 80,000 cattle, 6,000 horses and 15,000 arms of all kinds. Ba, and Daget, , L'empire peul du Macina, 205, 230.

29 Monteil, , Djénné (1902), 297.

30 A story related by John Duncan in the 1840s may possibly bear on this; see Johnson, M., ‘News from nowhere-Duncan and “Adafoodia”’, History in Africa, 1 (1974), 63.

31 Monteil, , Djénné (1932), 221.

32 Forget, , ‘Kounary’, in Galloy etc., 172 ff.; Gallais, , Le delta intérieur, 94, 139–40.

33 For Hausaland, see Smith, , Government in Zazzau, 93–4, and Lugard, 's Taxation Report included in Colonial Annual Reports, 19051906; for the Segu Empire see Oloruntimehin, , The Segu Tukulor empire, 176–7; for Kaarta, see Raffanel, A., Nouvelle voyage dans lepays des nègres (Paris, 1856), 586–7. See also Norris, , The Tuareg, 151.

34 Murgu is defined as ‘extraordinary contribution to make war or refill the treasury’, Ba, and Daget, , L'empire peul du Macina, 277; (Vincent, , ‘Guimballa’, in Galloy, etc., 106, 124) uses morgu for the diamgal, the due payable by a serf to his master.

35 Monteil, , Djénné (1932), 110.

36 Monteil, , Djénné (1903), 297.

37 Barth, , Rosen und Entdeckungen, iv, 444 (this passage does not appear in the English edn).

38 Lugard, , Taxation Report.

39 Gallais, , Le delta intérieur, 94, 119 ff.; Vincent, , ‘Guimballa’, in Galloy, etc. 55, 79–80, 129 ff.

40 Marty, , Etudes sur l'Islam et les tribus du Soudan (Paris, 1920), ii, 277; Deherme, G., L'Afrique occidentale française (Paris, 1908), 406–7; Monteil, , Djénné (1903), 341.

41 Gallais, , Le delta intérieur, 129–30.

42 Deherme, , L'Afrique occidentale française, 404–7.

43 Marty, , Islam et les tribus du Soudan, 11, 277; Gallais, , Le delta intérieur, 129–30.

44 Gallais, , Le delta intéieur, 144; cf. Deherme, , L'Afrique occidentale française, 383.

45 Vincent, , ‘Guimballa’, in Galloy etc. 55. The clerics in Dare, in this area, claimed descent from Askia Muhammed's pupils.

46 Barth, , Travels and discoveries, iii, 221–2, 230; cf. 214. 215.

47 Forget, , ‘Kounary’, in Galloy etc. 184 ff.; Vincent, , ‘Guimballa’ in Galloy etc. 138–9; Monteil, , Djénné (1932), 201 ff.

48 Monteil, , Djénné (1903), 297, 338; under Tokolor rule, all became state serfs.

49 Caillié, , Journal, ii, 210; cf. Monteil, , Djénné (1903), 297.

50 Caillié, , Journal, ii, 235, 248; Monteil, , Djénné (1932), 243–9.

51 Jaime, G., De Koulikoro à Tombouctou (Paris, 189?), 220–7; Jaime also notes that in the time of the Masina theocracy, tax receipts were given, to avoid double payment.

52 Barth, , Travels and discoveries, iii, 353.

53 Gallieni, , Bull. Soc. Géog. de Paris, 1883, 806.

54 Baillaud, , Sur les routes du Soudan (Toulouse, 1902), 120.

55 Ibid. 121.

56 Barth, , Travels and discoveries, in, 708 and map. In Barth's time Dori was not subject to Masina, but Masina traders used the market; Meniaud, J., Haut-Sénégal-Niger (Paris, 1912), ii, 264, says that Dori market used the same measures as Masina because it had been subject to the empire.

57 Barth, , Travels and discoveries, iii; Jaime, De Kolikoro à Tombouctou, 229. Slaves, 3,000 at 12–15 bars salt = 3,600–45,000 bars; gold = 33,000 bars; total 69,000–78,000 bars, worth ca. £80,000 to £90,000.

58 Monteil, Ch., Les Khassonke (Paris, 1915), 57.

59 Vincent, , ‘Guimballa’, in Galloy etc. 87 ff.

60 Ibid. 134 ff.

61 Gallais, , Le delta intérieur, 130.

62 Forget, , ‘Kounary’, in Galloy etc. 211.

63 Vincent, , ‘Guimballa’, in Galloy etc. 92–3.

64 Ba, and Daget, , L'empire peul du Macina, 199: ‘Tous ces Peuls et Touareg n'étaient pas musulmans au sens strict du mot. Hamdallay pouvait done alléguer de ce fait pout s'ingerer dans leurs affaires …’.

65 Ibid. 213. ‘Ceux qui font la prière et refusent de payer la zekkat manquent à un article de foi'.

66 e.g. Dagomba, Gonja, Borgu.

67 Goody, J., Technology, tradition and the state in Africa (London, 1971). See also Law, R. C. C., ‘A West African cavalry state: the kingdom of Oyo’, Journal of African History, xvi, 1 (1975), 115. I am grateful to Robin Law for discussion on these points.

68 These would correspond to the ‘cutters of grass’ in the suspect sections of Ta'rikh al-Fattäsh, who were also makers of canoes. In support of Levtzion's view, it could be argued that such workers were much more appropriate to Masina than to the Songhai of Askia Mohammed.

69 Gallais, , Le delta intérieur, 96–8.

70 Vincent, , ‘Guimballa’, in Galloy etc.: ‘Après Cheikou Ahmadou, on laissa s'écrouler sous les coups des tornades les murs qui entouraient les villages’.

71 Barth, , Travels and discoveries, iii.

72 Cf. Gallais, , Le delta intérieur, 94 ‘L'oeuvre de Cheikou-Ahmadou a été acceptée parce qu'elle a ete dans le sens de la gestation sociale et économique en cours’.

73 Calculated from Barth, , Travels and discoveries, i, 511–14.

* This paper was presented at the 1975 Symposium of the African Studies Association of the United Kingdom. A fuller account of the internal economy of Masina will appear in the proceedings of the 1976 Seminar on the Economic History of the Central Savanna, held in Kano.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of African History
  • ISSN: 0021-8537
  • EISSN: 1469-5138
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-african-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed