Ásquia Muhammad I, also called Muhammad I Ásquia, Ásquia Muhammad, Muhammad Turé, Muhammad ibne Abacar Turé (Muḥammad ibn Abī Bakr Ture, lit. “Muhammad, son of Abacar Turé”), Ásquia the Great, Alhaje Muhammad Ásquia or Alhaje Ásquia Muhammad (after performing his haje to Mecca), was emperor, military commander, and political reformer of the Songai Empire from 1493, when he takes the throne, until 1528, when he was dethroned by his son Ásquia Muça (r. 1528-1531). His reforms allowed the empire to expand considerably in Western Sudan.
He served as general and governor to Suni Ali (r. 1464-1492), father of Suni Baru (r. 1492-1493). In 1493, he gathered troops and defeated Suni Baru in battle, and was then able to assume the position of king with the title of acequia. During his reign he conducted several military expeditions that expanded the borders of the empire and suppressed revolts, but he was best known for his administrative reforms that consolidated the power of the Songais. He also made several jiades and appointed kadis in line with his appointment as caliph of Western Sudan during his haje to Mecca held between 1496-1498. In 1528, he was the victim of a conspiracy by his sons and remained in exile until 1538, when he returned to Gao. He died the same year and was buried in the capital.
Ascent and haje
His date and place of birth are uncertain. It was long thought that he was Sila (a clan of the tuculores of Senegal) or Turé of Sonnache origin, but from evidence drawn from the Arabic spelling used by chroniclers of Tombuctu in the 18th century (in Arabic his name is Muhammad Turi (Muḥammad al-Ṭūrī)), it is likely that he was from Futa Toro in Senegal. He is also thought to have been a member of a family of tuculors who settled in Gao, and his clan name was perhaps Cam (Kan) or Dialo (Dyallo). Oral tradition, on the other hand, judges that Mamar (the popular form of the name Muhammad) was one of the nephews of King Suni Ali (r. 1464-1492) through his sister Cassei or Cassai (Kasey or Kassaï), J. O. Hunwick, agreeing with oral tradition, suggested that his father was Soninquê and his mother was Songai, perhaps Suni Ali”s sister. Even his father”s name is uncertain, with sources variously giving him the name Abacar
Under Suni Ali, Muhammad served as general and tondifarma (governor of the Rock), a province that extended across the Hombori Tondo south into middle Niger. Upon the king”s death in 1492 during a campaign, his son Suni Baru was acclaimed king on January 21. Despite this, Suni Baru soon lost the support of the Muslims of the empire, who judged him to be deviant in the faith, and Muhammad used this dissent to project himself to the throne. As early as February 1493, Mohammed made his first attempt. On April 12, 1493, at the Battle of Anfao, although numerically inferior, Mohammed”s forms won. Upon defeating his enemy, Muhammad assumed the title of Asquia to ridicule the daughters of the Sunis who would have told him si tya (“he will not be”). Asquia became the name of the dynasty he founded and the name of its leaders. The daughters of the Sunnis, in turn, designated him “Asquia the Usurper.”
On his return in 1497
The extent of the country under him is surmised. Abdal Sadi in his 17th century History of the Sudan states that his territory, conquered “by fire and sword,” extended west to the Atlantic Ocean, northwest to the salt mines of Tagaza (on the northern border of Mali), southwest to Bendugu (Josef W. Meri has proposed that Hausaland and the Saharan oases were under his authority, while the editors in the new volume of the Encyclopedia of Islam think such an idea of conquest controversial. For Jean Pierre Rouch, it is certain that the Songai influence during the reign of Ashkali was considerable and extended beyond the limits described by Abdal Sadi, with all neighboring states, allies or enemies, experiencing his civilizing ferment. In fact, as a result of his wars, he achieved vast taxable territories and control of the main trans-Saharan trade routes, allowing the prosperity of the Songai Empire in the 16th century. For Alberto da Costa e Silva, his control of trade was due to the fact that he was master of the great emporiums west of Hauçaland (Gao, Tombuctu, Jené, Ualata), of the salt mines of Tagaza (and later of Taudeni) and of the salt and copper deposits of Teguida.
In 1498, he was victorious over the Mossi of Iatenga and took a multitude of slaves to Gao without being able to occupy their territory or tame them. In 1499, he attacked Agadez, where Mohammed Talzi Tanete, sultan of the Tuareg and Air, was settled, in order to stop Tuareg attacks on the Cahileans crossing the desert and to take control of the relevant caravan rendezvous point between Gao, Hausaaland and Bornu on one side, and Tripoli and Egypt on the other; Asquia was victorious, deposing the sultan and forcing the city to pay him tax. Shortly thereafter, the Songais successfully attacked the Soninquese of Bagana and their allies, the Fulas of Macina, securing for them control of the region between Tombuctu and Jené. In 1501, Diara, vassal of the Mali Empire, submitted, and in 1508, Gigam (in Senegal), another vassal of Mali, surrendered to Songai. On the other hand, in 1504 Asquia was defeated by Bariba cavalry, and in 1505-1506 he was defeated by Borgu (region now on the border of Niger and Nigeria), who remained obstinate. In 1512, the king of Diara, accepting Songai”s suzerainty, asked him for help against Tenguelá, lord of Futa Jalom. Asquia complied with the king of Diara”s request. A huge army, under the command of his brother Omar, crossed the arid lands for two months and, after overcoming thirst, imposed itself on the enemy. The western border between Songai and Mali became upper Senegal.
After defeating the Tuaregs of Agadez, he directed his attention to the inhabitants of Aquilu, who controlled Ualata, and defeated them with his infantry and cavalry. After occupying the city, the Tuaregs fled into the desert and began attacks on Ualata. Aware of their inability to deal with the guerrillas, the Songais agreed to leave in exchange for a pledge of vassalage and tribute. The Tuaregs of Air, the vicinity of Tombuctu and the vicinity of Ualata accepted the suzerainty of the Asquias as allies and to seal the deal, Asquia gave a daughter in marriage to the magcharencoi. As a consequence of the agreement, the Tuareg confirmed their position as commercial middlemen on the desert routes, while to the Songais it was advantageous to employ the Berber camel to protect the caravans rather than attack them. With control of the major ports of long-distance trade – Gao, Tombuctu, Jené and Ualata – and the achievement, for better or worse, of the Tuareg appeasement, Ashkah oriented itself eastward, to the Hausa domains, in order to dispute Bornu for the trade of kola nut and gold and everything else in Hausaland: agricultural products, cattle, slavery and handicrafts, especially leatherwork famous in North Africa and even Europe, which the finest of them he called Moroccan.
For Leo Africano, in the second decade of the 16th century, Achaia attacked Catsina and halved the population, such was the number of slaves it took from there. Then it turned to Zaria and Cano, which bowed to peace after a prolonged siege. The Sarqui offered one of his daughters as his wife to the acequia, as well as one third of the state revenues. The deal was closed, and the Songais, after leaving tax collectors in Cano, headed for Gobir, where the king was killed and his grandchildren were castrated to serve as eunuchs. Most of Gobir”s population was enslaved and the rest bore the brunt of the tributes; African Lion”s claims are now dismissed by the absence of any mention of the attacks in the Cano Chronicle, the Hausa traditions, or other sources. Between 1515 and 1517, Asquia had to subdue Agadez again, this time imposing on it a garrison and perhaps a Songhai administrator.
Cunta Quenta de Quebi, a state situated between the Songalayan territories and Hausaland west of the Socoto falls, was Asquia”s ally in these expeditions. Disgusted with his share of the plunder of Agadez, he broke his ties with the Songais. Protected by floodplains, Cunta managed to assert his independence by effectively fighting Ásquia”s troops and succeeded in turning the country into a buffer state between the Songai Empire and Hauçaland, protecting the former from the latter, but without preventing the Hauçan cities from gradually falling into Bornu”s orbit.
Unlike the warrior Suni Ali, Asquia was a statesman. Building on Mali”s old administrative structures, he began the process of departmentalizing the government into fiscal, military, administrative, and judicial units by creating the positions of minister of finance, justice, interior, protocol, agriculture, water, and forestry, and of “white race tribes” (Moors and Tuaregs), who were vassals of the Songais and provided squadrons of troops mounted on dromedaries; the offices were filled by their brothers, sons and cousins, and Arab individuals at the expense of Songais. He divided the country into provinces under governors and appointed special governors to the cities of Tombuctu, Jené, Macina and Tagaza. The provinces were grouped into regions, administered by regional governors assisted by ministers; in the western provinces he created the office of canfari (kanfari), whose occupant, based at Tindarma near Lake Fati, appears to have been viceroy of the entire western half of the empire; there were also other governors such as the dendifari, the governor of the southeast. He and his successors distributed concessions in the manner of the Mamluks; they created fiefdoms (and instead of giving their favorites – the serfs – the lands that were not assignable or their property, granted them the usufruct of rights, as well as fees and gains payable to the state.
The center of the bureaucracy was the acequia, who was assisted by a group of advisors. At the royal court, the sumptuous ceremonial around the acequia was administered by official called hugucoreicoi (hugu-korei-koi), an administrator with substantial political influence and military power. An uanadu (wanadu) or spokesman for the king conveyed the king”s word to regal audiences, while high secretaries, commonly from Morocco, oversaw the royal chancellery. Agachia introduced a tax system in which each city or district had its own tax collector named Pharimondio (lit. “chief of the fields”). Idem used the expertise of the Tombu scholars in matters of state. During the long periods he was stationed in the capital Gao (1502-1504 and 1506-1507), he occupied himself with reforming the tithe and tax system, regulating agriculture and fishing, and recruiting and training administrators and governors.
A fixed army and fleet of war canoes (Junde Songai) was established and led by regional commanders assisted by officers who organized military transport by boat in Niger; one of them was called hicoi (hi-koi, lit. “commander of the canoes”). In addition, a regiment of eunuchs on horseback was established. There were 2,000 of them in a single campaign, according to one chronicle of the 15th century, or 4,000 according to another. In the first of these texts, it is said that the king, in his Friday audiences, was followed by 700 eunuchs. Alberto da Costa e Silva concluded that if the figures are correct, “the castrated slaves must have formed, in Songai, a small crowd, for more numerous than the king”s honor guards would certainly be those in charge of the harems.”
As a faithful believer, Asquia took as an advisor the Moroccan reformer Muhammad Almaguili who helped him take the estates of the descendants of the defeated Sunni and the vassal groups who did not convert to Islam. Because of his keen interest in the Islamic legal system, he asked Almaguili several questions about Islamic theology; the answers, which circulated in the Songai Empire under his auspices, had great influence on Ottoman Dan Fodio”s revolution (r. 1803-1815). Under Asquia and successors, the indigenous religions of the Sudan that made Songai Islam esoteric under the Sunis lost strength and the Songai religion became state Islam whose civil code was the Qur”an and whose official writing was Arabic. Nevertheless, the influence of this new Islamic vision had an impact mainly in urban centers, with local religions continuing to exist in other areas. He devoted much time training cadis (Mamude ibne Omar ibne Mamude Acite, the cadi of Tombuctu in 1498-1499, was one of his appointees. At an unknown date, Asquia built the Mosque of Sidi Iáia.
Jené and Ualata re-erupted as major centers of scholarship and religion and Tombuctu gained a reputation as an intellectual center, competing with other centers in the Islamic world; Sancoré attracted people from around the world who went to study various sciences (emissaries from Europe went to Sancoré to see its libraries with manuscripts consulted by mathematicians, astronomers, physicians, and jurists. He sponsored local scholars with his treasury and raised the Muslim intelligentsia in the feudal class by giving them land. He introduced uniform system of weights and measures that would benefit trade and reformed currency, allowing homogenization. The artisan caste inherited from Mali was maintained and slave labor was essential to agriculture; slave labor was directed by fanfas, the slave officers who managed the royal arable estates. It exported gold, kola nut and slaves in the same way that it imported exotic pottery, textiles, horses, salt and luxury goods brought by merchants from Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The careifarma (karey-farma) directed trade relations between the empire and Arabs and Berbers. He also completed the great canal along the Niger.
Asquia”s reign did not end well. Confronting his ideas of becoming the sole ruler of an Islamized Sudan, his sons fought over his spoils. After the death of his commander-in-chief and Canfari brother Omar in 1519, Ashkah was no longer secure even in the capital, and the songais seemed to him “as crooked as the course of the Niger River.” Embittered and half blind, the now elderly Asquia had only his friend and advisor Ali Folem. In 1528
Josef W. Meri considered that the programs of conquest, centralization, and standardization promoted by Asquia Mohammed were the most ambitious and far-reaching in sub-Saharan history until the colonization of the continent by Europeans. Jean Pierre Rouch judged that Asakia”s only error as a statesman was his imposition of Islam as the official religion of the nobles, since this foreign faith would be the justification for the posthumous conquest of the Songai Empire by the Saadian Sultanate of Morocco. Moreover, for him, several centuries after his death, small African states and neighboring leaders held up the Songai Empire and Asquia as a model. Even today, according to oral tradition, Asquia appears as a genius who resembles his father or those with whom, by a special gift, he was able to consult during his pilgrimage to Mecca. For J. O. Hunwick, the rise of Asquia represented a victory over the more deeply Islamized non-Suni Ali populations that inhabited the western part of Middle Niger. Moreover, scholars and holy men found favor under his rule as opposed to the persecution suffered under the Sunis.