Why didn't Bornu's gun technology diffuse?

Jan 2018
39
Yopaw
#21
There is evidence from elsewhere in Africa that guns of the time were not the game changer some of us think they were.
True, the advantages that early guns gave in warfare were mostly exaggerated, and there are many examples of armies with poisoned arrows destroying armies with primitive muskets. The Portuguese against the Senegambians, the defeats of the Morrocans against the Bambara, etc...

Thornton discussed this issue in his book "Warfare in Atlantic Africa" :

"Archers using poisoned arrows, fairly widespread in Africa, added another dimension: the important penetrating power of musketry, which outweighed its fairly slow rate of fire (its superior range being often offset by lack of accuracy), was much less important in a setting where any wound was potentially fatal."

"Given the musket’s general inaccuracy, musketry was most effective when masses of troops confronted each other, and less effective when soldiers advanced in dispersed order (as they often did in Africa) or in environments such as rainforest"

"The Bambaras, for example, who were equipped with only “poisoned arrows and sabres”, still managed to defeat Moroccan-backed cavalry armies from the western desert with substantial numbers of firearms three times in the first two decades of the eighteenth century"
A large part of the failure of Songhay against the Morrocans can be explained by the fact that Songhay was already weakened when it was attacked. There is no reason to believe than small Bambara states would have been able, with swords and poisoned arrows, to defeat Morrocan-backed armies with muskets three times in the 18th century, and that an organized and extensive state like Songhay didn't have the ability to do so in the 16th century
 
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Sep 2018
9
Canada
#22
True, the advantages that early guns gave in warfare were mostly exaggerated, and there are many examples of armies with poisoned arrows destroying armies with primitive muskets. The Portuguese against the Senegambians, the defeats of the Morrocans against the Bambara, etc...

Thornton discussed this issue in his book "Warfare in Atlantic Africa" :



A large part of the failure of Songhay against the Morrocans can be explained by the fact that Songhay was already weakened when it was attacked. There is no reason to believe than small Bambara states would have been able, with swords and poisoned arrows, to defeat Morrocan-backed armies with muskets three times in the 18th century, and that an organized and extensive state like Songhay didn't have the ability to do so in the 16th century
Thanks trhowd. I will check out Thornton's book.
 
Sep 2018
9
Canada
#23
For the Battle of Tondibi and the background to the Saadian invasion of Songhai, we have six major primary sources:

1. Tarikh al Fattash. This history is believed to have been written by more than one member of the Kati family in the 17th century, though it was begun by the scholar Mahmud Kati.
2. Tarikh al Sudan. The Songhai nobleman Al Sadi is said to have written this history of the Songhai Empire 60 years after the events.
3. The Account of the Anonymous Spaniard. The Spaniard is believed to be a spy for Phillip II, king of Spain, and he was based in Marrakesh just after the invasion gathering intelligence for his boss.
4. Al Ifrani’s account of the invasion. He was born some 80 years after the events in question, and wrote a history of the Saadian dynasty.
5. The letters of Mulay Ahmad al Mansur, Saadian Sultan, to Askia Ishaq II and other Sudanic kings.
6. The Description of Leo Africanus. The account was published in 1526, and provides some details about the armies of the region.

As with all historical records, they are uneven in the quality and depth of their reporting, and sometimes give widely differing versions of the events.

What we can determine:

1 The oleaginous Mulay Ahmad, who authorized the invasion, gave warning to Askia Ishaq about his intentions 13 months before the event, so the invasion was not a surprise to Askia Ishaq. Specifically, in December 1589, Mulay Ahmad wrote a letter to the Askia demanding a tax for the revenues of the salt mine at Taghaza, claiming that it was part of the mines to which the Treasury of Muslims has exclusive right. He claimed that the money from the tax would be used for jihad against the infidels, and that the swords of his armies were a protection for Ishaq; without Ahmad’s armies, Ahmad claimed, the infidels would flood Songhai. In the Tarikh al Sudan, Ishaq is said to have contemptuously rejected Ahmad’s demand.

2 In late October 1590, Ahmad appointed his eunuch slave Judar Pasha (or Pasha Jawdar) to command his expeditionary force to Songhai, and the force left Marrakesh that month. The Anonymous Spaniard says the force consisted of 1000 Christian renegade musketeers, 1000 Andalusian musketeers from Grenada, 500 renegade mounted musketeers, and 1500 “lancers” from the local Moroccans. He claims that the total force, including service personnel was about 5000 men. According to the Spaniard, the force also had “4 small cannons, and 10 mortars for projecting stone balls against towns”, as well as 10,000 camels for carrying food, water, and gunpowder. The sources do not differ much on the size of the Moroccan force. The numbers range from 3,000 to 5,000.

What about the Songhai army? Here things get funny with wildly divergent numbers on the size of the army facing the Moroccan force.

Al Sadi's Tarikh al Sudan says Ishaq had 12,500 cavalry and 30,000 infantry; the Fattash says Ishaq had 18,000 warriors on horseback with 9,700 infantry; the Anonymous Spaniard says 80,000 men which included 8,000 horsemen; and al Ifrani claims that Askia Ishaq assembled a mighty host of 104,000 men!

Clearly the Songhai numbers are exaggerated. Was the Songhai army a professional standing army, or mostly warriors, part-time fighters, assembled from various villages and towns as an emergency force? Even if we take the most conservative of the figures, 27,700, it is not cheap to pay, provision and house such a large professional force on a permanent basis. That number is larger than the populations of most towns of the period.

Whether the Songhai army was a professional standing force is an important question, because a professional army drills, trains, and is disciplined—they can be trained to stand and fight when the going gets rough. A force of traditional warriors, who are really just farmers seeking glory in war, tends break and run when the going gets rough.

The sources are silent on this question.

The units of the Saadi force were primarily mercenaries or Spanish soldiers working for the Mulay Ahmad. (their descendants can be found in Mali today, and they are known as the Arma) That they were disciplined and well-trained can be inferred from the weapons they carried, which, as I said in my earlier post, demand a very high degree of discipline, as well as regular drill and practice to use them in combat.

Swaggernaut suggested that the negative psychological impact of the gunfire would have been great to Songhai warriors/ soldiers when the fighting began. I believe that this is a more likely (part of the) reason why the Songhai lost, not because of the supposed superiority of firearms over poisoned arrows (some of the sources say that Songhai used such arrows.)

The idea of negative psychological impact is supported by the account of the battle in the Fattash, which tells us that when the fighting began, “God sewed fear and dread into the ranks of the Songhay army.” (p 254, Christopher Wise translation). My belief is that the Songhai attacked in a mass that made it possible for the matchlock gunfire to find targets despite its known inaccuracy; and when stone balls from the cannon began to land in the midst of the Songhai infantry, they broke and ran in a panic, having never seen such a thing before.

The fire from muskets and cannon that shoot stone balls are not insurmountable. Infantry can be trained to find cover when the musketeers are firing, and then rush them when they are reloading. It just requires a disciplined and trained force. It requires a trained force that can respond in a new way to a new situation. A traditional gathering of part-time warriors who have long-standing ways of fighting, such as rushing in a mass at the enemy while singing war songs, and shouting taunts, may not be able to make such changes.

It is possible that the Songhai already had some experience with the Moroccan musketeers before the major battle at Tondibi. According to the Anonymous Spaniard, one night when the Moroccans were camped in a woods on the bank of the Niger, “a large number of Blacks” crept up unnoticed in boats, but then, “letting out loud shouts, and firing a large number of [poisoned] arrows,” they attacked. The Moroccans apparently easily drove them off with “a few salvoes [that] killed many of them.”

This kind of attack—whooping, screaming war cries, firing arrows and expecting the victims to flee in terror—suggests not a professional standing army, but an unorganized tribal or band raid, that is easily driven off if the supposed victims turn out to be armed and prepared.

If this is the kind of force that Askia Ishaq assembled to face the Moroccans, then it is no surprise that they broke and ran in the din and smoke of battle. That is probably why Al Sadi wrote that “Jawdar’s forces broke the army of the askiya in the twinkling of an eye.” [my emphasis] (John Hunwick translation, p 190)

In the Fattash, Askia Ishak is also said to have sent out one thousand cattle in front of his troops to absorb the bullets of the Moroccans. But the cattle stampeded in the opposite direction at the sound of the gunfire, and crushed many of his men (see p 255)

The Fattash also tells us that after the failure of this crazy tactic, the Askia himself was persuaded to flee the battle, and his army followed suit.

Conclusion:
It was not guns and their supposed technological superiority per se that caused the Songhai defeat; if guns caused the defeat, it was indirectly through fear of something that had never been seen or heard by most of the Songhai men--the din of cannon and musketry can be terrifying, and it would be especially so if comrades drop and the projectiles that cause them to do so are not seen. What manner of witchery are we facing here, the Songhai fighters must have thought.

Thus the main factor, as I see it, is poor preparation, poor tactics, and probably poor discipline and training. There is no reason why an army of 27,000 that is well prepared, disciplined, trained, and fighting in their homeland with cavalry and archers armed with poisoned arrows, cannot defeat a small force of 4000 fighting far away from home and armed with the kind of primitive firearms the Moroccans had.