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Songhoi, Sonrhay, Surhai

SONGHOI, SONRHAY, SURHAI, etc., a great negroid race inhabiting a large tract of country on both banks of the middle Niger. They formed a distinct state from the 8th to the 16th century, being at one period masters of Timbuktu (q.ii.) and the most powerful nation in the western Sudan. The origin of this people, who are said still to number some two millions, though their national independence is lost, has been a source of much dispute. Heinrich Barth, who has given the fullest account of them, reckoned them as aborigines of the Niger valley; but he also tried to connect them with the Egyptians. The people themselves declare their original home to have been to the eastward, but it seems unlikely that they or their culture are to be connected at all with the Nile valley. According to the Tarik 6 Sudan, a i ;th century history of the Sudan written by Abderrahman Sadi of Timbuktu, the first king of the Songhoi was called Dialliaman (Arabic Dia min al Jemen, " he is come from Yemen "), and the account given in this Arabic manuscript leaves little doubt that he was an Arab adventurer who, as has been frequently the case, became chief of a negro people and led them westward. The Songhoi emigration must have begun towards the middle of the 7th century, for Jenne, their chief city, was founded one hundred and fifty years after the Hejira (about A.D. 765), and it represents the extreme western point in their progress. From a hundred to a hundred and twenty years would be about the time whtch must be allowed for the years of wandering and those of settlement and occupation in the Songhoi countries. In the north they have mixed with the Ruma " Moors," and in the south with the Fula. The Songhoi, then, are probably Sudanese negroes much mixed with Berber and even Arab blood, who settled among and crossed with the natives of the Niger valley, over whom they long ruled.

In their physique they bear out this theory. Although often as black as the typical West African, their faces are frequently more refined than those of pure negroes. The nose of the Songhoi is straight and long, pointed rather than flat; the lips are comparatively thin, and in profile and jaw "projection they are easily distinguishable from the well-known nigritic type. They are tall, well-made and slim. In character, too, they are a contrast to the merry light-heartedness of the true negro. Barth says that of all races he met in negroland they were the most morose, unfriendly and churlish. The Songhoi language, which, owing to its widespread use, is, with Hausa, called Kalam al Sudan (" language of the Sudan " ) by the Arabs, is often known as Kissur. According to Friedrich Muller it resembles in structure none of the neighbouring tongues, though its vocabulary shows Arab influence. Keane states that the language " has not the remotest connexion with any form of speech known to have been at any time current in the Nile valley."

See Heinrich Barth, Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa (1857-1858); A. H. Keane, Man Past and Present (Cambridge, 1899); Brix Forster in Globus, Ixxi. 193; Felix Dubois, Timbuctoo the Mysterious (1897); Lady Lugard, A Tropical Dependency (1905).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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