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Biography of El Hadj Omar TALL

Senegal > Politics : El Hadj Omar TALL

El Hadj Omar TALL
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Biography :

El-Hadj Umar Tall (1797-1864)


El Hadj Umar Tall, also Umar Tal,Umar Taal "Umar Futi", al-Hajj Umar ibn Sa'id Tal, or el-Hadj Omar ibn Sa'id Tal, (ca. 1797 - 1864) was a Senegalese politician, Islamic scholar, and Toucouleur king who founded a brief empire encompassing much of what is now Guinea, Senegal, and Mali. Early in his career he preached and wrote against social injustices such as the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.


Early life

Born Umar bin-Said in Halwar, Fouta-Toro (present-day Senegal), Umar Tall attended a madrassa in his youth before embarking on the Hajj in 1820. After many years of scholarship, in 1826 Umar Tall returned with his new title of "El Hadj" to assume the caliphate of the Tijaniyya brotherhood for the Sudan (also know as non-Arab Africa). Settling in Sokoto, he took several wives, one of whom was a daughter of Fulani Sultan Muhammed Bello. In 1836, El Hajj Umar Tall moved to Fouta Djallon in present-day Guinea and began preparations for his jihad.


Initial conquests

In 1848, El Hajj Umar Tall's Toucouleur army, equipped with European light arms, invaded several neighboring, non-Muslim, Malinké regions and met with immediate success. Umar Tall pressed on into what is today the region of Kayes in Mali, conquering a number of cities and building a tata (fortification) near the city of Kayes that is today a popular tourist destination.

In April of 1857, Umar Tall declared war on the Khasso kingdom and besieged the French colonial army at Medina Fort. The siege failed on July 18 of the same year when Louis Faidherbe, French governor of Senegal, arrived with relief forces.


Conqueror of the Bambara

After his failure to defeat the French, El Hadj Umar Tall launched a series of assaults on the Bambara kingdoms of Kaarta and Ségou. The Kaarta capital of Nioro du Sahel fell quickly to Umar Tall's mujahideen, followed by Ségou on March 10, 1861.

While Umar Tall's wars thus far had been against the animist Bambara or the Christian French, he now turned his attention to the smaller Islamic states of the region. Installing his son Ahmadu Tall as imam of Ségou, Umar Tall marched down the Niger, on the Massina imamate of Hamdullahi. More than 70,000 died in the three battles that followed until the final fall and destruction of Hamdullahi on March 16, 1862.


Death and legacy

Now controlling the entire Middle Niger, Umar Tall moved against Timbuktu, only to be repulsed in 1863 by combined forces of the Tuaregs, Moors, and Fulani tribes. Meanwhile, a rebellion broke out in Hamdullahi under Balobo, brother of executed Massina monarch Amadu Amadu; in 1864, Balobo's combined force of Peuls and Kountas drove Umar Tall's army from the city and into Bandiagara, where Umar Tall died in an explosion of his gunpowder reserves on February 12. His nephew Tidiani Tall succeeded him as the Toucouleur emperor, though his son Ahmadu Seku did much of the work to keep the empire intact from Ségou. However, the French continued to advance, finally entering Ségou itself in 1890.

El Hadj Umar Tall remains a legendary figure in Senegal, Guinea, and Mali, though his legacy varies by country. Where the Senegalese tend to remember him as a hero of anti-French resistance, Malian sources tend to describe him as an invader who prepared the way for the French by weakening West Africa. Umar Tall also figures prominently in Maryse Condé's historical novel Segu.

Last update : 08/30/2007


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