El Hadj Umar Tall

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al-Hajj Umar ibn Sa'id al-Futi Tal (Arabic: عمر بن سعيد طعل‎‎), (c. 1797–1864 CE), Umar Saidou Tall, born in Futa Tooro, Senegal, was a West African political leader, Islamic scholar, and Toucouleur military commander who founded a brief empire encompassing much of what is now Guinea, Senegal, and Mali.


Umar Tall's name is spelled variously: in particular, his first name is commonly transliterated in French as Omar; the patronymic, ibn Sa'id, is often omitted; and the final element of his name, Tall (Arabic: طعل‎‎), is spelt variously as Taal or Tal.

The honorific El Hadj (also al-Hajj or el-Hadj), reserved for a Muslim who has successfully made the Hajj to Mecca,[1] almost always precedes Umar Tall's name.

Early life[edit]

Umar bin Sa'id was born approximately in 1794 in Halwar in the Imamate of Futa Toro (present-day Senegal), Umar was the 10th of 12 children.[2] His father was Saidou Tall and his mother was Sokhna Adama Thiam. Umar Tall attended a madrassa before embarking on the Hajj in 1828, returning in 1830 as a marabout with the title El Hadj and assumed the caliphate of the Tijaniyya sufi brotherhood in the Sudan. This authority would become the basis of his personal authority necessary to lead Africans.[3]

When returning from the Hajj he camped near Damascus there he met Ibrahim Pasha, Umar Tal befriended the Pasha healed his son from a deadly fever, Umar Tal was highly inspired by the trends set by the Pasha. Settling in Sokoto, he took several wives, one of whom was a daughter of the Fula Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammed Bello. In 1836, El Hajj Umar Tall moved to the Imamate of Futa Jallon and then to Dinguiraye, in present-day Guinea, where he began preparations for his jihad.

Initial conquests[edit]

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 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[edit]

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[edit]

Now controlling the entire Middle Niger, Umar Tall moved against Timbuktu, only to be repulsed in 1863 by combined forces of Tuaregs, Moors, and Fulas.[4] Meanwhile, a rebellion broke out in Hamdullahi under Ba Lobbo, cousin of executed Massina monarch Amadu III; in 1864, Balobo's combined force of Fulas 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 Tall 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 prominent figure in Senegal, Guinea, and Mali, though his legacy varies by country. Where many 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.

Lineage of kingship[edit]

Preceded by
Leader of the Toucouleur Empire
Succeeded by
Ahmadu Tall
Preceded by
Bamana Empire
Faama of Ségou
Succeeded by
Ahmadu Tall


This article is based on a translation of the corresponding article from the French Wikipedia, retrieved on July 1, 2005, which in turn cites the following sources:

  • David Robinson, The Holy War of Umar Tal (Oxford University Press)
  • Le temps des marabouts Itinéraires et stratégies islamiques en Afrique occidentale française (collectif) (Editions Karthala).

English language source:

  • Davidson, Basil. Africa in History. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.
  • Robinson, David, The Holy War of Umar Tal. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985
  • B. O. Oloruntimeehin. The Segu Tukulor Empire. New York: Humanities Press (1972). SBN 391002066
  • Wise, Christopher. The Desert Shore: Literatures of the Sahel. Boulder & London: Lynne Rienner, 2001.
  • Wise, Christopher. Yambo Ouologuem: Postcolonial Writer, Islamic Militant. Boulder & London: Lynne Rienner, 1999.
  1. ^ Malise Ruthven (1997). Islam: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 147. ISBN 978-0-19-285389-9. 
  2. ^ Robinson, David (1985). The Holy War of Umar Tal: The Western Sudan in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 67–71. 
  3. ^ Robinson, David (1987). "The Umarian Emigration of the Late Nineteenth Century". The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 20 (2): 97–99. 
  4. ^ Fula: Fulɓe; French: Peul

External links[edit]

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