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Samori Ture

Samory Toure
Born c. 1830
Died June 2, 1900 (aged 69/70)
Other names Almamy Samore Lafiya Toure, Samory Touré
Known for founder of Wassoulou Empire

Samori Ture (also known as Samory Touré or Almamy Samore Lafiya Toure, c. 1830 – June 2, 1900) was the founder of the Wassoulou Empire, an Islamic state in present-day Guinea that resisted French colonial rule in West Africa from 1882 until Ture's capture in 1898.


  • Early life and career 1
  • Expansion through the Sudan 2
  • First battles with the French 3
  • War and defeat 4
  • Legacy 5
  • In popular culture 6
  • Footnotes 7
  • References 8
  • Sources 9
  • External links 10

Early life and career

Samori Toure was born c. 1830 in Manyambaladugu (in the Konyan region of what is now southeastern Guinea), the son of Dyula traders. He grew up as West Africa was being transformed through growing contacts and trade with the Europeans in commodities, artisan goods and products. European trade made some African trading states rich. The trade in firearms changed traditional West African patterns of warfare and heightened the severity of conflicts, increasing the number of fatalities. Early in his life, Ture converted to Islam.[1][2]

In 1848, Samore's mother was captured in the course of war by Séré-Burlay, of the Cissé clan. After arranging his mother's freedom, Samore entered into service to the Cissé, and learned to handle firearms. According to tradition, he remained "seven years, seven months, seven days" before fleeing with his mother.

He joined the Bérété army, the enemies of the Cissé, for two years before rejoining his people, the Kamara. Named Kélétigui (war commander) at Dyala in 1861, Ture took an oath to protect his people against both the Bérété and the Cissé. He created a professional army and placed close relations, notably his brothers and his childhood friends, in positions of command.

Expansion through the Sudan

In 1864, El Hadj Umar Tall died; he had founded the aggressive Toucouleur Empire that dominated the Upper Niger River. As the Toucouleur state lost its grip on power, generals and local rulers vied to create states of their own.

By 1867, Ture was a full-fledged war commander, with an army based at Sanankoro in the Guinea Highlands, on the Upper Milo, a Niger River tributary. Ture had two major goals: to create an efficient, loyal fighting force equipped with modern firearms,[3] and to build a stable state.

By 1876, Samore was importing breech-loading rifles through the British colony of Freetown in Sierra Leone. He conquered the Buré gold mining district (now on the border between Mali and Guinea) to bolster his financial situation. By 1878 he was strong enough to proclaim himself faama (military leader) of his Wassoulou Empire. He made Bissandugu his capital and began political and commercial exchanges with the neighboring Toucouleur.

In 1881, after numerous struggles, Ture secured control of the key Dyula trading center of Kankan, on the upper Milo River. Kankan was a center for the trade in kola nuts, and was well sited to dominate the trade routes in all directions. By 1881, the Wassoulou Empire extended through the territory of present-day Guinea and Mali, from what is now Sierra Leone to northern Côte d'Ivoire.

Ture conquered the numerous small tribal states around him and worked to secure his diplomatic position. He opened regular contacts with the British colonial administration in Sierra Leone. He also built a working relationship with the Fulbe (Fula) Imamate of Futa Jallon.

First battles with the French

The French began to expand in West Africa in the late 1870s, pushing eastward from Senegal to reach the upper reaches of the Nile in what is now Sudan. They sought to drive southeast to link up with their bases in Côte d'Ivoire. These actions put them directly into conflict with Ture.

In February 1882, a French expedition attacked one of Ture's armies that was besieging Keniera. Ture drove off the French, but he was alarmed at the discipline and firepower which their troops commanded.

He approached dealing with the French in several ways. First, he expanded southwestward to secure a line of communication with Liberia. In January 1885 he sent an embassy to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone and a Crown Colony of the British, offering to put his kingdom under British protection. The British did not want to confront the French at this time, but they allowed Ture to buy large numbers of modern repeating rifles.

When an 1885 French expedition under Col. A. V. A. Combes attempted to seize the Buré gold fields, Ture counterattacked. Dividing his army into three mobile columns, he worked his way around the French lines of communication and forced them to withdraw quickly.

War and defeat

By 1887, Samori had a disciplined army of 30,000–35,000 cavalry, in regular squadrons of 50 each. But, the French did not want to give him time to consolidate his position. Exploiting the rebellions of several of Ture's subject tribes, who were animist and resisted Islam, the French continued to expand into his westernmost holdings. They forced Ture to sign several treaties ceding territory to them between 1886 and 1889.

In March 1891, a French force under Colonel Louis Archinard launched a direct attack on Kankan. Knowing his fortifications could not stop French artillery, Touré began a war of maneuver. Despite victories against isolated French columns (for example at Dabadugu in September 1891), Ture failed to push the French from the core of his kingdom. In June 1892, Col. Archinard's replacement, Humbert, leading a small, well-supplied force of picked men, captured Ture's capital of Bissandugu. In another blow, the British had stopped selling breech loaders to Ture in accordance with the Brussels Convention of 1890.

Ture shifted his base of operations eastward, toward the Bandama and Comoe River. He instituted a scorched earth policy, devastating each area before he evacuated it. Though this maneuver cut Ture off from Sierra Leone and Liberia, his last sources of modern weapons, it also delayed French pursuit.[4]

The fall of other resistance armies, particularly Babemba Traoré at Sikasso, permitted the French colonial army to launch a concentrated assault against Touré. He was captured 29 September 1898 by the French captain Henri Gouraud and was exiled to Gabon.

Ture died in captivity on June 2, 1900, following a bout of pneumonia. His tomb is at the Camayanne Mausoleum, within the gardens of Conakry Grand Mosque.


  • He is considered a powerful example of resistance to French colonial forces and known for his building collaboration among diverse groups, as well as his war strategies.
  • His great-grandson, Ahmed Sékou Touré, was elected as the first President of Guinea after it became independent.

In popular culture

  • Massa Makan Diabaté's play Une hyène à jeun (A Hyena with an Empty Stomach, 1988) dramatizes Samori Ture's signing of the 1886 Treaty of Kéniéba-Koura, which granted the left bank of the Niger to France.
  • Guinean band Bembeya Jazz National commemorated Ture in their 1969 release Regard sur le passé. The album draws upon Mandinka Djeli traditions and consists of two epic recordings that recount Ture's anti-colonial resistance and nation-building.


  1. ^ Maddy, Monique. Learning to Love Africa, p. 156
  2. ^ Vandervort, Bruce. Wars of Imperial Conquest in Africa, 1830-1914, p. 128
  3. ^ Asanti states that the arms were "imported from the free country of Sierra Leone or made by his own Mandinka blacksmiths." Asanti, p. 234
  4. ^ Asanti, p. 235


  • Ajayi, J.F. Ade, ed. UNESCO General History of Africa, Vol. VI: Africa in the Nineteenth Century until the 1880s, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).
  • Asante, Molefi Kete, The History of Africa: The Quest for Eternal Harmony, (New York: Routledge, 2007).
  • Boahen, A. Adu, ed. UNESCO General History of Africa, Vol. VII: Africa Under Colonial Domination, 1880-1935. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985).
  • Gann, L.H. and Duigan, Peter, ed. Colonialism in Africa, 1870–1960, Vol. 1: The History and Politics of Colonialism 1870-1914, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1969).
  • Oliver, Roland and Sanderson, G.N., ed. The Cambridge History of Africa, Vol. 6: from 1870-1905, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985).


  • Boahen, A. Adu (1989). African Perspective on Colonialism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 144 pages.  
  • Boahen, A. Adu (1990). Africa Under Colonial Domination, 1880-1935. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 357 pages.  
  • Ogot, Bethwell A. (1992). Africa from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century. California: University of California Press. p. 1076 pages.  
  • A fourth volume of maps published in Paris in 1990. Monumental work of history perhaps unique in African literature.  
  • Piłaszewicz, Stanisław. 1991. On the Veracity of Oral Tradition as a Historical Source: - the Case of Samori Ture. In Unwritten Testimonies of the African Past. Proceedings of the International Symposium held in Ojrzanów n. Warsaw on 07-08 November 1989 ed. by S. Piłaszewicz and E. Rzewuski, (Orientalia Varsoviensia 2). Warsaw: Wydawnictwa Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego. [2]

External links

  • webMande
  • Samori biography
  • West Africa; the fight for survival
  • New York Times article about his capture
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