1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gao

GAO, Gao-Gao, or Garo, a town of French West Africa, in the Upper Senegal and Niger colony, on the left bank of the Niger, 400 m. by river below Timbuktu. Pop. about 5000. The present town dates from the French occupation in 1900; of the ancient city there are scanty ruins, the chief being a truncated pyramid, the remains of the tomb (16th century) of Mahommed Askia, the Songhoi conqueror, and those of the great mosque. According to tradition a city stood on this spot in very ancient times and its inhabitants are said to have had intercourse with the Egyptians. It is known, however, that the city of which the French settlement is the successor was founded by the Songhoi, probably in the 7th or 8th century, and became the capital of their empire. Garo (Ga-rho) appears to have been the correct name of the Songhoi city, though it was also known as Gogo and Kuku (Kaougha).[1] In the 12th century Idrisi describes Kuku as a populous unwalled town devoted to commerce and industry; it is possible, however, that Idrisi is referring not to Gao but to another town somewhat to the south—at that period the middle course of the Niger had many prosperous towns along its banks. In the 14th century Gao was conquered by the king of Melle, and its great mosque was built (c. 1325) by the Melle sovereign Kunkur Musa on his return from a pilgrimage to Mecca. In the 15th century the Songhoi regained power and Gao attained its greatest prosperity in the reign of Askia. It did not enjoy the commercial importance of Jenné nor the intellectual supremacy of Timbuktu, but was the political centre of the western Sudan for a long period. On the break up of the Songhoi power the city declined in importance. It became subject in 1590 to the Ruma of Timbuktu, from whom it was wrested in 1770 by the Tuareg, the last named surrendering possession to the French. The first European to reach Gao was Mungo Park (1805); he was followed in 1851 by Heinrich Barth, and in 1896 by the French naval lieutenant Hourst. Gao is now the headquarters of a military district. A caravan route leads from it to Kano and Bornu. From Gao upwards the Niger is navigable for over 1000 m.

See Timbuktu. For the Gao region of the Niger see an article by F. Dubois in L’Afrique française (January 1909).

  1. There was another city called Kaoka or Gaoga east of Lake Chad in the country now known as Bagirmi. It was the seat of the Bulala dynasty, an offshoot of the royal family of Kanem, whose rule in the 15th century extended from the Shari to Darfur. The existence of the state was first mentioned by Leo Africanus. To the Bornuese it was known as Bulala or Kuka Bulala, a name which persists as that of a district in French Congo (see Bornu). The similarity of the name Gaoga to that of the Songhoi capital has given rise to much confusion.