"Sego, the capital of Bambara, at which I had now arrived, consists, properly speaking, of four distinct towns; two on the northern bank of the river, called Sego Korro and Sego Boo, and two on the southern bank, called Sego Sou Korro and Sego See Korro. They are all surrounded with high mud walls; the houses are built of clay, of a square form, with flat roofs; some of them have two stories, and many of them are whitewashed. Besides these buildings, Moorish mosques are seen in every quarter, and the streets, though narrow, are broad enough for every practical purpose in a country where wheel carriages are unknown. From the best information I could obtain, I have reason to believe that Sego contains altogether about thirty thousand inhabitants. The king of Bambara resides permanently at Sego See Korro; he employs a great many slaves in conveying people over the river; and the money they take, though the fare is only ten cowries for each person, furnishes a considerable revenue to the king in the course of a year."
By advice of the Moors, the king refused to receive the traveller, and forbade him to remain in his capital, where he could not have protected him from ill-treatment. However, to divest his refusal of all appearance of ill-will, he sent him a bag containing 5000 cowries, of the value of about a pound sterling, to buy provisions. The messenger sent by the king was to serve as guide as far as Sansanding. Protest and anger were alike impossible; Mungo Park could do nothing but follow the orders sent. Before reaching Sansanding, he was present at the harvest of vegetable butter, which is the produce of a tree called Shea.
"These trees," says the narrative, "grow in great abundance all over this part of Bambara. They are not planted by the natives, but are found growing naturally in the woods; and, in clearing land for cultivation, every tree is cut down but the shea. The tree itself very much resembles the American oak; the fruit—from the kernel of which, after it has been dried in the sun, the butter is prepared by boiling in water—has somewhat the appearance of a Spanish olive. The kernel is imbedded in a sweet pulp, under a thin green rind, and the butter produced from it, besides the advantage of keeping a whole year without salt, is whiter, firmer, and, to my palate, of a richer flavour than the best butter I ever tasted from cows' milk. It is a chief article of the inland commerce of these districts."
Sansanding, a town containing from eight to ten thousand inhabitants, is a market-place much frequented by the Moors, who bring glass-ware from the Mediterranean forts, which they exchange for gold-dust and cotton. Mungo Park was not able to remain at this place, for the importunities of the natives and the perfidious insinuations of the Moors warned him to continue his route. His horse was so worn out by fatigue and privation that he felt obliged to embark on the river Djoliba or Niger.
At Mourzan, a fishing village upon the northern bank of the river, everything combined to induce Park to relinquish his enterprise. The further he advanced to the eastward down the river, the more he placed himself in the power of the Moors. The rainy season had commenced, and it would soon be impossible to travel otherwise than by boat. Mungo Park was now so poor that he could not even hire a boat; he was forced to rely upon public charity.
To advance further under these circumstances was not only to risk his life, but to place the results of all his fatigues and efforts in jeopardy. To return to Gambia was scarcely less perilous; to do so he must traverse hundreds of miles on foot through hostile countries. Still the hope of returning home might sustain his courage.
"Before leaving Silla," says the traveller, "I thought it incumbent on me to collect from the Moorish and negro traders all the information I could concerning the further course of the Niger eastward, and the situation and extent of the kingdoms in its neighbourhood.
"Two days' journey eastward of Silla is the town of Djenneh, which is situated on a small island in the river, and is said to contain as many inhabitants as Sego itself, or any other town in Bambara. At a distance of two days' more, the river widens and forms a considerable lake, called Dibby (or the dark lake), concerning the extent of which, all I could learn was that, in crossing it from east to west, the canoes lose sight of land for one whole day. From this lake the water issues in many different streams, which finally become two branches, one flowing to the north-east, the other to the east; but these branches join at Kabra, which is one day's journey to the south of Timbuctoo, and is the port or shipping-place of that city. The tract of land between the two streams is called Timbala, and is inhabited by negroes. The whole distance by land from Djenneh to Timbuctoo is twelve days' journey. North-east of Masena is the kingdom of Timbuctoo, the great object of European research, the capital of the kingdom being one of the principal marts for the extensive commerce which the Moors carry on with the negroes. The hope of acquiring wealth in this pursuit, and zeal for propagating their religion, have filled this extensive city with Moors. The king himself and all the chief officers of his court are Moors, and are said to be more intolerant and severe in their principles than any other of the Moorish tribes in this part of Africa."
Mungo Park was then forced to retrace his steps, and that through a country devastated by inundation and heavy rains. He passed through Mourzan, Kea, and Modibon, where he regained his horse; Nyara, Sansanding, Samea, and Sai, which is surrounded by a deep moat, and protected by high walls with square towers; Jabbéa, a large town, from which he perceived high mountain ranges, and Taffara, where he was received with little hospitality.