This story happens at a time when politics, military, diplomacy and magic were mixed together; a time when African women were influential, when democracy was a reality in some regions, when leaders could sacrifice themselves for their people, and when honor had a meaning, a real meaning. Historical characters have their stories. But this time, we are trying to tell one story for 3 famous characters in West Africa: a story between a conqueror Samori Ture, a warrior Amoro Ouattara known as Tiefo Amoro and a princess Guimbi Ouattara. To understand this story, it is important to know the geopolitics of the region at that time.
Kong, Kenedougou, Samori and the French
We are in 1897, almost at the end of the African conquest by the Europeans. Kingdoms and stateless societies exist everywhere in Africa. A few regions are still not surrendering, a few leaders are still fighting. A lot of muslim states decided not to fight the Europeans, but to collaborate instead. It was the case for the Empire of Kong. This empire was founded from the declining Empire of Mali, and was inhabited by muslims and animists (I actually prefer the term traditionalist, but let’s use animist for now). Kong was located in a region covering the nowadays west of Burkina Faso and north of Ivory Coast, and was controlling other small cities like the city of Sia, the present Bobo-Dioulasso (second town of Burkina Faso). At the west of Kong, there was the kindgom of Kenedougou in the present east of Mali and west of Burkina Faso. Kenedougou was founded by migrants from Kong. So Kenedougou and Kong were pretty close culturally and geographically. At the west of Kenedougou, there was the Wassulu region (the border of today’s Mali and Guinea) which was ruled by a great warrior named Samori Ture. And finally the French, wanting to control all those regions. In 1888, the French had already signed agreements with Kong. Kenedougou refused to sign anything with them, but also refused to collaborate with Samori Ture whose objective among many, was to get rid of the French. Kenedougou had then to fight two enemies at the same time. To face this threat, they had built a big fortified wall called the Tata of Sikasso (smaller than the Chinese one and smaller than the one Donald Trump wants to build). But the wall was big enough to make Samori Ture and the French fail to take them down.
Guimbi Ouattara is known as a princess. But it is not as straight forward. The Burkinabe town called Bobo-Dioulasso (yes, the one we mentioned earlier) is inhabited by people called the “bobo” (bobo-fing precisely). They lived as a democratic community (not a kingdom) where the leader was chosen among families’ representatives. But this community was raided sometimes by warriors coming from other countries. Because Bobo-Dioulasso was not a state, they did not have a regular army, so they decided to call for help from a state. They turned to the Empire of Kong which helped them with the Ouattara warriors. This is how Bobo-Dioulasso remained safe for a long time and controlled at the same time. And Guimbi Ouattara, a princess from the Empire of Kong, was sent in Bobo-Dioulasso not to rule, but to serve as a kind of “PR” (Public Relations) for her original country. Guimbi is known for at least two things: her hospitality and diplomacy. When French explorers came to discover the area, she is the one who received and protected them. Whenever the people were against the French and wanted them to leave, she was always there. She also gave them all the information they needed, remember that Kong had signed agreements with the French.
The dissidents Tiefo people
The Tiefo people were a group of unbeatable Ouattara warriors led by Tiefo Amoro. They originally came from the Empire of Kong like Guimbi Ouattara. But they separated themselves from their original group because of a religious clash. This clash can be seen as the islamic rule (silamaya) defended by Guimbi against the traditional rule (bambaraya) defended by Amoro. Guimbi wanted them to convert to Islam, otherwise she would get rid of them. But it was difficult to get rid of powerful warriors like the Tiefos.
With him or against him
Samori Ture … thanks to his military skills, he was one of the greatest threats to the French invasion in West Africa. He even asked the British to help him defeat the French, but they refused to confront the French at that time. Instead, he bought modern weapons from them. He was not as lucky as the Haitian Toussaint Louverture(helped by the Spanish and British) or the Ethiopian Menelik II(helped by the Russians). Remember the Empire of Kong? Samori asked the Ouattara dynasty of Kong to help him fight the French. They also refused and Samori got mad. He was convinced that they were collaborating with his enemies (the French) which was true and he swore to kill all the descendants of the Ouattara. He raised his army, went to the city of Kong and destroyed everything. Then he headed to Bobo-Dioulasso where the rest of the Ouattara people were. Guimbi Ouattara got informed about what was happening in Kong and what may happen next: Samori was coming to destroy Bobo-Dioulasso.
The magic drink
Samori reached Bobo-Dioulasso with his army, and guess who was there … Guimbi Ouattara. She went to welcome him. This was not usual before a war. And Samori got welcomed as a normal guest with some welcome drinks. After enjoying the drinks, Samori started to talk about “peace”. Someone who came for “war”, changed his mind for a calabash of drink (which is a bit more than a cup). He talked with Guimbi, he was happy and Guimbi took this opportunity to make a few agreements with him. One of them was to help her get rid of a “common danger”: the Tiefo people. Like Guimbi, Samori was muslim and he also wanted everyone to convert to Islam. So it was settled. Samori agreed to kill all of the Tiefo people thinking that it would be a piece of cake.
Because of a woman …
The first battle between the sofas (Samori warriors) and the Tiefo people was a hard one, and Samori was very surprised. Nothing could break those Tiefos, nothing in battles. Even the French failed to beat them before him. But Samori tried another weapon: a woman, Amoro’s wife herself. One night, she neutralized most of the weapons of her husband’s warriors and the following day, the battle became a massacre. This kind of loss, his wife’s treason, was unacceptable for Amoro. He preferred death instead of shame and called his right-hand to help him for that1. Amoro lost but Samori became weak after this battle. Informed by Guimbi as usual, the French did not miss the opportunity to stop one of their greatest resistants. After destroying the great wall of Sikasso (Tata) and conquering the kingdom of Kenedougou, they launched a full attack on the sofas. Samori has been captured by Henri Gouraud and deported to Gabon. The descendants of the Ouattara continued to collaborate with the French. Bobo-Dioulasso became the capital of the colony of Upper-Volta. Because Kong was destroyed, and most of its inhabitants fled to other cities, it declined and almost disappeared.
Where are African filmmakers ?
The story does not stop here. One of the most influential African politician was Sekou Ture, first president of the republic of Guinea. He too led Guinea to refuse to be part of the West-African-French and Guinea became the first former French colony to gain its independence. Sekou Ture was the great-grandchild of Samori Ture. And who knows what the great-grandchild of Sekou Ture may do in the future … Knowing your history is the first step for great accomplishments. This is why telling stories to people is something artists should focus on. Language, religion and culture can bring people together but not always unite them. Stories unite people, memories do, heroes do too. Making a movie or a series of movies about our history and our great heroes will help the youth to reconcile with his past and build a strong reference for the future. I wish Nollywood to extend itself to all West and Central Africa for a more powerful economical and social impact.
1: According to some sources, Amoro preferred death instead of slavery. Because in those situations, warriors in captivity could become slaves.
Webography (in french):
Princesse Guimbi Ouattara
Le conte de Bobo-Dioulasso
SNC 2012: “L’histoire des Tiefo est très peu connue”
Place Tiefo Amoro: et si on la rebaptisait “place de la resistance Tiefo Amoro”
Site touristique au Burkina: le mausolee Tiefo Amoro cherche visiteurs a Noumoudara
Amoro et Guimbi: gistoire et religion dans la construction de l’identite tiefo
Burkina Faso. Cent ans d’histoire 1895-1995
Alpha Blondy: “Bori Samori”