The Journal of African History

Research Article

Firearms, Horses and Samorian army Organization 1870–18981

Martin Legassick

The army of Samori Ture in 1887 was recruited from four sources: the regular army of sofa (infantrymen with firearms), the conscripted reserve of kurustigi, detachments sent by chiefs under Samori's protection, and a cavalry force consisting in part, perhaps, of volunteers. The emphasis on infantry rather than cavalry differentiated it from the armies of other nineteenth-century Islamic reformers.

Among the factors which influenced the structure and tactics of the army, as well as the diplomatic and military strategy of the Samorian state, were the supply of firearms and horses. Initially the Samorian army was armed with muskets from the coast, primarily Freetown, and horses from the north-western part of the Sudan. From mid-1891 to mid-1892 the muskets were replaced with breechloaders and repeaters obtained by direct negotiation between Samori and Freetown traders, and during this period or before it an indigenous firearms industry was established. After this, the French advance cut Samori off, partially at least, from his sources of supply; from 1893–98 the search for new supply areas was a major preoccupation of the Samorian regime. Arms came from the Ivory Coast and the Gold Coast, and horses from the Mossi states. Here, as formerly in the west, Samori was able to use existing trade routes.


1 This paper is based on one written for a seminar in African history at the University of California, Los Angeles (given by Professor Robert Griffeth) in the fall semester of 1964. I should like to thank him, in particular, for his criticism and advice.