Thursday, 16 June 2016


In 'The New London Universal Gazetteer, Or Alphabetical Geography of the World' (1826), Jedidiah Morse* listed the name Sangama, a river in Africa. He stated simply without much detail, "Sangama - A river of Africa which falls into the Atlantic Ocean near Cape Formosa". Cape Formosa is located in the territories of Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau on the north-western coast of Africa.

*Jedidiah Morse (1761-1826) was a notable geographer whose textbooks became a staple for students in the United States. He was the father of telegraphy pioneer and painter Samuel F. B. Morse, and his textbooks earned him the sobriquet of "father of American geography."

 Jedidiah Morse listed the name 'Sangama' in
 'The New London Universal Gazetteer,
Or Alphabetical Geography of the World' (1826)

Historiographer to the British crown, James Playfair (1738-1819), had in the year 1814 detailed the geography of the rivers of Nigeria in the Sixth Volume of 'System of Geography - Ancient and Modern'. About the geography of Sierra Leone western coast and what was then called Cape Formosa he wrote, "From the mouth of the Forcado river, a flat and wooded coast reaches southwards upward of 50 leagues to Cape Formosa. It is intersected by many rivers the principal of which are Ramos, or Zamos, and Dodo. Cape Formosa is a low point of land shaded with trees, the view of which from the sea is delightful. A few leagues northward are the village and river of Sangama." 

In the satellite pictures of today, Sangama appears as Sengama and is situated on a river by the same name in Sierra Leone, close to Grand Cape Mount in Liberia.

Sengama  town on Sengama River in Sierra Leone
as it falls into the Atlantic.

The river is also sometimes referred to as the Sangana. Here is a satellite picture from 2005 of the region that was at the time called Cape Formosa, first by the Portuguese and later when it was explored by the British.

Cape Formosa and Sangana (Sangama) river.

Sangama appears once again in Africa, there is a town by the name Sangama in Nigeria, 3600 km away from the Sangama that Jedidiah Morse had written about. 

Sangama town in Nigeria

Sangama is located in the Rivers State, one of the 36 states of Nigeria. The state has innumerable rivers, which fall into the Atlantic Ocean. The name Sangama has no meaning in the local languages. Its closest cognate is 'sangam' (सङ्गम्), a Sanskrit word meaning 'meeting' especially in the context of 'meeting of rivers'. 

A 1000 km away on the northern end of Nigeria is the city of Gaya - historically it served as an important terminus of a migratory corridor through which there was an influx of immigrating peoples especially from Eastern Sudan and the Middle East. 

900 km away westward is another Gaya, this one is right on the banks of the River Niger. There are many Indic names that occur on the river Niger such as the towns of Yamina, Gangu, Kanika and Kalimana.  

Gaya (left) on the River Niger in the country by the same name, and
900 km away Gaya in Nigeria.

Kanika, Yamina, Gangu, Calimana
Scottish Explorer Mungo Park's map of survey of River Niger
 (Exploration in the years 1795 - 1805)

Suggested Links:

1. Atlantic Navigator (1854) By Anonym Anonym
2. The New London University Gazeetteer by Jediadiah Morse
3. System of Geography: Ancient and Modern by James Playfair

Friday, 10 June 2016


In a letter written by Zachary Macaulay, dated 6th April 1815, addressed to Lord Hobart, then one of British Government's Principal Secretary's of State, on the subject regarding the means of establishing commercial intercourse between the Western coast of Africa and the river Niger, Macaulay identifies the source of the river Niger at a place called Sankari, a place that the British had not yet been able to access because of the un-navigable waters of the Niger.

Zachary Macaulay was a statistician, one of the founders of London University and of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, an antislavery activist, and Governor of Sierra Leone (from 1794 to 1799), the British colony for freed slaves.

Macaulay states in this letter, "... the direct distance from Cape Mesurado to Sankari, the supposed source of the Niger, is about 300 miles. If the River Mesurado be really navigable by boats to the extent which is commonly reported, it would considerably diminish that distance, but it is to be observed that there is perhaps no part of Africa less known that which lies between Cape Mesurado and Sankari....". 
The coordinates of Sankari were given roughly at 10° N, 6° W in the records of the time. 

He then speaks of the River Sierra Leone and states, "... The only channel of communication which remains to be
particularly considered, is the river Sierra Leone. This river is navigable about 50 miles above the company's settlement to a place called Port Logo. The distance from Port Logo to Teembo is about 120 miles and from Teembo to Sankari, the supposed source of the Niger, about 250: in all about 370 miles."

The town of Sankari, sometimes referred to as Sankara, was also referred to by another British explorer, Major Dixon Denham (1786-1828) w
ho wrote in his 'Narrative of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa', "Before sunrise the tents were struck and we were in motion... Barca Gana who commanded the sheikh's people .... was a native of a town called Sankara." He further adds, " ... As I have before said the morning of the 18th saw me riding by the side of Barca Gana, in full march for Mandara....".

So we have Shiva's other name, Sankara, as the name of the source of one of the largest rivers of Africa, close to a place called Mandara which happens to be a 200 km mountai
n range extending from the coordinate 9.3°N 12.8°  to (11.0°N 13.9°E. (The source of Niger is today placed at 9.5° N, 10° W, not too far from Sankari.) 

The Sanskrit link to the names Niger and Nigeria were already discussed in a previous post the gist of which is posted here. In his writings, Ptolemy (90-168 AD), a Greco-Egyptian writer, mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer, and poet mentioned two rivers in the desert of NIger, one by the name 'Gir' and farther south, the 'Ni-Gir'. Roman historian, Suetonius (69-122 AD) wrote that the name 'gir' originates from 'gher', which in the Bereber language, spoken in Morocco and Algeria, means 

But it is obvious that the word 'gir' or 
'gher' are both distortions of the same Sanskrit word that appears in the names of many rivers and water-bodies around the word. The word is 'jhara' (झर), and appears in the names of the river 'Jordon' in the country by the same name, the 'Jari' which is the northern tributary of the River Amazon, River Jara in Melbourne, the Jara River (a tributary of the Susita River) in Romania, and Lake Jara in New Mexico - not to mention many more in India and Nepal. In Sanskrit the word 'jhara' (झर) is a 'waterfall' or any 'water body', and 'jhari' (झरी) means 'river'.

One of the ancient names of Niger is 'Joliba' which it is said translates as the great river, ba meaning great in the local tradition, and 'joli' means 'river;  but then 'joli' is the same as the Sanskrit 'jala' (जल) meaning 'water'. It may be stated here that one of the ancient names of Volga was 'Jilaga'. Here too the 'jila' may be a distortion of 'jala'. For more about the Volga click here.

In his book Oriental Fragments, Edward Moor (1771-1848) lists the names of rivers and towns that many European explorers had mentioned in their travelogues about Africa. The names include Jonakakonda, Tendikonda, Kootakunda, Barraconda, Seesekund, Tandacunda, Fatteconda and Mauraconda and many many more.  He then identifies and equates them with towns bearing the same names in southern parts of India. 
To read more about these names click here.

Of these names Edward Moor says, "With a little of this licence, and it may be and is allowed to others, as well as to distressed etymologists, let us try to turn Park's names into Hindi. Jonakakonda is Janeka-kunda or the hill of Janeka..". There are many such examples including Kootakunda. The Sanskrit 'kUta' (कूट) means 'dwelling' or a fort, 'kuta' (कुट) means 'mountain'. 'Kunda' is  Sanskrit for 'pool'  and Telegu for 'mountain'. 'Khanda' (खण्ड) means 'part' or 'section' or 'piece'. 

He adds, "Now let me ask any oriental reader if he can peruse these names of places without fancying them taken from some map of India, instead of Africa? Many .... are actually names of Indian places ; and most of them could be easily traced to their several sources in the languages of India, by any one moderately skilled therein. It may be doubted if all France, Germany, Russia, England, and Italy, could furnish so many places with Indian names, as may be gathered from Park's short journeyings in Africa; and from his necessarily meagre map. Very many of these names, be it remembered, and of those which follow, occur in the depths of central Africa ; where, until lately, neither Hindu nor English man was ever seen, or perhaps heard of. Can any one, with a knowledge of East Indian dialects, read them, and deny, or doubt, that a race once inhabited those regions, with whom some of those dialects were current?"

He concludes, "...That the interior, and remote Africans, have to a great geographical extent, been Hindus, I am, from these premises, disposed to suggest : and I expect,
when we shall become better acquainted with those
little known regions, to find my view confirmed by the discovery of Hindu remains, in architecture, excavations, sculptures, inscriptions, or some equally unequivocal evidence, in addition to that of names; Something similar, though not at once so striking and convincing, to what has recently been developed in the interior of Java; and what farther researches may bring to light on Celebes, Borneo, Luconia ; and others of the vast, remote, and little known of the eastern isles — regions as vast and as little known as Africa....".

"I must indulge in a quotation of a passage by my lamented friend Major Rennell, in the conclusion of his account of the map prefixed to Mungo Park's (Mungo Park was the first western explorer to have charted the course of the Niger) last work: — "The hospitality shown by these good people (interior Africans, especially the Mandingo tribe,) to Mr. Park, a destitute and forlorn stranger, raises them very high in the scale of humanity; and I know of no better title to confer on them than that of the Hindus of Africa."

The River Niger is intriguing for an eastern mind. It has towns with names such Yamina, Ganga and Gaya strewn across it. But since their meanings are lost to the local inhabitants,  these, names are slowly vanishing from the map as well, just as the history behind the occurrence of these Sanskritic names on the Niger has long vanished.

Suggested readings: 
1. The story of the Niger
2. Celebrated Travels and Travellers, by Jules Verne
3. Mt. Kesha
4. Journal of an Expedition to Explore the course and the termination of the Niger by Richard. Lander and John Lander
5. The Northern Star or Yorkshire Magazine: Conjectures Concerning the River Niger
6. The Jouranla of a Mission to the Niger by Mungo Park
7. The London Encyclopedia: Niger