This desert is bright, luminous. Traversing it, one breathes deeply; one is in good spirits, and safe from robbers. The desert here contains many wild cattle. A flock of them might come so near to a caravan that people can hunt them with dogs and arrows. However, eating their meat creates thirst and, as such, many people avoid it as a consequence. If killed, water is found in their stomachs and I have seen the Massûfa squeezing the stomach and drinking the water. There are also many snakes.
A merchant of Tilimsan known as al-Hajj Zaiyân was in our caravan. He had the habit of catching these snakes and playing with them. I had asked him not to do this but he would not desist. He put his hand into a lizard’s hole one day and found a snake there instead. He grasped it and was about to mount his horse. But the snake bit the finger of his right hand, inflicting severe pain on him. The wound was cauterized, but in the evening the pain worsened. He cut the throat of a camel and kept his hand in its stomach all night. The flesh of his finger loosened and then he sliced off his finger at the base. The Massûfa told me that the snake must have drunk water before biting him, or the bite would have killed him.
When the people coming to meet us with water had reached us, our mounts were given water. We entered an extremely hot desert. It was not like the one we had just experienced. We would leave after the afternoon prayer, travel all night and stop in the morning. Men from the Massûfa and Badama and other tribes brought us loads of water for sale. We reached the city of Iwalatan at the beginning of the month of rabi’i [17 April 1352] after a journey of two months from Sijilmasa. It is the first district in the country of the Blacks. The Sultan’s deputy here is Farba Husain; farba means ‘deputy’.
On arriving, the merchants deposited their goods in a clearing and the Blacks assumed responsibility for them. The merchants went to the Farba who was sitting on a mat in a shelter. His officials were standing in front of him holding spears and bows, and the Massûfa notables were behind him. The merchants stood in front of him, and he spoke to them through an interpreter as a sign of his contempt for them even though they were close to him. On observing their bad manners and contempt for white people, I was sorry I had come to their land. I retired to the house of ibn Badda’, a kind man of Sala from whom I had let a house by request.
The inspector of Iwalatan, named Mansha Ju [lit. Royal Slave], invited those who had come in the caravan to a reception. I refused to attend. My companions urged me very strongly to accept, and finally I accompanied the rest. At the reception coarsely ground anli was served mixed with honey and curdled milk. This was put in a half gourd shaped like a large bowl. Those present drank and then left. I asked them: ‘Is it for this that the Blacks invited us?’ They replied: ‘Yes. For them it is the greatest hospitality.’ I became convinced that no good could be expected from these people, and I wished to join the pilgrims travelling out of Iwalatan. But I decided to go and see the capital of their king before leaving. I stayed in Iwalatan for about fifty days in all. Its people treated me with respect and were hospitable… The town of Iwalatan is very hot. There were some small palms and they had sowed melons in their shade. Water came from underground sources. Mutton was plentiful. Their clothes were of fine quality and of Egyptian origin. Most of the inhabitants belong to the Massûfa. The women are of exceptional beauty and are more highly respected than the men.
SOURCE: “Ibn Battuta, World Traveller (b. 1304),” in Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing, edited by Tabish Khair, Martin Leer, Justin D. Edwards, and Hanna Ziadesh (Indiana U. Press, 2005), pp. 294-296