African Kingdoms and Empires

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  • Topic: Mali Empire, Timbuktu, Ghana Empire
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  • Published : November 26, 2012
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African Kingdoms and Empires
During 400 AD, West Africa witnessed the rise and fall of the indigenous medieval empires of ancient Ghana, medieval Mali, and Songhai. Many other states and kingdoms arose during this time but Ghana, Mali and Songhai achieved the status of fully-fledged, functioning and long-living conquest states and expansionist empires. These empires regulated the Trans-Saharan trade by offering protection for trade caravans as well as taxing slaves, gold, firearms, textiles and salt. Ghana reached its height by 1200 AD and was ruled by the Serahule people which eventually broke apart by in the 13th century. The Mali Empire was a Mandinka territory but also took on Ghana’s territory and extended into the 13th century. At the peak of the empire, Mali covered an area over 24,000 sq. km. Songhai succeeded Mali in the 14th century and grew to be the largest land empire in tropical Africa. Throughout the presentation I will cover each Empire in grave detail.

Ghana may have existed as early as the 5th century, however, by the 8th century it was known as “The Land of Gold.” In 1068 Ghana was the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful state in West Africa. The empire was situated in the vast Savannah area between the Senegal and Niger Rivers with its authority extending from the frontiers of Futa Toro to the Western banks of the Niger, and from the Mandinka area in the south to beyond the fringes of the desert in the north. (Ghanaweb) The Serahule were the founding people of “The Land of Gold,” who established their capital at Kumbi Saleh, which at that time was the leading trading centre of the Western Sudan and the focus of all trade with a systematic form of taxation. The Serahule formed themselves into a strong trading state which spread its power over many neighboring people and in the process became an empire. With the introduction of the camel during the Trans-Saharan trade, Ghana derived power and wealth from gold and increased the quality of goods transported. As stated earlier, the Soninke people also sold slaves, salt and copper in exchange for textiles, beads and finished goods. (Ghanaweb)

According to Ghanaweb, “The wealth of ancient Ghana is mythically explained in the tale of bids, the black snake. This snake demanded an annual sacrifice in return for guaranteeing prosperity in the Kingdom, therefore each year a virgin was offered up for sacrifice, until one year, the fiancé’ (Mamadou Sarolle) of the intended victim rescued her. Feeling cheated of his sacrifice, Bida took his revenge on the region, a terrible drought took a hold of Ghana and gold mining began to decline. There is evidence found by archaeologists that confirms elements of the story, showing that until the 12th century, sheep cows and even goats were abundant in the region.”

Traders took the route from Maghreb to Ghana starting in Tahert, North Africa through Sjilmasa, Southern Morocco. The trail led south running parallel with the coast, then south-east through Awsaghust and ending in Kumbi Saleh. Through their travels the traders brought the Islamic community to Kumbi Saleh but the Islam’s managed to remain a separate community a distance away from the King’s palace. (Ghanaweb) McKay wrote, “The city of Ghana consists of two towns lying on a plain, one of which is inhabited by Muslims and is large, possessing twelve mosques- one of which is congregational mosque for Friday prayer; each has its imam, its muezzin and paid reciters of the Quran. The town possesses a large number of jurisconsults and learned me,” (McKay, pg 279)

Ghana was originally known as Wagadou (Ouagadou, Aoukar) by its rulers, but was changed into the general use, “Ghana” because one of the king’s titles “Ghana” meant war chief. Each succeeding king kept the title Ghana but went by their own name. The kings were in charge of organizing the trade and keeping good relations with the Saharan traders, as well as acting as senior...
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