The Songhai Empire
Alex Beffa Global History April 9, 2012
The Songhai, also known as the Songhay, was not only the last, but also the largest and greatest empire of western Africa between 1000 and 1600 ce.i The previous empire was the Mali empire. Songhai was just a client state at the port of Gao, which was a major trading port for trans-Saharan trade especially since it is located on the Niger river. When the Mali empire started to decline in the 14 th century, the Songhai king declared independence.ii The Songhai empire was the most thriving west African empire for many reasons but major ones are: the kings Sunni Ali and Muhammad Ture as well as the conquering of the city of Timbuktu. Sunni Ali became ruler in 1464. He did not waste any time waiting to begin expanding. Shortly after coming to power, he went to conquer the great trading port of Timbuktu from the Tuareg raiders. After Timbuktu was his, Sunni Ali's armies went south to the port of Jenne. In 1480, he attacked the Mossi states south of the Niger river. He had a strong military background which helped him become one of the best conquerers and leaders in African empire history until this point. His best asset was his naval skills which is mostly likely why he typically conquered ports along the Niger river. One of his major advancements was the the creation of a bureaucracy. This allowed the Songhai to be a more centralized empire than the previous empires of Ghana and Mali. To help get the Muslim support, Sunni Ali claimed to be a Muslim, though he never truly left the old traditional religions supposedly due to the belief that it was the source of his supernatural powers in battle. In 1492, after a successful conquest, according to some oral traditions, Sunni Ali drowned while crossing the Niger river. Still others refuse to accept this theory, insisting that he died in battle. His reign was from 1464-1492. When Sunni Ali died, one of his sons named Sunni Barou took over.iii Unfortunately, unlike his father, Sunni Barou did not claim to be Muslim but rather embraced the old tradition. This did not go over very well with the Muslim community in the empire. Not long after taking the throne, Sunni Barou was overthrown by a very faithful muslim named Muhammad Ture. Born around 1440, he was a very ruthless
killer. He even want so far as to eliminate the rest of Sunni Ali's family members. As for his way of governing, the Islamic religion played a big role. He believed that the spread of islam was very important for two reasons. One, he was a devout muslim and felt that everyone should be. And second, he saw Islam as a way to unify the empire. He organized his own bureaucracy with 10 providences and an administrator for each. This allowed him to rule very effectively over a vast empire. To lower chances of a rebellion, Muhammad Ture would not allow the kings of the conquered to keep their power but instead he would replace them with members of his own family. In 1495, Muhammad decided to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Unlike other rulers, he was able to leave for long periods of time due to how incredibly stable his government was. After his journey, he felt the need to expand the empire. When Sunni Ali had died, a good number of the states Sunni Ali had conquered had declared independence. It was up to muhammad to reassert the Songhai’s control over these territories. He had no problem with going on an almost continuous military conquest for close to two decades. Like Sunni Ali, Muhammad Ture also expanded the navy. After a military life like that, he was lucky to be around to experience old age. In 1528 Muhammad was so well aged that he had lost the drive to continue the conquests. Also he began to go blind, so his son Farimundyo Musa took over. Farimundyo Musa changed his name to Askia Musa which is where the Askia dynasty comes from. Askia Musa was assassinated in 1531 by one of his brothers. Since Muhammad Ture was...