1. Guest Announcements: Registration Is Currently Open To The Public | No Invite Needed.

West African Kingdoms

ole timer Jan 31, 2015

  1. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

    Listen then sons of Mali, children of the black people, listen to my word, for I am going to tell you of Sundiata, the father of the Bright Country, of the savanna land, the ancestor of those who draw the bow, the master of a hundred vanquished kings."
    13th century account handed down orally and delivered in 1960 by Mali griot, Djeli Mamdoudou Kouyate, master in the art of eloquence.

    Over three thousand years ago there were two important developments in West Africa: long distance trade, and the ability to manipulate stone, clay and metals to sophisticated degree.

    Against this background, there arose a number of kingdoms and empires starting in the 5th century through to the 16th century. Common to each of these great empires was extensive trans-saharan trade with the North, large standing armies and an effective system taxation.

    The empire of Ghana (not to be confused with modern Ghana which is some four hundred miles south east of where it was) was first referred to by an Arab scholar in the 8th century. Two centuries later the kingdom of Kanem arose north east of Lake Chad.

    In the 13th century Mali rose under the leadership of the Malinke Sundiata to become renowned throughout the Arab world for its wealth and learning. A hundred years later it fell into decline and became the target of Tuareg raids; the Songhay then took over the territory, reduced in size, under the leadership of Askiya Mohammed. Trade was revived as was the position of Timbuktu as a centre of learning. The Songhay remained in control until the Moroccan invasion.

    By the 18th century the northern part of West Africa was a patchwork of city states and kingdoms; further South the Asante state (in modern Ghana) rose to preeminence. In the early 19th century Muslim reformers changed the political landscape of large parts of West Africa, most notably in what is now northern Nigeria, under the leadership of Usman dan Fodio
  2. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

    Ancient Ghana

    Despite its name, the old Empire of Ghana is not geographically, ethnically, or in any other way, related to modern Ghana. It lies about four hundred miles north west of modern Ghana. Ancient Ghana encompassed what is now modern Northern Senegal and Southern Mauritania.

    Nobody is sure when Ghana came into being. But some time at the beginning of the first millennium AD, it is thought that a number of clans of the Soninke people, (in modern Senegal) came together under a leader with semi-divine status, called Dinga Cisse.

    There are different accounts of who he was, but all reports emphasise that he was an outsider who came from afar. It is likely that this federation of Soninke was formed possibly in response to the attacks of nomadic raiders, who were in turn, suffering from drought, and seeking new territory. Further west was the state of Takrur in the Senegal valley. It was linked to the north via a coastal route leading to Morocco via Sjilmasa.

    What is clear, is that the Empire derived power and wealth from gold. And the introduction of the camel in the Trans-Saharan trade boosted the amount of goods that could be transported.

    Most of our knowledge of Ghana comes from Arab writers. Al-Hamdani, for example, describes Ghana as having the richest gold mines on earth. These were situated at Bambuk, on the upper Senegal River. The Soninke also sold slaves, salt and copper, in exchange for textiles, beads and finished goods. The capital of Kumbi Saleh became the focus of all trade, with a systematic form of taxation. Later Audaghust was another commercial centre.

    "The King adorns himself like a woman wearing necklaces round his neck and bracelets on his forearms and he puts on a high cap decorated with gold and wrapped in a turban of fine cotton. He holds an audience in a domed pavilion around which stand ten horses covered with gold-embroidered materials…and on his right, are the sons of the vassal kings of his country, wearing splendid garments and their hair plaited with gold.

    At the door of the pavilion are dogs of excellent pedigree. Round their necks they wear collars of gold and silver, studded with a number of balls of the same metals."
    10th century geographer Al-Bakri, quoted in Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History.

    Click here to listen to Al-Bakri describing the opulence surrounding the King of Ghana

    The wealth of Ghana is also explained mythically through the story of Bida, the black snake. This snake demanded an annual sacrifice in return for guaranteeing prosperity in the kingdom. Every year a virgin was offered up, until one year, the fiancé of the intended victim, (his name was Mamadou Sarolle) rescued her. Cheated of his sacrifice, Bida took his revenge on the region. A terrible drought took hold of Ghana and gold mining fell into decline.

    Archaeologists have found evidence that confirms elements of the story, showing that until the 12th century, sheep and cows, as well goats, were abundant in the region. But after that only the tougher, more drought resistant goats were common.

    The route taken by traders of the Maghreb to Ghana would have started in North Africa in Tahert, sweeping down through Sijilimasa in Southern Morocco. From there the trail went south and inland, roughly running parallel with the coast. Then it curved round to the south east through Awdaghust, finally ending up in Kumbi Saleh - the royal town of Ghana.

    Inevitably traders brought Islam with them. Initially, the Islamic community at Kumbi Saleh remained a separate community some distance away from the king's palace. It had its own mosques and schools. But, the king retained his traditional beliefs. He drew on the book-keeping and literary skills of Muslim scholars to help run the administration of the territory. The state of Takrur to the west had already adopted Islam as its official religion and evolved ever closer trading ties with North Africa.

    "The city of Ghana consists of two towns situated on a plain. One of these towns, which is inhabited by Muslims, is large and possesses twelve mosques in one of which they assemble for the Friday prayer. There are salaried imams and muezzins, as well as jurists and scholars. The king's town is six miles distant from this one…

    The king has a palace and a number of domed dwellings all surrounded with an enclosure like a city wall. Around the king's town are domed buildings and groves and thickets where the sorcerers of these people, men in charge of the religious cult, live. In them too are their idols and the tombs of their kings."
    Taken from an account by geographer Al-Bakri.

    Listen to Al Bakri's description of Muslims in Ghana

    There were a number of reasons for Ghana's decline. The King lost his trading monopoly. At the same time drought was beginning to have a long term effect on the land and its ability to sustain cattle and cultivation. But the Empire of Ghana was also under pressure from outside forces.

    There is an Arab tradition that the Almoravid Muslims came down from the North and invaded Ghana. Another interpretation is that this Almoravid influence was gradual and did not involve any sort of military take-over.

    In the 11th and 12th century new gold fields began to be mined at Bure (modern Guinea) out of the commercial reach of Ghana and new trade routes were opening up further east. Ghana became the target of attacks by the Sosso ruler Sumanguru. Out of this conflict, the Malinke emerged in 1235 under a new dynamic ruler, Sundiata Keita. Soon Ghana was totally eclipsed by the Mali Empire of Sundiata
  3. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner


    Kanem was situated north east of Lake Chad. Its early origins are thought to lie in the 7th century with the settlement of the Zaghawa people. In the early 11th century, the Kanuri-speaking Sefawa dynasty was established, displacing the Zaghawa.

    There appears to have been a corresponding shift in lifestyle from being entirely nomadic to combining a pastoralist way of life with agricultural cultivation. The state became more centralised; a place called Njimi was thought to be its capital. Nobody knows its exact location.

    Kanem converted to Islam under the ruler Hu or Hawwa (1067-71). There is some speculation that this ruler might have been a woman. But the faith was not widely embraced until the 13th century. Certainly, Muslim traders would have played a role in bringing Islam to Kanem.

    The wealth of Kanem derived from the ability of its rulers to control trade in the region. Their main exports were ostrich feathers, slaves and ivory. Their exports were crucial to their power and ability to dominate their neighbour. They rode horses, which they imported from the north.

    In addition to trade, there seems to have been a good deal of formal exchanges of presents between the kings of Kanem and the sultans of the north. Most memorably, a giraffe was presented by the king of Kanem and Bornu to the Hafsid Sultan al-Mustansir of Tunis in the 13th century.

    Kanem reached the height of its power under the long rule of Mai Dunama Dibalami (1210-1248). His cavalry numbered over 40,000. But over the next hundred years, a combination of overgrazing, dynastic uncertainties and attacks from neighbours led the rulers of Kanem to move to Borno, which had previously paid tribute to Kanem. At this point, the state is sometimes referred to as Kanem-Borno.

    The move to Borno brought new trading partners in the form of the Hausas, (based in what is now northern Nigeria) and closer contact with the Muslim world. Borno became a centre of learning and scholarship.

    In the latter part of the sixteenth century, the army of Borno was modernised and expanded. Firearms (still relatively new in Europe) were imported from North Africa and Turkish mercenaries were recruited. The decline of Borno in the 18th century is not at all well documented. However, it appears to have been gradual and in the main peaceful.

    There are a number of descriptions of Kanem-Borno by Arab writers. Several allude, confusingly, to it being near the Nile. In fact, the Nile is over 1,000 miles east of Lake Chad where Kanem was situated.

    Click here to listen to the Emir of Zazzau in Zaria, northern Nigeria, talking about his office. Followed by a song, performed by court musicians, reminding the Emir of his distinguished ancestry

    "The inhabitants of Kanem are idolatrous Sudan. It is said that there exists in those parts a clan descended from the Umayyads, who took refuge there when they were persecuted by Abbasids. They dress in the fashion of the Arabs and follow their customs."
    The Spanish muslim scholar Al-Bakri.

    "The King is a wandering Bedouin. When he sits on his throne, his subjects make obeisance to him and fall on their faces. His armies, including cavalry, infantry, and porters, number 100,000. Between Aljama and Yalamlam there dwell a great many unbelievers…the king of Kanem has five minor kings under his sway. His horses are small. Kanem is a vast region through which the blessed Nile flows."
    14th century Egyptian historian Al-Maqrizi.

    "Kanem …is part of the land of the Berbers in the farthest west in the land of the Sudan. Some say that the Kanem are a people of the Sudan. At the present day there is a poet at Marrakesh in Maghrib known as al-Kanimi (the one from Kanem) whose excellent work is attested to, but I have never heard any of his poetry nor learnt his proper name."
    12th century Greek bookseller and scholar Yaqut. Born in Greece, he was sold into slavery to a Syrian merchant. He was later freed and travelled widely.

    "Njimi is the capital of the land of Kanem. There resides the sultan of Kanem, well known for his religious warfare. He is a descendant of Sayf b. Dhi Yazan. On a level with Njimi, he possesses a town with gardens and a pleasure ground. It is on the west bank of the Nile which comes to Egypt and is 40 miles from Njimi. There are fruits there which do not resemble our fruits, as well as pomegranates, peaches and sugar cane."
    13th century Syrian politician and scholar Abu 'l-Fida, quoting Ibn Sa'id.

    "Their soldiers wear the mouth muffler. Their king despite the feebleness of his authority and the poverty of his soul, who has an inconceivable arrogance; despite the weakness of his troops and the small resources of this country, he touches with his banner the clouds in the sky. He is veiled from his people. None sees him save at the two festivals, when he is seen at dawn and in the afternoon. During the rest of the year nobody, not even the commander-in-chief speaks to him, except from behind a screen
  4. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner


    "Mali guards its secrets jealously. There are things which the uninitiated will never know, for the griots, their depositories, will never betray them."
    Oral history, recited by Malian djeli (or oral historian) Mamadou Kouyate.

    Mali emerged against the back-drop of a declining of Ghana under the dynamic leadership of Sundiata of the Keita clan. But the region he took over had a past rich in trade and powerful rulers.

    There was also the city of Jenne-Jeno (ancient Jenne), which archaeologists have now established was first settled in 200 BC, and only began losing its pre-eminence in the 12th century. Between whiles, it was a vital crossroads in the north-south trade. Recent excavations reveal high levels of craftsmanship in pottery, iron-work and jewellery making. This suggests the people of Jenne imported iron ore, stone grinders and beads.

    "He was a lad full of strength; his arms had the strength of ten and his biceps inspired fear in his companions. He had already that authoritative way of speaking which belongs to those who are destined to command."

    "Since his accession to the throne of Sosso, he had defeated nine kings whose heads served him as objects in his macabre chamber. Their skins served as seats and he cut his footwear from human skin."

    Taken from The Epic of Old Mali, recited by the griot (oral historian) Djeli Mamadou Kouyate, edited by D. T. Niane.

    Sundiata Keita rose to power by defeating the king of the Sosso - Soumaoro (Sumanguru), known as the Sorcerer King, in 1235. He then brought all the Mandinke clans rulers (or Mansas) under his leadership, declaring himself overall Mansa. He took Timbuktu from the Tuareg, transforming it into a substantial city, a focus for trade and scholarship.

    A significant portion of the wealth of the Empire derived from the Bure goldfields. The first capital, Niani, was built close to this mining area.

    Mali at its largest was 2,000 kilometres wide. It extended from the coast of West Africa, both above the Senegal River and below the Gambia River, taking in old Ghana, and reaching south east to Gao and north east to Tadmekka.

    Gold was not its only mainstay. Mali also acquired control over the salt trade. The capital of Niani was situated on the agriculturally rich floodplain of upper Niger, with good grazing land further north. A class of professional traders emerged in Mali. Some were of Mandinka origin, others were Bambara, Soninke and later Dyula. Gold dust and agricultural produce was exported north. In the 14th century, cowrie shells were established as a form of currency for trading and taxation purposes.

    Mali reached its peak in the 14th century. Three rulers stand out in this period. The first one, Abubakar II, goes down in history as the king who wanted to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

    "So Abubakar equipped 200 ships filled with men and the same number equipped with gold, water, and provisions, enough to last them for years…they departed and a long time passed before anyone came back. Then one ship returned and we asked the captain what news they brought.

    He said, 'Yes, Oh Sultan, we travelled for a long time until there appeared in the open sea a river with a powerful current…the other ships went on ahead, but when they reached that place, they did not return and no more was seen of them…As for me, I went about at once and did not enter the river.'

    The Sultan got ready 2,000 ships, 1,000 for himself and the men whom he took with him, and 1,000 for water and provisions. He left me to deputise for him and embarked on the Atlantic Ocean with his men. That was the last we saw of him and all those who were with him.

    And so, I became king in my own right."
    Mansa Musa, talking to Syrian scholar Al-Umari.

    Click here to listen to Malian praise singer Sadio Diabate, singing about Abubakar II

    Abubakar II's successor, Mansa Musa (1312-1337) was immortalised in the descriptions of Arab writers, when he made his magnificent pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324.

    "It is said that he brought with him 14,000 slave girls for his personal service. The members of his entourage proceeded to buy Turkish and Ethiopia slave girls, singing girls and garments, so that the rate of the gold dinar fell by six dirhams. Having presented his gift he set off with the caravan."
    Cairo born historian al-Maqurizi.

    Mansa Musa also spent his wealth to more permanent effect. He commissioned the design and construction of a number of stunning buildings, for example, the building of the mosques at Gao and Jenne. At Niani he was responsible for the construction of a fantastic cupola for holding an audience in. Timbuktu became a place of great learning with young men linked to Fez in the north.

    The other famous Malian ruler was Mansa Suleiman. Less is known of him. The historian Ibn Khaldun describes the considerable gifts he assembled for a Sultan in the north. But Ibn Battuta criticises his meanness.

    On arriving in Mali, Ibn Battuta does not mince his words.
    "He is a miserly king, not much giving is to be expected from him. It happened that I stayed this period and did not seen him because of my sickness…"

    Finally Mansa Suleiman sends Ibn Battuta a gift, but it is definitely not up to Ibn Battuta's standards.

    "Behold - three circular pieces of bread, a piece of beef fried in gharti, and a calabash of sour milk. When I saw them, I laughed and wondered a lot…"

    So he complains.

    "I stood before the sultan and said to him, 'I have indeed travelled in the lands of the world. I have met their kings. I have been in your country four months and you have given me no hospitality and not given me anything. What shall I say about you before the Sultans?"

    And that does the trick. Mansa Suleiman claims that he had not even realised Ibn Battuta was in town and hastily makes amends for the previous omissions in hospitality.

    "Then the Sultan ordered a house for me in which I stayed and he fixed an allowance for me…He was gracious to me at my departure, to the extent of giving me one hundred mitqals of gold."

    The court of Mali converted to Islam after Sundiata. As in Ghana, Muslim scribes played an important role in government and administration. But traditional religion persisted. Arab historians make much of the Islamic influence in Mali, whereas oral historians place little emphasis on Islam in their histories.

    The relationship between the Mansas of Mali and the people who worked on the gold fields is worth noting. The rulers received taxes from the miners in the form of gold, but they never exercised direct control over the mining process. At one point, the miners stopped working when the Mansas tried to convert them to Islam.

    "To some aspect they look the same, the gold, the way they made trade. But to the opposite of Ghana, I think Mali was really able to have more territory beyond some of the area Ghana went to, like Taghaza, the salt gulf, that was all part of the empire of Mali.

    So territorial position was one of the greatest differences between Ghana and Mali. And also, the kind of ties Mali was able to make with peoples outside of Africa, is one of the great differences between the two empires…Mali was much much more international than Ghana was."
    Tereba Togola, Head of Archaeology at the Institute of Human Sciences, Bamako. He is responsible for all archaeological research in Mali.

    Click here to listen to Dr. Tereba Togola

    A combination of weak and ineffective rulers and increasingly aggressive raids by Mossi neighours and Tuareg Berbers gradually reduced the power of Mali. In the east, Gao began its ascendancy while remaining part of the Mali Empire.

    In the early 1400's, Tuareg launched a number of successful raids on Timbuktu. They did not disrupt scholastic life or commercial activity, but fatally undermined the government by appropriating taxes for themselves.

    Meanwhile Gao had become the capital of the burgeoning Songhay Empire which, by 1500, had totally eclipsed Mali. But the idea of Mali regaining its former splendour and glory, remained strong in the minds of many Mandinka for generations to come.

    One of the most internationally famous Malians today is musician Salif Keita. He is the descendant of Mansa Sundiata, born into a noble but poor family. His decision to become a musician was very much frowned upon by his family, since music was the province of a lower caste, the djelis
  5. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner


    The wealth and power of Songhay can be traced back to the Sorko fishermen who were skilled canoeists, living along the Niger, south east of Gao. By the 9th century they were part of a state known as Songhay. They began to develop trading relations with Muslim traders in Gao, which then became a part of Songhay.

    During the 14th century Songhay fell within the orbit of the Empire of Mali, but the rulers of Mali never managed to collect taxes from the people of Gao.

    In the fifteenth century Songhay rose to pre-eminence under Sonni Ali the Great, while Mali fell into a decline. His military forces consisted of a cavalry of expert horsemen, and fleets of canoes. He was a great military leader, with a keen understanding of tactics on land and water. He had the added advantage of being regarded as a leader with magical powers.

    Songhay oral history portrays him as a conquering hero. Sonni Ali the Great expanded the territory of Songhay considerably, so that it stretched across the Niger valley, west to Senegal and east to Agades (modern Niger). He remained attached to the traditional rites of his mother's birthplace, Sokoto. He captured Timbuktu from the Tuareg and disrupted the tradition of scholarship. His lack of respect for Islam gets him a bad press from Arab chroniclers who portray him as ruthless and oppressive.

    After Sonni Ali's death one of his generals, Mohammed Ture, seized power in 1493. He was a devout Muslim of Soninke origin, who established the Askiya dynasty. Continuing the expansion of Songhay that Sonni Ali had started, he brought Songhay to the height of its power.

    In contrast to his predecessor, all his actions were informed by his commitment to Islam. His raids against the Mossi took on a religious dimension. These jihads (Holy Wars) were a success on the military front; but although defeated, the Mossi still refused to convert to Islam.

    Mohammed Ture Askiya promoted Songhay in the Muslim world. He went to Mecca. He visited the Caliph of Egypt, who in turn made him Caliph of the whole of Sudan. Sudan was a loose term for a large area in sub-Saharan Africa usually embracing Mali, Chad, north west Nigeria, and Niger. In government matters, he took the advice of three distinguished jurists, or qadis. Generally the government of the Askiya dynasty was more centralised than that of the Mansas of Mali.

    Some aspects of traditional religion were preserved, including the sacred drum, the sacred fire, and the old types of costume and hairstyle. As in Mali, there was a privileged caste of craftsmen, and slave labour played an important role in agriculture. Trade improved under Mohammed Ture Askiya, with gold, kola nuts and slaves being the main export. Textiles, horses, salt and luxury goods were the main imports. In 1510 and 1513, The Spanish Moroccan writer and traveller Leo Africanus visited Gao, the capital of Songhay. He was amazed at the wealth of the ruling class:

    "The houses there are very poor, except for those of the king and his courtiers. The merchants are exceedingly rich and large numbers of Negroes continually come here to buy cloth brought from Barbarie (Morocco) and Europe…

    Here there is a certain place where slaves are sold, especially on those days when the merchants are assembled. And a young slave of fifteen years of age is sold for six ducats, and children are also sold. The king of this region has a certain private palace where he maintains a great number of concubines and slaves."

    Leo Africanus's visit to Timbuktu causes him to remark on the intellectual and professional classes.

    "Here there are many doctors, judges, priests and other learned men, that are well maintained at the king's cost. Various manuscripts and written books are brought here out of Barbarie and sold for more money than any other merchandise.

    The coin of Timbuktu is of gold without any stamp or superscription, but in matters of small value, they use certain shells brought here from Persia, four hundred of which are worth a ducat and six pieces of their own gold coin, each of which weighs two-thirds of an ounce."

    In the late 16th century Songhay slid into civil war. Echoing the fates of Ghana, Mali and Kanem. The wealth and power of Songhay was also undermined by environmental change, causing droughts and diseases. But Songhay might have survived all this. The decisive factor in its downfall was the determination of the Moroccans to control the sub-Saharan gold trade.

    In 1591 the Moroccan army invaded. The Songhay were caught unawares and were defeated by the superior fire power of the Moroccan army. Morocco won the war but lost the peace. The Sultans of Morocco eventually lost interest. The Moroccan garrison stayed but took to freelance looting and pillaging. The old empire split up, with the Bambara kingdom of Segu emerging as an important new force.

    "In the early days of the Songhay empire there were no griots (praise singers). When the rulers returned from war, their own wives used to sing their praises. They used to massage the bodies of their husbands, saying 'My husband, you're really brave and tired. You must rest, I'm your wife....'

    One day the wives had the idea of accompanying their praises with a music instrument. One wife had the idea of making a small instrument. So she went to get a calabash and a goat's skin. She covered the calabash with the skin and she started to play the instrument. Little by little she learned how to play. From then on she told her husband she would sing his praises with this instrument
  6. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

    Hausa States

    There are a number of theories and stories connected with the Hausa people, who today live in northern Nigeria, parts of Ghana, Niger and Togo. Some centre on the idea of migration.

    For example, there is a theory that all the Hausas once lived by Lake Chad, but had to move west when the lake shrank. Certainly, oral and musical traditions connect Kanem-Borno (by Lake Chad) with the Hausas.

    There's also a shared Islamic history. The Hausa skill in horse riding is also thought to come from Kanem-Borno. And finally there is music. The musicians of the court of the present Emir of Zazzau in Zaria say their instruments derive from Bornu.

    Another theory identifies the Hausas as originally desert people, living in the Sahara. The connection goes even further north; the palace at Daura contains a sword, which people believe, came from the Pharaohs.

    The Dan Masanin of Kano, Maitama Sule, is a historian and leading figure in the Kano Emirate. He believes there is a connection, spanning the continent, linking the Hausas and the people of Ethiopia. He cites as evidence, linguistic similarities, and a shared worship of the sun, prior to Islam and Christianity arriving.

    Click here to listen to the Dan Masanin's belief in a Hausa-Ethiopian connection

    Many other Hausas subscribe to the view that they had a common Arab ancestor whose descendants founded the Hausa city-states. According to this, the King of Baghdad's son, Bayajidda or Abuyazidu, quarrelled with his father, left Baghdad and ended up in the state of Daura (directly north of Kano in present day northern Nigeria). There, the people were terrorised and deprived of water by a snake which lived in a well.

    Bayajidda gained the gratitude of the king of Daura by killing the snake. In return the king gave his daughter's hand in marriage. Bayajidda and his wife had a son, Bawo, who married and in turn had six sons who then became rulers of Kano, Zazzau (Zaria), Gobir, Katsina, Rano and Daura; a seventh state Biram is added to the list. These are the Hausa Bakwai, the seven Hausa states.

    There is also an extension to this story, which can be seen as a way of explaining a number of other states, which fell under Hausa influence, while retaining some of their own customs. This story tells of Bawo having a further seven sons by his concubine. These became rulers of the Banza Bakwai, or seven 'illegitimate' Hausa states: Zamfara, Kebbik, Nupe, Gwari, Yauri, Yoruba and Kororofa.

    There is a general consensus that Hausa city-states were founded some time between the end of the 900s and the beginning of the 13th century. It is thought they emerged out of a number of small communities, typically surrounded by stockades, enclosing not only houses but also agricultural lands.

    Eventually these various communities grouped together to form larger groups, which in turn acquired the size and status of city-states. The custom of creating a fortified surrounding wall was maintained. These city walls can still be seen today.

    Click here to listen to Alhaja Aisha Shehu, Chief Researcher, History and Culture bureau, Kano, Northern Nigeria, talking to BBC producer Bola Olufunwa about the problems of conserving the wall of Kano

    Initially there seemed to be harmony between the states and a good deal of trade. Each city-state had its own speciality. For Kano it was leatherwork and weaving (later dyeing), for Zazzau it was slaves. Slave labour was used to maintain city walls and grow food. In time, the city-states began to fight with each other. Internally, their rulers and administration became corrupt.

    By the 18th century a number of jihads were being launched by Fulbe. (The Fulbe are nomadic people who today travel through much of northern West Africa.) These were mounted from the states of Futa Jalon and Futa Toro.

    This set the scene for the son of a Fulbe teacher, Usman dan Fodio from Gobir, to launch a much more far-reaching jihad among the city-states. One of his initial goals was to convert Fulani pastoralists who had so far resisted Islam. But his jihad challenged the old Hausa aristocracy. The region was ripe for reform and the peasants had long felt badly used by their rulers.

    "One of the ways of their government is succession to the emirate by hereditary right and by force to the exclusion of consultation…whomsoever they wish to kill or exile or violate his honour or devour his wealth, they do so in pursuit of their loss without any right in the Sharia.

    One of the ways of their government is their imposing on the people monies not laid down by the Sharia being those which they call Jangali (cattle tax) and Kudinsala (annual gifts to rulers).

    Therefore do not follow their way in their government and do not imitate them, not even in the titles of their kings."
    Shehu Usman dan Fodio's denunciation of the Hausa emirates.

    Click here to listen to a dramatised reading by Saleh Haliru, of the BBC's Hausa Service, of Usman Dan Fodio's denunciation

    Uprisings sprung up in Katsina, Kano, Kebbi, Zamfara, Zaria and finally Gobir. The old Hausa aristocracy fell and Usman dan Fodio established a caliphate at Sokoto in 1809, which had authority over all the city-states.

    He retired to a religious life and his son Mohammed Bello took up the reigns of government. By the time Mohammed Bello died in 1837, the empire of caliphate of Sokoto had a population of ten million.

    Click here to listen to the Emir of Zazzau, Zaria, talking about his office, followed by a song performed by the royal musicians, reminding the Emir of his status and distinguished ancestry

    "Queen Amina was one of the great queens or traditional rulers in the northern state. The origin of Zaria or Zazzau started seventy miles from here and then the father of Queen Amina moved to establish ancient Zaria city. When the father died, she succeeded him and became the first and the last queen and during her time she waged many wars to extend Emirate and succeeded in many of these.

    Unfortunately she died down south. Wherever she conquered, she used to order people to build a wall around the town or city, so we still maintain what we call 'the walls of Amina.'"

    Is it true she never married or had any offspring? I've also heard that she had many lovers but that as soon as she had one lover she moved to another town and killed him so he didn't spread her secrets?

    "This is what we are not sure about. The only thing we know is that she did not marry. But as far as picking a boyfriend, I don't know about that. Some people say this but I don't know if it is true. Our history is scanty there
  7. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner


    The Asante people were originally one of a number of Akan people, all paying tribute to the Denkyira. They lived in what today is modern Ghana - not to be confused with Ancient Ghana.

    In the 1670's, a new and extremely effective ruler emerged among the Asante called Osei Tutu. He overthrew the Denkyira and established Kumasi as his seat of power. By the 1700's, Osei Tutu had control over all the gold fields. With gold, the Asante could buy the best in modern weaponry from Europeans.

    Opoku Ware, Osei Tutu's successor, carried on expanding the kingdom, so that it covered most of Ghana. The kingdom combined a strong military tradition, with great agricultural productivity. Out of Asante spread a great trade network leading west across the Atlantic Ocean and North across the Sahara, dispatching gold, slaves, ivory and kola nuts.

    Besides gold, the slave trade was also a source of great wealth. The number of slaves exported annually at the end of the eighteenth century, from what was then called the Gold Coast, is estimated to have risen to as much as 6,000-7,000 a year.

    Many of these slaves ended up crossing the Atlantic. Others worked in the gold fields. States that were subservient to the Asante kingdom often paid their tributes in the form of slaves.

    Later in the 19th century slavery, along with human sacrifice, became a point of contention between the Asante and the British. The reluctance to give either practice up prompted the British to make the first moves towards annexation, beginning with the loss of the Asante southern territories in 1874.

    In 1896 the Asantehene (the king of the Asante) had to endure public humiliation at the hands of the bullying British Governor Maxwell. Unable to pay an enormous fine for failing to keep to the demands of the Treaty of Fomana of 1874, the encounter ended with the Asantehene and his entourage being sent, quite out of the blue, into exile.

    The power of Asantehene was invested in the Golden Stool. The Golden Stool represented the people, the soul of the nation and the good fortune of the nation. The importance of the stool was crudely grasped by the British at a time of aggressive imperial expansion.

    Although the Asantehene was in exile, this was not enough to break the resistance of the people. In 1900, the British Governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Frederick Hodgson, demanded the Golden Stool in the most offensive manner possible at a meeting of Ashanti chiefs.

    "Where is the Gold Stool? Why am I not sitting on the Golden Stool at this moment? I am the representative of the paramount power; why have you relegated me to this chair?"
    Verbatim transcript of Sir Frederick Hodgson's address to Ashanti chiefs January 1900.

    Sir Frederick then ordered soldiers to hunt out the Golden Stool.

    "The white man asked the children where the Golden Stool was kept in Bare. The white man said he would beat the children if they did not bring their fathers from the bush. The children told the white man not to call their fathers. If he wanted to beat them, he should do it. The children knew the white men were coming for the Golden Stool. The children did not fear beating. The white soldiers began to bully and beat the children."
    Eyewitness account of Kwadwo Afodo, quoted by Thomas J. Lewin in his book Asante before the British: The Prempean Years 1875-1900.

    The search for the Golden Stool sparked off a full-scale military revolt, led by the Queen Mother (Yaa Asantewa). This culminated in the Governor being besieged in Kumase. The Queen Mother was only defeated by a British expeditionary force in July 1900. In 1901, Asante was annexed by the British.

    Prempeh spent most of his exile in the Seychelles, for some of the time in the company of the Kabaka (king) of Buganda and the Kabagarega (king) of Toro. After nearly 30 years in exile Prempeh I returned home to much excitement.

    "Thousands of people, white and black, flocked down to the beach to welcome him. They were sorely disappointed when the news flashed through that Nana Prempeh was not to be seen by anyone, and that he was to land at 5:30 pm and proceed straight away to Kumasi by a special train.

    Twenty minutes after the arrival of the train, a beautiful car brought Nana Prempeh into the midst of the assembly. It was difficult for us to realise even yet that he had arrived. A charming aristocratic-looking person in a black long suit with a fashionable black hat held up his hand to the cheers of the crowd. That noble figure was Nana Prempeh."
    Extract from the Gold Coast Leader newspaper, 27 Dec 1924.

    Click here to listen to the reception of Nana Prempeh

    The monarchy was not restored until 1935. To this day the first thing new national leaders do on coming to power is pay their respects to the Asantehene
  8. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

    Ife and Benin

    Magnificent terracotta objects have been found in Nok, in Nigeria, dating back to a period some time between 500 BC and 500 AD. These are the earliest known sculptures on the continent, next to those of Ancient Egypt.

    Later around 900 AD, the Igbo-Ukwo was making finely and intricately worked, bronze ceremonial objects. Against this background of creativity and craftsmanship, the Yoruba kingdoms of Benin and Ife sprang up between the 11th and 12th centuries.

    In Yoruba mythology, Ife was founded by a senior deity Oduduwa, acting on the order of the supreme deity Olorun (also known as Oludmare). Oduduwa became the first ruler, or Ooni, of Ife.

    We know little of how these early Ooni exercised power or how their territory was administered, or precisely when the kingship started. We know that the landscape out of which Ife (and Benin) emerged consisted of a mixture of tropical forests and savannah land, affording very fertile soil and a high rainfall.

    FOOD & ART
    One of the keys to understanding the success and wealth of these kingdoms was the ability to provide a significant food surplus. This released labour, which could then be channelled into creating great works of art centred largely on celebrating kingship.

    We can still see today an astounding range of objects made of bronze, brass, copper, wood, ceramic and ivory. The superb level of Ife craftsmanship expressed, using the "lost wax" method, is comparable with the finest examples of metal-work in Europe from Classical and Renaissance times.

    "The art was largely motivated by the culture, the cultural practices of the people. They had to produce certain objects, which they used for certain ritual purposes."
    Dr. Ohioma Pogoson, historian and lecturer at University of Ibadan, The African Institute, Nigeria.

    Click here to listen to Dr. Pogoson on the political context of art

    "The art of Ife and Benin is so important because one gives birth to the other. The Ife art was the most ancient in the forest region of Nigeria, simply because the Ife civilisation goes as far back as 300 - 500 BC. Therefore, it had developed a lot of artefacts, which marks the history of Ife.

    Ife later gave birth not only to Benin, but also to the art of Igbo, the Onitsha art, even going as far as to the hinterland of the Igbo, Igbo Ukwu."
    Dr. Omotoso Eluyemi, director of National Museums and Monuments.

    Click here to listen to Dr. Eluyemi explaining the relationship between Ife and Benin

    Ife was at one time considered the most senior Yuruba state. But by the 17th century it was eclipsed by Oyo. Lying further north, Oyo had the military advantage of a cavalry, and the right agricultural conditions to grow cereal. In the 18th century Oyo reached its peak, largely by profits of the slave trade. With the abolition of slavery its power waned. Today Ife continues to be regarded as the spiritual centre for all Yoruba, and the Ooni of Ife has considerable influence in the country.

    The kingship of Benin is closely related to Ife. The first king, or Oba, of Benin is traditionally supposed to be a descendant of Oduduwa, the founder of Ife. The most distinctive examples of Benin craftsmanship are the bronze plaques, which adorned the palace walls. As in the artwork of Ife, the craftsmen of Benin produced bronze and copper heads celebrating the power of the Oba.

    The capital of Benin (not to be confused with the modern state of Benin, formerly Dahomey) was south west of Ife. One of the few early written accounts of this centre of power and trade is given by a Portuguese slave trader Joao Afonso Aveiro, who was astounded by what he described as the 'great city of Benin'. Over a hundred years later, a Dutch visitor compared it favourably with Amsterdam. Most of the art was looted by the British in 1897.

    "A precise model of the object to be made is constructed out of wax. A mould - usually made out of clay - is then formed round the wax model. This is left to harden. The whole thing is then heated. The wax melts away, hence the expression "lost wax."

    This leaves a hollow space in the shape of the model. Molten metal is then poured into this space, filling it completely. When the metal has cooled down and hardened, the mould is broken, leaving the object in its metal form
  9. ole timer

    ole timer Forum Owner Forum Owner

    West African Kingdoms Timeline

    200 BC - City of ancient Jenne thought to have been established.

    500 BC - Earliest evidence of Nok culture found in Nigeria.

    7th century - Zaghawa people settled next to Lake Chad. Thought to be the early founders of Kanem.

    9th century - Fishing community form the nucleus of early Songhay.

    10th century - First Hausa state thought to have been formed.

    900 AD - Igbo-Ukwo bronze ceremonial objects start being made in Nigeria.

    1st millennium AD - A number of clans of the Soninke people come together under Dinga Cisse, a leader with semi-divine status.

    Early 11th century - Sefawa dynasty displaces Zaghawa in Kanem. Yoruba kingdoms of Ife and Benin thought to have been founded.

    1060's - Kanem converts to Islam.

    1076 - Almoravid campaign against ancient Ghana and enter its capital.

    11th-12th century - Gold fields begin to be mined at Bure, out of the commercial reach of Ghana. New trade routes open up further east.

    1210 - Mai Dunama Dibalami becomes ruler of Kanem, leading it to the height of its power. The centre of government moves to Borno. The state becomes known as Kanem-Borno.

    1230's - The Ancient Empire of Ghana declines. Empire of Mali comes to prominence under Mansa (king) Sundiata Keita after he defeats Sosso ruler Sumanguru.

    14th century - Empire of Mali reaches its peak.
    Queen Amina of Zazzau expands the Zaria emirate through a series of wars.

    1310's - Mansa Abubakar II sets out to cross the Atlantic Ocean and is never seen again. Mansa Musa succeeds him as ruler.

    1324 - Mansa Musa of Mali makes his magnificent pilgrimage to Mecca.

    1464 - King Sunni Ali becomes leader of Songhay and defeats Mali.

    1493 - Mande Muslim general, Askia Muhammad, seizes power and expands Songhay.

    1510 - Moroccan writer Leo Africanus visits Gao, the capital of Songhay.

    1513 - Leo Africanus visits Timbuktu.

    1591 - Moroccan army defeats Songhay.

    1670's - Osei Tutu defeats Denkyira and establishes Asante empire.

    17th century - Ife eclipsed by expanding Oyo kingdom.

    18th century - Kanem-Borno goes into decline.

    1804 - Usman dan Fodio launches Jihad in northern Nigeria.

    1809 - Sokoto caliphate established.

    1874 - Asante lose territory to the British under Treaty of Fomana.

    1881 - Prempeh I becomes Asantehene (King of the Asante).

    1896 - Prempeh I sent into exile by British.

    1897 - British soldiers loot city of Benin taking valuable bronzes and other objects.

    1900 - Yaa Asantewa (Asante Queen Mother) leads a revolt against the British.

    1901 - Asante annexed by the British.

    1924 - Prempeh I returns from exile to Kumasi.

    1935 - The Asante monarchy restored