of Sub-Saharan West AfricaSacred Groves
The place where spiritual leaderswould interface with the spiritworld was a sacred grove of treeslocated somewhere outside thevillage or city.Sacred objects were kept in thesegroves, and only the spiritualleaders of the community wereallowed to enter. Like many other polytheistic spiritual traditions,access to the spirit world wasrestricted and a “mystery.”Bida, the snake, was a centralspirit for the Wagadu, and is partof the founding mythology of theregion. Bida “lived” in the sacredgrove outside of Kumbi Saleh.
Blacksmiths were revered for their privileged knowledge of forgingiron. The blacksmiths were thepriest class. They had access tothe sacred groves where they usedmasks as a ritualistic conduit tocommunicate with the divine.
Muslim and European accounts of the indigenous religious practicesshow a cultural bias throughjudgmental language. This shouldbe kept in mind when readingprimary sources.
Fall of the Ghana Empire
Economic insecurity dueto violence and warfare
Central governmentdisintegrating as empirebroke into kingdoms
4th - 12th centuries C.E.
“Ghana” is the name Arab tradersused for the main city and the king of theregion. The people of the region actuallycalled their state “
,” whichmeans “place of the warrior kings.”“Ghana” is not to be confused with themodern country of Ghana, which wasnamed in honor of the ancient kingdom.The
are the Mande peoplewho lived west of Timbuktu.We know about the Soninke throughthe writings of
, an 11th centuryMuslim scholar who lived in Cordoba,Spain. He interviewed traders comingback from the region and wrote abouttheir tales in
The Book of Routes andKingdoms
.Modern scholars believe that Ghanarose to power around the 4th centuryC.E. Excavations of the ancient capitalcity of
indicate a populationof 15,000 - 20,000 people, and a large,walled palace compound.The Soninke developed superior irontools for farming and weapons. Al-Bakrihad written that the king of Ghana hadan army of 200,000 men. Byconsolidating political power and levyingtariffs, the Soninke were able to controlthe flow of trade of the three major localcommodities:
.The Soninke had a unified politicalsystem with a king, vassals, governors,and ministers who administered therunning of the treasury, taxes, and law.The king and the royal courtiers weredescribed as being covered in goldadornments.Tariffs were collected from goodsgoing in and out of the region. Onegold dinar was the tax for one donkeyload of salt coming in, and two golddinars for the same load going out.
First contact with Islam
Muslim merchants started trading inthe region between the 9th and 11thcenturies. Archaeologists havedetermined that Kumbi Saleh had twodistinct areas, one of which was mostprobably the “Muslim Quarter.” Localattitudes were tolerant of other religions,and Islam was assimilated into theregion.The downfall of the Ghana Empire islinked to the
. Alocal chief, Yasin, wanted the people tostrictly observe Islam, by choice or force.In 1056, Yasin, captured major cities andtook control of the empire. There wereviolent forced conversions. After Yasin,there was a succession of rulers whoshared power, but the unity of theempire was shattered. Kingdoms andclans were vying for local power by the12th century.