Mali Geography - History

Mali Geography - History

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Mali is located Western Africa, southwest of Algeria.The terrain of Mali is mostly flat to rolling northern plains covered by sand; savanna in south, rugged hills in northeast.

Climate: Mali is subtropical to arid; hot and dry February to June; rainy, humid, and mild June to November; cool and dry November to February.

Mali: History

The Mali region has been the seat of extensive empires and kingdoms, notably those of Ghana (4th–11th cent.), Mali, and Gao. The medieval empire of Mali was a powerful state and one of the world's chief gold suppliers it attained its peak in the early 14th cent. under Mansa Musa (reigned c.1312–1337), who made a famous pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 laden with gold and slaves to proclaim Mali's prosperity and power. During his rule Muslim scholarship reached new heights in Mali, and such cities as Timbuktu and Djenné (Jenne) became important centers of trade, learning, and culture.

The Mali empire was followed by the Songhai empire of Gao, which rose to great power in the late 15th cent. In 1590 the empire, already weakened by internal divisions, was shattered by a Moroccan army. The Moroccans, however, could not effectively dominate the vast region, which broke up into petty states. By the late 18th cent., the area was in a semianarchic condition and was subject to incursions by the Tuareg and Fulani.

The 19th cent. witnessed a great resurgence of Islam. The Tukolor empire of al-Hajj Umar (1794–1864) and the empire of Samori Touré (1870–98) emerged as Muslim states opposing French invasion of the region. By 1898 the French conquest was virtually complete Mali, called French Sudan, became part of the Federation of French West Africa. A nationalist movement, spearheaded by trade unions and student groups, blossomed during the period between the two world wars. The Sudanese Union, a militantly anticolonial party, became the leading political force. Its leader, Modibo Keita, was a descendant of the Mali emperors.

In the French constitutional referendum of 1958, French Sudan voted to join the French Community as the autonomous Sudanese Republic. In 1959 the republic joined Senegal to form the Mali Federation, but political differences shattered the union in 1960. That same year, the Sudanese Republic, renamed the Republic of Mali, obtained full independence from France and severed ties with the French Community. Seeking to promote African unity, Mali joined in a largely symbolic union with Guinea and Ghana, and in 1963 it joined the newborn Organization of African Unity.

Under Keita's presidency Mali became a one-party state committed to socialist policies. In 1962 the country withdrew from the Franc Zone and adopted a nonconvertible national currency. The resulting economic and financial difficulties forced an accommodation with France in 1967 Mali devalued its currency, returned to the Franc Zone, and permitted French administrators to assume a supervisory role in the economy. Militant elements in the Sudanese Union opposed this rapprochement, however, and Keita formed a people's militia to destroy opposition. The arrest of several dissenting army officers by the militia in 1968 provoked a bloodless military coup that overthrew the Keita regime and installed Lt. Moussa Traoré as president. The country continued to pursue a course of nonalignment in international affairs.

In the early 1970s, a prolonged drought desiccated the Sahel region of Africa, further reducing Mali's already meager water supplies. The drought shattered the country's agriculture economy by killing thousands of head of livestock and hindering crop production. The resulting famine, disease, and poverty contributed to the deaths of untold thousands and forced the southward migration of many peoples.

Keita died in prison in 1977, touching off a series of protests. A new constitution (1979) contained provisions for elections to be held, and democratic measures were implemented in spite of an unstable political climate. Traoré was reelected president in 1979 he effectively repressed coup attempts in the late 1970s and early 1980s and was again elected in 1985. Also in 1985, a border dispute with Burkina Faso erupted into armed conflict. Neighboring nations sent troops to end the fighting, but relations between the two countries remain strained.

In 1991, Traoré was overthrown in a coup and replaced with a transitional committee headed by Amadou Toumani Touré. Mali had been a one-party state controlled by the Democratic Union of the Malian People (UDMP) from 1974 until 1992. In that year a new constitution was approved providing for a multiparty democracy, and Alpha Oumar Konaré of the Alliance for Democracy (ADEMA) became Mali's first democratically elected president. In the early 1990s the Malian army was engaged in conflicts with the Tuareg ethnic group in the north, who rebelled against alleged government usurpation of its land and the suppression of its culture and language following an upsurge in violence in 1994, a peace settlement was implemented in 1995 and thousands of refugees returned to Mali.

In 1997, Konaré was reelected virtually unopposed and ADEMA won decisively in the legislative elections, which were boycotted by much of the opposition. In 1999 the ousted dictator Traoré, his wife, and an associate were sentenced to death for embezzlement their sentences were commuted to life in prison by President Konaré. Presidential elections in April and May, 2002, resulted in a victory for Amadou Touré, the former interim military ruler. Touré ran as an independent candidate, and after the subsequent National Assembly elections (July), he formed a broad-based government that included the two largest groupings in the National Assembly.

In May, 2006, there were attacks in N Mali by Tuaregs the government said were army deserters, but in July a peace agreement was signed with the rebels. Additional fighting, however, occurred in 2007. Touré, running as the candidate of the Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ADP) coalition (which included ADEMA), was reelected in Apr., 2007, and in July National Assembly elections the ADP won a sizable majority of the seats. A new truce was signed with the Tuareg rebels in Sept., 2007, but they attacked government forces in 2008 (despite signing a cease-fire in Apr., 2008). A new cease-fire agreed to in July did not hold, but government forces won significant victories against the rebels in early 2009. Militant Islamists based in N and W Mali and originally opposed to the Algeria government have also mounted attacks and abductions in Mali. In mid-2009 government forces conducted operations against the Islamist's bases other operations against their Mali bases were later mounted by Mauritania, at times in conjunction with France or Mali.

The fall of Qaddafi in Libya (2011) reinvigorated the Tuareg rebellion when Tuaregs who had served in his army returned to Mali. In 2012 Tuareg and Islamist forces made significant advances in N Mali, and government losses sparked an army coup led by Capt. Amadou Sanogo in March. Territorial losses accelerated after the coup. By April the rebels controlled N Mali (roughly two thirds of the country but with a tenth of the population) and Tuareg forces declared the region independent. West African nations meanwhile pressured Sanogo to restore civilian government, and in April President Touré officially resigned as part of a deal to establish an interim government and hold new elections. The speaker of the parliament, Dioncounda Traoré, became interim president.

There was an alleged, unsuccessful countercoup in May, and Sanogo supporters subsequently called for him to serve as president and attacked the interim president the situation in S Mali continued to be politically muddled, with no clear central authority and a lack of civilian control of the security forces. In December the military arrested the prime minister and forced him to resign.

Meanwhile, Islamist forces gained ascendancy in the north by June, and destroyed the shrines of Sufi saints there and imposed harsh Islamic law several hundred thousand people fled the region. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sought an agreement on providing more than 3,000 troops in support of the government's retaking the north. The details of plan to do so and agreement with the Malians and the African Union and United Nations on the force were finalized gradually, and the Dec., 2012, ouster of the prime minister endangered the plan. The UN Security Council approved the deployment of foreign troops in Mali later in December, and after Islamists began advancing further toward the capital in Jan., 2013, France launched air strikes against the rebels, and France, ECOWAS nations, and Chad moved quickly to send troops to Mali.

French-led forces rapidly ousted the Islamists from the main population centers, but Gao, in E Mali, suffered a series of Islamist attacks after it was retaken. The Islamists largely retreated to nearby mountains and deserts, and mounted sporadic attacks in the main urban centers of N Mali from there. Tuareg rebels remained in control of Kidal, in NE Mali, and in June Tuareg rebels and the government signed a cease-fire accord. In April the United Nations approved a 12,600-member peacekeeping force for Mali (Minusma) that would incorporate some of the West African troops already in the country. Subsequently, combined French, UN, and Malian forces mounted occasional offenses against the Islamists, who also continued to mount their own attacks in the months that followed. Slowly progressing negotiations with the Tuareg rebels led to clashes in late 2013 progress was hindered in part by divisions among the rebels.

In July–Aug., 2013, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who had served as prime minister in the mid and late 1990s, was elected president with more than three quarters of the vote in the August runoff. Keita subsequently moved to reduce the influence that the participants in the coup had over the army. In legislative elections held in November and December, Keita's Rally for Mali won a plurality of the seats, and with its allied parties it secured a majority. In May, 2014, there were clashes between government and Tuareg rebel forces, but a cease-fire was reestablished there was also fighting between progovernment forces and rebels in Apr., 2015.

A peace accord proposed by Algeria was rejected by the main rebel alliance in Mar., 2015. Subsequently, some armed groups signed a peace agreement in May, and the main Tuareg rebel coalition signed in June, after additional government concessions. Progress toward the implementation of the agreements, however, was slow, due to disagreements between pro- and antigovernment Tuareg factions. In July, 2016, there was fighting between progovernment and antigovernment Tuareg groups in Kidal fighting between them intensified in 2017, but subsequently they signed a cease-fire and peace agreement. Since 2015 there has been unrest and attacks by Islamists in central as well as northern Mali, leading to increasing interethnic violence there there were increased attacks on government forces by Islamists beginning in 2019.

In the 2018 presidential election, Keita was reelected after a runoff turnout in the election, which was marred by militant attacks, was 34%. In 2019 Keita indicated that 2015 accord could be renegotiated, leading some of the former rebel groups to withdraw from the political dialogue established by the accord. New legislative elections, postponed three times, were held in 2020 amid violence in some regions Keita's party won a plurality of the seats.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Mali Political Geography

Mali Geography - History

Mali is among the poorest countries in the world, with 65% of its land area desert or semidesert and with a highly unequal distribution of income. Economic activity is largely confined to the riverine area irrigated by the Niger. About 10% of the population is nomadic and some 80% of the labor force is engaged in farming and fishing. Industrial activity is concentrated on processing farm commodities. Mali is heavily dependent on foreign aid and vulnerable to fluctuations in world prices for cotton, its main export, along with gold. The government has continued its successful implementation of an IMF-recommended structural adjustment program that is helping the economy grow, diversify, and attract foreign investment. Mali's adherence to economic reform and the 50% devaluation of the CFA franc in January 1994 have pushed up economic growth to a 5% average in 1996-2007. Worker remittances and external trade routes for the landlocked country have been jeopardized by continued unrest in neighboring Cote d'Ivoire.

From French Colony to French Community

As the colony of French Soudan, Mali was administered with other French colonial territories as the Federation of French West Africa. In 1956, with the passing of France's Fundamental Law (Loi Cadre), the Territorial Assembly obtained extensive powers over internal affairs and was permitted to form a cabinet with executive authority over matters within the Assembly's competence. After the 1958 French constitutional referendum, the Republique Soudanaise became a member of the French Community and enjoyed complete internal autonomy.


The climate of Guinea is tropical with two alternating seasons—a dry season (November through March) and a wet season (April through October). The arrival of the migratory intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) in June brings the heaviest rainfall of the wet season. As the ITCZ shifts southward in November, the hot, dry wind known as the harmattan blows from the northeast off the Sahara.

On the coast a period of six months of dry weather is followed by six months of rain. The average rainfall at Conakry is about 170 inches (4,300 mm) a year, and the average annual temperatures are in the low 80s F (about 27 °C).

In the Fouta Djallon, January afternoon temperatures range from the mid-80s to the mid-90s F (about 30 to 35 °C), while evening temperatures dip into the high 40s and low 50s F (about 8 to 11 °C). Rainfall varies between 60 and 90 inches (1,500 and 2,300 mm) annually, and the average annual temperatures there are in the mid-70s F (about 25 °C).

In Upper Guinea rainfall drops to about 60 inches (1,500 mm) a year. During the dry season temperatures of more than 100 °F (38 °C) are common in the northeast.

In the Forest Region at Macenta there may be some 100 or more inches (2,540 mm) of rain annually. Only the months of December, January, and February are relatively dry, with possible rainfall of only 1 inch (25 mm). At low elevations, temperatures resemble those of the coastal areas.

Mali Facts

1. Mali was once a supremely rich empire

In the 1300s, the Malian Empire was ruled by Mansa Musa. It was the first black empire and it had immense riches. Mansa Musa did his pilgrimage to Mecca accompanied by 12,000 slaves, 60,000 men, and 80 camels with 30-50 pounds of gold each on their backs. He built a mosque along the way every Friday, and left lots of gold to the people he met, an interesting fact about Mali. This was enough to actually cause inflation!

2. Today’s Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world

In contract to its empire days, Mali is now at the bottom of the table when it comes to national wealth. 70% of Malians earn less than 1 USD per day, and only 10% earn more than 2 USD per day.

3. The prime meridian passes through Mali

If you visit the town of Gao in Mali, you’ll have the opportunity to see the spot where the prime meridian passes. You can literally stand between the two hemispheres.

4. It’s home to the largest mudbrick building in the world

A fun fact about Mali is that it houses the Great Mosque of Djenne, which is the largest mudbrick building in the world. Considered by art historians to be one of the greatest examples of Sudano-Sahelian architectural styles, the mosque has been around since the 13 th century, although the full structure as we see it today is from 1907. It’s one of the most famous tourist objectives in Africa and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites along with the “Old Towns of Djenne.”

5. Mali is a mythical place

For a long time especially while it was a French colony, there’s been an aura of mystique surrounding Mali. Places like Timbuktu, which actually exist in Mali, were considered myths, and Mali is considered “anywhere far away” for many.

6. You can drink sweet tea three times only

In Mali, sweet tea is the national drink and the traditional offering for a visitor. You can drink it three times from the same pot, but if you are served a fourth cup it means you’re no longer welcome, an interesting Mali fact!

7. Most of Mali is in the desert

Mali is largely flat and has some rolling plains in the north which are also covered with sand. Most of the south of Mali is in the Sahara Desert. Overall, Mali is one of the hottest countries in the world, which hardly any rain, and facing frequent droughts.

8. The Lion King was from Mali

The founder and first ruler of the Malian Empire was Sundiata, also known as the Lion King or Lion Prince. He expanded the empire all across the western coast of Africa during the 13 th century, giving rise to the amazingly rich empire which grew to dominance in the following centuries.

9. Mali was a French colony for a long time

France took over Mali in the late 19 th century, when the great powers took control over most of Africa. It was then part of French Sudan, until 1959, when they joined up with Senegal to achieve independence from the colonial power. They became the free Mali Federation in 1960, but it was only in 1991 that Mali was established as a democratic state.

10. Malians are mostly Muslim

Since the 11 th century when Islam was introduced in West Africa, it has remained the main religion in most countries here, such as Mali. 90% of Malians are Muslim, the majority being Sunni.

Moreover, Mali is extremely religious, as there are hardly any agnostics or atheists. 5% of Malians are Christians and there are another 5% of the population who still follow indigenous or animalistic religions and beliefs.

An interesting fact about Mali is that its constitution mirrors that of France, establishing a separation between church and state and making the state secular. This means they don’t interfere in religious matters, which is largely respected by the government.

11. Mali is one of the deadliest UN assignments

Because of the security challenges in Mali, it’s considered one of the deadliest places for UN peacekeeping forces. In 2013, UN peacekeepers were deployed to Mali and more than 100 have been killed since.

French troops have also come to Mali’s aid after requests from the president to stave off Islamist extremists in 2013. French soldiers stayed in Mali until a peace agreement was signed in 2015.

12. Gold is abundant in Mali

Mali is the third highest gold producer in Africa after South Africa and Ghana, a fun fact about Mali. It also exports phosphates, salt, limestone, uranium, and granite. Gold mining, however, is a key source of revenue and also what makes Mali a desirable territory for many conflicting forces.

13. It’s a country of internal migration

In Mali, a large number of the population is involved in agriculture, the second highest source of revenue for the country after mining. This has led to waves of migration from rural areas when the annual dry period begins, to look for work in cities. It’s believed that about 10% of the population is in fact, nomadic, driven by employment opportunities and droughts and food insecurity, or sometimes conflict patterns as well.

Republic of Mali | République de Mali

The Sudanese Republic and Senegal became independent of France in 1960 as the Mali Federation. When Senegal withdrew after only a few months, the Sudanese Republic was renamed Mali. Rule by dictatorship was brought to a close in 1991 with a transitional government, and in 1992 when Mali's first democratic presidential election was held.
Since his reelection in 1997, President KONARE has continued to push through political and economic reforms and to fight corruption. In 1999 he indicated he would not run for a third term. In keeping with Mali's two-term constitutional limit, KONARE stepped down in 2002 and was succeeded by Amadou TOURE, who was subsequently elected to a second term in 2007. The elections were widely judged to be free and fair.

Actual Time: Tue-June-22 07:27
Local Time = UTC (0h no UTC/GMT offset)

Capital City: Bamako (pop. 1 million)

Other Cities:
Segou (200 000), Sikasso (120 000),
Mopti (90 000), Gao (65 000), Kayes (65 000), Timbuktu (38 000)

Type: Republic
Independence: 22 September 1960 (from France).

Location: Western Africa, southwest of Algeria.
Area: 1,240,000 km² (474,764 sq. mi.)
Terrain: Savannah and desert.

Climate: Semitropical in the south arid in the north.

Nationality: Malian(s).
Population: 16,3 million (2012)
GNI per capita PPP: $ 1,084 (year)
Ethnic groups: Manding, Mande (Bambara or Bamana, Malinke, Sarakole, Soninke) 50%, Fulani, Songhai, Voltaic, Tuareg and Maur.
Religions: Islam 90%, indigenous beliefs 9%, Christian 1%.
Languages: French (official) and Bambara (spoken by about 80% of the population).
Literacy: 30-45%. (est.)

Natural resources:
Gold, phosphate, kaolin, salt, and limestone.
Agriculture Products, (42% of GDP): millet, sorghum, corn, rice, livestock, sugar, cotton, Groundnuts (peanuts), and tobacco.
Agriculture products: Cotton, millet, rice, corn, vegetables, peanuts cattle, sheep, goats.

Industries: Food processing construction phosphate and gold mining.

Exports - commodities: cotton, gold, livestock

Imports - commodities: petroleum, machinery and equipment, construction materials, foodstuffs, textiles

Imports - partners: Cote dIvoire 9.9%, France 9.5%, Senegal 7.7%, China 7% (2015)

Official Sites of Mali

Note: External links will open in a new browser window.

Many government websites seem to be down or unavailable, it might be in connection with the unclear situation in Bamako, where an army mutiny took place in March 2012. Rebel troops have appeared on Malian state TV to announce they have seized control of the country, hours after attacking the presidential palace.

Présidence de la République du Mali
Official site of the presidency of the Republic of Mali provides information about the President and the Republic.

Maliens de l'Extérieur
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mali (in French).

Diplomatic Missions
Embassy of Mali
Mali's Embassy in Washington with visa, country and travel information.
Mali Embassies Abroad
Address list of Mali's Diplomatic Missions Abroad.
Mali visa applications
Information on Visas for Mali.

Map of Mali
Political and administrative Map of Mali.
Google Earth Mali
Searchable map and satellite view of Mali.
Google Earth Bamako
Searchable map and satellite view of Mali's capital city.

Political Map of Africa
The 54 countries of Africa.
Map of Africa
A Relief Map of Africa.

According to BBC and other press organizations, Mali's broadcast and print media are among the freest in Africa.

Africa News Mali
Mali Headlines by Africa News.
State-owned national daily published in Bamako provides national and international news. (in French)
Info Matin
Privately-owned daily. (in French)
Mali news. (in French)
News from and about Mali.

Office de la Radiodiffusion Television du Mali (ORTM)
Mali's public television and radio, programmes are in French and local languages. (in French)

Arts & Culture

Ministère de la Culture
Official site of the Ministry of Culture provides information on Malian culture.

Mali Gallery
Album photos du Mali
Mali images from a tour through Dogon country on a motorbike.
Photos Bamako sur la Galerie de L'internaute
Photo gallery related to Mali.

Business & Economy

Mali depends on gold mining and agricultural exports for revenue. Economic activity is largely confined to the riverine area irrigated by the Niger River. About 10% of the population is nomadic and about 80% of the labor force is engaged in farming and fishing. Mali is among the 25 poorest countries in the world

Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO)
Central Bank of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo.

Union Économique et Monétaire Ouest Africaine (UEMOA)
West African Economic and Monetary Union (in French), le portail de la Zone Franc CFA
Information about business and investment in the African countries within the monetary system of the Franc Zone - CFA. (in French)

National Federation of the Craftsmen of Mali
Organisation to support craftsmen of Mali (French, site seems offline)

Mud houses on the center island at Lac Debo (Lake Debo), a wide section of the Niger River in the central part of Mali.
Image: Jialiang Gao

Travel and Tour Consumer Information

Destination Mali: Travel and Tour Guides

Tourist Office of Mali
Tourism Mali page with information about the country.

Afribone Mali
Mali portal with country information. (in French)
Au Coeur du Mali
Mali portal (in French).
Experience Mali
Mali tourism information site with a photo gallery.
Mali Journeys
Beautiful private page about Mali.
Site about the Kidal Sahara region in northwestern Mali. (in French)

Sacred Sites of the Dogon, Mali
About the Dogon people of Mali, West Africa.

Photogallery of the Dogon people.
Dogon people
Wikipedia entry about the Dogon people.

World Heritage Sites of Mali

Cliff of Bandiagara (Land of the Dogons)
The Bandiagara escarpment is an outstanding landscape of cliffs and sandy plateaus. The communities at the site are essentially the Dogon people, who have a very close relationship with their environment expressed in their sacred rituals and traditions.

Old Towns of Djenné
Djenné one of the oldest towns of sub-Saharan Africa was inhabited since 250 B.C., the town became a market center and an important link in the trans-Saharan gold trade. In the 15th and 16th centuries, it was one of the centers for the propagation of Islam. Its traditional houses, of which nearly 2,000 have survived, are built on hillocks as protection from the seasonal floods.

Timbuktu was an intellectual and spiritual capital and a center for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its three great mosques, Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, recall Timbuktu's golden age. Although continuously restored, these monuments are today under threat from desertification.


Environment & Nature

Cinzana Agricultural Research station
Dedicated to producing sustainable increases in crop production and productivity through improved seed breeding.
Institut d'Economie Rurale du Mali
Institute for the research of agricultural development and preservation of natural resources based in Bamako.
Mount Hombori Project
Long-term monitoring of the biodiversity of Mount Hombori and its region located south of Timbuktu.


Sources and additional Information on Mali

Africa South of the Sahara: Mali
Background information on Mali collected by Karen Fung.


The principal Dogon area is bisected by the Bandiagara Escarpment, a sandstone cliff of up to 500 m (1,640.42 ft) high, stretching about 150 km (90 miles). To the southeast of the cliff, the sandy Séno-Gondo Plains are found, and northwest of the cliff are the Bandiagara Highlands. Historically, Dogon villages were established in the Bandiagara area a thousand years ago because the people collectively refused to convert to Islam and retreated from areas controlled by Muslims. [5]

Dogon insecurity in the face of these historical pressures caused them to locate their villages in defensible positions along the walls of the escarpment. The other factor influencing their choice of settlement location was access to water. The Niger River is nearby and in the sandstone rock, a rivulet runs at the foot of the cliff at the lowest point of the area during the wet season.

Among the Dogon, several oral traditions have been recorded as to their origin. One relates to their coming from Mande, located to the southwest of the Bandiagara escarpment near Bamako. According to this oral tradition, the first Dogon settlement was established in the extreme southwest of the escarpment at Kani-Na. [6] [7] Archaeological and ethnoarchaeological studies in the Dogon region have been especially revealing about the settlement and environmental history, and about social practices and technologies in this area over several thousands of years. [8] [9] [10]

Over time, the Dogon moved north along the escarpment, arriving in the Sanga region in the 15th century. [11] Other oral histories place the origin of the Dogon to the west beyond the river Niger, or tell of the Dogon coming from the east. It is likely that the Dogon of today are descendants of several groups of diverse origin who migrated to escape Islamization. [12]

It is often difficult to distinguish between pre-Muslim practices and later practices. But Islamic law classified the Dogon and many other ethnicities of the region (Mossi, Gurma, Bobo, Busa and the Yoruba) as being within the non-canon dar al-harb and consequently fair game for slave raids organized by merchants. [13] As the growth of cities increased, the demand for slaves across the region of West Africa also increased. The historical pattern included the murder of indigenous males by raiders and enslavement of women and children. [14]

For almost 1000 years, [15] the Dogon people, an ancient tribe of Mali [16] had faced religious and ethnic persecution—through jihads by dominant Muslim communities. [15] These jihadic expeditions formed themselves to force the Dogon to abandon their traditional religious beliefs for Islam. Such jihads caused the Dogon to abandon their original villages and moved up to the cliffs of Bandiagara for better defense and to escape persecution—often building their dwellings in little nooks and crannies. [15] [17]

Dogon art consists primarily of sculptures. Dogon art revolves around religious values, ideals, and freedoms (Laude, 19). Dogon sculptures are not made to be seen publicly, and are commonly hidden from the public eye within the houses of families, sanctuaries, or kept with the Hogon (Laude, 20). The importance of secrecy is due to the symbolic meaning behind the pieces and the process by which they are made.

Themes found throughout Dogon sculpture consist of figures with raised arms, superimposed bearded figures, horsemen, stools with caryatids, women with children, figures covering their faces, women grinding pearl millet, women bearing vessels on their heads, donkeys bearing cups, musicians, dogs, quadruped-shaped troughs or benches, figures bending from the waist, mirror-images, aproned figures, and standing figures (Laude, 46–52).

Signs of other contacts and origins are evident in Dogon art. The Dogon people were not the first inhabitants of the cliffs of Bandiagara. Influence from Tellem art is evident in Dogon art because of its rectilinear designs (Laude, 24).

Person wearing a Satimbe mask

Person wearing a Walu mask, based on an antelope

Door of the hogon box of Sangha village

Sculpture, probably an ancestor figure 17th–18th century wood height: 59 cm (23 in.) from Mali

The blind Dogon elder, Ogotemmêli, taught the main symbols of the Dogon religion to French anthropologist Marcel Griaule in October 1946. [18] Griaule had lived amongst the Dogon people for fifteen years before this meeting with Ogotemmêli took place. Ogotemmêli taught Griaule the religious stories in the same way that Ogotemmêli had learned them from his father and grandfather oral instruction which he had learned over the course of more than twenty years. [19] What makes the record so important from a historical perspective is that the Dogon people were still living in their oral culture at the time their religion was recorded. They were one of the last people in West Africa to lose their independence and come under French rule. [18]

The Dogon people with whom French anthropologists Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen worked during the 1930s and 1940s had a system of signs which ran into the thousands, including "their own systems of astronomy and calendrical measurements, methods of calculation and extensive anatomical and physiological knowledge, as well as a systematic pharmacopoeia". [20] The religion embraced many aspects of nature which are found in other traditional African religions.

The key spiritual figures in the religion were the Nummo/Nommo twins. According to Ogotemmêli's description of them, the Nummo, whom he also referred to as the Serpent, were amphibians that were often compared to serpents, lizards, chameleons, and occasionally the mammals sloths (because of their being slow moving and having a shapeless neck). They were also described as fish capable of walking on land while they were on land, the Nummo stood upright on their tails. The Nummos' skin was primarily green, but, like the chameleon, it sometimes changed colours. At times, the skin was said to have all the colours of the rainbow. [21]

In other instances, the Nummo were referred to as "Water Spirits". [22] Although the Nummo were identified as being "Dieux d'eau" (gods of water) by Marcel Griaule, Ogotemmêli classified the Nummo as hermaphrodites. Their images or figures appeared on the female side of the Dogon sanctuary. [23] They were primarily symbolized by the sun, which was a female symbol in the religion. In the Dogon language, the sun's name (nay) had the same root as "mother" (na) and "cow" (). [24] They were symbolized by the colour red, a female symbol.

The problem of "twin births" versus "single births", or androgyny versus single-sexed beings, was said to contribute to a disorder at the beginning of time. This theme was fundamental to the Dogon religion. "The jackal was alone from birth," said Ogotemmêli, "and because of this he did more things than can be told." [25] Dogon males were primarily associated with the single-sexed male Jackal and the Sigui festival, which was associated with death on the Earth. It was held once every sixty years and allegedly celebrated the white dwarf star, Sirius B. [26] There has been extensive speculation about the origin of such astronomical knowledge. The colour white was a symbol of males. The ritual language, "Sigi so" or "language of the Sigui", which was taught to male dignitaries of the Society of the Masks ("awa"), was considered a poor language. It contained only about a quarter of the full vocabulary of "Dogo so", the Dogon language. The "Sigi so" was used to tell the story of creation of the universe, of human life, and the advent of death on the Earth, during both funeral ceremonies and the rites of the "end of mourning" ("dama"). [27]

Because of the birth of the single-sexed male Jackal, who was born without a soul, all humans eventually had to be turned into single-sexed beings. This was to prevent a being like the Jackal from ever being born on Earth again. "The Nummo foresaw that the original rule of twin births was bound to disappear, and that errors might result comparable to those of the jackal, whose birth was single. Because of his solitary state, the first son of God acted as he did." [25] The removal of the second sex and soul from humans is what the ritual of circumcision represents in the Dogon religion. "The dual soul is a danger a man should be male, and a woman female. Circumcision and excision are once again the remedy." [28]

The Dogon religion was centered on this loss of twinness or androgyny. Griaule describes it in this passage:

Most of the conversations with Ogotemmêli had indeed turned largely on twins and on the need for duality and the doubling of individual lives. The Eight original Ancestors were really eight pairs . But after this generation, human beings were usually born single. Dogon religion and Dogon philosophy both expressed a haunting sense of the original loss of twin-ness. The heavenly Powers themselves were dual, and in their Earthly manifestations they constantly intervened in pairs . [29]

The birth of human twins was celebrated in the Dogon culture in Griaule's day because it recalled the "fabulous past, when all beings came into existence in twos, symbols of the balance between humans and the divine". According to Griaule, the celebration of twin-births was a cult that extended all over Africa. [29] Today, a significant minority of the Dogon practice Islam. Another minority practices Christianity.

Dogon society is organized by a patrilineal kinship system. Each Dogon village, or enlarged family, is headed by one male elder. This chief head is the oldest living son of the ancestor of the local branch of the family.

Marriage Edit

The vast majority of marriages are monogamous, but nonsororal polygynous marriages are allowed in the Dogon culture. However, even in polygynous marriages, it is rare for a man to have more than two wives. In a polygynous marriage, the wives reside in separate houses within the husband's compound. The first wife, or ya biru, holds a higher position in the family relative to any wives from later marriages. Formally, wives join their husband's household only after the birth of their first child. [ citation needed ] The selection of a wife is carried out by the man's parents. Marriages are endogamous in that the people are limited to marry only persons within their clan and within their caste. [30]

Women may leave their husbands early in their marriage, before the birth of their first child. [ citation needed ] After a couple has had children together, divorce is a rare and serious matter, and it requires the participation of the whole village. [ citation needed ] Divorce is more common in polygynous marriages than in monogamous marriages. In the event of a divorce, the woman takes only the youngest child with her, and the rest remain as a part of the husband's household. An enlarged family can count up to a hundred persons and is called guinna.

The Dogon are strongly oriented toward harmony, which is reflected in many of their rituals. For instance, in one of their most important rituals, the women praise the men, the men thank the women, the young express appreciation for the old, and the old recognize the contributions of the young. Another example is the custom of elaborate greetings whenever one Dogon meets another. This custom is repeated over and over, throughout a Dogon village, all day.

During a greeting ritual, the person who has entered the contact answers a series of questions about his or her whole family, from the person who was already there. The answer is sewa, which means that everything is fine. Then the Dogon who has entered the contact repeats the ritual, asking the resident how his or her whole family is. Because the word sewa is so commonly repeated throughout a Dogon village, neighboring peoples have dubbed the Dogon the sewa people.

Hogon Edit

The Hogon is the spiritual and political leader of the village. He is elected from among the oldest men of the dominant lineage of the village.

After his election, he has to follow a six-month initiation period, during which he is not allowed to shave or wash. He wears white clothes and nobody is allowed to touch him. A virgin who has not yet had her period takes care of him, cleans his house, and prepares his meals. She returns to her home at night.

After initiation, the Hogon wears a red fez. He has an armband with a sacred pearl that symbolises his function. The virgin is replaced by one of his wives, and she also returns to her home at night. The Hogon has to live alone in his house. The Dogon believe the sacred snake Lébé comes during the night to clean him and to transfer wisdom.

Subsistence pattern Edit

The Dogon are primarily agriculturalists and cultivate millet, sorghum and rice, as well as onions, tobacco, peanuts, and some other vegetables. Griaule encouraged the construction of a dam near Sangha and persuaded the Dogon to cultivate onions. The economy of the Sangha region has doubled since then, and its onions are sold as far as the market of Bamako and those of the Ivory Coast. Grain is stored in granaries.

In addition to agriculture, the women gather wild fruits, tubers, nuts, and honey in the bush outside of village borders. Some young men will hunt for small game, but wild animals are relatively scarce near villages. While the people keep chickens or herds of sheep and goats in Dogon villages, animal husbandry holds little economic value. Individuals with high status may own a small number of cattle. [31]

Since the late 20th century, the Dogon have developed peaceful trading relationships with other societies and have thereby increased variety in their diets. Every four days, Dogon people participate in markets with neighboring tribes, such as the Fulani and the Dyula. The Dogon primarily sell agricultural commodities: onions, grain, cotton, and tobacco. They purchase sugar, salt, European merchandise, and many animal products, such as milk, butter, and dried fish.

Castes Edit

There are two endogamous castes in Dogon society: the smiths and the leather-workers. Members of these castes are physically separate from the rest of the village and live either at the village edge or outside of it entirely. While the castes are correlated to profession, membership is determined by birth. The smiths have important ritual powers and are characteristically poor. The leather-workers engage in significant trade with other ethnic groups and accumulate wealth. Unlike norms for the rest of society, parallel-cousin marriage is allowed within castes. Caste boys do not get circumcised. [32]

Circumcision Edit

In Dogon thought, males and females are born with both sexual components. The clitoris is considered male, while the foreskin is considered female. [25] (Originally, for the Dogon, man was endowed with a dual soul. Circumcision is believed to eliminate the superfluous one. [33] ) Rites of circumcision enable each sex to assume its proper physical identity.

Boys are circumcised in age groups of three years, counting for example all boys between 9 and 12 years old. This marks the end of their youth, and they are initiated. The blacksmith performs the circumcision. Afterwards, the boys stay for a few days in a hut separated from the rest of the village people, until the wounds have healed. The circumcision is celebrated and the initiated boys go around and receive presents. They make music on a special instrument that is made of a rod of wood and calabashes that makes the sound of a rattle.

The newly circumcised youths, now considered young men, walk around naked for a month after the procedure so that their achievement in age can be admired by the tribe. This practice has been passed down for generations and is always followed, even during winter.

Once a boy is circumcised, he transitions into young adulthood and moves out of his father's house. All of the men in his age-set live together in a duñe until they marry and have children. [34]

The Dogon are among several African ethnic groups that practice female genital mutilation, including a type I circumcision, meaning that the clitoris is removed. [35]

The village of Songho has a circumcision cave ornamented with red and white rock paintings of animals and plants. Nearby is a cave where music instruments are stored.

Dogon mask societies Edit

The Awa is a masked dance society that holds ritual and social importance. It has a strict code of etiquette, obligations, interdicts, and a secret language (sigi so). All initiated Dogon men participate in Awa, with the exception of some caste members. Women are forbidden from joining and prohibited from learning sigi so. The 'Awa' is characterized by the intricate masks worn by members during rituals. There are two major events at which the Awa perform: the 'sigi' ritual and 'dama' funeral rituals. [36]

'Sigi' is a society-wide ritual to honor and recognize the first ancestors. Thought to have originated as a method to unite and keep peace among Dogon villages, the 'sigi' involves all members of the Dogon people. Starting in the northeastern part of Dogon territory, each village takes turns celebrating and hosting elaborate feasts, ceremonies, and festivities. During this time, new masks are carved and dedicated to their ancestors. Each village celebrates for around a year before the 'sigi' moves to the next village. A new 'sigi' is started every 60 years.

Dogon funeral rituals come in two parts. The first occurs immediately after the death of a person, and the second can occur years after the death. Due to the expense, the second traditional funeral rituals, or "damas", are becoming very rare. Damas that are still performed today are not usually performed for their original intent, but instead are performed for tourists interested in the Dogon way of life. The Dogon use this entertainment to earn income by charging tourists money for the masks they want to see and for the ritual itself (Davis, 68).

The traditional dama consists of a masquerade intended to lead the souls of the departed to their final resting places, through a series of ritual dances and rites. Dogon damas include the use of many masks, which they wore by securing them in their teeth, and statuettes. Each Dogon village may differ in the designs of the masks used in the dama ritual. Similarly each village may have their own way of performing the dama rituals. The dama consists of an event, known as the Halic, that is held immediately after the death of a person and lasts for one day (Davis, 68).

According to Shawn R. Davis, this particular ritual incorporates the elements of the yingim and the danyim. During the yincomoli ceremony, a gourd is smashed over the deceased's wooden bowl, hoe, and bundukamba (burial blanket). This announces the entrance of persons wearing the masks used in this ceremony, while the deceased's entrance to his home in the family compound is decorated with ritual elements (Davis, 72–73).

Masks used during the yincomoli ceremony include the Yana Gulay, Satimbe, Sirige, and Kanaga. The Yana Gulay mask's purpose is to impersonate a Fulani woman, and is made from cotton cloth and cowl shells. The Satimbe mask represents the women ancestors, who are said to have discovered the purpose of the masks by guiding the spirits of the deceased into the afterlife (Davis, 74). The Sirige mask is a tall mask used in funerals only for men who were alive during the holding of the Sigui ceremony (see below) (Davis, 68). The Kanaga masqueraders, at one point, dance and sit next to the bundkamba, which represents the deceased.

The yingim and the danyim rituals each last a few days. These events are held annually to honor the elders who have died since the last Dama. The yingim consists of both the sacrifice of cows, or other valuable animals, and mock combat. Large mock battles are performed in order to help chase the spirit, known as the nyama, from the deceased's body and village, and towards the path to the afterlife (Davis, 68).

The danyim is held a couple of months later. During the danyim, masqueraders perform dances every morning and evening for any period up to six days, depending on that village's practice. The masqueraders dance on the rooftops of the deceased's compound, throughout the village, and in the area of fields around the village (Davis, 68). Until the masqueraders have completed their dances, and every ritual has been performed, any misfortune can be blamed on the remaining spirits of the dead (Davis, 68).

Sects Edit

Dogon society is composed of several different sects:

  • The sect of the creator god Amma. The celebration is once a year and consists of offering boiled millet on the conical altar of Amma, colouring it white. All other sects are directed to the god Amma.
  • Sigui is the most important ceremony of the Dogon. It takes place every 60 years and can take several years. The last one started in 1967 and ended in 1973 the next one will start in 2027. The Sigui ceremony symbolises the death of the first ancestor (not to be confused with Lébé) until the moment that humanity acquired the use of the spoken word. The Sigui is a long procession that starts and ends in the village of Youga Dogorou, and goes from one village to another during several months or years. All men wear masks and dance in long processions. The Sigui has a secret language, Sigui So, which women are not allowed to learn. The secret Society of Sigui plays a central role in the ceremony. They prepare the ceremonies a long time in advance, and they live for three months hidden outside of the villages while nobody is allowed to see them. The men from the Society of Sigui are called the Olubaru. The villagers are afraid of them, and fear is cultivated by a prohibition to go out at night, when sounds warn that the Olubaru are out. The most important mask that plays a major role in the Sigui rituals is the Great Mask, or the Mother of Masks. It is several meters long, held by hand, and not used to hide a face. This mask is newly created every 60 years.
  • The Binou sect uses totems: common ones for the entire village and individual ones for totem priests. A totem animal is worshiped on a Binou altar. Totems are, for example, the buffalo for Ogol-du-Haut and the panther for Ogol-du-Bas. Normally, no one is harmed by their totem animal, even if this is a crocodile, as it is for the village of Amani (where there is a large pool of crocodiles that do not harm villagers). However, a totem animal might exceptionally harm if one has done something wrong. A worshiper is not allowed to eat his totem. For example, an individual with a buffalo as totem is not allowed to eat buffalo meat, to use leather from its skin, nor to see a buffalo die. If this happens by accident, he has to organise a purificationsacrifice at the Binou altar. Boiled millet is offered, and goats and chickens are sacrificed on a Binou altar. This colours the altar white and red. Binou altars look like little houses with a door. They are bigger when the altar is for an entire village. A village altar also has the 'cloud hook', to catch clouds and make it rain.
  • The Lébé sect worships the ancestor Lébé Serou, the first mortal human being, who, in Dogon myth, was transformed into a snake. The celebration takes place once a year and lasts for three days. The altar is a pointed conic structure on which the Hogon offers boiled millet while mentioning in his benediction eight grains plus one. Afterwards, the Hogon performs some rituals in his house, which is the home of Lébé. The last day, all the village men visit all the Binou altars and dance three times around the Lébé altar. The Hogon invites everybody who assisted to drink the millet beer.
  • The twin sect: The birth of twins is a sign of good luck. The extended Dogon families have common rituals, during which they evoke all their ancestors back to their origin—the ancient pair of twins from the creation of the world.
  • The Mono sect: The Mono altar is at the entry of every village. Unmarried young men celebrate the Mono sect once a year in January or February. They spend the night around the altar, singing and screaming and waving with fire torches. They hunt for mice that will be sacrificed on the altar at dawn.

Villages are built along escarpments and near a source of water. On average, a village contains around 44 houses organized around the 'ginna', or head man's house. Each village is composed of one main lineage (occasionally, multiple lineages make up a single village) traced through the male line. Houses are built extremely close together, many times sharing walls and floors.

Dogon villages have different buildings:

  • Male granary: storage place for pearl millet and other grains. Building with a pointed roof. This building is well protected from mice. The amount of filled male granaries is an indication for the size and the richness of a guinna.
  • Female granary: storage place for a woman's things, her husband has no access. Building with a pointed roof. It looks like a male granary but is less protected against mice. Here, she stores her personal belongings such as clothes, jewelry, money and some food. A woman has a degree of economic independence, and earnings and things related to her merchandise are stored in her personal granary. She can for example make cotton or pottery. The number of female granaries is an indication for the number of women living in the guinna.
  • Tógu nà (a kind of case à palabres): a building only for men. They rest here much of the day throughout the heat of the dry season, discuss affairs and take important decisions in the toguna. [37] The roof of a toguna is made by 8 layers of millet stalks. It is a low building in which one cannot stand upright. This helps with avoiding violence when discussions get heated.
  • Punulu (a house for menstruating women): this house is on the outside of the village. It is constructed by women and is of lower quality than the other village buildings. Women having their period are considered to be unclean and have to leave their family house to live during five days in this house. They use kitchen equipment only to be used here. They bring with them their youngest children. This house is a gathering place for women during the evening. This hut is also thought to have some sort of reproductive symbolism due to the fact that the hut can be easily seen by the men who are working the fields who know that only women who are on their period, and thus not pregnant, can be there.

Dogon has been frequently referred to as a single language. There are at least five distinct groups of dialects. The most ancient dialects are dyamsay and tombo, the former being most frequently used for traditional prayers and ritual chants. The Dogon dialects are highly distinct from one another and many varieties are not mutually intelligible, actually amounting to some 12 dialects and 50 sub-dialects. There is also a secret ritual language sigi sǫ (language of Sigi), which is taught to dignitaries (olubarū) of the Society of the Masks during their enthronement at the Sigui ceremony. [38] Women have no right to learn Sigui So.

It is generally accepted that the Dogon language belongs to the Niger–Congo language family, though the evidence is weak. [ citation needed ] [ why? ] They have been linked to the Mande subfamily but also to Gur. In a recent overview of the Niger–Congo family, Dogon is treated as an independent branch. [3]

The Dogon languages show few remnants of a unique noun class system, an example of which is that human nouns take a distinct plural suffix. This leads linguists to conclude that Dogon is likely to have diverged from Niger–Congo very early. [ when? ] Another indication of this is the subject–object–verb basic word order, which Dogon shares with such early Niger–Congo branches as Ijoid and Mande.

About 1,500 ethnic Dogon in seven villages in southern Mali speak the Bangime language, which is unrelated to the other Dogon languages and presumed by linguists to be an ancient, pre-Dogon language isolate, although a minority of linguists (most notably Roger Blench) hypothesise that it may be related to Proto-Nilo-Saharan. [39]

Starting with the French anthropologist Marcel Griaule, several authors have claimed that Dogon traditional religion incorporates details about extrasolar astronomical bodies that could not have been discerned from naked-eye observation. The idea has entered the New Age and ancient astronaut literature as evidence that extraterrestrial aliens visited Mali in the distant past. Other authors have argued that previous 20th-century European visitors to the Dogon are a far more plausible source of such information and dispute whether Griaule's account accurately describes Dogon myths at all.

From 1931 to 1956, Griaule studied the Dogon in field missions ranging from several days to two months in 1931, 1935, 1937 and 1938 [40] and then annually from 1946 until 1956. [41] In late 1946, Griaule spent a consecutive 33 days in conversations with the Dogon wiseman Ogotemmeli, the source of much of Griaule and Dieterlen's future publications. [42] They reported that the Dogon believe that the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius (Sigi Tolo or "star of the Sigui" [43] ), has two companion stars, Pō Tolo (the Digitaria star), and ęmmę ya tolo, (the female Sorghum star), respectively the first and second companions of Sirius A. [44] Sirius, in the Dogon system, formed one of the foci for the orbit of a tiny star, the companionate Digitaria star. When Digitaria is closest to Sirius, that star brightens: when it is farthest from Sirius, it gives off a twinkling effect that suggests to the observer several stars. The orbit cycle takes 50 years. [45] They also claimed that the Dogon appeared to know of the rings of Saturn, and the moons of Jupiter. [46]

Griaule and Dieterlen were puzzled by this Sudanese star system, and prefaced their analysis with the disclaimer, "The problem of knowing how, with no instruments at their disposal, men could know the movements and certain characteristics of virtually invisible stars has not been settled, nor even posed." [47]

More recently, doubts have been raised about the validity of Griaule and Dieterlen's work. [48] [49] In a 1991 article in Current Anthropology, anthropologist Wouter van Beek concluded after his research among the Dogon that, "Though they do speak about Sigu Tolo [which is what Griaule claimed the Dogon called Sirius] they disagree completely with each other as to which star is meant for some it is an invisible star that should rise to announce the sigu [festival], for another it is Venus that, through a different position, appears as Sigu Tolo. All agree, however, that they learned about the star from Griaule." [50]

Griaule's daughter Geneviève Calame-Griaule responded in a later issue, arguing that Van Beek did not go "through the appropriate steps for acquiring knowledge" and suggesting that van Beek's Dogon informants may have thought that he had been "sent by the political and administrative authorities to test the Dogon's Muslim orthodoxy". [51] An independent assessment is given by Andrew Apter of the University of California. [52]

In a 1978 critique, skeptic Ian Ridpath concluded: "There are any number of channels by which the Dogon could have received Western knowledge long before they were visited by Griaule and Dieterlen." [53] In his book Sirius Matters, Noah Brosch postulates that the Dogon may have had contact with astronomers based in Dogon territory during a five-week expedition, led by Henri-Alexandre Deslandres, to study the solar eclipse of 16 April 1893. [54]

Robert Todd Carroll also states that a more likely source of the knowledge of the Sirius star system is from contemporary, terrestrial sources who provided information to interested members of the tribes. [55] James Oberg, however, citing these suspicions notes their completely speculative nature, writing that, "The obviously advanced astronomical knowledge must have come from somewhere, but is it an ancient bequest or a modern graft? Although Temple fails to prove its antiquity, the evidence for the recent acquisition of the information is still entirely circumstantial." [56] Additionally, James Clifford notes that Griaule sought informants best qualified to speak of traditional lore, and deeply mistrusted converts to Christianity, Islam, or people with too much contact with whites. [57]

Oberg points out a number of errors contained in the Dogon beliefs, including the number of moons possessed by Jupiter, that Saturn was the furthest planet from the sun, and the only planet with rings. Interest in other seemingly falsifiable claims, namely concerning a red dwarf star orbiting around Sirius (not hypothesized until the 1950s), led him to entertain a previous challenge by Temple, asserting that "Temple offered another line of reasoning. 'We have in the Dogon information a predictive mechanism which it is our duty to test, regardless of our preconceptions.' One example: 'If a Sirius-C is ever discovered and found to be a red dwarf, I will conclude that the Dogon information has been fully validated.'

This alludes to reports that the Dogon knew of another star in the Sirius system, Ęmmę Ya, or a star "larger than Sirius B but lighter and dim in magnitude". In 1995, gravitational studies indeed showed the possible presence of a brown dwarf star orbiting around Sirius (a Sirius-C) with a six-year orbital period. [58] A more recent study using advanced infrared imaging concluded that the probability of the existence of a triple star system for Sirius is "now low" but could not be ruled out because the region within 5 AU of Sirius A had not been covered. [59]


Territory Edit

The Mali Empire reached its largest area under the Laye Keita mansas. Al-Umari, who wrote down a description of Mali based on information given to him by Abu Sa’id 'Otman ed Dukkali (who had lived 35 years in Niani), reported the realm as being square and an eight-month journey from its coast at Tura (at the mouth of the Senegal River) to Muli (also known as Tuhfat). Umari also describes the empire as being south of Marrakesh and almost entirely inhabited except for few places. Mali's domain also extended into the desert. He describes it as being north of Mali but under its domination implying some sort of vassalage for the Antasar, Yantar'ras, Medussa and Lemtuna Berber tribes. [15] The empire's total area included nearly all the land between the Sahara Desert and coastal forests. It spanned the modern-day countries of Senegal, southern Mauritania, Mali, northern Burkina Faso, western Niger, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, the Ivory Coast and northern Ghana. By 1350, the empire covered approximately 478,819 square miles (1,240,140 km 2 ). [16] The empire also reached its highest population during the Laye period ruling over 400 cities, [17] towns and villages of various religions and elasticities. During this period only the Mongol Empire was larger.

The dramatic increase in the empire's growth demanded a shift from the Manden Kurufaba's organisation of three states with twelve dependencies. This model was scrapped by the time of Mansa Musa's hajj to Egypt. According to al'Umari, who interviewed a Berber that had lived in the capital for 35 years, there were fourteen provinces (or, more accurately, tributary kingdoms). In al-'Umari's record, he only records the following thirteen provinces and five states. [18]

  • Gana (this refers to the remnants of the Ghana Empire)
  • Zagun or Zafun (this is another name for Diafunu) [19]
  • Tirakka or Turanka (Between Gana and Tadmekka) [18] (On 3rd cataract of the Senegal River, north of Jolof)
  • Sanagana (named for a tribe living in an area north of the Senegal river) or Bambughu (A territory in eastern Senegal and western Mali which was very rich in gold sources)
  • Zargatabana
  • Darmura or Babitra Darmura
  • Zaga (on the Niger, downriver of Kabora)
  • Kabora or Kabura (also on the Niger)
  • Baraquri or Baraghuri or Kawkaw (province inhabited by Gao Empire, which predated the Songhai) [20]
  • Mali or Manden (capital province for which the realm gets its name)

Capital debate Edit

The identity of the capital city of the Mali Empire is a matter of dispute among historians. Scholars have located the capital in Niani, or somewhere on the Niger, or proposed that it changed several times, that there was no true capital, or even that it lay as far afield as the upper Gambia river in modern-day Senegal. [21] Seemingly contradictory reports written by Arab visitors, a lack of definitive archaeological evidence, and the diversity of oral traditions all contribute to this uncertainty. [22] A particular challenge lies in interpreting early Arabic manuscripts, in which, without vowel markings and diacritics, foreign names can be read in numerous different ways (e.g. Biti, Buti, Yiti, Tati). [21] Ibn Battuta and Leo Africanus both call the capital "Mali." [23]

Early European writers such as Maurice Delafosse believed that Niani, a city on what is now the border between Guinea and Mali, was the capital for most of the empire's history, and this notion has taken hold in the popular imagination. [24] Djibril Tamsir Niane, a Guinean historian, has been a forceful advocate of this position in recent decades. The identification of Niani as imperial capital is rooted in an (possibly erroneous) interpretation of the Arab traveler al Umari's work, as well as some oral histories. Extensive archaeological digs have shown that the area was an important trade and manufacturing center in the 15th century, but no firm evidence of royal residence has come to light. [25] Niani's reputation as an imperial capital may derive from its importance in the late imperial period, when the Songhay Empire to the northeast pushed Mali back to the Manding heartland. Several 21st century historians have firmly rejected Niani as a capital candidate based on a lack of archaeological evidence of significant trade activity, clearly described by Arab visitors, particularly during the 14th century, Mali's golden age. [21] In fact, there is a conspicuous absence of archaeological samples of any kind from Niani dated to the late 13th through early 15th centuries, suggesting that Niani may have been uninhabited during the heyday of the Mali Empire. [21]

Various sources cite several other cities as capitals of the Mali Empire, some in competition with the Niani hypothesis and others addressing different time periods. A city called Dieriba or Dioliba is sometimes mentioned as the capital or main urban center of the province of Mande in the years before Sundiata, that was later abandoned. [26] [27]

Many oral histories point to a town called Dakajalan as the original home of the Keita clan and Sundiata's childhood home and base of operations during the war against the Soso. It may have been located close to modern Kangaba. Mande bards in the region speak of the Dakajalan site, containing Sundiata's grave, as sacrosanct. [28] Kangaba became the last refuge of the Keita royal family after the collapse of the Mali Empire, and so has for centuries been associated with Sundiata in the cultural imagination of Mande peoples. If Dakajalan was, in fact, situated near Kangaba, this may have also have contributed to their conflation, beginning with Delafosse's speculation that the latter may have begun as a suburb of the former. [29]

According to Jules Vidal and Levtzion, citing oral histories from Kangaba and Keyla, another onetime capital was Manikoro or Mali-Kura, founded after the destruction of Niani. [30]

Parallel to this debate, many scholars have argued that the Mali Empire may not have had a permanent "capital" in the sense that the word is used today, and historically was used in the Mediterranean world. Rather, authority would rest with the mansa and his court, wherever he went. Therefore, Arabic visitors may have assigned the "capital" label merely to whatever major city the mansa was based out of at the time of their visit. [31] It has been suggested that the name given in the Arabic sources for the capital of Mali is derived the Manding word "bambi", meaning "dais", and as such refers to the "seat of government" in general rather than being the name of a specific city. [23] Such impermanent capitals are a historically widespread phenomenon, having occurred in other parts of Africa such as Ethiopia, as well as outside Africa, such as in the Holy Roman Empire. [32]

Pre-imperial Mali Edit

The Rock art in the Sahara suggests that northern Mali has been inhabited since 10,000 BC, when the Sahara was fertile and rich in wildlife. By 300 BC, large organised settlements had developed, most notable near Djenné, one of West Africa's oldest cities. By the 6th century AD, the lucrative trans-Saharan trade in gold, salt and slaves had begun, facilitating the rise of West Africa's great empires.

There are a few references to Mali in early written literature. Among these are references to "Pene" and "Malal" in the work of al-Bakri in 1068, [33] the story of the conversion of an early ruler, known to Ibn Khaldun (by 1397) as Barmandana, [34] and a few geographical details in the work of al-Idrisi. [35]

In the 1960s, archaeological work at Niani village, reputed to be the capital of the Mali Empire, by Polish and Guinean archaeologists revealed the remains of a substantial town dating back as far as the 6th century. [36]

Modern oral traditions also related that the Mandinka kingdoms of Mali or Manden had already existed several centuries before Sundiata's unification as a small state just to the south of the Soninké empire of Wagadou, better known as the Ghana Empire. [37] This area was composed of mountains, savannah and forest providing ideal protection and resources for the population of hunters. [38] Those not living in the mountains formed small city-states such as Toron, Ka-Ba and Niani. Through the oral tradition of griots, the Keita dynasty, from which nearly every Mali emperor came, claims to trace its lineage back to Lawalo, one of the sons of Bilal, [39] the faithful muezzin of Islam's prophet Muhammad, who was said to have migrated into Mali and his descendants established the ruling Keita dynasty through Maghan Kon Fatta, father of Sundiata Keita. [40]

It was common practice during the Middle Ages for both Christian and Muslim rulers to tie their bloodline back to a pivotal figure in their faith's history, so the lineage of the Keita dynasty may be dubious at best, [41] yet African Muslim scholars like the London-based Nigerian-British cleric Sheikh Abu-Abdullah Adelabu have laid claim of divine attainments to the reign of Mansa Mousa: "in Islamic history and its science stories of Old Mali Empire and significance of Mansa Mousa by ancient Muslim historians like Shihab al-Umari, documenting histories of African legendaries like Mansa Kankan Musa did actually exist in early Arabic sources about West African history including works of the author of Subh al-a 'sha one of the final expressions of the genre of Arabic administrative literature, Ahmad al-Qalqashandi Egyptian writer, mathematician and scribe of the scroll (katib al-darj) in the Mamluk chancery in Cairo [42] as well as by the author of Kitab al-Masalik wa al-Mamalik (Book of Highways and Kingdoms) Abū ʿUbayd Al-Bakri, an Arab Andalusian Muslim geographer and historian emboldened Keita Dynasty", wrote Adelabu.

In his attempt to justify the importance of the Keita and their civilisation in early Arabic literatures, Adelabu, the head of Awqaf Africa in London, coined the Arabic derivatives ك – و – ي K(a)-W(e)-Y(a) of the word Keita which in (in what he called) Arabicised Mandingo language Allah(u) Ka(w)eia meaning "Allah Creates All" as a favourable motto of reflection for Bilal Ibn Rabah, one of the most trusted and loyal Sahabah (companions) of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, whom he described (quoting William Muir's book The Life of Muhammad) as 'a tall, dark, and with African feature and bushy hair' [43] pious man who overcame slavery, racism and socio-political obstacles in Arabia to achieve a lofty status in this world and in the Hereafter. [44]

The Manding Region Edit

The history of the Mandinka started in Manding/Manden region. This region straddles the border between what is now southern Mali and northeastern Guinea. Hunters from the Ghana Empire (or Wagadou), particularly mythical ancestors Kontron and Sanin, founded Manding and the Malinké and Bambaras hunter brotherhood. The area was famous as a hunting ground for the large amount of game that it sheltered, as well as its dense vegetation. The Camara (or Kamara) are said to be the first family to have lived in Manding, after having left, due to the drought, Ouallata, a region of Wagadou, in the south-east of present-day Mauritania. They founded the first village of the Manding, Kirikoroni, then Kirina, Siby, Kita. A very large number of families that make up the Mandinka community were born in Manding.

The Kangaba province Edit

During the height of Sundiata's power, the land of Manden (the area populated by the Mandinka people) became one of its provinces. [46] The Manden city-state of Ka-ba (present-day Kangaba) served as the capital and name of this province. From at least the beginning of the 11th century, Mandinka kings known as faamas ruled Manden from Ka-ba in the name of the Ghanas. [47]

The two kingdoms Edit

Wagadou's control over Manden came to a halt after internal instability lead to its decline. [48] The Kangaba province, free of Soninké influence, splintered into twelve kingdoms with their own maghan (meaning prince) or faama. [49] Manden was split in half with the Dodougou territory to the northeast and the Kri territory to the southwest. [50] The tiny kingdom of Niani was one of several in the Kri area of Manden.

The Kaniaga rulers Edit

In approximately 1140 the Sosso kingdom of Kaniaga, a former vassal of Wagadou, began conquering the lands of its old rulers. By 1180 it had even subjugated Wagadou forcing the Soninké to pay tribute. In 1203, the Sosso king Soumaoro of the Kanté clan came to power and reportedly terrorised much of Manden stealing women and goods from both Dodougou and Kri. [51]

The Hungering Lion Edit

According to Niane's version of the epic, during the rise of Kaniaga, Sundiata of the Keita clan was born in the early 13th century. He was the son of Niani's faama, Nare Fa (also known as Maghan Kon Fatta meaning the handsome prince). Sundiata's mother was Maghan Kon Fatta's second wife, Sogolon Kédjou. [39] She was a hunchback from the land of Do, south of Mali. The child of this marriage received the first name of his mother (Sogolon) and the surname of his father (Djata). Combined in the rapidly spoken language of the Mandinka, the names formed Sondjata, Sundjata or Sundiata Keita. [39] The anglicised version of this name, Sunjata, is also popular. In Ibn Khaldun's account, Sundjata is recorded as Mari Djata with "Mari" meaning "Amir" or "Prince". He also states that Djata or "Jatah" means "lion". [52]

Prince Sundjata was prophesied to become a great conqueror. To his parent's dread, the prince did not have a promising start. Sundiata, according to the oral traditions, did not walk until he was seven years old. [49] However, once Sundiata did gain use of his legs he grew strong and very respected. Sadly for Sundjata, this did not occur before his father died. Despite the faama of Niani's wishes to respect the prophecy and put Sundiata on the throne, the son from his first wife Sassouma Bérété was crowned instead. As soon as Sassouma's son Dankaran Touman took the throne, he and his mother forced the increasingly popular Sundjata into exile along with his mother and two sisters. Before Dankaran Touman and his mother could enjoy their unimpeded power, King Soumaoro set his sights on Niani forcing Dankaran to flee to Kissidougou. [39]

After many years in exile, first at the court of Wagadou and then at Mema, Sundiata was sought out by a Niani delegation and begged to combat the Sosso and free the kingdoms of Manden forever.

Battle of Kirina Edit

Returning with the combined armies of Mema, Wagadou and all the rebellious Mandinka city-states, Maghan Sundiata led a revolt against the Kaniaga Kingdom around 1234. [53] The combined forces of northern and southern Manden defeated the Sosso army at the Battle of Kirina (then known as Krina) in approximately 1235. [54] This victory resulted in the fall of the Kaniaga kingdom and the rise of the Mali Empire. After the victory, King Soumaoro disappeared, and the Mandinka stormed the last of the Sosso cities. Maghan Sundiata was declared "faama of faamas" and received the title "mansa", which translates roughly to emperor. At the age of 18, he gained authority over all the 12 kingdoms in an alliance known as the Manden Kurufaba. He was crowned under the throne name Sunidata Keita becoming the first Mandinka emperor. And so the name Keita became a clan/family and began its reign. [49]

Mari Djata I/Sundiata Keita I Edit

Mansa Mari Djata, later named Sundiata Keita, saw the conquest of several key locals in the Mali Empire. He never took the field again after Kirina, but his generals continued to expand the frontier, especially in the west where they reached the Gambia River and the marches of Tekrur. This enabled him to rule over a realm larger than even the Ghana Empire in its apex. [54] When the campaigning was done, his empire extended 1,000 miles (1,600 km) east to west with those borders being the bends of the Senegal and Niger rivers respectively. [55] After unifying Manden, he added the Wangara goldfields, making them the southern border. The northern commercial towns of Oualata and Audaghost were also conquered and became part of the new state's northern border. Wagadou and Mema became junior partners in the realm and part of the imperial nucleus. The lands of Bambougou, Jalo (Fouta Djallon), and Kaabu were added into Mali by Fakoli Koroma (Nkrumah in Ghana, Kurumah in the Gambia, Colley in Casamance, Senegal), [49] Fran Kamara (Camara) and Tiramakhan Traore (Tarawelley in the Gambia), [56] respectively Among the many different ethnic groups surrounding Manden were Pulaar speaking groups in Macina, Tekrur and Fouta Djallon.

Imperial Mali Edit

Imperial Mali is best known through three primary sources: the first is the account of Shihab al-'Umari, written in about 1340 by a geographer-administrator in Mamluk Egypt. His information about the empire came from visiting Malians taking the hajj, or pilgrim's voyage to Mecca. He had first-hand information from several sources, and from a second-hand source, he learned of the visit of Mansa Musa. The second account is that of the traveller Ibn Battuta, who visited Mali in 1352. This is the first account of a West African kingdom made directly by an eyewitness the others are usually second-hand. The third great account is that of Ibn Khaldun, who wrote in the early 15th century. While the accounts are of limited length, they provide a fairly good picture of the empire at its height.

The Emperors of Mali Edit

There were 21 known mansas of the Mali Empire after Mari Djata I, and probably about two or three more yet to be revealed. The names of these rulers come down through history via the djelis and modern descendants of the Keita dynasty residing in Kangaba. What separates these rulers from the founder, other than the latter's historic role in establishing the state, is their transformation of the Manden Kurufaba into a Manden Empire. Not content to rule fellow Manding subjects unified by the victory of Mari Djata I, these mansas would conquer and annex Fula, [57] Wolof, Bamana, Songhai, Tuareg and countless other peoples into an immense empire.

Sundiata Keita lineage (1250–1275) Edit

The first three successors to Mari Djata/Sundiata Keita all claimed it by blood right or something similar. This twenty-five-year period saw large gains for the mansa and the beginning of fierce internal rivalries that nearly ended the burgeoning empire.

Ouali Keita I Edit

After Sundiata's death in 1255, custom dictated that his son ascend the throne, assuming he was of age. However, Yérélinkon was a minor following his father's death. [58] Manding Bory Keita, Sundiata's half-brother and kankoro-sigui (vizier), should have been crowned according to the Kouroukan Fouga. Instead, Mari Djata's son seized the throne and was crowned Mansa Ouali Keita (also spelt "Wali" or "Ali"). [59]

Mansa Ouali Keita proved to be an efficient emperor, adding more lands to the empire, including the Gambian provinces of Bati and Casa. He also conquered the gold-producing provinces of Bambuk and Bondou. The central province of Konkodougou was established. The Songhai kingdom of Gao also seems to have been subjugated for the first of many times around this period. [60]

Aside from military conquest, Ouali is also credited with agricultural reforms throughout the empire putting many soldiers to work as farmers in the newly acquired Gambian provinces. Just prior to his death in 1270, Ouali went on the hajj to Mecca during the reign of Mamluk Sultan Baibars, according to Ibn Khaldun. [59] This helped in strengthening ties with North Africa and Muslim merchants. [60]

The generals' sons Edit

As a policy of controlling and rewarding his generals, Mari Djata adopted their sons. [49] These children were raised at the mansa's court and became Keitas upon reaching maturity. Seeing the throne as their right, two adopted sons of Mari Djata waged a devastating war against one another that threatened to destroy what the first two mansas had built. The first son to gain the throne was Mansa Ouati Keita (also spelt Wati) in 1270. [61] He reigned for four years, spending lavishly and ruling cruelly, according to the djelis. Upon his death in 1274, the other adopted son seized the throne. [61] Mansa Khalifa Keita is remembered as even worse than Ouati Keita. According to the djelis, he governed just as badly, was insane and fired arrows from the roof of his palace at passers by. Ibn Khaldun recounts that the people rushed upon him and killed him during a popular revolt. [59] The Gbara replaced him with Manding Bory Keita in 1275. [62]

The court mansas (1275–1300) Edit

After the chaos of Ouati Keita and Khalifa Keita's reigns, a number of court officials with close ties to Sundiata Keita ruled. They began the empire's return to stability, setting it up for a golden age of rulers.

Abubakari Keita I Edit

Manding Bory was crowned under the throne name Mansa Abubakari (a Manding corruption of the Muslim name Abu Bakr). [49] Mansa Abubakari's mother was Namandjé, [49] the third wife of Maghan Kon Fatta. Prior to becoming mansa, Abubakari had been one of his brother's generals and later his kankoro-sigui. Little else is known about the reign of Abubakari I, but it seems he was successful in stopping the hemorrhaging of wealth in the empire.

Sakoura Edit

In 1285, a court slave freed by Sundiata Keita, and who had also served as a general, usurped the throne of Mali. [60] The reign of Mansa Sakoura (also spelt Sakura) appears to have been beneficial, despite the political shake-up. He added the first conquests to Mali since the reign of Ouali, including the former Wagadou provinces of Tekrour and Diara. His conquests did not stop at the boundaries of Wagadou, however. He campaigned into Senegal and conquered the Wolof province of Dyolof (Jolof), then took the army east to subjugate the copper-producing area of Takedda. He also conquered Macina and raided into Gao to suppress its first rebellion against Mali. [60] More than just a mere warrior, Mansa Sakoura went on the hajj during the reign of Al-Nasir Muhammad. [59] Mansa Sakura also opened direct trade negotiations with Tripoli and Morocco. [60]

According to one account, Sakoura was murdered on his return trip from Mecca in or near present-day Djibouti by a Danakil warrior attempting to rob him. [63] The emperor's attendants rushed his body home through the Ouaddai region and into Kanem where one of that empire's messengers was sent to Mali with news of Sakoura's death. When the body arrived in Niani, it was given a regal burial despite the usurper's slave roots. [63]

The Kolonkan Keita lineage (1300–1312) Edit

The Gbara selected Ko Mamadi Keita as the next mansa in 1300. He was the first of a new line of rulers directly descending from Sundiata Keita's sister, Kolonkan Keita. [49] But, seeing as how these rulers all shared the blood of Maghan Kon Fatta, they are considered legitimate Keitas. Even Sakoura, with his history of being a slave in the Keita family, was considered a Keita so the line of Bilal had yet to be broken.

It is during the Kolonkan Keita lineage that the defining characteristics of golden age Mali begin to appear. By maintaining the developments of Sakoura and Abubakari Keita I, the Kolonkan Keita mansas steered Mali safely into its apex.

The Gao mansas Edit

Ko Mamadi Keita was crowned Mansa Gao Keita and ruled over a successful empire without any recorded crises. His son, Mansa Mohammed ibn Gao Keita, ascended the throne five years later and continued the stability of the Kolonkan Keita line. [49]

Abubakari Keita II Edit

The last Kolonkan ruler, Bata Manding Bory Keita, was crowned Mansa Abubakari Keita II in 1310. [49] He continued the non-militant style of rule that characterised Gao and Mohammed ibn Gao Keita but was interested in the empire's western sea. According to an account given by Mansa Musa Keita I, who during the reign of Abubakari Keita II served as the mansa's kankoro-sigui, Mali sent two expeditions into the Atlantic Ocean. Mansa Abubakari Keita II left Musa Keita as regent of the empire, demonstrating the stability of this period in Mali, and departed with the second expedition, commanding some 2,000 ships equipped with both oars and sails in 1311. [64] Neither the emperor nor any of the ships returned to Mali. Modern historians and scientists are skeptical about the success of either voyage, but the account of these happenings is preserved in both written North African records and the oral records of Mali's djelis.

The Laye Keita lineage (1312–1389) Edit

Abubakari Keita II's 1312 abdication, the only recorded one in the empire's history, marked the beginning of a new lineage descended from Faga Laye Keita. [49] Faga Laye Keita was the son of Abubakari Keita I. Unlike his father, Faga Laye Keita never took the throne of Mali. However, his line would produce seven mansas who reigned during the height of Mali's power and toward the beginning of its decline.

Musa Keita I (Mansa Musa) Edit

The first ruler from the Laye lineage was Kankan Musa Keita (or Moussa), also known as Mansa Musa. After an entire year without word from Abubakari Keita II, he was crowned Mansa Musa Keita. Mansa Musa Keita was one of the first truly devout Muslims to lead the Mali Empire. He attempted to make Islam the faith of the nobility, [60] but kept to the imperial tradition of not forcing it on the populace. He also made Eid celebrations at the end of Ramadan a national ceremony. He could read and write Arabic and took an interest in the scholarly city of Timbuktu, which he peaceably annexed in 1324. Via one of the royal ladies of his court, Musa transformed Sankore from an informal madrasah into an Islamic university. Islamic studies flourished thereafter.

Mansa Musa Keita's crowning achievement was his famous pilgrimage to Mecca, which started in 1324 and concluded with his return in 1326. Accounts of how many people and how much gold he spent vary. All of them agree that he took a very large group of people the mansa kept a personal guard of some 500 men, [65] and he gave out so many alms and bought so many things that the value of gold in Egypt and Arabia depreciated for twelve years. [66] When he passed through Cairo, historian al-Maqrizi noted "the members of his entourage proceeded to buy Turkish and Ethiopian slave girls, singing girls and garments, so that the rate of the gold dinar fell by six dirhams."

Another testimony from Ibn Khaldun describes the grand pilgrimage of Mansa Musa consisting of 12,000 slaves:

"He made a pilgrimage in 724/1324 [. ]. At each halt, he would regale us [his entourage] rare foods and confectionery. His equipment furnishings were carried by 12.000 private slave women (Wasaif) wearing gown and brocade (dibaj) and Yemeni silk [. ]. Mansa Musa came from his country with 80 loads of gold dust (tibr), each load weighing three qintars. In their own country they use only slave women and men for transport, but for long journeys such as pilgrimages they have mounts." [67]

Contemporary sources suggest that the mounts employed by this caravan were one hundred elephants, which carried those loads of gold, and several hundred camels, carrying the food, supplies and weaponries which were brought to the rear. [68]

Musa took out large loans from money lenders in Cairo before beginning his journey home. It is not known if this was an attempt to correct the depreciation of gold in the area due to his spending, [69] or if he had simply run out of the funds needed for the return trip. [70] Musa's hajj, and especially his gold, caught the attention of both the Islamic and Christian worlds. Consequently, the name of Mali and Timbuktu appeared on 14th century world maps.

While on the hajj, he met the Andalusian poet and architect es-Saheli. Mansa Musa brought the architect back to Mali to beautify some of the cities. But more reasoned analysis suggests that his role, if any, was quite limited. The architectural crafts in Granada had reached their zenith by the fourteenth century, and its extremely unlikely that a cultured and wealthy poet would have had anything more than a dilettante's knowledge of the intricacies of contemporary architectural practice. [71] Mosques were built in Gao and Timbuktu along with impressive palaces also built in Timbuktu. By the time of his death in 1337, Mali had control over Taghazza, a salt-producing area in the north, which further strengthened its treasury.

That same year, after the Mandinka general known as Sagmandir put down yet another rebellion in Gao, [60] Mansa Musa came to Gao and accepted the capitulation of the King of Ghana and his nobles.

By the end of Mansa Musa's reign, the Sankoré University had been converted into a fully staffed university with the largest collections of books in Africa since the Library of Alexandria. The Sankoré University was capable of housing 25,000 students and had one of the largest libraries in the world with roughly 1,000,000 manuscripts. [72] [73]

Mansa Musa Keita was succeeded by his son, Maghan Keita I, in 1337. [60] Mansa Maghan Keita I spent wastefully and was the first lacklustre emperor since Khalifa Keita. But the Mali Empire built by his predecessors was too strong for even his misrule and it passed intact to Musa's brother, Souleyman Keita in 1341.

Souleyman Keita Edit

Mansa Souleyman Keita (or Suleiman) took steep measures to put Mali back into financial shape, thereby developing a reputation for miserliness. [60] However, he proved to be a good and strong ruler despite numerous challenges. It is during his reign that Fula raids on Takrur began. There was also a palace conspiracy to overthrow him hatched by the Qasa (the Manding term meaning Queen) Kassi and several army commanders. [60] Mansa Souleyman's generals successfully fought off the military incursions, and the senior wife Kassi behind the plot was imprisoned.

The mansa also made a successful hajj, kept up correspondence with Morocco and Egypt and built an earthen platform at Kangaba called the Camanbolon where he held court with provincial governors and deposited the holy books he brought back from Hedjaz.

The only major setback to his reign was the loss of Mali's Dyolof province in Senegal. The Wolof populations of the area united into their own state known as the Jolof Empire in the 1350s. Still, when Ibn Battuta arrived at Mali in July 1352, he found a thriving civilisation on par with virtually anything in the Muslim or Christian world. Mansa Souleyman Keita died in 1360 and was succeeded by his son, Camba Keita.

The North African traveller and scholar Ibn Battuta visited the area in 1352 and, according to a 1929 English translation, said this about its inhabitants:

"The negroes possess some admirable qualities. They are seldom unjust, and have a greater abhorrence of injustice than any other people. There is complete security in their country . Neither traveller nor inhabitant in it has anything to fear from robbers or men of violence." [74]

The Travels of Ibn Battuta Edit

Abu Abdallah Ibn Battuta was born in Morocco in the year 1304. Years later during his mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca as a Muslim and a qadi (Muslim judge), he decided that what he wished to do most was travel to and beyond every part of the Muslim world. Upon this realization, Ibn made a personal vow to 'never travel any road a second time". He began on his long and eventful journey, making many stops along the way.

It was in Cairo, Egypt, that he first heard of the great ruler of Mali- Mansa Musa. A few years prior to Battuta's visit, Mansa Musa had passed through Cairo as well on his own pilgrimage to Mecca. He had brought with him a large entourage of slaves, soldiers and wives, along with over a thousand pounds of gold. With this he 'flooded' Cairo to the point of disrupting the entire gold market for decades to come. Aside from gold Mali traded many other lavish resources and its riches were spoken of widely, along with encouraging Islam across Africa. There is no doubt that, even after his long and tiring travels, a curious Ibn Battuta would saddle up again to make the long journey across the Sahara (1,500 miles) and into the Kingdom of Mali. After entering the country and staying for eight long months, Ibn left with mixed feelings.

At first his impressions were not good- as a meal he was offered a bowl of millet with honey and yogurt. Seeing this as offensive, he wished to leave as soon as possible. During his stay he was also fed rice, milk, fish, chicken, melons, pumpkins and yams (that would end up making him very ill). From the King, he was gifted three loaves of bread, a gourd full of yogurt, and a piece of beef fried in shea butter. He was insulted by this as well, feeling that the gift was inadequate for him."When I saw it I laughed, and was long astonished at their feeble intellect and their respect for mean things." He was also taken aback by the local customs regarding the sexes. In his mind, man and woman should be separate in an Islamic society. Here the sexes were friends, spent time with one another and were agreeable. Upon his disapproval he was told that their relations were a part of good manners, and that there would be no suspicion attached to it. To his surprise, female servants and slaves also often went completely nude in front of the court to see, which would not have been acceptable as a Muslim- or any kind of- woman. They wore no veil and crawled on their hands and knees, throwing dust over themselves when approaching their ruler, Mansa Sulayman.

Mansa Sulayman was the younger brother of Mansa Musa who took reign after he died. The public ceremony he attended was strange to him but grand, as he observed from the audience. "[The sultan] has a lofty pavilion . where he sits most of the time. There came forth from the gate of the palace about 300 slaves, some carrying in their hands bows and others having in their hands short lances and shields. Then two saddled and bridled horses are brought, with two rams which, they say, are effective against the evil eye. The interpreter stands at the gate of the council-place wearing fine garments of silk. and on his head a turban with fringes which they have a novel way of winding. The troops, governors, young men, slaves, . and others sit outside the council-place in a broad street where there are trees. Anyone who wishes to address the sultan addresses the interpreter and the interpreter addresses a man standing [near the sultan] and that man standing addresses the sultan".

While he had his grievances, there were parts of Mali that Ibn Battuta found to be exceptional. For one, the safety in the streets of Mali went unmatched. The city was very secure with many guards and it was said that no man walked afraid in the streets of Mali. The people also held justice to a very high standard and that was notable for Ibn. Most importantly, he was impressed with the peoples devotion to Islam. There were mosques there that people visited regularly, and they always prayed on Friday, the holy prayer day established by Mansa Musa for Muslims. The citizens wished to learn more about the Islamic faith and seemed to be very involved with the teaching of the Quran. [75] Although many had converted and had a zeal for Islam, there were many common people who still held on to their traditional African religions. Mansa Sulayman had to appease these people as well, which is something that Ibn may not have considered and viewed as an insult to Islam. In the end, Sulayman attempted to appease him by giving him a house to stay at and an allowance as well. Upon his departure, Ibn left with 100 mithqals ($15,501.84) of gold and diverse feelings towards the kingdom of Mali.

Modern Mali Edit

Where the empire of Mali reigned covered the modern day areas of Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia and Guinea, along with small regions of the Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Niger. For the most part Mali is covered, with the rest just having areas of the ancient empire cross into their borders. After a series of unsuccessful successions and exchanges of power and changes of ruler, the Empire of Mali was weakened greatly. As a result of these issues a civil war erupted upon the Kingdom which further incapacitated old Mali. Because of the war going on, trade was disrupted. Trade was a huge reason that the empire was thriving economically, and so its disruption led to a direct collapse of the empire entirely.

Mari Djata Keita II Edit

After a mere nine months of rule, Mansa Camba Keita was deposed by one of Maghan Keita I's three sons. Konkodougou Kamissa Keita, named for the province he once governed, [49] was crowned as Mansa Mari Djata Keita II in 1360. He ruled oppressively and nearly bankrupted Mali with his lavish spending. He did however, maintain contacts with Morocco, sending a giraffe to King Abu Hassan. Mansa Mari Djata Keita II became seriously ill in 1372, [60] and power moved into the hands of his ministers until his death in 1374.

Musa Keita II Edit

The reign of Mari Djata Keita II was ruinous and left the empire in bad financial shape, but the empire itself passed intact to the dead emperor's brother. Mansa Fadima Musa Keita, or Mansa Musa Keita II, began the process of reversing his brother's excesses. [60] He did not, however, hold the power of previous mansas because of the influence of his kankoro-sigui.

Kankoro-sigui Mari Djata, who had no relation to the Keita clan, essentially ran the empire in Musa Keita II's stead. Ibn Khaldun recorded that in 776 A.H or 1374/1375 AD he interviewed a Sijilmasan scholar named Muhammad b. Wasul who had lived in Gao and had been employed in its judiciary. The latter told Ibn Khaldun about devastating struggle over Gao between Mali imperial forces against Berber Tuareg forces from Takedda. [76] The text of Ibn Khaldun says "Gao, at this time is devastated". [76] It seems quite possible that an exodus of the inhabitants took place at this juncture and the importance of the city was not revived until the rise of the Songhai empire. [76]

The Songhai settlement effectively shook off Mali's authority in 1375. Still, by the time of Mansa Musa Keita II's death in 1387, Mali was financially solvent and in control of all of its previous conquests short of Gao and Dyolof. Forty years after the reign of Mansa Musa Keita I, the Mali Empire still controlled some 1,100,000 square kilometres (420,000 sq mi) of land throughout Western Africa. [77] [11]

Maghan Keita II Edit

The last son of Maghan Keita I, Tenin Maghan Keita (also known as Kita Tenin Maghan Keita for the province he once governed) was crowned Mansa Maghan Keita II in 1387. [49] Little is known of him except that he only reigned two years. He was deposed in 1389, marking the end of the Faga Laye Keita mansas.

The obscure lineages (1389–1545) Edit

From 1389 onwards Mali gained a host of mansas of obscure origins. This is the least known period in Mali's imperial history. What is evident is that there is no steady lineage governing the empire. The other characteristic of this era is the gradual loss of its northern and eastern possessions to the rising Songhai Empire and the movement of the Mali's economic focus from the trans-Saharan trade routes to the burgeoning commerce along the coast.

Sandaki Keita Edit

Mansa Sandaki Keita, a descendant of kankoro-sigui Mari Djata Keita, deposed Maghan Keita II, becoming the first person without any Keita dynastic relation to officially rule Mali. [60] Sandaki Keita should not however be taken to be this person's name but a title. Sandaki likely means High Counsellor or Supreme Counsellor, from san or sanon (meaning "high") and adegue (meaning counsellor). [78] He would only reign a year before a descendant of Mansa Gao Keita removed him. [49]

Maghan Keita III Edit

Mahmud Keita, possibly a grandchild or great-grandchild of Mansa Gao Keita, was crowned Mansa Maghan Keita III in 1390. During his reign, the Mossi emperor Bonga of Yatenga raided into Mali and plundered Macina. [60] Emperor Bonga did not appear to hold the area, and it stayed within the Mali Empire after Maghan Keita III's death in 1400.

Musa Keita III Edit

In the early 15th century, Mali was still powerful enough to conquer and settle new areas. One of these was Dioma, an area south of Niani populated by Fula Wassoulounké. [49] Two noble brothers from Niani, of unknown lineage, went to Dioma with an army and drove out the Fula Wassoulounké. The oldest brother, Sérébandjougou Keita, was crowned Mansa Foamed or Mansa Musa Keita III. His reign saw the first in a string of many great losses to Mali. In 1430, the Tuareg seized Timbuktu. [79] Three years later, Oualata also fell into their hands. [60]

Ouali Keita II Edit

Following Musa Keita III's death, his brother Gbèré Keita became emperor in the mid-15th century. [49] Gbèré Keita was crowned Mansa Ouali Keita II and ruled during the period of Mali's contact with Portugal. In the 1450s, Portugal began sending raiding parties along the Gambian coast. [80] The Gambia was still firmly in Mali's control, and these raiding expeditions met with disastrous fates before Portugal's Diogo Gomes began formal relations with Mali via its remaining Wolof subjects. [81] Alvise Cadamosto, a Venetian explorer, recorded that the Mali Empire was the most powerful entity on the coast in 1454. [81]

Despite their power in the west, Mali was losing the battle for supremacy in the north and northeast. The new Songhai Empire conquered Mema, [60] one of Mali's oldest possessions, in 1465. It then seized Timbuktu from the Tuareg in 1468 under Sunni Ali Ber. [60]

In 1477, the Yatenga emperor Nasséré made yet another Mossi raid into Macina, this time conquering it and the old province of BaGhana (Wagadou). [82]

Mansa Mahmud Keita II Edit

Mansa Mahmud Keita II came to the throne in 1481 during Mali's downward spiral. It is unknown from whom he descended however, another emperor, Mansa Maghan Keita III, is sometimes cited as Mansa Mahmud Keita I. Still, throne names do not usually indicate blood relations. Mansa Mahmud Keita II's rule was characterised by more losses to Mali's old possessions and increased contact between Mali and Portuguese explorers along the coast. In 1481, Fula raids against Mali's Tekrur provinces began.

The growing trade in Mali's western provinces with Portugal witnessed the exchange of envoys between the two nations. Mansa Mahmud Keita II received the Portuguese envoys Pêro d'Évora and Gonçalo Enes in 1487. [49] The mansa lost control of Jalo during this period. [83] Meanwhile, Songhai seized the salt mines of Taghazza in 1493. That same year, Mahmud II sent another envoy to the Portuguese proposing alliance against the Fula. The Portuguese decided to stay out of the conflict and the talks concluded by 1495 without an alliance. [83]

Mansa Mahmud Keita III Edit

The last mansa to rule from Niani is Mansa Mahmud Keita III, also known as Mansa Mamadou Keita II. He came to power around 1496 and has the dubious honour of being the mansa under which Mali suffered the most losses to its territory.

Songhai forces under the command of Askia Muhammad I defeated the Mali general Fati Quali Keita in 1502 and seized the province of Diafunu. [60] In 1514, the Denianke dynasty was established in Tekrour. It wasn't long before the new kingdom of Great Fulo was warring against Mali's remaining provinces. Additionally, the Songhai Empire seized the copper mines of Takedda.

In 1534, Mahmud Keita III received another Portuguese envoy to the Mali court by the name of Pero Fernandes. [84] This envoy from the Portuguese coastal port of Elmina arrived in response to the growing trade along the coast and Mali's now urgent request for military assistance against Songhai. [85] Still, no help came from the envoy and further possessions of Mali were lost one by one.

Mansa Mahmud Keita III's reign also saw the military outpost and province of Kaabu become independent in 1537. [83] The Kaabu Empire appears as ambitions as Mali was in its early years and conquers Mali's remaining Gambian provinces of Cassa and Bati. [86]

The most defining moment in Mahmud Keita III's reign is arguably the final conflict between Mali and Songhai in 1545. Songhai forces under Askia Ishaq's brother, Daoud, sack Niani and occupy the palace. [87] Mansa Mahmud Keita III is forced to flee Niani for the mountains. Within a week, he regroups with his forces and launches a successful counter-attack forcing the Songhai out of Manden proper for good. [88] The Songhai Empire keeps Mali's ambitions in check, but never fully conquers the empire, their former masters.

After liberating the capital, Mahmud Keita II abandons it for a new residence further north. [88] Still, there is no end to Mali's troubles. In 1559, the kingdom of Fouta Tooro succeeds in taking Takrur. [83] This defeat reduces Mali to Manden proper with control extending only as far as Kita in the west, Kangaba in the north, the Niger River bend in the east and Kouroussa in the south.

Late imperial Mali Edit

Mansa Mahmud III's reign ended around 1559. There seems to have been either a vacancy or unknown ruler between 1559 and the start of the last mansa's reign. A vacancy or rule by a court official seems the most likely, since the next ruler takes the name of Mahmud IV. By 1560, the once powerful empire was not much more than the core of the Manden Kurufaba. The next notable mansa, Mahmud IV, doesn't appear in any records until the end of the 16th century. However, he seems to have the distinction of being the last ruler of a unified Manden. His descendants are blamed for the breakup of the Manden Kurufaba into north, central and southern realms.

Mansa Mahmud Keita IV Edit

Mansa Mahmud Keita IV (also known as Mansa Mamadou Keita II, Mali Mansa Mamadou Keita and Niani Mansa Mamadou Keita) was the last emperor of Manden according to the Tarikh al-Sudan. It states that he launched an attack on the city of Djenné in 1599 with Fulani allies, hoping to take advantage of Songhai's defeat. [89] Moroccan fusiliers, deployed from Timbuktu, met them in battle, exposing Mali to the same technology (firearms) that had destroyed Songhai. Despite heavy losses, the mansa's army was not deterred and nearly carried the day. [89] However, the army inside Djenné intervened, forcing Mansa Mahmud Keita IV and his army to retreat to Kangaba. [85]

Collapse Edit

The mansa's defeat actually won Sundiata Keita the respect of Morocco, and may have saved it from Songhai's fate. It would be the Mandinka themselves that would cause the final destruction of the empire. Around 1610, Mahmud Keita IV died. Oral tradition states that he had three sons who fought over Manden's remains. No single Keita ever ruled Manden after Mahmud Keita IV's death, resulting in the end of the Mali Empire. [90]

Manden divided Edit

The old core of the empire was divided into three spheres of influence. Kangaba, the de facto capital of Manden since the time of the last emperor, became the capital of the northern sphere. The Joma area, governed from Siguiri, controlled the central region, which encompassed Niani. Hamana (or Amana), southwest of Joma, became the southern sphere, with its capital at Kouroussa in modern Guinea. [90] Each ruler used the title of mansa, but their authority only extended as far as their own sphere of influence. Despite this disunity in the realm, the realm remained under Mandinka control into the mid-17th century. The three states warred with each other as much, if not more, than they did against outsiders, but rivalries generally stopped when faced with invasion. This trend would continue into colonial times against Tukulor enemies from the west. [91]

The Bamana jihad Edit

Then, in 1630, the Bamana of Djenné declared their version of holy war on all Muslim powers in present-day Mali. [92] They targeted Moroccan pashas still in Timbuktu and the mansas of Manden. In 1645, the Bamana attacked Manden, seizing both banks of the Niger right up to Niani. [92] This campaign gutted Manden and destroyed any hope of the three mansas cooperating to free their land. The only Mandinka power spared from the campaign was Kangaba.

Sack of Niani Edit

Mama Maghan, mansa of Kangaba, campaigned against the Bamana in 1667 and laid siege to Segou–Koro for a reported three years. [93] Segou, defended by Bitòn Coulibaly, successfully defended itself and Mama Maghan was forced to withdraw. [93] Either as a counter-attack or simply the progression of pre-planned assaults against the remnants of Mali, the Bamana sacked and burned Niani in 1670. [92] Their forces marched as far north as Kangaba, where the mansa was obliged to make a peace with them, promising not to attack downstream of Mali. The Bamana, likewise, vowed not to advance farther upstream than Niamina. [94] Following this disastrous set of events, Mansa Mama Maghan abandoned the capital of Niani.

Organization Edit

The Manden Kurufaba founded by Mari Djata it was composed of the "three freely allied states" of Mali, Mema and Wagadou plus the Twelve Doors of Mali. [39] Mali, in this sense, strictly refers to the city-state of Niani.

The Twelve Doors of Mali were a coalition of conquered or allied territories, mostly within Manden, with sworn allegiance to Sundiata and his descendants. Upon stabbing their spears into the ground before Sundiata's throne, each of the twelve kings relinquished their kingdom to the Keita dynasty. [39] In return for their submission, they became "farbas", a combination of the Mandinka words "farin" and "ba" (great farin). [95] Farin was a general term for northern commander at the time. These farbas would rule their old kingdoms in the name of the mansa with most of the authority they held prior to joining the Manden Kurufaba.

The Great Assembly Edit

The Gbara or Great Assembly would serve as the Mandinka deliberative body until the collapse of the Manden Kurufa in 1645. Its first meeting, at the famous Kouroukan Fouga (Division of the World), had 29 clan delegates presided over by a belen-tigui (master of ceremony). The final incarnation of the Gbara, according to the surviving traditions of northern Guinea, held 32 positions occupied by 28 clans. [58]

Social, economic and governmental reformation Edit

The Kouroukan Fouga also put in place social and economic reforms including prohibitions on the maltreatment of prisoners and slaves, installing documents between clans which clearly stated who could say what about whom. Also, Sundiata divided the lands amongst the people assuring everyone had a place in the empire and fixed exchange rates for common products [96]

Administration Edit

The Mali Empire covered a larger area for a longer period of time than any other West African state before or since. What made this possible was the decentralised nature of administration throughout the state. According to Burkinabé writer Joseph Ki-Zerbo, the farther a person travelled from Niani, the more decentralised the mansa's power became. [97] Nevertheless, the mansa managed to keep tax money and nominal control over the area without agitating his subjects into revolt. At the local level (village, town and city), kun-tiguis elected a dougou-tigui (village-master) from a bloodline descended from that locality's semi-mythical founder. [98] The county level administrators called kafo-tigui (county-master) were appointed by the governor of the province from within his own circle. [60] Only at the state or province level was there any palpable interference from the central authority in Niani. Provinces picked their own governors via their own custom (election, inheritance, etc.). Regardless of their title in the province, they were recognised as dyamani-tigui (province master) by the mansa. [60] Dyamani-tiguis had to be approved by the mansa and were subject to his oversight. If the mansa didn't believe the dyamani-tigui was capable or trustworthy, a farba might be installed to oversee the province or administer it outright.

Mali Empire (ca. 1200- )

The Mali Empire was the second of three West African empires to emerge in the vast savanna grasslands located between the Sahara Desert to the north and the coastal rain forest in the south. Beginning as a series of small successor trading states, Ancient Ghana, the empire grew to encompass the territory between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Chad, a distance of nearly 1,800 miles. Encompassing all or part of the modern nations of Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad, at its height in 1300, Mali was one of the largest empires in the world.

The Mali Empire was strategically located between the West African gold mines and the agriculturally rich Niger River floodplain. Mali’s rise begins when the political leaders of Ghana could not reestablish that empire’s former glory following its conquest and occupation by the Almoravids in 1076. Consequently a number of small states vied to control the salt and gold trade that accounted for Ghana’s wealth and power.

In 1235 Sundiata Keita, the leader of one of these states, Kangaba, defeated its principal rival, the neighboring kingdom of Susu, and began consolidating power in the region. Sundiata’s conquest in 1235 is considered the founding of the Malian Empire. Under Sundiata’s successors Mali extended its control west to the Atlantic, south into the rain forest region, including the Wangara gold fields, and east beyond the great bend of the Niger River.

At its height in 1350 the Mali Empire was a confederation of three states, Mali, Memo and Wagadou and twelve garrisoned provinces. The emperor or mansa ruled over 400 cities, towns and villages of various ethnicities and controlled a population of approximately 20 million people from the capitol at Niani. The Malian Army numbered 100,000 men including 10,000 cavalry. During this time only the Mongol Empire (China) and the Russian Empire exceed Mali in size. The mansa reserved the exclusive right to dispense justice and to tax both local and international trade. That trade was centered in three major cities, Timbuktu, Djenne and Gao.

Between 1324 and 1325 Mansa Musa, the most famous of the Malian Emperors, made an elaborate pilgrimage through the current nation of Sudan and through Egypt on to Mecca in Arabia, bringing thousands of followers and hundreds of camels carrying gold. Through the highly publicized pilgrimage and indirectly through an elaborate trade that sent gold to the capitals of Europe and Asia, Mali and its ruler became famous throughout the known world.

Mali’s power however was eventually weakened by palace intrigue that prevented an orderly succession of imperial power and by the desire of smaller states to break free of its rule to reap the benefits of the salt and gold trade. The first people to achieve independence from Mali were the Wolof who resided in what is now Senegal. They established the Jolof Empire around 1350. In 1430 the nomadic Tuareg seized Timbuktu This conquest had enormous commercial and psychological consequences: a relatively small but united group had occupied the richest city in the Empire and one of the major sources of imperial wealth.

The greatest challenge, however, came from a rebellion in Gao that led to rise of Songhai. The once vassal state to Mali conquered Mema, one of the Empire’s oldest possessions in 1465. Three years later they took Timbuktu from the Tuareg.

Beginning in 1502, Songhai forces under Askia Muhammad took control of virtually all of Mali’s eastern possession including the sites for commercial exchange as well as the gold and copper mines at the southern and northern borders. Even the desperate effort by Mansa Mahmud III to craft an alliance with the Portuguese failed to stop Songhai’s advances. In 1545 a Songhai army routed the Malians and their emperor from their capital, Niani. Although Songhai never conquered what remained of the Empire of Mali, its victories effectively ended Malian power in the savanna.

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