GHANA EMPIRE

BRIEF HISTORY OF GHANA EMPIRE (700-1240)

There is no viable credibility when it comes to the history of Ghana empire due to a lack of written sources and meager result in archaeology.I am saying this because some scholars even go on to argue about the linking of the earlier founders of the Ghana empire to the Quairesh clan of the Prophet Muhammad either through his protector Abi Talib or through his son-in-law Ali,that was according to Al-Idrissi and Ibn Said.Another critical fact is that people always seems to be baffled whether Abu bakr,Kankam Musah,Mega,Diaba or Dinga was the king of this ancient kingdom since there was 22 kings who ruled before the Hijra and 22 after Hijra.

GHANA EMPIRE

Map of Ghana empire
Map of the old Ghana empire

The Ghana empire was also known as Wagadou/ouagadugou ,the Muslim geographers also called this place Middle Niger.The meaning of Ghana is Warrior kings or Chiefs,Ghana Empire was one of the great empires in sub-Sahel Africa and some part of the world,it’s wealth and magnificent architecture was awesome and still some of the ruins can be found at certain sites which then belongs to the Ghana empire.It was at it’s peak during the 7th to 13th century and it occupied the area of Savannah between the Niger River and Senegal River,these rivers and the Sahara desert to the north formed a natural triangle of flat grasslands that the Ghana Empire occupies,which is today’s southern portions of Mauritania and Mali.

RULERS

Diaba was their king but Dinga Cisse became the king after tricking Diaba pretending to be the eldest son,so the kingship later continued from the Cisse’s clan instead of Diaba. Cisse was it’s first major King but history suggest that several undocumented kings ruled before the empire becoming popular and prosperous.Moreover,Tunka Manin was the last king of Ghana from 1062 to 1076 C.E.

tunka manin
Tunka Manin,the last King of Ghana empire

The Ghana king was an absolute monarch and the state’s head of justice and religion,El Ghaba was the seat of the king.A popular Black Arab Moorish historian,who spent ample time during the end of Ghana empire,Al-Bakri,describes the capital in 1076 CE as being surrounded by wells and with irrigated fields where many vegetables grew.Sacrifices and libations were made in his honor,there were strict rules of etiquette and humbleness in his presence and,when he died,his tomb was laid in a sacred grove which no person could enter.

Al-Bakri had these to say about their king

The king adorns himself like a woman, wearing necklaces and bracelets, and when he sits before the people he puts on a high cap decorated with gold and wrapped in turbans of fine cotton…Behind the king stand ten pages holding shields and swords decorated with gold, and on his right are the sons of the vassal kings of his country wearing splendid garments and their hair plaited with gold.

(quoted in Krieger, 322)

Illustration of the capital of Ghana empire Kumbi-Saleh
Illustration of the king of Ghana empire sitting in his throne

KOUMBI SALEH THE CAPITAL

The capital of this great and wonderful empire was Koumbi Saleh,located 322 km (200 miles) north of modern Bamako,Mali,the city spread over an area of 110 acres (45 hectares) with many other smaller settlements surrounding it.The capital was divided into two,one for the Muslim traders and other part for the king,the two capitals was also divided into four provinces headed by a Fado(a governor/mayor).The Ghana Empire was mostly composed of the Soninke people,their common dialect was Mande or Mandingo as it is sometimes referred.The region dominated by the Soninke is often referred to as Wagadu by the Arabs and the indigenous people call it Wangara,excavations have also revealed a significant mosque,one of these mosques can be found in the upper western part of modern Ghana,there are also a large public square and parts of a circuit wall and monumental gateway.Their style of housing was typically storey and made with mud-dried bricks,pounded earth and wood or stone,this kind of houses is still in use today in Mali and some part of Niger.Al-Bakri again had these words to say when he visited

The king has a palace and a number of domed dwellings all surrounded with an enclosure like a city wall…Around the king’s town are domed buildings and groves and thickets where the sorcerers of these people,men in charge of the religious cult live.In them are their idols and the tombs of their kings.

(quoted in Fage, 668)

Larabanga
The Larabanga Mosque in the modern upper Ghana,which belongs to the Ghana empire.

the empire prospered mainly because of well-trained army which had cavalry units and access to raw materials such as iron ore,their blacksmiths are so finest that,they made weapons that aided them to fought many battles,they had abundance of gold deposits to pay its soldiers and other foreign employees like those Muslim merchants who act as interpreters and as officials,they were employed to manage the economy and keep track of the goods coming in and out of the country.Using of camels also helped them so much that,they used these beast to transport goods and people to vast areas,this gave them vivid advantage over their rivals,since the means of transportation was hectic.

Ancient Building in Ghana
Ruins of Ghana empire

AGRICULTURE

The land where Ghana empire occupied was inhabited since the Neolithic period as is evidenced by Iron Age tumuli,megaliths and remains of abandoned villages and the vast Niger River which mostly flooded parts of this dry grassland and Savannah,this provided fertile land for agriculture beginning at least 3,500 years ago.Their main food comprises of Cereals such as red-skinned African rice and millet, pulses,tuber and root crops,fiber plants and fruits.

ECONOMY

The empire flourished mainly because of the tax and tolls collected from the conquered states and the Gold,iron,copper,ivory and Salt trade at Wangara as well as caravans coming from places like Tripoli,Sigilmasa,Marakesh and Tunis.Goods were taxed twice,that is incoming and outgoing goods.the Ghana Empire also acquired new territories and the tribute from subjugated tribal chiefs and territories helped them to monopolize trade locally and regionally.Local deposits of copper were exploited and used for trade as well as metalworking,pottery was also of a great value to them,they also use copper wiring as a currency. The Empire dominated and controlled central West African trade in the upper valley of the Niger River from the 6th or 7th century CE.The regional trade was a lucrative business for the kings of Ghana who traded goods like gold,ivory,hides,ostrich feathers and slaves to the Sanhaja Berbers and the Arabs.Fishing and herding of cattle and goats were other important sources of food.Some of the commodities or materials that the empire trades with other kingdoms are horses,swords,spices,silks,and some books from the Europeans,mostly Cordoba in Spain.This books and other architectural technology from the Europeans also made the Ghana empire Educational hub in Africa at that time.

The Ghana empire also depended on it’s own resources from the iron ore and goldfields at Bambuk,the divisional chiefs or Fado’s also exchanges iron ore and gold for luxury goods such as fine patterned  textiles,beads,copper and horses,which were all brought by Arab traders from the north. The chiefs also has a loads of gold nuggets at their disposal,which mainly belongs to the king.On the contrary the reputation of Ghana spread to North Africa and Europe,where it was described as a fabulous land of gold and abundant riches.

RELIGION

Their main religion is that of a traditional religion,it’s the usual predominant African religion before the emergence of the Europeans and the Arabs .Oral traditions has it that a sacred python was worshiped during Ghana’s hay days and a maiden has to be scarified for the python deity,though Ghana later accepted the Islamic religion brought by the Muslim merchants as they continuously came into contact with local traders and the elite of urban areas.The king was also hold in mighty esteem since he acted as the head of the state African Traditional Religion.

DECLINE

As it is always the case for most African empires,the Ghana empire came to an abrupt end in the 12th century CE because of the influx of foreigners,drought,civil and tribal wars,the opening up of trade routes at other emerging empires,the rise of the Sosso (Susu) Kingdom 1180-1235 CE and then the Mali Empire 1240-1645 CE,as well as the invasion by the Almoravid’s in the mid 11th century CE,other sources also suggest that they neglected their state deity,other factors which contributed to the decline includes the trade route which were opened further east and a terrible dry climate also affected agricultural production in the empire.

One major catastrophe that crippled this great,wealthy and aggressive empire was the immense civil war,it was facilitated by the emergence of the newly arrived Islamic religion and African Traditional Religion.Other local rebellious chiefs also took this opportunity of internal conflict to also declare themselves independent,such as the Sosso and Tekrur in the Western Sudan region which controlled the main river route,the Senegal River.The great Sumanguru/Soumaoro Kanté was a king of the short flourished Sosso/Susu kingdom,he was defeated by Sundiata in 1235 CE,who later conquered the Ghana empire in 1240 CE,Sundiata later created the Mali Empire.

 

Ruins of Ghana Empire
Ruins of Ghana Empire later taken by the Mali empire.