The GHANA EMPIRE (c. 400 until c. 1200), properly known as AWKAR
Ghana or Ga'na being the title of its ruler) was located in what is
Mauritania and western
Mali . Complex societies based
on trans-Saharan trade with salt and gold had existed in the region
since ancient times But the introduction of the camel to western
Sahara in the 3rd century A.D. gave way to great changes in the area
that became the
Ghana Empire. By the time of the Muslim conquest of
North Africa in the 7th century the camel had changed the ancient more
irregular trade routes into a trade network running from
Niger river . The
Empire grew rich from this increased
trans-Saharan trade in gold and salt allowing for larger urban centres
to develop. It furthermore encouraged territorial expansion to gain
control over the different trade-routes.
When Ghana's ruling dynasty began is uncertain; it is mentioned for
the first time in written records by Muḥammad ibn Mūsā
al-Khwārizmī in 830. In the 11th century the Cordoban scholar Abu
Ubayd al-Bakri collected stories from a number of travelers to the
region, and gave a detailed description of the kingdom. He claimed
Ghana could "put 200,000 men into the field, more than 40,000
of them archers" and noted they had cavalry forces as well.
As the empire declined it was finally made a vassal to the rising
Mali Empire at some point in the 13th century. When the Gold Coast in
1957 became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to regain its
independence from colonial rule it was renamed in honor of the long
gone empire from which the ancestors to the
Akan people of modern-day
Ghana are thought to have migrated.
* 1 Origin
* 1.1 Theories of foreign state founders
* 1.2 History of
Islam in the
* 1.3 Oral traditions
* 1.4 Theories concerning the foundation of
* 1.5 Contribution of archaeological research
* 2 Kumbi Saleh
* 2.1 El-Ghaba
* 2.2 Muslim district
* 2.3 Archaeology
* 3 Economy
* 4 Government
* 5 Decline
* 6 Aftermath and
* 7 Malinke rule
* 8 Etymology
* 9 Rulers
* 9.1 Soninke rulers ("Ghanas") of the Cisse dynasty
* 9.2 Almoravid occupation
* 9.4 Rulers during
* 9.5 Ghanas of Wagadou Tributary
* 10 See also
* 11 Notes
* 12 References
* 13 Further reading
* 14 External links
Trade routes of the Western Sahara c. 1000–1500. Goldfields
are indicated by light brown shading.
THEORIES OF FOREIGN STATE FOUNDERS
The origins of
Ghana have often been obscured by fights between
ethno-historic accounts and interpretations and archaeology. The
earliest discussions of its origins are found in the Sudanese
Mahmud Kati and Abd al-Rahman as-Sadi. According to
Kati's Tarikh al-Fettash in a section probably composed by the author
around 1580, but citing the authority of the chief judge of Massina,
Ida al-Massini who lived somewhat earlier, twenty kings ruled Ghana
before the advent of the Prophet, and the empire extended until the
century after the prophet (i.e. c. 822 AD). In addressing the rulers'
origin, the Tarikh al-Fettash provides three different opinions, one
that they were Black (i.e. Soninke ), another that they were Wangara ,
which are a Soninke group.
Al-Kati favored another interpretation in view of the fact that their
genealogies linked them to this group, adding "What is certain is that
they were not blacks" (min al-sawadin). While the sixteenth-century
versions of genealogies might have linked
Ghana to the Sanhaja,
earlier versions, for example as reported by the eleventh-century
writer al-Idrisi and the thirteenth-century writer ibn Said , noted
that rulers of
Ghana in those days traced their descent from the clan
of the Prophet Muhammad either through his protector
Abi Talib , or
through his son-in-law Ali. He says that 22 kings ruled before the
Hijra and 22 after. While these early views lead to many exotic
interpretations of a foreign origin of Wagadu, these views are
generally disregarded by scholars. Levtzion and Spaulding for example,
argue that al-Idrisi 's testimony should be looked at very critically
due to demonstrably gross miscalculations in geography and historical
chronology, while they themselves associate
Ghana with the local
Soninke. In addition, the archaeologist and historian Raymond Mauny
argues that al-Kati's and al-Sadi's view of a foreign origin cannot be
regarded as reliable. He argues that the interpretations were based on
the later presence (after Ghana's demise) of nomadic interlopers on
the assumption that they were the historic ruling caste, and that the
writers did not adequately consider contemporary accounts such as
those of al-Yakqubi (872 A.D.) al-Masudi (c. 944 A.D.), Ibn Hawqal (c.
977 A.D.), al-Biruni (c. 1036 A.D.), as well as al-Bakri, all of whom
describe the population and rulers of
Ghana as "negroes".
HISTORY OF ISLAM IN THE GHANA EMPIRE
Modern scholars, particularly African Muslim scholars, have argued
about the extension of the
Empire and tenure of its reign.
Islamic religion was known very well around the Asian-African-European
area. The African Arabist,
Abu-Abdullah Adelabu has claimed that some
non-Muslim historians played down the territorial expansion of the
Empire in what he called an attempt to undermine the influence
Islam in Old Ghana. In his work The
Ghana World: A Pride For The
Continent, Adelabu maintained that works of such Muslim historians and
geographers in Europe as the Cordoban scholar Abu-Ubayd al-Bakri had
been subjugated to accommodate contrary views of non-Muslim Europeans.
Adelabu claimed constant cold-shouldering of Ibn Yasin 's Geography
of School Of
Imam Malik in which he gave a comprehensive account of
social and religious activities in the
Empire have well-attested
compositional bias of
Ghana history documentation, especially by the
European historians on topics related to
Islam and the ancient Muslim
societies. Adelabu said: "...the early Muslim documentaries including
Ibn Yasin 's revelations on ancient African major centers of Muslim
culture crossing the
Maghreb and the
Timbuktu and downward to
Ashanti regions had not just presented researchers in the field of
African History with solutions to the scarcity of written sources in
large parts of sub-Saharan Africa , it consolidated confidence in
techniques of oral history, historical linguistics and archaeology for
authentic Islamic traditions in Africa".
See also: History of the
In the late nineteenth century, as French forces occupied the region
in which ancient
Ghana lay, colonial officials began collecting
traditional accounts, including some manuscripts written in Arabic
somewhat earlier in the century. Several such traditions were recorded
and published. While there are variants, these traditions called the
most ancient polity they knew of Wagadu, or the "place of the Wago"
the term current in the nineteenth century for the local nobility. The
traditions described the kingdom as having been founded by a man named
Dinga, who came "from the east", after which he migrated to a variety
of locations in the Western Sudan, in each place leaving children by
different wives. In order to achieve power in his final location he
had to kill a goblin , and then marry his daughters, who became the
ancestors of the clans that were dominant in the region at the time of
the recording of the tradition. Upon Dinga's death, his two sons Khine
and Dyabe contested the kingship, and Dyabe was victorious, founding
THEORIES CONCERNING THE FOUNDATION OF GHANA
French colonial officials, notably
Maurice Delafosse , concluded that
Ghana had been founded by the Berbers, a nomadic group originating
from the Benu River, from Middle Africa, and linked them to North
African and Middle Eastern origins. While Delafosse produced a
convoluted theory of an invasion by "Judeo-Syrians", which he linked
Fulbe , others took the tradition at face value and simply
accepted that nomads had ruled first. Raymond Mauny, synthesizing
early archaeology, various traditions, and the Arabic materials in
1961 concluded that foreign trade was vital to the empire's
foundation. More recent work, for example by Nehemiah Levtzion , in
his classic work published in 1973, sought to harmonize archaeology,
descriptive geographical sources written between 830 and 1400, the
older traditions of the Tarikhs, from the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries and finally the traditions collected by French
administrators. Levtzion concluded that local developments, stimulated
by trade from North Africa were crucial in the development of the
state, and tended to favor the more recently collected traditions over
the other traditions in compiling his work. While there has not been
much further study of either traditions or documents, archaeologists
have added considerable nuance to the ultimate play of forces.
CONTRIBUTION OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH
Archaeological research was slow to enter the picture. While French
archaeologists believed they had located the capital, Koumbi-Saleh in
the 1920s, when they located extensive stone ruins in the general area
given in most sources for the capital, and others argued that
elaborate burials in the Niger Bend area may have been linked to the
empire, it was not until 1969, when Patrick Munson excavated at Dhar
Tichitt in modern-day
Mauretania that the probability of an entirely
local origin was raised. The Dar Tichitt site had clearly become a
complex civilization by 1600 BCE and had architectural and material
culture elements that seemed to match the site at Koumbi-Saleh. In
more recent work in Dar Tichitt, and then in Dhar Nema and Dhar Walata
, it has become more and more clear that as the desert advanced, the
Dhar Tichitt culture (which had abandoned its earliest site around 300
BC, possibly because of pressure from desert nomads, but also because
of increasing aridity) and moved southward into the still well watered
areas of northern Mali. This now seems the likely history of the
complex society that can be documented at Koumbi-Saleh.
The empire's capital is believed to have been at
Koumbi Saleh on the
rim of the Sahara desert. According to the description of the town
Al-Bakri in 1067/1068, the capital was actually two cities 10
kilometres (6 mi) apart but "between these two towns are continuous
habitations", so that they might be said to have merged into one.
According to al-Bakri, the major part of the city was called El-Ghaba
and was the residence of the king. It was protected by a stone wall
and functioned as the royal and spiritual capital of the Empire. It
contained a sacred grove of trees used for Sonink religious rites in
which priests lived. It also contained the king's palace, the grandest
structure in the city, surrounded by other "domed buildings". There
was also one mosque for visiting Muslim officials. (El-Ghaba,
coincidentally or not, means "The Forest" in Arabic.)
The name of the other section of the city is not recorded. It was
surrounded by wells with fresh water, where vegetables were grown. It
was inhabited almost entirely Muslims along with twelve mosques , one
of which was designated for Friday prayers, and had a full group of
scholars, scribes and Islamic jurists. Because the majority of these
Muslims were merchants, this part of the city was probably its primary
business district. It is likely that these inhabitants were largely
black Muslims known as the Wangara and are today known as Dyula and
Jakhanke. The separate and autonomous ran towns outside of the main
government is a well known practice used by the Dyula and Jakhanke
Muslims throughout history.
The Western Nile according to al-Bakri (1068) The Western
Nile according to
Muhammad al-Idrisi (1154)
A seventeenth-century chronicle written in
Timbuktu , the Tarikh
al-fattash , gives the name of the capital as "Koumbi". Beginning in
the 1920s, French archaeologists began excavating the site of
Koumbi-Saleh, although there have always been controversies about the
location of Ghana's capital and whether Koumbi-Saleh is the same town
as the one described by al-Bakri. The site was excavated in 1949–50
by Thomassey and Mauny and by another French team in 1975–81.
However, the remains of
Koumbi Saleh are impressive, even if the
remains of the royal town, with its large palace and burial mounds has
not been located. Another problem for archaeology is that al-Idrisi, a
twelfth-century writer, described Ghana's royal city as lying on a
riverbank, a river he called the "Nile" following the geographic
custom of his day of confusing the Niger and Senegal, which do not
meet, as forming a single river often called the "Nile of the Blacks".
Whether al-Idrisi was referring to a new and later capital located
elsewhere, or whether there was confusion or corruption in his text is
unclear, however he does state that the royal palace he knew of was
built in 510 AH (1116–1117 AD), suggesting that it was a newer town,
rebuilt closer to the Niger than Koumbi Saleh.
Most of our information about the economy of
Ghana comes from
Al-Bakri noted that merchants had to pay a one gold dinar
tax on imports of salt, and two on exports of salt. Other products
paid fixed dues, al-Bakri mentioned both copper and "other goods."
Imports probably included products such as textiles, ornaments and
other materials. Many of the hand-crafted leather goods found in old
Morocco also had their origins in the empire. The main centre of
Koumbi Saleh . The king claimed as his own all nuggets of
gold, and allowed other people to have only gold dust. In addition to
the exerted influence of the king onto local regions, tribute was also
received from various tributary states and chiefdoms to the empire's
periphery. The introduction of the camel played a key role in Soninke
success as well, allowing products and goods to be transported much
more efficiently across the Sahara. These contributing factors all
helped the empire remain powerful for some time, providing a rich and
stable economy that was to last over several centuries. The empire was
also known to be a major education hub.
Much testimony on ancient
Ghana depended on how well disposed the
king was to foreign travellers, from which the majority of information
on the empire comes. Islamic writers often commented on the
social-political stability of the empire based on the seemingly just
actions and grandeur of the king. A Moorish nobleman living in Spain
by the name of
Al-Bakri questioned merchants who visited the empire in
the 11th century and wrote of the king:
He sits in audience or to hear grievances against officials in a
domed pavilion around which stand ten horses covered with
gold-embroidered materials. Behind the king stand ten pages holding
shields and swords decorated with gold, and on his right are the sons
of the kings of his country wearing splendid garments and their hair
plaited with gold. The governor of the city sits on the ground before
the king and around him are ministers seated likewise. At the door of
the pavilion are dogs of excellent pedigree that hardly ever leave the
place where the king is, guarding him. Around their necks they wear
collars of gold and silver studded with a number of balls of the same
Ghana appears to have had a central core region and was surrounded by
vassal states. One of the earliest sources to describe Ghana,
al-Ya'qubi, writing in 889/90 (276 AH) says that "under his authority
are a number of kings" which included Sama and 'Am (?) and so extended
at least to the Niger valley. These "kings" were presumably the
rulers of the territorial units often called kafu in Mandinka.
The Arabic sources, the only ones to give us any information, are
sufficiently vague as to how the country was governed, that we can say
very little. Al-Bakri, far and away the most detailed one, does
mention that the king had officials (mazalim) who surrounded his
throne when he gave justice, and these included the sons of the "kings
of his country" which we must assume are the same kings that
al-Ya'qubi mentioned in his account of nearly two hundred years
earlier. Al-Bakri's detailed geography of the region shows that in his
day, or 1067/1068,
Ghana was surrounded by independent kingdoms, and
Sila, one of them located on the Senegal River, was "almost a match
for the king of Ghana." Sama is the only such entity mentioned as a
province, as it was in al-Ya'qubi's day.
In al-Bakri's time, the rulers of
Ghana had begun to incorporate more
Muslims into government, including the treasurer, his interpreter and
"the majority of his officials."
Given the scattered nature of the Arabic sources and the ambiguity of
the existing archaeological record, it is difficult to determine when
Ghana declined and fell. The earliest descriptions of the
Empire are vague as to its maximum extent, though according to
Ghana had forced Awdaghast in the desert to accept its rule
sometime between 970 and 1054. By al-Bakri's own time, however, it
was surrounded by powerful kingdoms, such as Sila.
Ghana was combined
in the kingdom of
Mali in 1240 marking the end of the
A tradition in historiography maintains that
Ghana fell when it was
sacked by the Almoravid movement in 1076–77, although Ghanaians
resisted attack for a decade. but this interpretation has been
questioned. Conrad and Fisher (1982) argued that the notion of any
Almoravid military conquest at its core is merely perpetuated
folklore, derived from a misinterpretation or naive reliance on Arabic
sources. Dierke Lange agrees but argues that this does not preclude
Almoravid political agitation, claiming that Ghana's demise owed much
to the latter. Sheryl L. Burkhalter(1992) was sceptical of Conrad and
Fisher's arguments and suggested that there was reasons to believe
that there was conflict between the Almoravids and the empire of
Ghana. Furthermore, the archaeology of ancient
Ghana simply does not
show the signs of rapid change and destruction that would be
associated with any Almoravid-era military conquests.
While there is no clear-cut account of a sack of
Ghana in the
contemporary sources, the country certainly did convert to Islam, for
al-Idrisi, whose account was written in 1154, has the country fully
Muslim by that date.
Ibn Khaldun , a fourteenth-century North African
historian who read and cited both al-Bakri and al-Idrisi, does report
an ambiguous account of the country's history as related to him by
'Uthman, a faqih of
Ghana who took a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1394, that
the power of
Ghana waned as that of the "veiled people" grew, through
the Almoravid movement. Al-Idrisi's report does not give any reason
in particular to cause us to believe that the
Empire was any smaller
or weaker than it had been in the days of al-Bakri, seventy five years
earlier, and in fact he describes its capital as "the greatest of all
towns of the Sudan with respect to area, the most populous, and with
the most extensive trade." It is clear, however, that
incorporated into the
Mali Empire , according to a detailed account of
al-'Umari, written around 1340, but based on testimony given to him by
the "truthful and trustworthy shaykh Abu Uthman Sa'id al-Dukkali, a
long term resident. In al-'Umari/al-Dukkali's version,
retained its functions as a sort of kingdom within the empire, its
ruler being the only one allowed to bear the title malik and "who is
like a deputy unto him."
AFTERMATH AND SOSSO OCCUPATION
According to Ibn Khaldun, following Ghana's conversion, "the
authority of the rulers of
Ghana dwindled away and they were overcome
by the Sosso...who subjugated and subdued them." Some modern
traditions identify the Susu as the
Sosso , inhabitants of
According to much later traditions, from the late nineteenth and
twentieth centuries, Diara Kante took control of
Koumbi Saleh and
established the Diarisso Dynasty. His son,
Soumaoro Kante , succeeded
him and forced the people to pay him tribute. The
Sosso also managed
to annex the neighboring Mandinka state of
Kangaba to the south, where
the important goldfields of Bure were located.
In his brief overview of Sudanese history, ibn Khaldun related that
"the people of
Mali outnumber the peoples of the Sudan in their
neighborhood and dominated the whole region." He went on to relate
that they "vanquished the Susu and acquired all their possessions,
both their ancient kingdom and that of Ghana." According to a modern
tradition, this resurgence of
Mali was led by
Sundiata Keita , the
Mali and ruler of its core area of Kangaba. Delafosse
assigned an arbitrary but widely accepted date of 1230 to the event.
This tradition states that
Ghana Soumaba Cisse, at the time a vassal
of the Sosso, rebelled with
Kangaba and became part of a loose
federation of Mande-speaking states. After Soumaoro's defeat at the
Battle of Kirina in 1235 (a date again assigned arbitrarily by
Delafosse), the new rulers of
Koumbi Saleh became permanent allies of
Mali Empire . As
Mali became more powerful, Koumbi Saleh's role as
an ally declined to that of a submissive state, and it became the
client described in al-'Umari/al-Dukkali's account of 1340.
Ghana means "warriors" and was the title given to the rulers
of the original kingdom whose Soninke name was Ouagadou. Kaya Maghan
(lord of the gold) was another title for these kings. The
extraordinary renown of the
Ghana empire induced
Kwame Nkrumah , the
political leader of the Gold Coast, to name his country
Ghana when it
attained independence in 1957.
* King Kaya Magha (or Kaya Magan): circa 350 AD
* 21 kings, names unknown: circa 350 AD–622 AD
* 21 kings, names unknown: circa 622 AD–790 AD
* King Reidja Akba: 1400–1415 (in Awkar)
SONINKE RULERS ("GHANAS") OF THE CISSE DYNASTY
* Mayan Dyabe Cisse: circa 790s
* Bassi : 1040–1062
Tunka Manin : 1062–1076
Abu Bakr ibn Umar : 1076–1087
* Kambine Diaresso: 1087-1090
* Suleiman: 1090-1100
* Bannu Bubu: 1100-1120
* Majan Wagadou: 1120-1130
* Gane: 1130-1140
* Musa: 1140-1160
* Birama: 1160-1180
RULERS DURING KANIAGA OCCUPATION
* Diara Kante: 1180-1202
* Soumaba Cisse as vassal of Soumaoro: 1203–1235
GHANAS OF WAGADOU TRIBUTARY
* Soumaba Cisse as ally of Sundjata Keita: 1235–1240
* History of the
Islam in Africa
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sources", History in Africa, 10: 53–78,
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* Cornevin, Robert (1965), "Ghana", Encyclopaedia of
Islam Volume 2
(2nd ed.), Leiden: Brill, pp. 1001–2, ISBN 90-04-07026-5 .
* Cuoq, Joseph M., translator and editor (1975), Recueil des sources
arabes concernant l'Afrique occidentale du VIIIe au XVIe siècle
(Bilād al-Sūdān) (in French), Paris: Éditions du Centre National
de la Recherche Scientifique CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link
). Reprinted in 1985 with corrections and additional texts, ISBN
2-222-01718-1 . Similar to Levtzion and Hopkins, 1981 & 2000.
* Masonen, Pekka (2000), The Negroland revisited: Discovery and
invention of the Sudanese middle ages, Helsinki: Finnish Academy of
Science and Letters, pp. 519–23, ISBN 951-41-0886-8 .
* Mauny, Raymond (1971), "The Western Sudan", in Shinnie, P.L., The
African Iron age, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 66–87, ISBN
* Monteil, Charles (1954), "La légende du Ouagadou et l’origine
des Soninke", Mélanges Ethnologiques, Dakar: Mémoire de l'Institute
Français d'Afrique Noire 23, pp. 359–408 .
* African Kingdoms Ghana
* Empires of west Sudan
* Kingdom of Ghana, Primary Source