African Kingdoms. The Kingdom of Ghana

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1 African Kingdoms The Kingdom of Ghana The origins of the ancient Kingdom of Ghana are unclear but historians believe that the roots of the kingdom can be found around the start of the first millennium AD. Historians say that the kingdom was created when a number of the clans of the Sonike people formed a group led by Dinga Cisse, who was reputed to have semi-divine status. There are many different stories about him but it is said that he originated a long way away from the region of Ghana and was at first considered to be an outsider by the Sonike people. A federation was created possibly in response to frequent attacks by nomadic tribes who were attempting to gain a foothold in the region and who were also possibly trying to escape from a severe drought in the area that they originated from. The Kingdom of Ghana emerged from the Sononke speaking agriculturalists. They lived between the edge of the desert and woods on the desert s peripheral. Because of the camel trains coming down from the north and the gold producing areas in the south it found itself strategically in a strong position and was able to raise revenue by levying taxes on the lucrative gold trade. By the 5 th Century AD, the Kingdom of Ghana or Akwar had been formed in what is now a part of south eastern Mauritania. Future African kingdoms modeled themselves on the political and economic structures of this kingdom. By the beginning of the 2 nd Millennium Ghana had transformed itself into a major power in this part of Africa. Ghana was dominated by the Soninke people who spoke Mande and lived along the southern edges of the Sahara Desert. Their military were equipped with iron weapons and at the height of their power and influence the kingdom had total control over the salt and gold trade. Trade routes passing through the kingdom went north towards Morocco, east to Lake Chad and west towards the coastal forest regions. The kingdom was ruled by a king called Ghana and where the modern state of Ghana got its inspiration and name from, though geographically the two states are not linked. The original kingdom was to be found 400 miles northwest of today s modern state of Ghana. Today northern Senegal and southern Mauritania form the present boundaries of the ancient Ghanaian kingdom. The kingship was matrilineal. It was the sister of the king who

2 provided the next heir to the throne. Both the military and legal system was controlled by the ruling monarch. Their main city of Kumbi Saleh was built along the southern rim of the Sahara. It became a vibrant and important hub and terminus of the trans- Saharan trade routes. This capital city prospered between the years 300 AD and 1240 AD. The city was divided into two sections. One part was occupied by the king, his court and the indigenous population. The other section was built specifically for Muslim traders. Some of the houses in Kumbi Saleh were several storey s high. They came complete with basement rooms, stairwells and linked halls. Some of these dwelling houses had as many as nine rooms. The population in just one area of the city could have amounted to over 30,000 people. The two parts of the city were separated by a distance of six miles. Later on the city of Audaghurst rose to become yet another vital trading city in the Kingdom of Ghana. As the kingdom evolved into a major trading nation it also developed a comprehensive tax system which enabled it to develop integrated infrastructures. The geographer Al-Bakri wrote an account of Kumbi Saleh saying, The city of Ghana consists of two towns situated on a plain. One of these towns which is inhabited by Muslims is large and possesses twelve mosques, in one of which they assemble for Friday prayer. There are salaried imams and muezzins as well as jurists and scholars. The king s town is six miles distant from this one. The king has a palace and a number of domed dwellings all surrounded with an enclosure like a city wall. Around the king s town are domed buildings and groves and thickets where the sorcerers of these people, men in charge of the religious cult live. In them are their idols and the tombs of their kings. William Winwood Reade, a 19 th Century historian, believed that there were thousands of walled cities in existence in Africa at the time and that these walled cities had the same feel as Europe did in the Middle Ages. Surrounding the walled city was farmland. The king lived in luxury and one account of the royal court describes how,

3 The king adorns himself like a woman wearing necklaces round his neck and bracelets on his forearms and puts on a high hat decorated with gold and wrapped in a turban of fine cotton. He holds an audience in a domed pavilion around which stands ten horses covered with gold embroidered materials and on his right side are the sons of vassal kings of his country, wearing splendid garments and their hair plaited with gold. At the door of the pavilion are dogs of excellent pedigree. Round their necks they wear collars of gold and silver, studded with a number of balls of the same material. The king was believed to possess divine powers. Within the court system there were a number of Islamic interpreters and treasurers. Gold helped to form and create the economic power and wealth of Ghana. Large amounts of wealth were generated by trade to western parts of Africa, Egypt and the Middle East. Gold, salt and copper formed the basis of this expanding trade which in turn caused the Kingdom of Ghana to expand in size and influence. The arrival of the camel as a means of transportation along the major trade routes traversing Ghana enabled trade with the outside world to increase. An Arabic writer called Al Hamdari stated that the gold mines in Ghana were the richest ones in the world. The gold mines were located at Bambuk on the shores of the Upper Senegal River. Slaves, salt and gold were exchanged by the Sonike for textiles, beads and finished goods. There also was an increased demand for gold from West Africa because of the Islamists increased need for gold. This in turn led to an expansion of the trans-saharan trade routes. Much our knowledge about the ancient Kingdom of Ghana comes from Arabic writers. Some of these writers were putting pen to paper long before Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales in the 14 th Century. Most British people at this time could not read or write whilst one can assume that these Arabic writers had an audience who were literate and widely read. Ghana as a kingdom never converted to Islam but Muslims were given the freedom to practice their religious beliefs and were integrated into the existing state structures. The Berber community who were deeply involved in shifting goods northwards and called themselves Almororavids converted to Islam in 1075 and called for a jihad against Ghana. The outcome of this jihad is not known but after 1100 Years AD the kingdom ceased to be a viable economic and military power in the region. This conversion to Islam and the formation of the Almoravid Kingdom in the 11 th Century allowed for

4 better communications along trade routes as Arabic became the language of business. The collapse of the Kingdom of Ghana may have been partly caused by the rise of other competitors, by over farming agricultural land and the over exploitation of natural resources. New roads were opened up in the east and Ghana found itself under attack by the Sosso king Sumanguru. In 1235 the Malinke people found themselves under the rule of King Sundiata Keita who establish the Kingdom of Mali which superseded Ghana as the new regional power.

5 Classroom Activities The Ancient Kingdom of Ghana 1. Map out the ancient Kingdom of Ghana. On the map mark the main cities and towns, the rivers, the trade routes and the gold and salt mines as well as the main agricultural regions and the Niger Bend. 2. Create your own travel journal. Imagine that you are a traveler witnessing the traditional customs and rituals of the Kingdom of Ghana for the first time. Sketch some of the sights that you may have encountered. 3. Create and devise a board game based upon the rise and fall of the Kingdom of Ghana. The game must include 5 reasons for its rise and 5 reasons for its decline. Also include a number of different types of individuals who would have been found in the Kingdom of Ghana such as Islamic traders and merchants, courtiers, musicians, farmers, soldiers and gold miners. 4. Draw a historical time line which charts the rise and fall of the Kingdom of Ghana. 5. Create a 3-D model of Kumbi Saleh. 6. Write and script pieces of drama based around the Kingdom of Ghana. These pieces of drama could also include musical soundtracks. The class will work in small groups and these series of short one act plays could be performed to the whole school.

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