The Kingdom of Ghana
The kingdom of Ghana lasted about 800 years, until the kingdom of Mali took over.
The kingdom of Ghana was rich! Ancient Ghana is located in a different place than the modern country of Ghana in West Africa. The ancient kingdom of Ghana was a key part of the Trans-Sahara Trade Route.
But even earlier than the trading that went on between east
and west Africa, the kingdom of Ghana acted as guards for the traders from the north, and the traders from the south. Ghana was in the middle. Ghana was a great military power in ancient times. They had an army of 200,000 fighting men. People in the north had salt mines. People in the south had gold mines. Ghana had an army that could protect the traders.
Ghana charged a fee for their protection in gold and in salt and in other goods. This arrangement worked well for everyone. Ghana became rich.
The people in Ghana were very happy. They worked hard, but they were safe and protected. They benefited from the wealth that poured into the empire. The king and nobles lived in the best houses, but they too were comfortable.
They had plenty to eat. The Niger River ran through ancient Ghana. The river provided water for bathing and washing. There were ample fish and waterfowl to eat. The people also farmed. They grew sweet potatoes and other vegetables. No one went hungry in ancient Ghana.
They were creative people. Their artists wove cotton fabrics. They designed these fabrics by painting wet mud on woven cloth, and then placing the fabric in the sun to dry. This created a permanent design in the cloth. It was very clever and very unique.
Their storytellers were called Griots. The Griots were the first to tell the wonderful stories of Anansi the Spider. The people believed in many gods and goddesses. The storytellers told stories about their gods, their people, their villages, their triumphs, their trades, their wonderful king, and of course, everyone's favorite, stories of Anansi the Spider.
The people of Ghana were peace loving. Their laws were gentle. People were important. The king had a council of elders to advise him. There were district leaders all over the kingdom to make sure people were treated fairly.
Ghana was so good at protection and trade that the kingdoms to the north and south of Ghana, along with Ghana herself, became known as the Gold Coast. Word of their wealth spread across Africa. Traders braved the Sahara Desert, bringing with them silks and spices to trade for gold. The kingdom of Ghana again acted as the protection for
traders. The more traders braved the
Trans-Sahara Trade Route, the more the
Camels and camel trains opened trade between west and east Africa. Crossing the
Sahara Desert was never easy. But camels made it possible. Camels were nicknamed the ships of the desert.
Camels can carry a great deal of weight. They go without water for a long time. They can keep their footing in sand. They can move quite rapidly.
It did not take long before towns sprang up wherever there was an oasis. Routes, of course, followed the these scattered patches of green.
In the late 1400s, Portugal tried to find a way around Africa by sea. They were successful. The southern tip of Africa was named The Cape of Good Hope. Vasco da Gama, a famous Portuguese explorer, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and continued on to India.
Traders began to travel and trade by ship. Even though travel across the desert did slow down, it never stopped. Travel by ship might be far less dangerous while at sea, but there were few natural harbors along the African coastline to safely anchor a ship.
Mali started as a small province in the kingdom of Ghana. In time, Mali took over.
Sundiata was Mali's young king. He was a great leader and very clever. Rather than simply trade with the people to the north and to the south, Sundiata expanded Mali so that Mali actually controlled some of the gold mines and some of the salt mines.
His son continued to expand Mali, when he took over as king.
But it was Sundiata's grandson, Mansa Musa, who has fascinated people for hundreds of years. Mansa Musa loved knowledge. He built a university in Timbuktu, one of the cities on the Trans-Sahara Trade Route. He established religious freedom. As for himself, he converted to Islam, and traveled extensively.
Mansa Musa and his adventures put the kingdom of Mali on the map.
When he took over as king, the empire of Mali had grown so big that Mansa Musa knew he could not hear all the concerns of all his people. One of the first things he did was to divide the empire into provinces. He put a governor in charge of each province. Each village had a mayor. Business that affected the empire was done by Mansa Musa and his advisors. The day to day problems were handled locally. Mansa Musa did not turn his back on his people. He made sure the local governments were operating fairly and effectively.
Mali was rich when Mansa Musa came to power. The army guarded the gold mines. They guarded sections of the trade routes. There were usually about 90,000 men on duty at any one time. Wealth in the form of gold poured into Mali. Traders always stopped at Mali. They knew they would be welcomed, fed, housed, and safe. Mansa Musa was generous. Trade with Mali was always good for the traders who had come so far.
Mansa Musa established religious freedom. Education was free and encouraged. He even established a university. People came from all over the world to study at this famous university. When Muslim scholars visited Mali, they were surprised at the people's clothes. They didn't look like Muslims. The women were unveiled. The clothes were colorful. But Mansa Musa was a great host and a devout Muslim. The scholars were understanding. They found their host delightful, if a bit unusual.
Mansa Musa knew his people needed him to act like a king. Every time he left his palace, he took about 300 guards and musicians and acrobats with him. It was quite a sight. The people loved it. They gathered as people would to watch a parade, which is exactly what it was. They would cry out, "Mansa Musa!"
As Mansa Musa wandered about, accompanied by his many guards and performers, he gave out presents. Some people were handed luxury goods. Others were given a small nugget of gold. The elders of every town received special gifts. No wonder the people loved him. He had so much wealth. He believed it should be shared.
On his way to the city of Mecca, Mansa Musa did what he always did - he took people and camels with him, along with a great deal of gold. On the way, he shared his wealth with the people he met. By the time he reached Cairo, in Egypt, word of his wealth had spread. People were packed along the streets waiting for his arrival.
By the time he was ready to return home, he had given out so much gold that he needed to borrow some to get home. But many nobles were eager to loan the king whatever he needed. They had no doubt they would be repaid. And they were. He gave paid back everyone who had loaned him gold to get home, more gold than he had been given.
Mansa Musa put Mali on the map. After his trip to Mecca, there was almost no one in the African world who did not know the great king, Mansa Musa.
The Kingdom of Songhai
them get away it because they wanted the fish. Songhai did a great job catching and trading fish.
Slowly, Songhai developed a strong army and a central government. The nobles were Muslin. The common people believed in the old gods. The lifestyle of the nobles and the common people began to change. The nobles became rich and comfortable. The
common people were poor and did all the work.
As Mali weakened, Songhai started to take charge of West Africa.
The first king of the new Songhai Empire was Sonni Ali the Great. Sonni Ali was a strong leader. He wanted to expand the Songhai Empire as rapidly as possible. To do so, he sent warriors, in canoes, up and down the waterways, to take over small towns and villages. The villages were glad to see them. They wanted someone in charge who had a strong army to protect them.
As Songhai grew, Sonni Ali sent warriors to take over landlocked cities, such as the city of Timbuktu. It was no long until Songhai had grown into the largest kingdom in West Africa. At one point, Songhai stretched 2,000 miles along the west African coast. They soon controlled all the gold mines in the south, and all the salt mines in the north. That gave them incredible power with the traders from the other side of the Sahara.
Songhai had all the gold and salt they needed. They had luxury goods. They nobles had everything except books. If you wanted to crack a great trade with Songhai, you needed to haul books across the Sahara Desert.