Traditional clothing of West Africa:

  1. A woman in ceremonial dress (Benin)
  2. Dancers in traditional wear (Ashanti-Ghana)
  3. Girl in traditional dress (Burkina Faso)
  4. Woman in traditional dress (Togo)
  5. Woman in traditional dress (Fulani-Gambia)
  6.  A women in traditional clothing (Itsekiri-Nigeria)
  7. Girl in traditional dress (Niger) 
  8. Girl in traditional dress (Songhai-Mali)
  9. A group of women in traditional dress (Senegal)
  10. Woman in traditional clothing (Mauritania)

If you have any corrections, please notify me directly as opposed to reblogging it or else I may not see it. 


Morgan Freeman and Kimberly Elise from Songhai kingdom!

Songhai, also spelled Songhay are great ancient fearless warriors, highly intellectual and agro-fishery ethnolinguistic group having more than three million members who inhabit the area of the great bend in the Niger River in Mali, extending from Lake Debo through Niger to the mouth of the Sokoto River in Nigeria.

Ethnic Songhai girl wears a traditional Songhai headdress made by artisan Hally Bara in Gao, Mali, March 6, 2013.Reuters/Joe Penney

Some nomadic Songhai groups live in Mali, Niger, and southeastern Algeria. The Songhai are composed of many related groups, the most important of which are the Zarma, with more than two million speakers. It is widely assumed that their languages form a branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family.

Songhai man from Mali

The Songhai formed one of the great empires of Western Africa. Since the mid-1400s, the Songhai have been known as great and fearless warriors. A multi-talented people, they used their extensive organizational skills to conquer their neighbors and develop a government for one of the three great medieval West African empires. Ultimately, the ancestral lands grew to encompass over 60 miles from each bank of the upper bend of the Niger River in what is today eastern Mali and western Niger.

Songhai girl, Niger

Songhai society traditionally was highly structured, comprising a king and nobility, free commoners, artisans, griots (bards and chroniclers), and slaves. Marriage could be polygynous, cross cousins being preferred partners. Descent and succession are patrilineal. Cultivation, largely of cereals, is practiced intensively only during the rainy season, from June to November.

Cattle are raised on a small scale, and fishing is of some importance. As a result of their advantageous location at the crossroads of western and central Africa, the Songhai have traditionally prospered from caravan trade. Many young Songhai have left home for the coast, especially modern Republic of Ghana.

Professor Ahmed Baba (1556-1627), highly distinguished intellectual in ancient Timbuctu

The Songhai had a great warrior like Emperor Sonni Ali Ber and among its most noted scholars was Ahmed Baba—a highly distinguished historian frequently quoted in the Tarikh al-Sudan and other works.
Morgan Freeman and Kimberly Elise are some notable descendants of the Songhai.

Holleywood actor Morgan Freeman trace his ancestry to Songhai people

The Songhay are proud of their heroic past and celebrate it in song, dance, and epic poetry. Singing, dancing, and praise-songs, performed by griots (both male and female), are central to the celebration of births, marriages, and holidays. Epic poetry is also performed on secular and religious holidays. Poetry performances are frequently broadcast on national radio.

Actress Kimberly Elise trace her ancestry to Songhai people

Akans of West Africa (Ghana and Cote d`Ivoire) and Guans in Ghana have historical affinity, common migration stories as well as some blood relations with the Songhai people. In fact Akans and Guans were part of Songhai people before leaving southwards. Akans and Guans settled in Gao and Timbuctu for so many years and were part of Songhai civilization before the spread of Islam and the fall of the empire led them to other emerging empires and later to the Gold Coast (now Ghana).
The Songhai (Gao and Timbuctu) people also continue to see Akans (Fantes), especially those in Ghana as their blood relatives.

The ancestral folk figure Faran Maka Bote is a Songhay culture hero. His father, Nisili Bote, was a fisherman. His mother, Maka, was a river spirit. Faran grew to be a giant with vast magical powers. As an adult he battled a river spirit, Zinkibaru, for control of the Niger River, and won. But he soon became overconfident. Dongo, the deity of lightning and thunder, demonstrated his anger toward Faran by burning villages and killing people. He summoned Faran and demanded that the giant pay his humble respects by offering music, praise-poems, and animal sacrifices. Dongo told Faran that if he organized festivals, Dongo would descend into the bodies of dancers and help the people along the Niger River.

Modern Songhay stage similar events, called possession ceremonies. The praise-singers, or sorko, are said to be direct descendants of Faran Make Bote. In this way, Songhay myths are kept alive through social and religious activities.

Songhai people speak Songhay language and it is spoken by 3 million people in the Republics of Mali, Niger, and Benin. There are several dialects of Song-hay. Because Mali, Niger, and Benin are all French-speaking nations, many Songhay people living in these states speak French.

The dialect of Koyraboro Senni spoken in Gao is unintelligible to speakers of the Zarma dialect of Niger, according to at least one report. The Songhay languages are commonly taken to be Nilo-Saharan but this classification remains controversial: Dimmendaal (2008) believes that for now it is best considered an independent language family.
A typical greeting is: Manti ni kaani (How did you sleep?). One usually replies, Baani sami, walla, meaning, “I slept well, in health.” At bedtime, one says: Iri me kaani baani, which means “May we both sleep in health and peace.”

The Songhai people are descendants of precolonial African empire of Songhai (Songhay). Their original home is the region of Dendi (meaning, essentially, ‘south, downstream’) in the south of what is now the Republic of Niger and the extreme north of the Republic of Bénin. Dendi was a province of the Songhay empire, whose governor, the Dendi-fari, was one of the highest ranking state officials. It was to Dendi that the askiyas retired after defeat at the hands of Moroccan forces in 1591, and from there that they organized resistance. Dendi was an ancient source of warriors for Songhay.

Given the mobility of the Sorko, it is likely that they were the first Songhay speakers (or speakers of proto-Songhay) to move upstream from Dendi and to establish small settlements on the banks of the Niger. One such settlement may have been at Kukiya, just above the rapids of Fafa and Labbezenga where canoes would have had to be unloaded and carried some distance during the low-water season. At some stage they may have been followed on land by Songhay-speakers mounted on small local horses who subdued the
existing agricultural populations—perhaps of Voltaic origin—as they went.

Kukiya would have attracted settlement as a natural way station on the river route, and by the fact that it was close to the northern limit of rain-fed agriculture, that is, if rainfall at that time (somewhere in the first millenium) was roughly the same as at the present day. These incoming Songhay horsemen would have established control over the Sorko there and, while forming a symbiotic relationship with them, would have made them the inferior partner. This process may have been mythologized in the legend of the alleged Yemeni brothers who arrived at Kukiya, one of whom killed the river god (symbolized as a fish), and assumed that god’s position of authority over the local folk.

Later, when North African traders arrived on the banks of the Niger at the mouth of the Tilemsi valley—probably in the early ninth century—they began by doing business with Sorko encamped on the opposite bank. As this developed into more regular trading, per–haps involving grain transported from south of Kukiya, the Songhay chiefs at Kukiya were encouraged to move north to dominate this trade, and settle themselves on the left bank at what became Gao (or Kawkaw in the traders’ parlance). The settlement
flourished, and North African traders established a permanent settlement for them–selves at Sane, some five miles up the Tilemsi valley on the right bank of a wadi. By the tenth century the Songhay settlement at Gao had developed into a small kingdom that had established its hege–mony over the peoples living along the trade routes that radiated out from Gao: northwards towards T!dmakkat, eastwards towards Aïr, and westwards towards Ancient Ghana.

Emperor Sonni Ali Ber of Songhai

This first Songhay kingdom could flourish because it lay at a crossroads of trade routes leading on the one hand to North Africa, and on the other to Egypt. The raison d’être of both routes was the gold-dust that these Mediterranean-based merchants obtained from Ancient Ghana. The merchants could also bring southwards that precious commodity, salt, on which the Gao rulers seem to have maintained a monopoly; they may also have brought the larger Barbary horses which could be cross-bred with local horses to produce a breed that was both stronger and better adapted to local conditions, thus facilitating domination of neighbouring peoples. One by-product of such domination would have been slaves, which could be bartered
with the North African merchants for more horses or for other goods.
With the decline of Mali, the kingdom of Gao reasserted itself as the major kingdom in the Sahel. The people of Songhay were farmers and fisherman who who lived along the Niger River of West Africa. After centuries of resistance, they came were converted to Islam around the 1200s. A Songhay kingdom in the region of Gao had existed since the eleventh century AD, but it had come under the control of Mali in 1325. In the late fourteenth century, Gao reasserted itself with the Sunni dynasty. Songhay would not fully eclipse Mali until the reign of the Sunni king, Sonni Ali, who reigned from 1464-1492.

Sonni Ali aggressively turned the kingdom of Gao into the Songhay empire. Ali based his military on a cavalry and a highly mobile fleet of ships. With this military, he conquered the cities of Timbuctu and Jenné, the major cities of the Mali. The Berbers, who had always played such a crucial role in the downfall of Sahelian kingdoms, were driven from the region. Roughly around the same year Christopher Columbus had reached the western hemisphere, Askia Muhammad Touré (1493-1528), established the Askia dynasty of Songhay. Muhammad Touré continued Sonni Ali’s imperial expansion by seizing the important Saharan oases and conquering Mali itself. From there he conquered Hausaland. The vastness of Askia Mohammed’s kingdom covered most of West Africa, larger than all of the European states combined. With literally several thousand cultures under its control, Songhay ranked as one of the largest empires of the time.

In order to maintain his large empire Muhammad Touré further centralized the government by creating a large and elaborate bureaucracy. He was also the first to standardize weights, measures, and currency, so culture throughout the Songhay began to homogenize. Muhammad Touré was also a fervent Muslim; he replaced traditional Songhay administrators with Muslims in order to Islamicize Songhay society. He also appointed Muslim judges, called qadis , to run the legal system under Islamic legal principles. These programs of conquest, centralization, and standardization were the most ambitious and far-reaching in Africa at the time. It is of note that while the urban centers were dominated by Islam and Islamic culture, the non-urban areas were not Islamic. The vast majority of the Songhay people, around 97%, followed traditional African religions.

Under the leadership of Askia Mohammed, Timbuctu once again became a prosperous commercial city, reaching a population of 100,000 people. Merchants and traders traveled from Asia, the Middle East and Europe to exchange their exotic wares for the gold of Songhay. Timbuctu gained fame as an intellectual center rivaling many others in the Muslim world. Students from various parts of the world came to Timbuctu’s famous University of Sankore to study Law and Medicine. Medieval Europe sent emissaries to the University of Sankore to witness its excellent libraries with manuscripts and to cosult with the learned mathematicians, astronomers, physicians, and jurists whose intellectual endeavors were said to be paid for out of the king’s own treasury. Pictured above is a mosque at Timbuctu. (Photo courtesy of WSU)
Unfortunately for Songhay it was to be its very size that would lead to its downfall. A vastly spread empire, it encompassed more territory than could actually be controlled. After the reign of Askia Duad, subject peoples began to revolt. Even Songhay’s massive army, said to be over 35,000 soldiers, archers and cavalry, could not keep order. The first major region to declare independence was Hausaland; then much of the Maghreb (Morocco) rebelled and gained control over crucial gold mines. The Moroccans defeated Songhay in 1591 and the empire quickly collapsed. In 1612, the cities of Songhay fell into general disarray and one the greatest empires of African history disappeared from the world stage forever. Not since this time, has any African nation rose to prominence and wealth as did mighty Songhay.

The Songhay economy used to be around long distance trade, salt and gold. In modern times, Songhay people are expert traders, farmers and fishermen. They engage in cultivation of Sorghum, millet and ground nut. Others are mostly involved in fishing in the River Niger.

Songhai people

Songhay are well known for weaving blankets and mats. The elaborate cotton blankets (terabeba) woven by men in the town of Tera are highly prized throughout the Sahel. Women living along the Niger River weave palm frond mats that feature geometric designs.

Songhai pots
The staple of the Songhay diet is millet. It is consumed in three ways: as a pancake (haini maasa), as porridge (doonu), or as a paste (howru). Millet paste is made by mixing millet flour in a pot of boiling water until the mixture stiffens. This paste is consumed at the evening meal. It is topped by a variety of usually meatless sauces made from okra, baobab leaf, or peanuts. Songhay season their sauces with ginger (tofunua), hot pepper (tonka), and onion flour with sesame (gebu). A recipe for a meatless sauce follows:
Peanut and Greens Stew
4 Tablepoons oil
1 onion, chopped
½ cup chopped peanuts
2 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 tomato, chopped
¼ cup tomato paste
3 cups finely chopped spinach or Swiss chard (wash first and trim coarse stems and fibers)
¼ teaspoon red pepper
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and peanuts. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until onion is soft.
Add 2 more tablespoons of oil and heat.
Stir in peanut butter, tomato, tomato paste, spinach, red pepper, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat.
Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Serve over millet or rice.
Adapted from Carole Lisa Albyn and Lois Sinaiko Webb. The Multicultural Cookbook for Students. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx, 1993.

Fady Diarra, 25, wears a traditional Songhai beaded head wrap in Gao, Mali, March 6, 2013. (Joe Penney/Reuters)

Almost all Songhay are practicing Muslims. They pray five times a day; avoid alcohol and pork; observe the one-month fast of Ramadan; and try to the best of their ability to make the hajj, the very expensive pilgrimage to Mecca.

Songhai Muslim Imam

However, Islamic practices have not excluded traditional beliefs carried forward from ancient times. Traditional Songhay life is seen as a continuous passage across dangerous crossroads. To help them, the Song-hay regularly consult diviners (fortune tellers) and other traditional religious specialists, such as sohancitarey (sorcerers), sorkotarey (praise-singers to the spirits), and zimatarey (spirit-possession priests). These specialists must serve long apprenticeships to master knowledge of history, plants, words, and practices.

Songhay people observe the secular holidays of the countries in which they live. They also celebrate such major Islamic holidays as Muhammad’s birthday, the end of the Ramadan fast, and Eid al-Adha (or tabaski), which commemorates Abraham’s biblical sacrifice of a ram. For tabaski, people slaughter one or two sheep and roast them. They feast on the roasted mutton and offer raw and cooked meat to needier people who come to their door.

The famous malia singer Khaira ARBY wearing many gold ornaments typical of the Songhai people among which many gold discs as hair ornament and temporal decoration

Rites of passage
Most Songhay rituals marking major life-cycle events follow Islamic models. However, some practices go back to the days before Islam was introduced to sub-Saharan Africa. Birth, for example, is seen as a time of danger for both mothers and their children. During and immediately following childbirth, men are kept from the mother and child. Mother and child are presented to family and neighbors for the first time at the bon chebe (literally, “showing the head”). This is when the child is named. In the past, young boys underwent ritual circumcision at a relatively late age. These days, circumcisions are performed on toddlers by physicians in hospitals.

Once a couple is ready to marry, the groom asks the permission of the bride’s father. He is expected to pay his future father-in-law a bride-price, which today is a fixed sum of money. He is also expected to give his future wife and her family many gifts. The expense of marriage makes it difficult for young men to afford to marry. The marriage ceremony is marked by the presentation of gifts. There is also an Islamic contract (kitubi) that binds husband to wife.

Divorce is quite common among the Songhay. Men initiate formal divorce by consulting a Muslim cleric and proclaiming, “I divorce thee” three times. Women initiate divorce informally by leaving their husbands, who then proclaim their divorce in the wife’s absence.

When Songhay die, they are buried quickly and without fanfare. Mourning lasts for forty days. The family receives regular visits from relatives and friends. During these visits people honor the person who died by talking about his or her life.

Songhai Gao lady

Rural and urban Songhay men today wear a combination of traditional and Western clothing. They generally wear trousers and a loose-fitting shirt that they wear untucked. Younger men might wear used jeans and tee-shirts they buy at the market. Some men, however, prefer to wear the traditional, cotton three-piece outfit. It consists of draw-string trousers, a long-sleeved loose-fitting shirt with an open neck, and a boubou (long, full robe).
Most Songhay women rarely, if ever, wear Western clothing. They wear long wrap-around skirts (pagnes) and matching tops.

Fady Diarra, 25, wears a traditional Songhai beaded head wrap in Gao, Mali, March 6, 2013. (Joe Penney/Reuters)

Beautiful Songhai woman

Morgan Freeman traces his DNA ancestry to Songhai people of West Africa

A Songhai woman with traditional head tress. Gao still retains many of its ancient charms

Songhai woman and famous Malian singer Khaira ARBY

Songhai woman

Songhai twin sisters, Mali

Songhai trader

Kimberly Elise has Songhai ancestry from West Africa

Morgan Freeman is of Songhai ancestry

Request for Resources: Late Antiquity-Medieval Period in Northern Africa

Hello! I apologize in advance for the wall of text ahead. I’ve been following your blog for a couple months now and I absolutely love having you on my dashboard. I’m constantly blown away by the legacy of whitewashing and the fact that non-Eurocentral historical sources are too few and far between.
I am one of a few people working on a mod project for a popular real-time strategy game called Crusader Kings II. As you can probably infer from the title, the game itself is set in the Middle Ages and focuses on… guess which “continent”? The mod project is called Lux Invicta (the link won’t work unless you have an account with Paradox Interactive), and is an alternate history mod focusing primarily on the conquests of Alexander the Great, along with many other famous conquerors from antiquity. Most of them are from European stock, but there are also famous PoC empires and legends, including the Sassanid Empire and the legacy of Kahina.
Right now the mod uses the map from the main game, which consists of Europe and parts of North Africa, almost all the way to the Indus River. As a part of a time-consuming and painstaking process, I have been working on an expansive map for the mod which would encompass India, Central Asia, and almost the entire African continent. For time’s sake and because of limited resources (as well as historical accuracy, since many parts of the African continent are difficult to inhabit even today, let alone with the technology of antiquity), the only parts of Africa that will be inhabitable for now are the eastern coast along the Indian Ocean and the Niger Basin, with trans-Saharan trade routes and river navigation along the Nile. The Atlantic coast may be filled in later on, depending on popular opinion.
One of the main overtones of the mod is indigenous resistance; many groups such as the Berbers, the Sabaeans, the Slavs, the Norse, the Turks, and so forth have been largely resistant to Roman (both Christian and pagan) and Islamic conversion, and many are powerhouses in their own might. I would like to carry this aspect over with the new map, and I want most of Africa to be as in-depth and… well, African as possible. Historical accuracy isn’t the most important in this case because the mod is an alternate history timeline, and certain things – so long as they make logical sense – can be altered to make the game more interesting. Ultimately, though, the goal is not to make Africa “that extra place to conquer”, but rather another point from which to conquer the world, complete with its own history and background. Your resource list on black royalty has been very helpful, and I was wondering if there’s any helpful advice on representation of PoCs in a late antiquity/medieval setting you might have which could help to make this mod project a diverse – and therefore realistic – success.
Also, one of the group members is quite handy in graphic design, and thanks to him the mod is complete with its own (frankly better-looking) character portrait set, which is almost entirely based on depictions of people from the appropriate setting. I know your blog features depictions of people of color in a realistic way, though most of the sources are European, and thus largely feature those people of color in a post-colonial setting. Do you by chance happen to know where I can find accurate depictions of the kind of clothing, armor, and hairstyles/headgear that people living along the Indian Ocean coast and in West Africa would wear around the time of late antiquity?
The biggest wall we’ve run into in this department is the fact that, in the mod’s timeline, Islam was not able to push past the Berbers, and thus most of the Sahara south of the Mediterranean Sea does not follow Islam. Because of this, it makes little-to-no sense to have Arabic influence in our depictions of the people living there, which poses a problem because most if not all of the depictions of people are heavily influenced by Islamic culture. If you happened to know of any sources on pre-Islamic African history, particularly in the north, could you please tell me where I can find them? :)

Whew! That’s a LOT of stuff to cover, and I have to go to work, but I’ll give you some quick hits for starting points and hopefully my readers will add some more!!!

I know you did specify Northwestern, but if you leave out Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia, you’ll probably end up really disappointed:

Ancient Sudan

Medieval Sudan

Mali Empire and Djenne Figurines

ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World

Empires of the Western Sudan: Ghana

Empires of the western Sudan: Overview

Empires of the Western Sudan: Mali

The Trans-Saharan Gold Trade: 700-1400

Western North Africa 1-500 A.D.:

In the period from 1 to 500 A.D., western North Africa is one of the most prosperous and stable regions of the Roman empire, supplying the capital with staple crops and luxury goods. Peace and wealth create ideal conditions for a flowering of artistic and intellectual life.

West North Africa (The Maghrib) 500-100 A.D.

Songhai Empire Culture, Government, Arts

This is FAR from comprehensive; everyone feel free to add their resources and suggestions!

We must not reduce African societies to just villages. We are talking about the destruction of empires, states and nations. Even if we just talk about West Africa, Dahomey was a state; Benin was a state; Ashanti was a state. And it is important not to see Africa as just a collection of underdeveloped villages. For this is part of the European lie to claim an undeserved and untenable superiority…When the European first came to Africa, he had to pay taxes and tribute on the coast and had to stay on the coast. And in Dahomey, they made him build his houses in mud, not in stone to show how impermanent his residence was. And he exchanged ambassadors where he could. He exchanged ambassadors not only with Songhai, but also with Angola, Congo and other states. It was at first a necessary mutual respect for policy…But eventually, Africa, an old centre of civilisation, began to decline and capitalism began to rise, and you have a shift then in the balance of power. And the Europeans began to strengthen themselves on the coast. And appropriating knowledge from Africa and Asia and synthesising technique, they began to shift the balance of power. They began to go inland.
—  Maulana Karenga
March 12th, 1591 | The Battle of Tondibi

I think you could partially define the word “empire” as “a bunch of people, temporarily united in cause, stealing a lot of land, then eventually falling out, and getting face-punched into oblivion by a neighboring empire.”

Let’s take The Songhai as an example.

“The who?” I hear you ask, to which I spin the globe and tap on it with a little cane; ‘cos it looks all professor-like.

“These guys:” I respond.

And I think you would agree, familiarity with Africa or not, that this is a good chunk of turf. In fact, it’s one of the largest in Islamic and African history; they really were not playing around. So what happened to them?

Well, let’s start here:

The Niger River: As the world’s third-longest river, it’s 2,600 miles of annual-flooding, crop-boosting, awesome-fishing, fertile goodness. It would only be natural if ancient man would congregate around it in much the same way that the Egyptians did around the Nile. And that’s exactly what several groups of people did in the Gao region. Small settlements of Sorko, Do, and Gow cropped up like an anti-vaccer’s kid’s measles, and little fishing boats, rampant hippo hunting, and luscious farms became aplenty.

Which is a perfect target for a more rambunctious type of person: enter, the horse-riding Songhai, who – around the 11th Century – burst onto the scene, said “freaking hell mate, nice farm!” and then they promptly kicked the Sorko, Do and Gow in the nads and took over the joint. And as easy as that, the country of Songhai was born.

A dynasty of kings started to nurture our fledgling country into something quite respectable, and camel-riding tribes headed out of the desert to establish trading routes with other settlements. In no time at all, the Sahara is sporting trade-routes like a BOSS and wealth starts to flood in and out of the area; it quickly becomes known as the “land of gold.”

And sitting on top of this humongous pile of salt, slaves, kola nuts, leather, dates, ivory, and – of course – gold, the Songhai chiefs established Gao as a small kingdom, and turned to all of the people living along the trade routes, and said “you bitches now work for us.”

But you can’t go walking around town just wafting big fat wads of cash in people’s faces, without expecting to get shanked at some point. Once the Mali Empire saw how much phat lewts was just springing out of the ground in a constant shower of boss-drops, they were utterly compelled to drop Songhai onto their heads and steal it all. By 1430, Songhai was no more.

Except nothing is that cut and dry in history. The Mali ended up having their own infighting and bickering; rebellions cropped up, people punched people, insults were thrown, and once the dust settled Songhai were standing there at Gao, with no Mali invaders lording it over them. “Cool!” exclaimed Songhai, and a new era of the empire was born.

Their king now was Sonni Ali, and from 1464 to 1492, he ushered Songhai into prosperous times. And typically –as an empire – you do that by squishing all the little guys around you, which is exactly what these guys did. Ali was a formidable military strategist, and under his rule the Songhai reached a size of almost 900,000 square miles. And that right there is no chump change.

The Mossi to the south were elbowed to the face, the Dogon to the north were throat punched, the Mali were kicked into next week, and even Timbuktu fell under his control, and this – with its own wealthy trade routes – pumped even more cash into Songhai pockets.

After Sonni Ali came Askia the Great, which – honestly – I’m not sure how this whole moniker thing fell out of vogue, but we need to get it back.

So “Askia Awesomesauce Asskicker Look at these Abs” extended his power further north and east, and while not having the military smarts of Ali, he could hang, and the empire did pretty damn good under his rule. On top of that, he was a devout Muslim, opened up schools, constructed mosques, opened up his court to scholars, and enforced – without being intolerant of other religions – Islamic practices. Under his enlightened rule, astronomy flourished in the capital and observatories were established.

Goa was quickly becoming a freaking jewel to behold. Trade boomed, administration was refined and made more efficient, canals were built, agriculture was improved, and a standardized system of weights and measures to be used throughout trading was introduced.

But this is almost too rosy.

Askia got older, and as he did so his sons decided that it was time for them to take over. Humans man, we’re greedy little rats. In 1528 this erupted into open revolt, and Musa – one of his many sons – started strutting around like he’s king. This lasted 3 years, before renewed infighting started to ring the death knell for Songhai and the Empire.

Which is when we now get to these guys:

The Moroccans.

The Moroccans are enjoying a plum strategic spot in the world, and a good share of prestige; they are doing a-okay with things. But, like everyone else, they’re also enjoying their own little succession wars and infighting. Sultan Abu Abdallah Mohammed II has just been ousted by his uncle, Abd Al-Malik, which had the younger Abu heading over to the nearby Portuguese for assistance. Now the Portuguese were already talking about heading over to Morocco to stop the advancing Turkish military presence, so when Abu turns up in court looking for a handout, the Portuguese fell over themselves to help.

The merchants loved the idea of a Moroccan invasion, because a little gold, cattle, wheat, and sugar never hurts the bottom line. The nobility loved the idea, because they – quite literally – just wanted to get into a large scale scrap in Africa. And, finally, the King of Portugal, Sebastian I, was a religious nut and totally dug the idea of spreading Christianity to the infidels.

Sebastian gathered about 30,000 of the finest troops, 40 cannon, a small armada, and headed over to Morocco to open up a can of whoop ass. Unfortunately for him and the Portuguese, they ran face first into 50,000 very angry Moors and 10,000 cavalry. And ten thousand cavalry gets into the range of boggling the brain, but they “boggled” the Portuguese more, as they rode into the flanks and pretty much folded up the entire fucking army with very little effort.

FIFTEEN THOUSAND Portuguese were slaughtered and another FIFTEEN THOUSAND were captured, and if you are now rubbing your chin while thinking “hold on, that’s the entire army,” well you’d be correct! Only 100 survived to get back home. King Sebastian? Never found, and presumed dead. Abu Abdallah Mohammed II? Drowned in a river trying to escape.

And – perhaps oddly – Sultan Abd al-Malik of the Moroccans also died during the battle, but from natural causes, as he’d been quite ill and the ride there ultimately did him in. Which means that The Battle of Three Kings - quite literally - was also the same battle from which all three never walked away.

This guy did, though: Ahmad I al-Mansur, brother to al-Malik, he walked off the battlefield as the new Sultan and all of the prestige of 15,000 prisoners and one fine, glorious fucking battle. Once he ransomed the pioneers back to Portgual, al-Mansur found himself sitting on a fat, fat stack of gold, and what do you do what you win the lottery? You splurge it all, of course!

First we have to pimp out the army, maybe snag us some new cannon from England, then we better set up a kick-ass spy network, incase those bastards come back again, and then – of course – we need to live the fucking life of a Sultan (“drinks are on me!”), and – the pièce de résistance – a new fucking crib to make all of those bitches jelly! Thus the grand palace of Marrakesh was constructed.

But all of this also drained the royal coffers, and Morocco was quickly looking at bankruptcy.

If only there was somewhere close by, dripping in cash, and maybe having a few internal problems to make them real easy pickings …

Al-Mansur figured that he knew where the gold mines of Songhai were, and he fancied a little slice of that action. So he called over his most trusted eunuch, Judar of Granada, slapped on the title of “Pasha” and said “be a good chap, take some of our finest men and go and kick those chaps in the soft spot, ta very much.”

Pasha Judar was very much the man for the job, but the task was not a straight forward one; what lay ahead was an intimidating trek through the Sahara with a small army, and a need to arrive at the other end with enough strength and numbers to be able to fight the formidable Songhai forces.

He handpicked 3,500 of his very finest men; the type of guys with balls of steel and biceps bigger than your head. The force was heavily drawn from the multiple cultures available, with Spanish Moors providing power and structure. The only Moroccans were 1,500 light cavalry, with 1,000 arquebusiers,  500 horse-mounted arquebusiers, 500 other footmen, 6 cannon, and a scattering of mortars just rounding off a little tiny fist of face destruction.

Now, the arquebus was a pretty primitive weapon in this period; its inaccuracy, terrible load time, and tendency to kill the wielder vs. who it was being pointed at, all meant that the Moroccans would probably only get off one volley before battle was joined. The lynch pin here was the cannon … these were guaranteed to wreak some major flesh-shredding among the enemy. But an important note is that the Moroccan force had a solid knowledge of advanced military tactics, training, and coordination.

Finally, Pasha Judar selected ten captured European Kaids (lieutenants), a private bodyguard of eighty Christians, and organized an army train of eight thousand camels, one thousand horses, and six hundred sappers.

And they set off.

They followed a path very similar to the established trade routes, but it was an extremely long, and arduous 135 days in the desert. Despite being well supplied and water wells not being ruined in advance of their arrival, the army started to suffer debilitating losses.

Finally, they emerged near Gao, which was completely news to the Songhai, because they expected the invading force to veer off toward Timbuktu. Askia Ishak, the current king of Songhai at this point of their dynasty wars, shouted out to all of the clans and tribes to send their warriors … which was met by the sound of crickets, because no one turned up. As far as the tribes were concerned, no army could get through the desert, so Askia must have been smoking some form of crack pipe.

Askia had to withdraw to Tondibi, a large cattle pasture outside of Gao. Here he formed up what men he did have, which – in all truth – was a staggering count of 20,000 men, over half of which were cavalry. Even without reinforcements, he had the invaders drastically outnumbered, especially in light of the attrition the Moroccans had suffered in the desert.

Never-the-less, Pasha Judar formed up, and when I say “formed up,” I mean something like this:

That’s the military training for you. It was a freaking wall of lead and iron hurling, bone-splitting, misery-making, hell. And Askia could see that, so here he drew out his ace card: 1,000 cows.

Yup, cows.

The plan was actually as genius as it was simple: drive the cattle towards the Moroccan lines and use the weight of the cattle to break the formation apart. Dust would be kicked up behind them, in which the Songhai cavalry and infantry would advance, masked from any possible incoming fire. With the Moroccan lines broken, they’d be easy meat for the 4-to-1 larger force, now battling them hand-to-hand.

Except …

When the cattle were driven forward, the Moroccan’s opened with all manner of uncompromising fire: cannon exploding and thousands of arquebus launching a cacophony from the depths of the abyss.

The cows? They’d never fucking heard anything like that in their life! So what did they do? They turned tail and fucking ran as fast as their little legs could carry them. Right back into, and through, the Songhai lines.

By the time there was a second volley, the Songhai were now the ones to be broken and in disarray, and they were instantly tore into with a furious tsunami of “bits of metal, where metal really shouldn’t be.” They, too, were completely unfamiliar with such weaponry, and – with cannon balls pulverizing heads and torso alike, or just skipping on by exuding all manner of intimidation – they instantly broke and ran.

Except there was a fucking 1,000 strong cattle herd in their way.

The slaughter was terrible and the Songhai army was utterly smashed; Pasha Judar had earned him a solid victory. He pressed on into Gao itself, expecting gold covered streets and baskets of jewels, but instead he got something more like this …

“The palace of the Askiya is not equal to the house of the chief muleteer of Marrakesh.”
~ Judar Pasha

Judar was mightily unimpressed. So they sacked and destroyed the city anyway, ‘cos: “we’re here now, we may as well.”

Askia Ishak – who had survived the battle - offered the Moroccans 100,000 pieces of gold and 1,000 slaves in exchange for “please just fuck off,” in response to which, Al-Mansur – back home – went into a rage. You see, he was in a bit of a tight spot, because the country was slowly being driven into the ground, taxes necessary to support the army were making for an unhappy populace, and if he didn’t show something solid from this expedition, he’d be done for; a few coins were not going to cut it.

His response? He sent off another army, just as bad ass, just as tooled up as the other one, and seven weeks later it was raising everything in sight in order to find the elusive gold mines. A large battle at Gurma saw the Songhai defeated again, and this time Askia Ishak was brutally cut down.

Al-Mansur never did find the gold. What he didn’t know was that the location of the gold mines was only known to one, secret village, and in time he had to call it quits. Morocco remained partially in control of the area for the next seventy years, but with their sacking of Gao, and the richer trading centers of Timbuktu and Djenné, the Songhai never recovered.

As for al-Mansur; he made it until 1603, plague swept through the region, saw him off, and heralded in a fresh age of succession wars. Soon all that was left of his legacy was Marrakesh; local warlords, the Portuguese, and the Spanish took over the rest.

History, it’s a bitch.

 Faden Disclaimer: A small note here, folks; in reading about Tondibi from numerous sources, a couple of things became apparent: the start date was kind of up in the air, the number of forces present, and the casualties sustained. But I like to think that the following is a good, accurate blend of the source materials. Still, if you come to me and say “hey, the start date is wrong,” I’m not exactly going to argue with you, because doubtlessly there’s a paper or book somewhere that would agree with you.

More Cows to the Face:

Wait … What?


Empires of Medieval West Africa (Ghana, Mali, and Songhai)

Medieval West Africa: Views From Arab Scholars and Merchants

The Invasion of Morocco in1591 and the Saadian Dynasty [J. Michel]


Songhai Empire (Wikipedia):

The Songhai Empire, also known as the Songhay Empire, was a state located in western Africa. From the mid-15th to the late 16th century, Songhai was one of the largest Islamic empires in history.[4] This empire bore the same name as its leading ethnic group, the Songhai

At its peak, the Songhai city of Timbuktu became a thriving cultural and commercial center. Arab, Italian, and Jewish merchants all gathered for trade…

Economic trade existed throughout the Empire, due to the standing army stationed in the provinces. Central to the regional economy were independent gold fields. The Julla (merchants) would form partnerships, and the state would protect these merchants and the port cities of the Niger. It was a very strong trading kingdom, known for its production of practical crafts as well as religious artifacts.

The Songhai economy was based on a clan system. The clan a person belonged to ultimately decided one’s occupation. The most common were metalworkers, fishermen, and carpenters. Lower caste participants consisted of mostly non-farm working immigrants, who at times were provided special privileges and held high positions in society. At the top were noblemen and direct descendants of the original Songhai people, followed by freemen and traders. At the bottom were war captives and European slaves obligated to labor, especially in farming. James Olson describes the labor system as resembling modern day unions, with the Empire possessing craft guilds that consisted of various mechanics and artisans…

Criminal justice in Songhai was based mainly, if not entirely, on Islamic principles, especially during the rule of Askia Muhammad. In addition to this was the local qadis, whose responsibility was to maintain order by following Sharia law under Islamic domination, according to the Qur'an. An additional qadi was noted as a necessity in order to settle minor disputes between immigrant merchants. Kings usually did not judge a defendant; however, under special circumstances, such as acts of treason, they felt an obligation to do so and thus exert their authority. Results of a trial were announced by the “town crier” and punishment for most trivial crimes usually consisted of confiscation of merchandise or even imprisonment, since various prisons existed throughout the Empire…

Upper classes in society converted to Islam while lower classes often continued to follow traditional religions. Sermons emphasized obedience to the king. Timbuktu was the educational capital. Sonni Ali established a system of government under the royal court, later to be expanded by Askia Muhammad, which appointed governors and mayors to preside over local tributary states, situated around the Niger valley. Local chiefs were still granted authority over their respective domains as long as they did not undermine Songhai policy.

Sunni Ali Ber - King of Songhai 15th Century AD

When Sunni Ali Ber came to power, Songhay was a small kingdom in the western Sudan. But during his twenty-eight-year reign, it grew into the largest, most powerful empire in West Africa.
Sunni Ali Ber built a remarkable army and with this ferocious force, the warrior king won battle after battle. He routed marauding nomads, seized trade routes, took villages, and expanded his domain. He captured Timbuktu, bringing into the Songhay empire a major center of commerce, culture, and Muslim scholarship.

Patricia and Fredrick McKissack~The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa. EXCELLENT book for introducing young children to the great urban empires of Medieval West Africa. The people, wars, culture, architecture, international commerce, religion etc. This book provides alotta info on this much ignored epoch. #books #MedievalAfrica #AfricanHistory #Mali #Songhay #Songhai #Ghana #Sundiata #MansaMusa

Songhai Empire
The Songhai Empire, also known as the Songhay Empire, was the largest state in African history and the most powerful of the medieval west African states. It expanded rapidly beginning with King Sonni Ali in the 1460s and by 1500s, it had risen to stretch from Cameroon to the Maghreb. In 1360, disputes over succession weakened the Mali Empire, and in the 1430s, Songhai, previously a Mali dependency, gained independence under the Sonni Dynasty. Around thirty years later, Sonni Sulayman Dama attacked Mema, the Mali province west of Timbuktu, paving the way for his successor, Sonni Ali, to turn his country into one of the greatest empires sub-Saharan Africa has ever seen.
Perhaps, it’s most popular leader was Muhammad Askia the Great. At its peak, the Songhai city of Timbuktu became a thriving cultural and commercial center. Arab, Italian and Jewish merchants all gathered for trade. By 1500, the Songhai Empire covered over 1.4 million square kilometers.Songhai Empire

The Songhai Empire, also known as the Songhay Empire, was the largest state in African history and the most powerful of the medieval west African states. It expanded rapidly beginning with King Sonni Ali in the 1460s and by 1500s, it had risen to stretch from Cameroon to the Maghreb. In 1360, disputes over succession weakened the Mali Empire, and in the 1430s, Songhai, previously a Mali dependency, gained independence under the Sonni Dynasty. Around thirty years later, Sonni Sulayman Dama attacked Mema, the Mali province west of Timbuktu, paving the way for his successor, Sonni Ali, to turn his country into one of the greatest empires sub-Saharan Africa has ever seen.
Perhaps, it’s most popular leader was Muhammad Askia the Great. At its peak, the Songhai city of Timbuktu became a thriving cultural and commercial center. Arab, Italian and Jewish merchants all gathered for trade. By 1500, the Songhai Empire covered over 1.4 million square kilometers.Songhai Empire
The Songhai Empire, also known as the Songhay Empire, was the largest state in African history and the most powerful of the medieval west African states. It expanded rapidly beginning with King Sonni Ali in the 1460s and by 1500s, it had risen to stretch from Cameroon to the Maghreb. In 1360, disputes over succession weakened the Mali Empire, and in the 1430s, Songhai, previously a Mali dependency, gained independence under the Sonni Dynasty. Around thirty years later, Sonni Sulayman Dama attacked Mema, the Mali province west of Timbuktu, paving the way for his successor, Sonni Ali, to turn his country into one of the greatest empires sub-Saharan Africa has ever seen.
Perhaps, it’s most popular leader was Muhammad Askia the Great. At its peak, the Songhai city of Timbuktu became a thriving cultural and commercial center. Arab, Italian and Jewish merchants all gathered for trade. By 1500, the Songhai Empire covered over 1.4 million square kilometers.Songhai Empire
The Songhai Empire, also known as the Songhay Empire, was the largest state in African history and the most powerful of the medieval west African states. It expanded rapidly beginning with King Sonni Ali in the 1460s and by 1500s, it had risen to stretch from Cameroon to the Maghreb. In 1360, disputes over succession weakened the Mali Empire, and in the 1430s, Songhai, previously a Mali dependency, gained independence under the Sonni Dynasty. Around thirty years later, Sonni Sulayman Dama attacked Mema, the Mali province west of Timbuktu, paving the way for his successor, Sonni Ali, to turn his country into one of the greatest empires sub-Saharan Africa has ever seen.
Perhaps, it’s most popular leader was Muhammad Askia the Great. At its peak, the Songhai city of Timbuktu became a thriving cultural and commercial center. Arab, Italian and Jewish merchants all gathered for trade. By 1500, the Songhai Empire covered over 1.4 million square kilometers.


Nigeria Name Should Change From “Nigger Area” To “United Rep. Of Songhai” - Prof. Akin Oyebode

Professor of International Law And Jurisprudence at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Professor Akin Oyebode, who is also a delegate at the ongoing National Confab in Abuja suggested among other things that “Nigeria” is a colonial name bequeathed by colonial ruler, Lord Lugard as suggested to him by his “girl friend”, Flora Shaw.