Chapter 5 (West Africa)

When: B.C.- A.D. 1590

Where: West Africa

Rationale - Students examine the great empires and small riverside and forest communities that existed between 500 B.C. and 1600 A.D. in West Africa.

Lesson 1 (The Roots of Might Empires)
Lesson 2 (The Empire of Ghana)
Lesson 3 (The Empires of Mali and Songhai)
Lesson 4 (Village Society in West Africa)

Lesson 1 (The Roots of Might Empires) pg. 108-111 (Homework)

Rationale: Lesson 1 shows the impact of geography on how early Africans lived. Although the Sahara was a barrier, it did not isolate West Africa from traders to the north. By A.D. 800, people in such cities as Jenne-jeno supported themselves through trade.

Objectives: Key Terms:
  1. Savanna - a region of grassland containing scattered trees and vegetation
  2. Sahel - a strip of dry grasslands on the southern boarder of the Sahara; also known as "the shore of the desert"
  3. Delta - a triangular-shaped landform made by mud and silt deposited at a river's mouth
Salient Points: A. Land of Many Climates B. New Technology C. Trade Center

Cause and Effect - This reading strategy helps you understand events and why they occur. As you read, think about the factors that caused an event. Then think about what the effects of that event may be.

1. Read the section "A Land of Many Climates" on pages 108-110. What caused many Africans to move to West Africa?

   a. Ghanaian soldiers
   b. changes in temperature and amount of rainfall
   c. new oases

Reading Strategy

2. Read the section "A New Technology" on page 110. What was one important effect of trade between West Africa and North Africa?


3. Read the section "An Ancient Trade Center" on pages 110-111. What was the effect of the Niger River's annual flooding?


4. Fill in the chart below.



The Niger floods Jenne-jeno  
The People of Jenne-jeno have surplus crops     
  Jenne-jeno grows into a large trade center        

Thinking Focus: What are some of the ways the early West Africans developed prosperous cities in a landscape with such a varying climate?

A New Technology

Travel across the Sahara was difficult, but West Africans still traded with North Africans. Camel caravans traveled across the desert, and people exchanged goods and ideas. For example, the Nok people of West Africa learned how to make iron from North Africans. The Nok lived between 500 B.C. and A.D. 200 in what is now the country of Nigeria. They began making iron spear points and farming tools as early as 450 B.C.

The Nok were skilled potters, too. They used clay to build their huts and make sculptures. The Nok shared their knowledge of iron making and pottery with the people they met in trade.

Do you know - What aspect of Nok culture demonstrates that trade had a major impact on Nok life?

An Ancient Trade Center

In 1977, scientists found the remains of an ancient city, called Jenne- jeno. Jenne-jeno lies about two miles from the modern city of Jenne in the Republic of Mali. The remains found at Jenne-jeno include iron and clay artifacts like those made by the Nok people. Jenne-jeno was built on a flood plain on an inland delta of the Niger River. The Niger flooded the area every year, leaving rich, moist land on which to grow rice and raise cattle. The people also caught fish in the Niger. Trade along the Niger linked Jenne-jeno with cities to the north and south. Camel caravans linked it with North Africa. From the north, traders brought back salt, copper, and stone. From the south, they brought gold. Some people in the city became skilled in crafts. Archaeologists have discovered iron tools, copper and gold jewelry, and clay animals among the remains.

Life in Jenne-jeno flourished from 250 B.C. to A.D. 1400. Then the city was abandoned. Since the nearby city of Jenne was founded about the same time, it is possible the people of Jenne-jeno moved to Jenne.

Think - How did the people of Jenne-jeno obtain the resources they could not produce?

Review Questions

Graphic Overview

  1. What did the Sahara Desert look like in 5000 B.C. ?
  2. How many climate zones are in Africa?
  3. By what means did the people of West Africa trade with North Africans?
  4. The ___________________ were the first West Africans to make iron?
  5. How did the Nok make iron?
  6. When was Jenne-jeno inhabited and where was it located?
Lesson 2 (The Empire of Ghana) pg. 112-117 (Homework)

Rationale - This lesson focuses on the Empire of Ghana, one of the earliest of the great African trading empires. Students look at the salt and gold exchange to learn economic and political lessons and see the effect of the introduction of Islam.

Objectives: Key Terms:
Salient Points: A. New Trade Center
  1. first trading empire
  2. control by Soninke tribe
  3. traded gold for salt with Europeans
B. Divided Capital
  1. Koumbi--Ghana's capital-wealthy trade center
  2. most traders were Muslims and Soninke
  3. capital divided between Muslims
C. New Religion
  1. Islamic influences in West Africa
  2. Mandinke--first convert to Islam
  3. disagree on some practices--such as King's succession
  4. in Ghana--matrilineal--on mother's side of the family
    - Muslims--patrilineal--on father's side of the family
D. Fallen Empire
  1. Conquered by Al Moravids--Muslim invaders
  2. Ghana replaced by Malin as major West African power

Reading Strategy

Predict/Infer: This reading strategy helps you understand what you have read and what you will read next. Before you read a section, think about the titles, pictures, and captions. Then think about what will happen in the selection.

1. Read the heading "A Center of Trade" on page 113. Look at the picture and read the caption. What do you predict will happen to trade in Ghana?

   a. Trade routes will pass Ghana by.
   b. Ghana will become prosperous from trading valuable goods.
   c. Salt will lose its value, and trade will collapse.

2. Name two clues from the heading and the caption that helped you make your prediction.


3. Read the section "A Diverse Capital" and the next heading on page 115. What do you predict will happen to the Muslims in Koumbi?

   a. They will influence the Ghanaians.
   b. They will be kicked out of Ghana.
   c. They will become architects.


Thinking Focus: What effect did trade have on the people of Ghana?

A Center of Trade

Ghana was the ancient kingdom of the Soninke people. It lay between the Sahel and the Sahara in the north, and the highlands and tropical rain forests in the south. By the late 9005, the Soninke ruled more than 100,000 square miles and hundreds of thousands of people. They made Ghana the first great trading empire in West Africa.

Ghana was first an agricultural kingdom. People farmed, raised livestock, built cities, and created art and music. But Ghana's central location made it a good place for trade. Traders from the salt mines to the north and the gold fields to the south passed through Ghana. The Senegal and Gambia rivers aided in communication and the transport of goods. Salt was scarce in southern Ghana, but gold was not. West African gold became important to Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, for use as money and jewelry. People traded salt and gold in equal amounts-a pound of gold for a pound of salt.

Think - What combination of geographic and economic factors made Ghana an ideal trade center?

A Diverse Capital

From about 800 to 1050, the gold and salt trade thrived in Ghana. Most of the traders in Ghana were Muslims. The Soninke kings had their own traditional religion. They were tolerant of Islam, but they wanted to keep it separate. So they divided Koumbi, and other trading towns, into two sections. These sections were linked by a boulevard, which is a wide street. The Muslim section of Koumbi had mosques, one-and two-story stone homes, and the market. The Soninke section was a walled city with wood or clay houses, straw roofs, and a large wood and stone palace for the king.

Do you know - How did the two sections of Koumbi differ from each other?

A New Religion

In the 900s, many Arab merchants came to live in Ghana. They brought with them a system of writing and numbers and the Islamic religion. The Mandinke people from the southern Sahara were among the first converts to Islam. Because they were traders, they helped spread Muslim ideas in Africa.

Muslims practiced patrilineal succession, in which the throne passes from father to son. However, in Ghana, the king passed his right to the throne down to his sister's son, in matrilineal succession.

Think - In what ways did Ghanaians benefit from their contact with Arab traders?

A Fallen Empire

The Almoravids were a Muslim political and spiritual movement to the north. As the Almotavids grew in power, wars spread and Ghana lost territory. When Ghana tried to regain its empire in 1087 it was too late. The empire had broken into separate kingdoms.

Think - How did the brief takeover by the Almoravids lead to Ghana's downfall? Review Questions

You may use this questions to guide your studying or to review the lesson.
  1. What was the first of the great West African trading empires?
  2. For the first 400 years, Ghana was ruled by
  3. When did the Soninke take control of Ghana?
  4. Why was it easy for the Soninke to conqueror their neighbors?
  5. Why did North Africans want gold?
  6. How was salt and gold traded in Ghana?
  7. How did Ghana become so wealthy?
  8. What did West African's use salt for?
  9. What was the capital of Ghana?
  10. While the Soninke kings were tolerate of Islam, they tried to keep Islam separate from traditional Soninke religion. How did they do this in Koumbi?
  11. What did the Muslim side of the city look like?
  12. What did the Soninke side look like?
  13. Who introduced numbers and writing to Ghana?
  14. What was the first group of West Africans to convert to Islam?
  15. In Ghana, when a king died, who was his successor?
  16. Ghana was captured by the _________.
  17. Who were the Almoravids?
  18. Who was King Sumanguru?
  19. Mali was ruled by the _________.

Lesson 3 (The Empires of Mali and Songhai) pg. 118-123 (Homework)

Rationale - The lesson explores the successors of Ghana, the trading empires of Mali and Songhai. By examining conflicts between some Islamic and traditional African beliefs, students see how religion can affect politics and trade.

Objectives: Key Words
  1. Griot - person who passes down customs, history, legend, art, and poetry through storytelling
Salient Points
A. Economy based on trade
B. Mansa Musa -- Mali's greatest emperor
  1. devout Muslim
  2. his pilgrimages helped put Mali on the map
C. Songhai
  1. took control of Mali
  2. Gao -- capital city
  3. Sunni Ali -- King
  4. became powerful empire
D.Songhai collapse
  1. falls to Morocco
  2. first use of firearms against Africans
  3. Last great trading empire
Reading Strategy

Sequence - This reading strategy helps you follow the order of events. As you read, pay attention to dates and times, as well as to words such as before, finally; after, and then.

1. Read the section "Mali Develops a Prosperous Trade" on pages 118 and 119. Place the following events in order by writing 1,2, and 3 in the blanks.

   ____Gold is discovered at Bure.
   ____Sundiata becomes king of Mali.
   ____Niani becomes a trade center.

2. Read the first paragraph of the section "Mansa Musa Enriches the Empire" on page 119. Place the following events in order:

   ____Musa became king.
   ____Conversions greatly increased.

3. Read the first sentence of the section "Power Shifts to Songhaill on page 120. What word helps you understand the sequence of events?


Thinking Focus - What events led to the development of the great trade empires of Mali and Songhai?

Mali Develops a Prosperous Trade

Sundiata became king of the new empire in Mali. Griots still tell the tale of his victory. He made his capital at Niani, on the upper Niger River. Sundiata relied on his army to extend the borders of Mali. Then he focused on restoring wealth in his kingdom. He restored the salt and gold trade, with Niani as the new trade center. Sundiata and his successors expanded trade routes. They went north and east to Egypt and Tunis. Mali controlled salt mines in the north, at Taghaza. It had copper mines in ,the e,ast, at Takedda. It had gold mines in the south, at Wangara, and at Bure, near the capital. Thus the Niger River became a busy trade route. By the late 1300s, Mali was three times as large as Ghana had been. It was the most powerful kingdom in Africa.

Think - How did Sundiata and his armies extend Mali's trade empire?

Mansa Musa Enriches the Empire

Mali's greatest ruler, Mansa Musa, came to the throne in 1307. Mansa Musa was a Muslim and he was tolerant of other beliefs. Like many other Muslims, Mansa Musa made a pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca. In 1324, he brought with him 50,000 people and about 10,000 pounds of gold dust. Word of Mali's economic importance spread, and it was included on European maps of Africa.

When Mansa Musa returned to Mali from Mecca, he brought Arab scholars with him. Culture and learning grew in Niani, Timbuktu, and other trade centers. Trade expanded, too. Muslims came to Mali to trade with fellow believers.

Think - What effect did West African rulers' conversion to Islam have on the empire?

Power Shifts to Songhai

Mansa Musa died in 1332, and the kings who followed him could not hold Mali's vast lands. Under attack on all sides, Mali weakened. In 1464, under the leadership of a Songhai prince, Sunni Ali, the Songhai people began conquering their neighbors and expanding their kingdom. A new Songhai empire grew up out of Mali, as Mali had grown up out of Ghana.

In the 1490s, Askia Muhammad became king and declared Islam the state religion. Askia's armies expanded the borders of Songhai. Askia encouraged people to convert to Islam. He also invited Muslim scholars to his empire. Once again, the cities became centers of culture and learning. The number of Muslims-and Muslim traders- increased. In the late 1500s, the Songhai empire was larger and wealthier than Mali had ever been.

Think - How did Askia Muhammad's strong rule help Songhai become such a great trade empire?

Songhai Collapses

Askia's heirs created a small but powerful Muslim group at the top of the ruling class. These people distanced themselves from non-Muslims. Some states resented the Muslim kings, and they broke away from the empire.

The biggest threat to the empire came from Morocco, in North Africa. In 1585, Morocco's ruler captured Songhai's salt mines in Taghaza. He also wanted control of Songhai's West African source of gold. In 1590, Morocco's ruler hired Muslim Spaniard Judar Pasha to conquer Songhai. Songhai had at least 25,000 soldiers who were armed with swords and arrows. Pasha's 1000 men had guns. They conquered Gao, then Timbuktu, and then most of Songhai.

Think - Why did the ruler of Morocco fight for control of Songhai?

Review Questions

You may use these questions as a study guide or to review the lesson.
  1. According to he tales of griots, how did Sundiata defeat Sumanguru?
  2. What was the first thing Sundiata concentrated on asking of Mali?
  3. Where did the people of Mali discover a new source of gold?
  4. When did Mansu Musa become king of Mali?
  5. What did Mansu Musa take with him on his pilgrimage to Mecca?
  6. What did Mansu Musa bring back with him to Mali?
  7. Under Manus Musa's rule Mali was divided into ______________ and some regions were allowed to remain independent and long as their rulers pledged their __________ and a portion of their _________________to Mali.
  8. After Mansu Musa died in 1332, what happened to Mali?
  9. Who were the Snghai?
  10. What did Sunni Ali do in 1435? In 1364?
  11. Who overthrew Sunni Ali's son to become king?
  12. What religion were the leaders of the Songhai?
  13. Who was Judar Pasha?
  14. How were the Moroccans able to defeat the Songhai?

Lesson 4 (Village Society in West Africa) pg. 124-131 (Homework)

Rationale - takes a closer look at the village societies of West Africa. Everyday life is featured, including agricultural techniques and music, dance and art. Students also examine ancestor worship, kinship and norms of slavery at the time.

Key Terms
  1. Diviner - a person who communicated with the spirit world and helped people to interact with their gods
  2. Ancestor Worship - honor and reverence paid to one's deceased relatives based on the belief that the spirits live on after death and can influence the gods in one's favor
  3. Kinship - the relationship among family members
Salient Points
A. Farming -- a way of life
  1. raising animal for food---the most important activity
  2. grew millet and sorghum in drier areas
  3. grew rice in wetter areas
B. Religion, Dance, Music
  1. belief that one God created the world but lesser gods rule daily life
  2. Diviners -- those who talk to the spirit world
  3. belief in ancestor worship -- that spirits of ancestors live on and influences the lifes of the living
C. Village Government
  1. kinship -- family relationships -- basis of government
  2. village chief -- male head of each clan
  3. chiefs -- make all decisions in village life

Reading Strategy

Summarize - This reading strategy helps you remember key points about what you have read. When you get to a good break in your reading, stop and write down the main ideas of what you have read.

1. Read the section II Farming: A Way of Life" on pages 124 and 125. Then indicate which of the following is the best summary of the section by circling the letter next to your choice.

   a. Most West Africans lived in villages rather than cities. People in the villages traded goods.
   b. West African village life centered on farming. Farmers developed different methods to farm different land.
   c. Many people in West Africa were farmers. People of the rain forests could not raise cattle.

2. Read the section "Religion, Dance, and Music" on pages 125 and 126. Then write a short summary of the section.

3. Read the section "Village life" on page 127. Then summarize the customs surrounding West African slavery.


Thinking Focus: How did the people in the rural villages of West Africa survive in their often unpredictable environment?

Farming: A Way of Life

Early West Africans lived in small villages on riverbanks, on the savanna, or in the rain forests. Everyone in a village raised food, even iron makers and blacksmiths. They traded surplus crops for food they couldn't grow.

In the dry regions of the sahel, farmers grew millet and sorghum. In the wetter regions south of the sahel, people grew rice. In the dense West African rain forests, farmers made small clearings and grew edible roots.

West African farmers developed different farming methods to suit different kinds of land. For example, the Dogon people lived on cliffs south of the Niger River. Pools of rainwater formed in crevices between the rocks. So farmers brought fertile soil from the valley up the cliffs and made the pools into gardens.

Climate and Crops
    Sahel Dry Regions    
     Wet Delta Region     
        Rain Forests        
millet, sorghum
edible roots

Think - In what ways did the farming methods of rural peoples differ between regions?

Religion, Dance and Music

Life in the villages of West Africa was often unpredictable. A drought, a flood, or an outbreak of disease could mean disaster. People hoped to avoid disaster by pleasing their gods.

West Africans believed in both a world on Earth and a spirit world. Their religion was meant to bring the two worlds together. Villagers appointed priests and diviners to communicate with the spirit world. They were also the villagers' source of healing. Diviners knew how to use herbs for healing and how to please their gods through rituals and dancing. Villagers practiced ancestor worship, too. They respected their elders and prayed to their ancestors to influence the gods in their favor. Villagers also tried to contact and please spirits through music and dancing.

Do you know - In what ways were the various religions of West African peoples similar?

Village Life

People who lived in rural villages were members of large related families, or clans. Clan government was based on kinship. The male head of each clan was a chief and often a religious leader. Sometimes, a council of elders made up the village government. Yet everyone in the clan had a role to play. People did what was best for the clan. If the clan owed money to another clan, a member might work as a temporary slave to help pay the debt. Permanent slaves became members of their owners' clans, and their children or grandchildren were usually born free.

Think - Why was kinship important in West African village life?

    West African Village Life    
dance and music
family system

Review Questions

You may use the questions to guide your studying or to review the lesson

  1. In what ways did the farming methods of rural peoples differ between regions?
  2. What did many West Africans think happened to people and animals when they died?
  3. Why did West African make masks of people and animals who died?
  4. Who might a clan pay a debt?
  5. Most slaves were ______________________.
  6. What is a proverb?