Africa is one of the world’s regions that has a rich history, particularly in the western part of the continent. According to history, most of the afro-descendant people in the Americas, North America, South America, and the Caribbean come from different tribes of West and Central Africa. However, despite West Africa having a glorious history, few people have mapped out its history.
In this article, we will talk about the most crucial moments of West African history. We will exclude the Atlantic slave trade and colonization because the two events were disruptions of the continent’s history.
Introduction of Islam into West Africa
The African continent was the first region that Islam spread into out of Arabia in the 7th century. Islam is mostly in the northern and western parts of the African continent. Moreover, it has a large presence in the region of Horn of Africa. The first West African to be Muslims were the occupants of the Sahara.
Islam brought various effects in West Africa, including political, religious, social, and economic effects such as trade.
Some of the political impacts include unity, a system of administration, establishment of diplomatic relations, army, etc. So how does Islam promote unity? Families, clans, ethnic groups who are Muslims usually unite together during prayers and festivals. Hence builds on brotherhood. Through joining, different rulers established great empires that sustained people of distinct linguistic groups. Most of the west African leaders used Islam to unite people.
Islam also contributed to an efficient form of administration in some western countries. The rulers employed Muslim systems of justice and taxation to govern their people. Similarly, the rulers also used learned Muslims as judges, secretaries, diplomats, etc. Furthermore, some non-Muslim emperors also posted educated Muslims in their administrations.
Also, social impacts include literacy, schools’ establishment, change in culture, and great scholars. Through Islam, many west African inhabitants became literate. By becoming educated, people were able to preserve their history and oral traditions in books. This is because they were able to read and write. Tarikh es Sudan is one of the pieces of literature which narrates an ancient narrative. Being literate also increased the people’s knowledge capacity, enabling them to learn complex subjects like sciences and philosophy. As a result, they gained more information, and their horizon widened.
Islam contributed to developing social amenities like schools and educational institutions in large towns and cities of western Sudan. Examples of such cities were Timbuktu, Gao, Jenne, and Katsina.
Amid the ancient times, in the western Sudanese States, great scholars were learning Islam. Some of these scholars include Mahamud Kati, born in 1468 and succumbed in 1593. He was of Soninke ethnicity and wrote the Chronicle of the Seeker. Another one is Abdurrahman- as Sadi, who was a government secretary and a diplomat. He wrote The Chronicle of Sudan. Then there is Ahmed Baba, who wrote a biographical dictionary and fifty works of the law.
Economic impacts involve trade and the introduction of architecture. In terms of trade, we note that most of the traders during ancient times were Arabs who were Muslim. So, by interacting with the west Africans, they spread Islam in the region. As a result, Islam’s growth in many West African states strengthened the ties between the Arabs and the West Africans. Therefore, Islam promoted trade in the region.
Within no time, the trans-Saharan trade had widened. Many West Africans became merchants, their wealth multiplied, and their kingdoms expanded. It was amid such times that cities like Timbuktu, Gao, and Kano rose.
Other than the positive impacts or effects, it also impacted negatively on the west African states. The spread of Islam in most parts of the country led to many Africans abandoning or leaving the African traditional religion. Hence alienation from original culture contributed to the downfall of some west African states like ancient Ghana.
It also contributed to conflict within ethnic groups. In that, groups were separated into Muslim and non-Muslim. This weakened their system of government as they had different objectives. An example is the Songhai Empire, which had contrasting leaders. Most of all, it is through Islam that jihadist uprisings came to be. These uprisings caused instability and chaos in western Sudan, accelerating the collapse of some states like the Hanusa. It is unfortunate the jihadist groups still exist to date and incite chaos in west Africa.
This is a Neolithic archaeological site found in the S. Western area of the Sahara Desert. It is one of the settlements along with the sandstone rock faces in the region. Pastoralists inhabited the cliffs at around 2500 BC-500BC.
This region is one of the ancient archaeological living sites in the western region of the African continent. More than 450 stone settlements littered the area in the 1st savannah of the Saharan region. In addition to herding cattle and goats, its occupants hunted, fished, and grew millet. Therefore, Dhar Tichitt tries to explain the economic aspect of its inhabitants.
The Founding of Timbuktu City
A woman was the founder of Timbuktu city. After a change in the trading ways, particularly after the visit by Mansa Musa in 1325, the city prospered from the trade in gold and salt. The Mali Kingdom absorbed the city around the 14th century. Apart from the Timbuktu city being a vital trading post, it was a scholarly center in the African region.
Use of Iron in West Africa
Iron smelting may have existed in Africa’s western part among the Nok culture as early as the 6th century BC. In Nigeria, iron was basic to the rise and growth of important empires such as the Dahomey, Yoruba, and Benin Empire. Iron was significant in that people used it as tools for agricultural purposes and also as weapons during wars.
The blacksmiths were the craftsmen behind the production of these tools. They designed weapons, protective amulets, and even pieces of farming equipment. During ancient times, the warriors used spears as weapons to fight their enemies before the white man introduced the guns. Therefore, blacksmiths played a vital role in ancient societies.
The founding of the Mali Empire
The Mali Empire was a Kingdom in West Africa, and Sundiata Keita was its founder. During the Golden age of the Empire, Mali was extremely rich. This was because of the trade-in tax and out of the Kingdom. Trade was an important factor in the success of Mali. Mali prospered when the Timbuktu city came under the control of the wealthiest man in history, Mansa Musa.
Mali traded gold and salt with the Arab traders in its capital city Timbuktu. As the Kingdom became wealthier, it extended its trade routes, thereby encouraging more trade relationships. Since the Mali Empire had so much power during those times, it controlled the trans-Saharan trade’s major trade routes.
The Construction of the Great Walls of Benin Empire
The Great Walls of Benin are a sequence of earthworks made up of ditches and banks. They are the world’s biggest human-made feature.
Fred Pearce described the walls, and he said:
“They extend for some 16000km in all, in a mosaic of over 500 interconnected settlement boundaries. They cover 6500 square km and the Edo people dug them all. They are 4 times longer than the Great Wall of China and used 100 times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. They took 150m hours of digging to construct and are the biggest archaeological phenomenon on Earth.”
The Fall of Songhai Kingdom
In 1590, Al-Mansur took the opportunity of the civil unrest and instability in the Kingdom and sent a military under the order of Pasha to seize Songhai. After the defeat at the Battle of Tondibi in 1591, the Kingdom fell.
Besides, the trans-Saharan trade routes, the Almoravid movement, and the Mane invasion played a crucial role in West African history. The Trans-Saharan trade was important because it significantly contributed to the West African Kingdoms’ economic development and growth.
The Mane invasion shaped a part of today’s coastlines of modern West Africa. Also, their arrival brought with it enhanced military techniques. The Portuguese spoke about how aggressive the Mane invasion was.
The Almoravid movement is a significant event in that it involved people from West Africa conquering a region outside Africa. In this case, in 1062, the Almoravid seized a part of Southern Spain.
West African history entails a lot of information on the events that happened in Africa. This is because most of the activities in the continent revolved around this region. It had one of the wealthiest empires and controlled trade, thus playing a role in Africa’s current developments. Therefore, its accounts remain documented in history books to enrich future generations.