AfricaAfrican Kingdoms and EmpiresGhanaMaliNigerNigeriaSenegal

History of the Songhai Empire

The Songhai Empire, or Songhai Empire, is a West African state that existed between the 15th and 16th centuries.

The Songhai Empire was initially a small kingdom stretched along the Niger River. In the 7th century, it was the kingdom of Gao, subsequently becoming vassal of the empires of Ghana and Mali. It became an empire during the fifteenth century. At its peak, the Songhai Empire extended over part of Niger, Mali and part of present-day Nigeria.

The Songhaï State was founded in Koukia in the 7th century, following the crossbreeding that took place between the Songhaï and the Berbers led by chief Za el-Ayamen. The latter fled the Arab conquest of North Africa and the Maghreb. This mixture of Songhai and Berbers gives the Dia dynasty. The capital is then at Koukia, downstream from Gao, present-day Mali. Around 1010, the kings of Koukia settled in Gao and converted to Islam. There are still marble steles sometimes still visible on the pediments of the administrative buildings of Gao, most often extracted from the necropolis of Sané, northeast of Gao. The marble comes from Spain, the inscriptions in Arabic are made in Andalusia in the surroundings of Almeria. The stelae were then transported across the Sahara to the Songhai court in Gao. The oldest dates from 1014.

Around the year 1300, the Songhai was under the control of the Mali Empire. It is then one of the components of this constellation of subjugated kingdoms which usually constituted the empires of West Africa in the Middle Ages.

Songhai regained his independence during the reign of Ali Kollin who became (Sonni Ali the Great) of the Sy dynasty (1464-1492), who fought the Fulani and the Tuareg, as well as the Muslim scholars of the holy city of Timbuktu. Sonni Ali tries to preserve the non-Islamized culture of his kingdom.

The death of Sonni Ali Ber opens a short period (1492-1493) of instability within the Songhai Empire. Sonni Baare, tipped to succeed him, refuses to convert to Islam. Mohammed Sylla, of the Touré clan, regional governor, took power with the help of the ulemas of Djenné, Tombouctou and Gao. He founded a dynasty subsequently called the Askia dynasty.

Sarakollé Mohammed Touré (1493-1528), Soninké (and therefore not Songhai), originally from Tekrour, takes the opposite view from Sonni Ali Ber’s religious policy. He finished Islamizing the kingdom through several battles reported by the traveler Leon the African. The Songhaï Empire, largely Islamized, at least in the big cities, knew its apogee under the Moslem dynasty of Askia.

The Songhai collapsed in 1591 following the invasion of the armies of the Moroccan sultan Ahmed IV el-Mansour, led by the Iberian mercenary Yuder Pasha. Defeated after the battle of Tondibi, in 1591, the Songhaï try to negotiate with the Moroccan sultan, then in front of his refusal, organize a guerilla war against the Moroccan expeditionary force. The last independent Songhaï askias are forced to make allegiance to the Moroccan pashas, ​​before retreating downstream from the Niger river, around Sikieye, the new capital, located today at the location of Niamey (Niger). The Empire broke up into a dozen principalities. In Timbuktu, Moroccans appoint an askia under their influence; his authority hardly extends beyond the city limits.

The city of Timbuktu becomes, during the weakening of the empire of Ghana, in the eleventh century, the gathering point of caravans and the center of trans-Saharan trade, making it not only the economic metropolis of the empires of Mali and Songhai , but also the main religious and intellectual center. Many adobe monuments were then erected, such as the Djingareyber mosques, built during the reign of the Emperor of Mali Kankan Moussa, Sidi Yaya, and Sankoré. The French explorer René Caillié entered it much later, in 1828, and found only remains of its medieval splendor.

Knowledge, books and education hold a great place in the Empire; It is a heritage of the Mali Empire that the Askia Mohammed Sylla will protect and develop. Students and scholars come from Egypt, Morocco, Andalusia or Allada to take courses in mathematics, grammar or literature at Sankore University or other madrasahs.

The Askias surround themselves with scholars. Many foreign doctors come to settle in Gao and Timbuktu, the latter being the cultural capital of the State. They bring the academic traditions of Chinguetti, Djenné but also Mecca and Cairo whose al-Azhar University was, at that time, the largest center for teaching Islamic sciences. From the second generation, the scientists of Timbuktu developed their own teachings and criticized in their comments certain works by the masters of Cairo. There is a lot of freedom to teach, you only need to have a diploma to open a school. The signs of intellectual power are found in the clothes of teachers: specific boubou, white turban and long pointed cane. Ahmed Baba, a scholar from Timbuktu, deported during the Moroccan conquest and who found freedom after the death of Sultan Ahmed el-Mansour, around 1605, distinguished himself in Marrakech by the depth of his knowledge.

The coming to power of Askias, however, led to a rigorous turn in the religious policy of the Empire. The arrival of al-Maghili, for example, brought about the destruction of the Jewish communities in the oases of the Sahara, those of the Touat in particular. Islam does not penetrate the rural world, however; the Songhai Empire remains an urban civilization and the efforts of the ruling classes in the organization and administration of the Empire remain focused on the commercial urban society. On the other hand, the end of the Empire led to an exodus of imams to rural hermitages around which the second Islamization of Sudan was organized, the Islamization of the countryside (seventeenth and eighteenth centuries).

The Songhai Empire prospers quickly thanks to the trans-Saharan trade and to its mines, by sending to North Africa salt and gold but also kola nuts, ambergris, gum arabic, skins leopards and slaves. Songhai also exports hippopotamus skins, cut and tanned to make shields, reputed in Morocco. Gold, which fascinates Europeans as much as Moroccan sovereigns, is not produced in Songhai but in mines, mainly located in Akan country from the sixteenth century. Like Mali, Songhaï serves as a hub for trade in goods that it does not produce: gold comes from the forest and salt from the Sahara.

The Songhai Empire receives from the Maghreb, in return, manufactured products such as jewelry, weapons, cloths or mirrors, as well as agricultural products such as wheat, dates or horses. From the middle of the sixteenth century, the Songhaï ended up in conflict with the Saadiens for the possession of the salt mines of the desert and, in particular, the big salt mine of Teghazza, finally abandoned by the Tuaregs after its annexation in 1582 by the Saadian sultans.

Articles Similaires