The Soninke (also called Sarakole, Seraculeh, or'Serahuli, and who include subgroups such as the Maraka and the Wangara) are a Mandé people who descend from the Bafour and are closely related to the Imraguen of Mauritania. They were the founders of the ancient empire of Ghana c. 750-1240 CE).
Royalty Gorgeously Attired
"The King adorns himself like a woman wearing necklaces round his neck and bracelets on his forearms and he puts on a high cap decorated with gold and wrapped in a turban of fine cotton. He holds an audience in a domed pavilion around which stand ten horses covered with gold-embroidered materials…and on his right, are the sons of the vassal kings of his country, wearing splendid garments and their hair plaited with gold.At the door of the pavilion are dogs of excellent pedigree. Round their necks they wear collars of gold and silver, studded with a number of balls of the same metals."
Arab writers. Al-Hamdani, for example, describes Ghana as having the richest gold mines on earth. These were situated at Bambuk, on the upper Senegal River. The capital of Kumbi Saleh became the focus of all trade, with a systematic form of taxation. Later Audaghust was another commercial centre.
"The city of Ghana consists of two towns situated on a plain. One of these towns, which is inhabited by Muslims, is large and possesses twelve mosques in one of which they assemble for the Friday prayer. There are salaried imams and muezzins, as well as jurists and scholars. The king's town is six miles distant from this one…The king has a palace and a number of domed dwellings all surrounded with an enclosure like a city wall. Around the king's town are domed buildings and groves and thickets where the sorcerers of these people, men in charge of the religious cult, live. In them too are their idols and the tombs of their kings."
Some Arab historians relate the decline of the Empire to the attack of Almoravid who came to convert the empire into Islam, but others believe the power of Islam was slow and did not engage any assault.
Ghana became the target of attacks by the Sosso ruler Sumanguru. Out of this conflict, the Malinke emerged in 1235 under a new dynamic ruler, Sundiata Keita. Soon Ghana was totally eclipsed by the Mali Empire of Sundiata.
Archaeologists have found evidence that confirms elements of the story, showing that until the 12th century, sheep and cows, as well goats, were abundant in the region. But after that only the tougher, more drought resistant goats were common.
Empire Soninke located today in Mauritania, Senegal and Mali. This empire (consisting now of 44 towns or villages) was founded by the Soumare family. From the only daughter of the king of Ghana empire, came Demba, son of the great warrior Mamoudou Diafara. Demba governed Ghana under his grandfather. The fifth generation, Makha Malle Doua Soumare founded the Guidimakha which means the mountains of Makha Malle in the Soninkhe language
The Camara of Guidimakha’ story one of the Soninke tribes
Mr Camara Yelli one of the inhabitants of Haourou a village in Guidimakha told me February 25, 2006 that Soundiata Keita the emperor of the Manding in Mali wanted to have the city of Boli in his Empire. He promised to all the warriors of his Empire that the person who will help him conquer the city of Boly will have anything he wants from him. Gane the ancestor of the Camara of Guidimakha was the strongest warrior of Soundiata Keita Empire. Gane went with his army to the city of Boly he won the battle. He killed the king of Boly cut his head and put it in his bag. He brought it to Sundiata Keita as a proof of his victory. So the city of Boly became a part of Soundiata Keita Empire. He was very happy and wanted to reward his warrior Gane. He told him in front of all his court come tomorrow at early morning I will give to you anything you want that you have seen in my kingdom. This is the big promise that the emperor Soundiata Keita made to Gane. Tekhaye Kante the youngest wife of Soundiata heard it. As she loved Gane she dressed herself as new bride and sat early in the morning in the middle of the royal court. Soundiata Keita, Gane and the royal court met at this time at the place convened. When Gane saw her, he thought that it was the gift the emperor promised him and thanked Soundiata keita. As an emperor a parole is sacred so he agreed to give to Gane in marriage his wife Tekhaye Kante. However Soundiata Keita was so furious and humiliated and Tekhaye Kante knew it. She advised to her new husband Gane to desert the Soundiata Keita Empire. Gane followed his wife’s advice and left with her and his friends Barri, Gassama, Dagnokho. When they arrived in a village away from soundiata Keita’s Empire he left his companions and his wife with the chief of that village named Sylla. He went hunting. During his absence Soundiata Keita’s army came and fought with the sylla in order to bring back with them Tekhaye Kante the ex-wife of the emperor. The sylla won the battle and soon Soundiata’s army went back without Gane’s companions. When Gane came back from hunting he took his companions and left the sylla’s village in order to prevent their hosts from any attack of Soundiata Keita. On the road to Guidimakha he met a cisse and they became friends, continuing the journey together. They arrived to a mountain and found there a king named Magha Soumare. They continued by foot to the top of the mountain. For the warriors of that time, music would be made to let the king know about their presence. He knew that Gane was a strong warrior. The soumare were farmers and they needed protection against the Berbers of Mauritania. Gane agreed to help to protect them. Magha Soumare gave a part of his kingdom to Gane will dominate thus he asked Gane to promise him that the kingdom will take his name. He gave his daughter in marriage to Gane as an alliance. After his death Gane dominated a part of the kingdom but he did what he promised. He named it “Guidimakha” which means the Mountain of Makha. The Guidimakha is located in the southern Mauritania and the northern Mali.
Soninke people today live throughout West Africa, but remain centered around the former homelands of the Ghana Empire and the valley of the upper Senegal river and along the Mali - Senegal border between Nara and Nioro du Sahel. Migrations seeking labor, encouraged under French colonial rule have led many Soninke to build communities in Dakar and other large cities in Africa and beyond. There is a large and growing Soninke community in Paris, France. Trade networks, famously led by the Wangara mercantile confederations, spread soninke people can culture throughout most of Mali and Senegal, southern Mauritania, northern Burkina Faso, as well as parts of The Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau. The Maraka - Soninke merchant communities and plantations (centered just north of the city of Segou, Mali) were an economic mainspring under the Bambara Empire, and built trade routes throughout the region. Today the Soninke number above 1 million.
Social organization and politicsThe ancient empire Soninke was governed by an emperor who had a great power and had control of the trading of tht Trans-Saharan Trade. His power was limited by some notables who were in charge of the administration, taxes, army, justice and other duties. So the central government of the empire was composed of the emperor and those nobles that we can consider as important advisors. The peripheral courts had some freedom deciding on their interior problems however they were supervised by the imperial court concerning the problems of all the empire as the army. In the time of Wagadu there was an emperor at the head of the empire followed by the noble’s families. Even after the decline of the empire the majority of the Soninke families still maintained this hierarchy in their villages. In the Soninke social organization everyone occupies a place in that level. You cannot be a king or a smith by choice, you are taught by your father the perfetion you are going to have. It is something that you receive by family passing. It is a merit that you have from you forefathers. So this hierarchy is very important in Soninke culture and it is something that the Soninke respect. This structural social organization is divided in three levels. The first level is the “Hooro” who are the free men. They have the highest social rank. The hooro are the rulers, they have the right to punish and make justice. Among the “Hooro” there are the “tunkalemmu” princes. They are designated to exercise authority. Only they can become king. They have this leadership in their blood. They receive it from their fathers. The next class after the princes “tunnkalemmu” are the “mangu”. The mangu are the advisors of the princes. They are their confidents. When there are some problems among the different classes of “Hooro” or free man they play the role of mediators. The “mangu” origins are “kuralemme” which means warriors. So when there is a war he becomes the chief of the army. The last class of the “hooro” free man is the “modinu” the priest. Their origin is from the influence of Islam in Soninke society. They make justice, and educate the population. They teach them Islam and protect them with prayers. They are very much respected for their knowledge in religion. The second level of the Soninke organization is the “naxamala” which is also divided in many others classes. The “naxamala” are the dependent men. The “tago” or blacksmiths occupy the first class among them. They make the arms and tools of work. They also make jewelry. They are respected for their knowledge in iron. After the blacksmith there comes the carpenter “Sakko”. They are the friends of the inhabitants of the forest. They are the confidents and the masters of devils. They have a big importance because their knowledge in wood is great. Then we have the praise-singer “Jaroo”. During ceremonies they are in charge of animation, speaking, and singing. They are the most famous in the dependent class “naxamala”. They are the only authorized to say anything they want. They are the orator of the society. They detain the history of most important Soninke families. The last class in the “naxamala” class is the cobbler “Garanko”. They are in charge of the leather shoes, saddle of mounting and sheaths of sabers. The last hierarchy of the Soninke social organization after the free-man “horoo” and the dependent men “naxamala” are the slaves known as “komo”. The slaves “komo” work for the masters. Their masters had also to take care of them but it was not always the case. The slaves have been always the force major of labor in the Soninke society. The prosperity of the Soninke society was due to their abundance in the domain of farming. In the past there were more slaves than free-men.
People and culture
The different Soninke social classes do not marry one another. It is very important for the Soninke to maintain this social organization so the free-men do not marry the dependent man or the slaves. A priest can marry a princess; however, a prince cannot marry a priestess. There are different steps to follow when celebrating a marriage in the Soninke society. If a girl pleases a man he has to send his parents in order to convince the girl family to give their daughter to their son in marriage. If both families agreed they do what is called “I na tamma laga” the engagement. They do it in the mosque. After this step every month the fiancé give to his family in law his “Nakhafa” the contribution of the fiancé to his future wife’s family for their foods and others spending. Every tabaski or other holidays, he has also give meat to his family in law. This is not mandatory if he does not have the means to do it. If both families agreed that it is time for the two new couples to live together they do what is called “futtu” the definitive accord of marriage. They usually do it a Thursday afternoon they send the girl to her husband’s house. In that occasion the friends of the new couples come to spend the day with them in separate rooms in their parent’s house. This event is the “karikompe”. The new married couple has advisors. The boy’s advisor is the “Khoussoumanta-yougo” and the girl’s advisor is the “khoussoumanta-yakhare”. After one week of celebration the women meet to show the gifts that the couple received from their parents mostly from the girl’s mother.
Circumcision the “Birou”
Mamadou Soumare an author said “Above its traditional surgery, the ritual of circumcision makes in evidence, the physical endurance, the pain, the courage, in one word the personality of the child.” Festivities are organized during many weeks starting from the date of circumcision has been chosen by the notables of the village. In order to prepare them psychologically the elder who had been circumcised the year before organized every afternoon “tam-tams” for the new one. Throughout the ceremony they place the “tambour” called “daïné” in the middle the young who are going to be circumcised sit around, and the others teenagers of the village, young girls, women, men and slaves form a circle. During this time the boys surrounded with beautiful scarves “disa” sing for them.
The Soninke have a variety of cuisine. As an example, breakfast foods include “fonde”, porridge made of millet, sugar, milk, and salt, and “Sombi” porridge made of rice, millet or corn. For lunch “demba tere” and “takhaya” are very common, both containing rice and peanuts, frequent Soninke ingredients. "Dere”, a stew, is a mixture of millet and beans.
The Soninke traditionally engage in both with trade and agriculture. During the rainy season men and women both cultivate. However women usually stay at home to cook and take care of their children. They also do others works as dyeing cotton material. The dark blue indigo is considered a typical Soninke color. The Soninke attained a high good level of living. Emigration took a huge place in their life. Most of the time women, children and old stay at home alone when the young men go to neighbor cities to find money. From the 1960s until recent years, the majority of West African immigrants in France came from this ethnic group. The Soninke are still now the back bone of countries like The Gambia, Senegal and Mali. Through all history they have been traders in gold, salt and even diamonds.
From their heritage of the ancient Ghana the Soninke maintained Islam as their religion. They are one of the first West African ethnic groups to convert into Islam.
The attack of the Almoravids upon ancient Ghana resulted in the large dispersal of the Sarahule into the rest of the western Sudan. Some were escaping from the wars and others from possible enslavement. However, Ghana did not come to its final end in 1076, even though it was at its weakest stage. The empire gradually declined after the Almoravids attack and with the people of Ghana becoming vassals of Sumanguru Conteh, ruler of Kaniaga. This state however was razed to the ground in 1235 during the attack of the Mandinka leader Sundiata Keita. Even before the final fall, migrations continued. What was once a powerful empire soon became a victim of constant raids. People moved away in search of safer environments better farmland and well-watered regions, well away from the widening desiccation. Finally, the trans-Saharan trade routes shifted as a result of the wars and Sarahule became middlemen. They therefore moved to areas where they could take better advantage of the trade. As a result, a new trading centre called Walata was built.
Many of the migrants established their own villages and states (Gidamaka, Jafounou, Tirnga, Kingi and Gajiaga) between northern Senegal and Mali. Other members of the founding lineages moved out and established their own new villages and states: Jafounou was founded by the Dukuray lineage but some of its members moved away to found the villages of Gori and Tambakara.
The Sarahule who migrated after the fall of Ghana moved in different directions. Some went to lower Senegal and The Gambia where they settled in villages pursuing their trading activities as Julia (dyulas). Others went northwards to Mauritania and settled among the moors in places like Hodh and Tagant while some others still moved further southwards. They also founded another trading town called Jenne which like Walata played an important role in the Trans Saharan trade.
As the Sarahule settled among different peoples, they adopted the cultures and traditions of their hosts. They quickly adjusted to their new environment. In southern Mauritania, they soon became sedentary farmers, although they were always victims of constant Moorish raids. On the other hand, they sometimes influenced their hosts, an example being the name given to the major city in the Mossi area – Ouagadougou, which recalls the greatness of the first Sarahule state.
The Sarahule never built another empire after Ghana. Apart from kings who succeeded to a limited extent in gaining control over a wide area, the rest of the Sarahule states retained their independence. One particular factor prohibiting any expansion was the constant quarrels among the nobles, which led to civil wars. Weakened by these conflicts, Kingi and the rest of the Sarahule states were easy prey to other rising powers in the same region.
Around the 1880s, a Sarahule marabout called Momodou Lamin Drammeh waged a jihad against unbelievers. His wars resulted in the building of an empire which incorporated many Sarahule and Tukulor states. This empire extended as far as The Gambia with settlements founded in other parts of the empire too.
The wars he embarked on led to the further spread of Sarahule in the Senegambia region. Having had a near fatal contact with the French, he found his way to The Gambia with many of his Sarahule followers. He was eventually killed there and these Sarahule established their permanent homes in The Gambia.
The Jihad of Al-hajj Momodou Lamin Drammeh
His Jihad while only lasting between 1885 and 1887 was fierce and wide ranging, directed against foreign domination.
A Jahanke Sarahule from Khasso Mading or Khasso Gunjur, Drammeh tried to team up with Al Hajj Umar and Ahmadu Sekou, but as he claimed to be the spiritual successor to Umar, they dismissed him.
Besides being subjected to increased French control, the Soninke population of upper Senegal were working under harsh conditions on the telegraph and railway lines being installed. Drammeh addressed this crisis and by 1885 had a large following ready to fight for its freedom. In January 1886, Drammeh raided Bundu after being denied passage through it.
Due to the superior weaponry of the French, he resorted to guerilla warfare, attacking the posts at Bakel, the symbol of French presence and the cause of humiliation for the Soninke. While Drammeh' troops were defeated, they cut the telegraph lines between Bakel and Kayes.
His jihad continued into Wuli in 1887 with the French pursuing him closely as they feared he might link up with Samore Toure a strong unified Muslim front.
Drammeh was finally defeated at his fortified camp near Tambacounda (Senegal) on 8 December 1887, and killed the next day by one of Musa Molloh's soldiers, who along with other groups who had been threatened by Drammeh were allies of the French.
With this victory, the French gained control of the upper Gambia area and much of Casamance as well as marking the end of any effective French resistance to their rule in Senegal.
Lifestyle and Traditions
Sarahules are known to be very pious Muslims. Anyone who has a Sarahule friend will notice that they hardly miss their five daily prayers.
Being pious means Islam is part of their life. It is a common place to see a Sarahule child engage in memorizing verses of The Holy Koran before starting formal education.
They also are known to be very successful businessmen. They invest in landed property, selling and buying of land, renting and leasing of land. Even at a young age, a Sarahule boy is taught the value of money and business, and taught to be able to survive on his own.
Adhering to their religion, most Sarahule’s are known to be polygamous, with a lot of siblings. The older generations dress modestly in accordance to religious dictates, the younger females too, although Western civilization and the coming of jeans have not spared them.
Sarahules can also be referred as nomadic. They love travelling, and they are keen hustlers, who help one another out in times of need. In Africa, most of the countries they visit are Sierra Leone, Angola and Ghana. In the Western world, USA and Spain are countries where they have great concentration.
They are believed to love big, fast and flashy cars. Although their favourite food is called ‘Budu Keke, they are known to consume ‘monnor’. Sarahules are also said to be expert leather workers and have a big leather making business in ‘KonKo,’ Upper River Region. Although most of them have families in the towns and cities, they are known to have higher concentrations in the Upper River Region towns of Gambissara, Numuyel, Sotuma, Gerawuli, Kumbija. As with most ethnic groups, Sarahule have griots, and a very famous one Ganda Fadiga passed away three months ago.
- Below are some pictures of Ancient Ghana's Houses, Golds, Idols, Maps, People, Vessels, Gold Mines, Masks, Mosques, Arab Traders, Ruler of Bakel and his Advisers 1887-1888 and the King Ghana himself.