Despite their cultural differences, the people of twelfth-century West Africa were not isolated from the wider world.
They were part of a broader Islamic culture that blended the traditional with the local.
Early European contacts with West African peoples
During the 12th century, early European contacts with West African peoples were not limited to Ghana.
The Portuguese had made several voyages along the coastal regions of West Africa and had established a trading post at Arguin Island, which was now part of Mauritania.
Although the Portuguese were not successful in establishing any formal control over the area, they were interested in controlling the trade of African gold to Europe.
They traded European wheat for African gold and also traded European wheat for African slaves.
There were many reasons why Europeans were interested in exploring and colonizing West Africa. Some of these reasons were economic.
These reasons referred to the availability of African labor. They also referred to the need for European countries to earn national status in the region.
These reasons also referred to the desire to learn about Africa in Europe.
The discovery of Kilimanjaro stimulated the European desire to learn more about Africa.
Another reason cited by some scholars was the prestige of Arabic literacy. Many African kings blended Islam with local traditions to establish an Islamic presence.
They also established segregated Muslim communities in their kingdoms. These communities were able to establish far-reaching networks.
The three main medieval empires that were founded in West Africa include Mali, Songhay, and the Sahel.
They included parts of present-day Mauritania, Senegal, and Gambia.
The three major medieval empires that were founded in West Africa are categorized into three distinct stages. The first stage began in the eighth century.
This stage saw the rise of the Mali Empire, which included parts of Guinea, Mauritania, and Senegal. This period also saw the spread of Islam in West Africa.
Muslim merchant-scholar class
During the twelfth century, a Muslim merchant-scholar class flourished in West Africa.
These scholars were valued for their writing and religious expertise.
They influenced the political and religious structures of West African kingdoms. They also served as advisors and scribes for these kingdoms.
Their religious practices, in turn, influenced the traditional beliefs of the people.
As Islam spread across West Africa, Islamic states developed centers for Islamic learning. These centers were patronized by the state.
These centers would eventually evolve into Islamic universities and market centers.
They also helped facilitate long-distance trade. Several centers of Islamic learning emerged in the Sahel region during this time.
These centers of Islamic learning include Timbuktu in Mali and Agadez in Niger.
Timbuktu, which grew out of a settlement made by the Tuareg, was a prominent center of Islamic intellectual learning
. It was incorporated into the Mali empire and later became a part of the Songhai empire.
The imperial rulers of Timbuktu patronized scholars from the north as well as from the south.
They also patronized Islamic legal courts and madrasas.
These scholars were called Hakeem’s.
They had a wide knowledge base and were compared to Renaissance Men of the European Renaissance period. These scholars were recruited from all over the Muslim world.
Despite their diverse backgrounds, the scholars in Timbuktu were mostly of Sudanese origin.
While Islam was gaining ground, many West African people did not convert to the faith.
Some remained traditional, practicing indigenous animistic religions. Other common people were interested in Sufis.
They often sought their spiritual protection. Sufi orders played an important role in the spread of Islam throughout the region.
‘At-Turuq as-Sufi Orders in West Africa’ examines the historical and social background of the Sufi orders in this region.
The book also outlines how Sufi orders interact with socio-political change in West Africa and the Maghreb.
Sufi orders have a significant impact on the lives of the people they influence. They are called upon to play a role in the economic reform and development of countries.
These orders can help to create a conducive environment for investment, discourage corruption, and create a healthy self-accountability culture.
They also have the potential to discourage the misuse of public funds.
Sufi Orders have been around for centuries. They can also adapt and renew.
The book identifies the main characteristics of Sufi Orders.
Some are tightly organized in a hierarchical fashion. Others have significant local autonomy.
The book is divided into three parts, each examining a different aspect of the life of Sufi Orders in West Africa.
The first Sufi confraternity appeared in Egypt in the 12th century.
It was later expanded to Syria and Basra and eventually to the Middle East, North Africa, and West Africa. Some of this turuq is still widespread in Africa.
They are often offshoots of older orders.
The ‘Alawiyyah Order’ has spread across the region and is now also present in Europe. It is a relatively moderate order that seeks to combine Islam with African ritualism.
This order traces its origins back to Shaykh Abdu’l-Hasan as-Shadhili (1258-1291), a Moroccan Islamic scholar. He is known for his miracles.
French involvement in the trans-Atlantic slave trade
During the early modern era, Europeans enslaved people from Africa and the Mediterranean region.
In the transatlantic slave trade, Africans were sold to Europeans for the purposes of enslavement. The trade-in enslaved Africans to the Americas was a major trade.
There are a few things that could affect the success of the transatlantic slave trade. One of the major factors is political instability in Africa.
Another is the demand for slave labor in the New World.
The demand for labor in the New World grew steadily over the seventeenth century.
During the early modern era, Europeans initially acquired slaves from regions near the coast of West Africa.
They were transported by thousands to the Caribbean Islands and America. This trade was profitable for the Europeans.
European goods that were traded for Africans included guns, ammunition, sugar, alcohol, and factory-made goods.
The slave trade was also important to the British.
It was a major way for Britain to increase its colonial wealth. In the 1700s, Britain had the world’s largest fleet.
During the 1700s, British and French merchants began trading in large numbers of slaves. This influenced the rise of the racialist theory.
The racialist theory was based on the assumption that Africans were inferior. This was a theory that was partly based on religious motives.
The transatlantic slave trade also changed the gender pattern.
Women were more likely to be taken as slaves than men.
Traditionally, the djembe is an instrument played by men. Its sounds can be heard as part of a larger ensemble, or as a solo instrument.
It is also used for baby naming ceremonies. The djembe drum has a unique design.
Djembe drums have a diameter of 30-38 cm.
They weigh around 9 kg. It is made from a wooden composite. The drum’s exterior is smooth. Its interior texture influences the sound. It is tuned using vertical ropes.
The skin of a djembe drum is traditionally made from goat or sheep skin. Depending on the skin, it can produce different sounds.
A thicker skin produces a warm sound, while a thinner one makes the drum louder. Most players prefer skins from dry areas. They are also more difficult on the hands.
A djembe drum’s head produces a high-pitched sound. The skin is stretched over the head of the drum by metal rings.
The skin is secured using a rope. The skin can be stretched further with the use of tuning lugs.
The djembe drum is often used for music and dance. Its sounds are also used to communicate between towns.
It is believed that the djembe originated in the 12th century in the Mandinka tribe of Mali. A more recent migration may have caused the dispersal of the djembe in West Africa.
A number of different djembe styles can be heard throughout Africa.
These styles have been incorporated into the popular music of Western Africa.
In fact, these styles have influenced the music of other countries as well.
Some djembes feature spiral patterns, a sign of pride in the work that went into making the instrument.
African rulers blended Islam with traditional and local practices
During the twelfth century in west Africa, some African rulers adopted Islam as their religion.
These rulers sought to meld Islam with the traditional and local practices of their people.
Some may have undermined the legitimacy of African ancestral religious traditions. However, Islam was able to adapt to different cultural situations.
Several factors influence the level of commitment to Islam. Islamization could take generations. The level of commitment varied from region to region.
It was also dependent on the local population’s level of interest in Islam.
In Mali, the Muslim king emphasized Islam’s significance and promoted the establishment of mosques.
He also encouraged the development of Islamic learning. However, he had to contend with a growing number of local ethnic groups who were opposed to Islam.
The Bambara of middle Niger resisted Islamization during the Mali empire. After state formation, the chiefs became more open to Islam.
However, they continued to practice local rituals. These African groups were mostly of Soninke origin.
The Volta basin was also a hotbed for Islamization.
The Maliki scholars adapted local languages and culture to Islamic practices. They also won support from Berber pastoralists.
Islam also provided a political and economic center in West Africa. Its effects were limited at an early stage, but it gradually replaced traditional African religion.
In later centuries, significant gains were made in rural areas.
Islam had a profound impact on West African trade. As a result, the trade network helped to shape political developments.
The cross-cultural trade also helped to strengthen cultural self-identity in various parts of Africa.