Ghana Empire or Wagadu, the actual name, was founded by the Mande speaking Soninke. Ghana meaning "war chief" was what later Arab writer called Wagadu in the eighth century A.D. It's beginning was around the fourth or fifth century, but possibly as a state during Roman North African times, supported by oral traditions and gold imports to Roman North Africa.
Sources on Ghana are retrieved from Spanish Arab and African Berber/Arab writers of the 10th and 12th Century, oral traditions, and archaeology. The Kitab al-Masalikwa'l Mamalik(Book of the Roads and Kingdom) by al-Bakri provides the most vivid accounts. Information also comes from oral sources related by gesere or professional story-tellers, which can vary.
According to oral traditions, the kingdom had its beginning with founding ancestor Dinga. Diabe Cissé tricked Dinga into making him successor, by pretending to be the oldest son. From then on all kings or maghans would come from the Cissé Clan.
Kumbi-Saleh was its capital, divided into two section, a town for muslim traders and a section for the king, connected by a six mile road. At the height of its prosperity, Kumbi-Saleh was the largest West African city before 1240 A.D., with a population of 15,000.
Ghana ruled over numerous states and people, who paid taxes. Its strength came from its superior organization and iron tipped spears. Lesser kings of various kingdoms paid tribute to the ghana. The empire was divided into four provinces run each by a commander called fado. The fado came from one of the aristocratic clans. Collectively the fado was referred to as wago.
Ghana became powerful by controlling the gold trade, mined at the Wangara region.
Ghana became wealthy by taxing all imports and exports. They taxed all salt, gold that came into the empire and all that went out. The empire controlled production of gold by declaring all production, property of the king. Fixed periodical quantities were released to control value.
The ghana was regarded a divine king, whose well-being affected the whole society. Bida, a sacred python was worshipped. He was viewed as a guardian of the land. For the land to remain fertile, oral tradition had it that a virgin had to be sacrifice from each province. This sacrifice was a pact that Diabe Cissé reportedly made to reside in the land that Bida resided. The python is a sacred creature in African ethos.
Kings were buried with unique ritual traditions. On the death of a ghana, a hut of wood would be constructed. The ghana was placed inside. The ghana's personal items, utensils, and servants were burried with him. Individuals would then cover the hut with mats and cloth. Dirt would later be thrown on the hut until it was completely covered, resembling a mound. A ditch would then be dug around the mound, leaving one access point to the tomb.
By the 11th century, Ghana was on the decline. Invasion by Almoravid Berbers was onced believed to be the cause of the decline of the Ghana Empire. The latter reason is no longer valid. The reason for the decline is more complex and factors more varied.In 1076, the capital was sack by invading Almoravids. This weakened the empire causing other states to breakaway and assert independence. Takrur, Diara, Kaniaga all broke away. In addition, trade routes were altered. The trans-Saharan trade going north switch to Tighaza, bypassing Awadaghast. By 1087, the empire was completely broken. The emperor had authority over a few provinces. By 1235, most of the territories were incorporated in the Mali Empire.
Related Article: Soninke Numeration , Soninke Common Names , Almoravid Empire , Mali Empire ,
Davidson, Basil, Buah, F. K. ,and Ajayi, J.F. Ade(1966). A History of West Africa. Doubleday:New York. Library of Congress Card #66-24317.
tags: Sarakole, Seraculeh, Serahuli