Mali, Mauritania · 1 Days · 8 Moments · February 2019

Voyage through the Songhai Empire


17 February 2019

The end of the Songhai Empire came on 1590. At this time the Empire had become very vulnerable to civil wars. Adding to this, the arrival of the Portuguese lowered the Empire’s economy because the Portuguese took over their trading routes. With all of these unfortunate events, the Sultan of Morocco came to the Empire and conquered it until its extinction.
After this amazing journey, I have learned so much about the Songhai Empire, and the culture is one of the most interesting facts about it. When Sunni Ali established the Empire, he wanted to stay with traditional rites and remove Islam. Therefore, many peasants supported him, but scholars were against him because they had previously adopted the religion from the Mali Empire. After Sunni Ali, came Muhammad Ture who re established Islam and imposed it as a religion. He even made the trip to Mecca and returned from his pilgrimage. So the Empire was constantly debating between traditional practices and Islam.
I just arrived to Koumbi Saleh and I discovered how society worked on this Empire. The Songhai Empire was divided by castes. The Emperor had maximum power, the nobles followed him and influenced governmental affairs. The citizens worked either on agriculture or in military. Citizens could become elite by working on civil service or becoming religious. Finally the lowest caste were slaves. Nonetheless, they could also buy their freedom and become part of the citizens. So even if you belonged to a certain caste, you could move places easily.
The Songhai Empire was under the rule of two very important leaders, Sunni Ali and Muhammad Ture. Both of these leaders were very focused on the military and keeping the Empire strong. The emperor was the head of the government, he was surrounded by military and religious leaders. The Empire was organized as a bureaucracy which was in charge of treasury, military, religion and agriculture. Nevertheless, the Emperor always had the decisions to himself on matters like appointing government officials and making treaties.
After visiting Jenne, I am now in Timbuktu, a city of advancement. Before the Songhai Empire, Timbuktu was already the greatest city of the Mali Empire; and this did not change with the arrival of Sunni Ali. Sunni Ali was the creator of the Songhai Empire, when he conquered Timbuktu, he established new rules, developing a skilled and centralized system of administration. When conquering Timbuktu, he forced the scholars that inhabited the city to support him and his new policies. Sunni Ali was a very powerful and organized leader, besides establishing the new Empire, he also created a professional army and a navy to increase the Empire’s domain.
I am now leaving Gao and headed to Jenne, but before I wanted to say that so far, I learned that the economy in this Empire is very well organized and administrated. The Empire mostly relies on trade and the taxes they get from commerce. They did not only establish trade with North Africa and the Middle East, but also with Europe. The rulers of the Empire focus on wars with nearby civilizations in order to bring captives and sell them as slaves. Slaves are very significant and important for the Empire’s prosperity. Something very interesting about them is that they occasionally use cowrie shells as a currency.
The Songhai Empire started in the middle of the 15th century after methodical and systematic conquest. It was centered in Gao on Niger River. The Empire linked trans-Saharan trade of the north with South Africa. It became the largest most powerful Empire in West Africa. It was very organized and controlled thanks to its creator Sunni Ali. This Empire was the last one in West Africa, following the Mali Empire.
I’ve just arrived to the Songhai Empire in Mali. Excited to see this impressive society and its characteristics.