Empire of Ancient Ghana

Ancient Ghana derived power and wealth from gold and the introduction             of the camel during the Trans-Saharan trade increased the quantity             of goods that were transported. Majority of the knowledge of Ghana             comes from the Arab writers. Al-Hamdani, for example, describes Ghana             as having the richest gold mines on earth. These mines were situated             at Bambuk, on the upper Senegal river.

 

The Soninke people also sold             slaves, salt and copper in exchange for textiles, beads and finished             goods. They built their capital city, Kumbi Saleh, right on the edge             of the Sahara and the city quickly became the most dynamic and important             southern terminus of the Saharan trade routes. Kumbi Saleh became             the focus of all trade, with a systematic form of taxation. Later             on Audaghust became another commercial centre.

 

The wealth of ancient Ghana is mythically explained in the tale of             Bida, the black snake. This snake demanded an annual sacrifice in             return for guaranteeing prosperity in the Kingdom, therefore each             year a virgin was offered up for sacrifice, until one year, the fiancé             (Mamadou Sarolle) of the intended victim rescued her. Feeling cheated             of his sacrifice, Bida took his revenge on the region, a terrible             drought took a hold of Ghana and gold mining began to decline. There             is evidence found by archaeologists that confirms elements of the             story, showing that until the 12th Century, sheep, cows and even goats             were abundant in the region.

The route taken by traders of the Maghreb to Ghana started in North             Africa in Tahert, coming down through Sjilmasa in Southern Morocco.             From there the trail went south and inland, running parallel with             the coast, then round to the south-east through Awdaghust and ending             up in Kumbi Saleh – the royal town of Ancient Ghana. Inevitably the             traders brought Islam with them.

 

The Islamic communIty

at Kumbi Saleh remained a separate community             quite a distance away from the King’s palace. It had its own mosques             and schools, but the King retained traditional beliefs. He drew on             the bookkeeping and literary skills of Muslim scholars to help run             the administration of the territory. The state of Takrur to the west             had already adopted Islam as its official religion and established             closer trading ties with North Africa.

There were numerous reasons for the decline of Ghana. The King lost             his trading monopoly, at the same time drought began and had a long-term             effect on the land and its ability to sustain cattle and cultivation.             Within the Arab tradition, there is the knowledge that the Almoravid             Muslims came from North Africa and invaded Ghana. Other interpretations             are that the Almoravid influence was gradual and did not involve any             form of military takeover.

In the 11th and 12th Century, new gold fields began to be mined at             Bure (modern Guinea) out of commercial Ghana and new trade routes             were opening up further east. Ghana then became the target of attacks             by the Sosso ruler, Sumanguru. From this conflict in 1235 came the             Malinke people under a new dynamic ruler, Sundiata Keita and soon             became eclipsed by the Mali Empire of Sundiata.

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