Songhay started as a fishing community. They traded
fish for the goods they wanted and needed. At one time, they were
part of Mali. Mali tried to get them to pay taxes, but they never
would. Songhay was always stubbornly independent. Mali let them get
away with it because they wanted the fish.
As Mali weakened, Songhay started to take over.
It was easy for them. They were strong Muslin kingdom. They were
organized. They had a central government. They had a well-trained
army. The people were not greedy. But they were proud. They were
especially proud of Sonni Ali the Great!
Ali the Great: Sonni Ali (the new king)
was a wonderful leader. He put warriors in canoes and started taking
over city after city. He sent warriors to march on landlocked cities
such as Timbuktu.
They kept growing until they grew into the largest
kingdom in all of West Africa. They grew so big that they controlled
the gold mines to the south and the salt mines to the north. That made
them very powerful indeed. At its height, Songhay stretched over 2,000
Trade flourished and made the nobles
rich. Songhay exported gold, salt, kola nuts and slaves. They imported
textiles, horses, and luxury goods. Songhay was definitely a member of
the slave trade. Children, women, and men would be sold into slavery
without question or interest.
Life: Books were important. Any traders
that brought books found them quickly purchased for vast amounts of
gold. Doctors, judges, priests, and other educated men were maintained
at the king's expense. These were important people.
The homes of the nobles and kings were
magnificent. The homes of poor, however, were not. The leaders of
Songhay did not spend time or money on the homes of workers.
Privileged craftsmen were the exception. They lived quite well.
Everyone else farmed the land and worked in the mines. Their life was
not full of luxury.
The people of Songhay followed the
African religions of witchdoctors, and spirits, and magic. They
believed in many gods. But the leaders of Songhay were Muslim. Their
religion was Islam.
Time Period: The
Empire of Songhay had its
heyday from the 1400's through the late 1500's. At its height, the Empire
of Songhay was 2,000 miles long!
Gold, Salt, Slaves
Most Sought After Import:
Fish, Niger River, Gold Mines, Salt Mines
Farming, mining, trading, defense (army)
crops: Beans, rice, onions, sorghum, millet, papaya, gourds,
cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, cotton, and peanuts.
specialization: Fishermen, traders, miners, farmers,
Sonni Ali the Great
The common people worked all the time. Their life was very hard. Their homes were humble. Miners lived in near slavery. The nobles lived
lives of luxury. Music,
art, and the
tales of the griots were
still important, but the common people
had little time for leisure.