Empire of Wagadou

The Ghana Empire or Wagadou Empire[1] (existed before c. 830 until c. 1235) was located in what is now southeastern Mauritania, and Western Mali. Complex societies had existed in the region since about 1500 BCE, and around Ghana’s core region since about 300 CE. When Ghana’s ruling dynasty began is uncertain, it is first mentioned in documentary sources around 830 CE by Al-Kwarizmi.[2] The introduction of the camel, which preceded Muslims and Islam by several centuries, brought about a gradual change in trade, and for the first time, the extensive gold, ivory trade, and salt resources of the region could be sent north and east to population centers in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe in exchange for manufactured goods.


Ghana Empire gains its wealth by taxing the all traders who sell within Ghana. If a traders enter the Empire of Ghana they will have to leave their iron, peacock, feathers, salt or any commodity at one post in return for goods that are sold there. A traveler could then trade his own item for a commodity he ventured of to Ghana for, without going to far within the empire if he chose to do so. The interesting part is that if textiles where brought in from the North they will be distributed in a rationed manner respectively throughout the kingdom. Traders and merchants would sometimes bring commodities of their kingdom’s own ‘’royal treasury’’, they would often leave surplus amount of goods within Wagadu due to it being trade centers were all kingdoms traded within. Merchants usually came to Wagadu (Empire of Ghana) to sell textiles, camels and salt. Salt was usually sold for gold, and was even worth more than gold within the empire, salt was used as the main currency. Slaves were also sold excessively during the reign of the Ghana Empire. The Empire of Ghana also taxed its vassals extensively and other tributary chiefdoms who bordered the fringes of the empire.

The Empire of Ghana secured its territory with its strong army. According to “Al Barki” wrote in 1067 Emperor could disperse of 200,000 warriors and 40,000 cavalry men at any given time. Wagadu had gained more territory from 7th century to 11century. The Soninke people had many advantages over the armies of the neighboring territories. One of them was iron weapons and swords, and distinct superb disciplined military, with great attack formations. But the Soninke’s primary advantage was their ironmade weapons against the opposing tribes ivory and wood weapons. Their strategy was to defeat a clan or village allow the local ruler to remain in power, if he pledged allegiance to Ghana. Other times the king directly ruled over the conquered peoples without an intermediary or vassal. All conquered tribes or people were expected to provide soldiers for the army. Ghana had an estimated control of 800,000 km2 (308,882 sq mi) of land area at its apex.


The Empire of Ghana was called that for the reason that Ghana means king in the Soninke language, Islamic and European scholars named it after the king because it seemed the king controlled everything. Indeed the king of Ghana was very powerful but not a tyrant. The King’s power was moderately regulated by those who were in charge of taxes, army, justice, and other duties. The central government of the empire had a long list of advisors. They local courts of chiefs and first officers decided that matters of local affairs, which were following the mandates of the higher imperial court of the emperors and nobles. The “Soninke’ people who dominated the government, had a 3 class caste system, the “Hooro” being the first, the ”naxamala” would be the second class caste ,and the last were “komo” who were slaves. Each one of these class systems had sub-divisions also. The “Hooro” also called “free men”, were ruling class that administered authority. One “class of Hooro” the “Tunnkalemmu” were appointed to carry out authority across local courts and had the right to reward or punish. After the Tunnkalemmu were the “mangu”. The “Mangu” are the advisors of the princes. When they are also problems between different princes the “mangu “play as mediators. In most cases the “mangu” are the chief of the Army for the princes since they are called the princes “right hand” man. The second level of the caste system would be the “naxamala” who were called the dependent men. The”Tago” which were blacksmith held the highest power. After the “blacksmith Tagu” were the ”Sakko”, who also were the masters of the wood who had great knowledge of the forest. Third to come of “Naxamala”were the “Jaroo”, who were somewhat like entertainers who sang and spoke anything they want, they were solely responsible for being orators and no one else but them could be orators, The last subdivision class of “Naxamala were the” Garanko” who were responsible for making leather and other woven goods. The last class of the 3 caste were the “Komo” who were slaves, and were often times harshly treated and used to work in for their masters, they were usually used to work in farming.

The Empire of Ghana’s power began to disintegrate in 1059 AD. The causes of the decline, was the Emperor and his chiefs began to overtax the region ,the Sahara desert began to expand affecting the crop production of the lands, which resulted in most of its citizens becoming dependent on food from the outside. This caused a decrease in the surplus of food from the Wagadu famers, and which caused trade of cattle and crops to declined dramatically. The Ghana Empire also had very volatile subjects in its kingdom, one of them was the Berber tribe “Sanhadja” . They were great enemies of Wagadu before they came into power but they were pacified as a result, of them being main tribe that brought most of the salt into the empire. But the Sanhaja had defected to Almoravids who were Berber muslims encroaching from the North. The muslim religion also became a threat as it began to get a stronger influence in the kingdom which caused tribes disbelief of the Semi-Divine King(Ghana).The emperor was also not able to exercise his authority over distant sources of that supplied gold, copper, and silver as his resources began to decrease due to his territory retracting in area. So the King of Ghana decided to make a deal with the Soso a sonay speaking tribe(believed to be an offshoot of the Soninke)and Manlinke people who lived in area were the Emperors authority was weak. The Soso and Malinke tribe that were initially supposed to mine and extract gold on the behalf of the Emperor. The Soso tribe then double crossed the Ghana emperor and strategically then made initiative to make a conquest and hoarded of the resources for themselves the manlinke followed suit. The Soso and Manlinke of course renounced any allegiance under the Ghana king.

Finally the “Almoravids” descended unto the territories of Ghana Empire and the Ghana Empire army and the Almoravids fought for 5 years from 1062. They both fought for 5 more years until the Almoravids gained control of the empire in 1067. Abu Bakr ibn Umar would eventually hold down all resistance, and his cousin Yusef ibn Tashifin would eventually rule the region with an iron fist.

The Soninke attempted to resist the Almoravids for 10 years but were not successful, and the Soninke were finally constrained to a smaller kingdom in 1077.

In 1203 AD the “Kante clan” a Mande tribe conquered every other Mande tribe including the Soso an Manlinke, Samunguru Kante a powerful leader eventually destroyed what was left of the remnants of the Ghana Kingdom. But although the kingdom was gone the Soninke were still able to keep their traditions together. The Soninke and the Ghana Empire legacy would live on as the ruler Askya Muhhamd I also called Askya the Great, of the Songhai Empire and was half Soninke inheriting his lineage from his father. Askya Muhhamad would be one of the greatest emperors in African history ruling over one of the biggest amount of territory known in Africa.