Ben Hasara

Area inhabited/ruled [if members of your group emigrated, immigrated, or established settlement (colonies) outside of their home country you should include an explanation of that travel or settlement in this section; include places traveled and reasons for leaving home country].

The Songhai Empire, also known as Songhay Empire, was a medieval civilization located on both banks of the Niger River in Western Africa. It is the largest of the former empires in the Western Sudan region of Africa, and what is now current day Mali. In 1340, the Songhai took advantage of the Mali's empire decline, and successfully asserted its independence making Gao their capital. Sonni Ali the Great was the first ruler of Songhai, and he is credited with putting warriors in canoes and going out to capture cities to add to their empire. At one point they controlled all gold mines and salt mines in West Africa and obtained land over 2000 miles long. Through my research I did not find any instances of immigration or established settlement in the Songhai Empire.


Early Life
Pre-colonial life
The common people worked all the time, their life was very hard, and their lives and homes were very humble under empire rule. Homes of the noble and kings were magnificent in grandeur and architecture. Only privileged craftsmen also made enough money to live in nice homes.

In the 13th through 16th century the Songhai controlled most of gold and salt trades across West Africa. The people of Songhai's primary occupations were to mine gold, fish, trade, blacksmith, as well as military responsibilities. Agriculture was a large component of business and industry. Bean, rice, onions, sorghum, millet, and papaya provided a source of trade. Slavery was also a dominant business. Timbuktu became a thriving cultural land and trade center. Arab and Jewish merchants frequently traded in these centers. Clothing of the pre-colonial days consisted on hand woven dresses or long garments worn by both men and woman.


Modern Day life
The modern day Songhai people inhabit the landscape of the ancient Songhai Empire. Families tend to be large, and many times live in communal compounds. It is common to see groups of greater than one hundred people living in a rural compound. In urban areas, families are a bit more scattered and smaller in size.
Men and women lead fairly separate lives. This has resulted in men and women not really interacting with each other in work, family life or socializing. Marriage also remains a less partnership activity. A woman's primary allegiance is to her own kin, for it will be from her offspring that she inherits wealth. A working woman will keep money for herself or share it with her blood kin. If her husband is abusive, the wife's brothers will often take care of the family. Rural and urban Songhai men today wear traditional Western clothing. They generally wear trousers and a loose-fitting shirt. Younger men might wear used jeans and tee-shirts they buy at the market. Most Songhai women rarely wear Western clothing. They wear long wrap-around skirts (pagnes) and matching tops.


Social and Political Organization
Sonni Ali established a system of the government ruled by a royal court. This was later expanded by Askia Muhammad, who appointed governors and mayors to manage local tributary states, situated around the Niger valley. Local chiefs were still granted authority over their land as long as they did not move away from Songhai policy.



Upper classes in the society followed Islam traditions, while lower classes maintained allegiance to traditional religions, such as Muslim. Sermons emphasized obedience to the king. Timbuktu was the educational capital. In 1492, Sunni Baru inherited the crown of Sunni Ali. Before Sunni Baru was even a year on the throne, he was facing a serious rebellion for refusing to adopt Islam. As a result, 4 months into his reign he was defeated by Askia Muhammad, and he instilled the support of both Islam and Muslim religions. Modern day Songhai mostly follow Muslim teachings so they pray five times a day. Muslim's avoid pork, alcohol and celebrate Ramadan in their beliefs.


Arts/Technology/Developed Culture
Today the Songhai celebrate their cultural past through song, dance and poetry. Griots (both male and female) perform these celebrations of births, marriages, and holidays. Poetry performances are aired on the local radio. These celebrations are depicted through art and artifacts. These pictures show an ancient mask, and handmade terra cotta bowl.


After the death of Askia Daoud, a civil war weakened the empire. Then the Saadi Empire of Morocco invaded the Songhai Empire, and Judar, the leader of the Saadi in 1591 captured all important cities and ending the powerful reign of the ancient Songhai Empire.
After researching about the Songhai Empire I have learned a lot about their culture. I learned a lot about their Pre-colonial culture as well as their modern culture. This was a very interesting subject as you learn something new in almost every source you look. In my opinion the Songhai Empire was the most powerful empire in all of Africa’s history. Their balance of the arts and business could not be matched as they thrived. They controlled all the gold and salt trades giving them a good economic structure. I hope more people will research about the Songhai and learn as much as I did.