III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > D. Africa, 500–1500 > 2. Regions, 500–1000
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
2. Regions, 500–1000
a. Sudanic West and Central Africa
c. 1st Century C.E
Camels were introduced into the Sahara from the lower Nile Valley during the late 1st and early 2nd centuries. These animals thrived in the sandy, arid conditions of the Sahara—they could carry heavy loads, travel vast distances, and go without water for prolonged periods. Their increasing use from the 2nd and 3rd centuries onward strengthened nomadic societies by facilitating travel and improving military capabilities. The use of camels significantly expanded the scale of TRANS-SAHARAN TRADE.  1
Alternating symbiosis and conflict between nomadic and settled agricultural communities led to the consolidation of states along the desert edge. Especially during periods of drought, nomads from the Sahara raided the sedentary societies of the sahel. Nomadic incursions encouraged the Soninke to adopt a more complex sociopolitical organization. They formed the kingdom of GHANA between the 6th and 9th centuries. The kingdom's rulers asserted control over key trans-Saharan trade routes. Soninke merchants traded gold and slaves for desert salt and imported goods from the north. The presence of Muslim merchants residing at Kumbi-Saleh, Ghana's capital, is attested to by evidence of two separate parts of the capital: one for the ruler and his court and the other for Muslims.  2
Other West African kingdoms arising in this period included Gao and Kanem. By the mid-11th century, Ghana had become the largest and most powerful kingdom in the western Sudan. The kingdom of Songhay, referred to as Kawkaw (Gao) in the Muslim travelers' accounts, was contemporary with Ghana, although it emerged to a position of power only in the 14th century (See Historical Trends, 1000–1500).  3
Ibadi traders from North Africa were the first to introduce Islam into the Sudan in this period. Their success in gaining Sudanese converts greatly stimulated trans-Saharan trading networks. Although Islam flourished along trade routes and in urban trading enclaves, the peoples of the Sudanic hinterland initially remained wedded to traditional beliefs. Many Muslim merchants also practiced syncretic forms of Islam.  4
Oases attracted settlers and became important centers of the growing trans-Saharan trade. Inhabitants of oases became experts in constructing wells. They grew such produce as dates, figs, grapes, lemons, raisins, and wheat, and engaged in trade with traveling merchants. Caravan routes passing through Saharan oases solidified trading relations between North Africa and the Sudan and led to the political consolidation of nomadic groups. The principal trans-Saharan trade routes extended north-south. Traders from the Sudan, south of the Sahara, exchanged slaves and gold for Saharan salt and North African horses. Long-distance trade across the Sahara stimulated regional and local commerce in a wide variety of commodities.  5
Founding of Islamic military and commercial centers. Berbers in the Sahara began converting to Islam during the first half of the 8th century. By the latter half of the 8th century, Muslims formed the Amal Wah state around four Libyan oases.  6
c. 800–900
First established in the 2nd century in the inland Niger Delta region, the settlement at Jenne-Jeno developed into an important urban center by the 9th century. Its position as a major center of regional and long-distance trade lasted several centuries. Foodstuffs traded in Jenne-Jeno included fish, rice, and millet.  7
Kingdom of Kanem is mentioned in Arabic chronicles. Nomads herding sheep, cattle, camels, and horses initially founded the kingdom of Kanem in the Lake Chad region. Kanem was the first and largest state to be established between the Nile and the Niger River in this era. By the 10th century, urban centers had arisen and a royal palace had been built.  8
Nomadic Berber pastoralists of the western Sahara, the Sanhadja, gained power and influence in the western Sahara by establishing control over many trans-Saharan caravan routes and commercial centers. Sanhadja chiefs collected dues from traders, dispatched guides on trade routes, and exerted authority over a confederation of ethnic groups.  9
The Almoravids, also desert nomads, conducted a series of successful holy wars in northwestern Africa. By the late 11th century they had established a powerful Islamic empire stretching from present Spain and Morocco to Mauritania. The Almoravid conquest of West Africa was led by Abdallah ibn Yasin.  10
The rulers of Kanem and Ghana converted to Islam. Consolidation of the kingdom of Takrur along the Senegal River Valley (See 1076). According to Muslim travelers' accounts, Takrur was the most Islamized kingdom of the western Sudan. Even more than that of West African merchants, the Islam practiced by West African rulers at this time was syncretic. Few rulers were able completely to shed traditional religions, since their political positions had religious roots. Nonetheless, the conversion of West African leaders greatly hastened the spread of Islam into the entire region.  11
The Almoravids pillaged Kumbi-Saleh, the capital of Ghana, which led to the gradual disintegration of the Ghanaian Empire (See Historical Trends, 1000–1500).  12
c. 1179–80
King of Mali converted to Islam by an Ibadi traveler from North Africa.  13
Decline of Almoravid Empire. (See Sudanic West and Central Africa)  14
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.