2 GEOGRAPHYGeography was a major factor in the development of West African societies. Four vegetation zones in West Africa are especially important because of their influence on developing civilizations. These zones are desert, semi-desert (Sahel), grassland (savanna), and rain forest In ancient times, farming communities developed south of the Sahara. This region is called the Sahel.
4 GEOGRAPHYRivers, such as the Senegal and the Niger, helped make the land fertile. The rivers also provided fish and served as trade routes within the region.Geography also influenced trading patterns. For centuries, the people of West Africa had limited contact with lands to the north because travel across the Sahara was very difficult.
5 RELIGION Islam left a deep mark on West African culture. Traders and missionaries first brought Islam to Ghana in the 8th century. Islam changed West African religion. Many continued to show respect for the spirits of ancestors and to follow other traditional beliefs, but they learned to adhere to the Five Pillars of Islam and to celebrate Muslim religious festivals.
6 RELIGIONMansa Musa became the first West African ruler to practice Islam devoutly.Under Mansa Musa’s rule, Mali became a major crossroads of the Islamic world.Like other Muslims, Musa made a hajj, or pilgrimage, to the sacred city of Makkah in Arabia.
7 ACHIEVEMENTSIron tools allowed farmers to grow food more efficiently. As a result, more people could engage in other crafts. Villages traded their surplus goods for items they could not make themselves. Ironworking and trade helped some villages grow into sizable towns and cities.
8 ACHIEVEMENTS Islam left a deep mark on West African culture. New styles of architecture developed as West Africans built mosques and changed the designs of their homes. They also adopted new, geometric styles in their decorative arts.
9 Mansa MusaLike other Muslims, Musa made a hajj, or pilgrimage, to the sacred city of Makkah in Arabia. The hajj was an enormous undertaking. The journey covered some three thousand miles. Officials and servants started preparing for the trip months before Musa left. A writer from Cairo described Musa’s caravan as “a lavish display of power, wealth, and unprecedented by its size and pageantry.” As many as eighty thousand people may have accompanied Musa on the hajj. Ahead of Musa arrived 500 slaves, each carrying a six-pound staff of gold. He was followed by a caravan of 200 camels carrying 30,000 pounds of gold, along with food, clothing, and supplies.
10 ACHIEVEMENTSThe cultural achievements of West Africans are still influential today.Modern writers incorporate many elements from West African oral traditions in their novels and other works.Important features of West African music include call and response, traditional instruments, drumming, and dance.West African influences are still heard in world music.
11 ACHIEVEMENTSVisual arts include sculptures, masks, textiles, and the design of everyday objects.West African sculpture and mask-making, particularly, influenced many modern artists, one of whom was Pablo Picasso.Kente cloth is still worn today and its influence can be seen in fashions around the world.
13 POLITICALThe early West African societies of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai all created empires that gained much of their wealth from trade.The rulers of the wealthiest cities conquered neighboring areas, leading to the rise of kingdoms and empires. Rulers gained even more wealth through tribute, as well as by controlling trade.
14 POLITICALGhana was ideally located to control the trans-Saharan trade. It used the wealth from trade to create a strong army, which allowed it to conquer other peoples and build an empire.Years of war and the loss of natural resources led to Ghana’s downfall in the 13th century.Control of trade, particularly in West African gold, was also a key to the power of Mali. Songhai, too, relied on trade with distant lands.
15 POLITICALThe influence of Islam increased under the rulers of Mali and Songhai.Islam brought new ideas about government and law. The royal succession became patrilineal.Government became more centralized. Shari’ah replaced customary law. Arabic became the language of religion, learning, commerce, and government.
16 Mansa MusaIn 1312, a new leader, Mansa Musa, took over in Mali. He became the first West African ruler to practice Islam devoutly.Muslim merchants, traders, and scholars from Egypt and North Africa came to Mali to do business or to settle.Because of Musa’s hajj, Mali became known as an important kingdom. In Cairo, Musa met the local sultan, or ruler. When Musa was asked to kneel before the sultan, he felt insulted. After Musa finally agreed to kneel, the sultan invited him to sit beside him as his equal.After leaving Cairo, Musa traveled to Arabia to visit Makkah and Madinah. When word spread that the king of Mali was visiting, people lined the streets to see him. Musa’s wealth impressed the people and rulers of Arabia.
17 Mansa Musa By 1375, Mali appeared on a European map of West Africa. The pilgrimage of Mansa Musa to Makkah was so impressive that when news of it reached Europe, mapmakers there produced this map of West Africa with Musa's image prominently displayed.
18 ECONOMIC Trade brought some cities great wealth. Trans-Saharan trade played a key role in the growth of the three great medieval kingdoms of West Africa: Ghana, Mali, and Songhai. By the late 700s, Arab Muslim traders from North Africa were crossing the Sahara.The introduction of camels allowed traders to establish caravan routes across the Sahara.
19 ECONOMICGhana became wealthy by charging taxes on goods, especially gold and salt. Gold was mined in secret locations in forests south of Ghana and carried north to trade, while salt was produced in the Sahara and transported south.The Wangarans used a system of silent barter to trade goods.Trade expanded even more because of the spread of Islam.
23 Ibn BattutaIn 1352, a Muslim historian and traveler named Ibn Battuta (ib-ehn bat-TOO-tah) crossed the Sahara with a trade caravan. Battuta’s account of his trip shows what the traders’ journeys were like.Battuta’s caravan began at the oasis city of Sijilmasa (see-jeel-MAH-sah), on the northern edge of the Sahara, in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.Donkeys carried goods from Europe, Arabia, and Egypt to Sijilmasa from the Mediterranean coast. Then camel caravans took the goods south.Battuta and his caravan stayed in Sijilmasa for a few months, waiting for the rainy season to end. When the watering places were full and there was grass for the animals to eat, the traders set out. The caravan traveled from oasis to oasis. Each day, the traders walked until the afternoon, when the sun was high in the sky. Then they rested until the sun went down.
24 Ibn BattutaWalking across the Sahara was challenging and dangerous. Caravans sometimes lost their way, and some traders died in the desert.During one stretch of Battuta’s trip, the travelers could not find water, so they slaughtered some of their camels and drank the water stored in the animals’ stomachs.On its way through the desert, the caravan stopped at Taghaza, a village where salt mines were located. There, it took on a load of salt. When the traders reached the town of Walata, at the edge of the desert, they transferred their salt and other goods from the camels to donkeys and to porters, people who carry goods for a living. Then they continued south, passing through Ghana on their way to markets on the Gulf of Guinea, near the southern forests. The entire journey took about two months.
26 SOCIETY Early societies in West Africa were family-based communities. Some of these communities joined together to form villages. Banding together in villages allowed people to take advantage of natural resources and to defend themselves from attack.Some villages became important trading sites and grew into cities. Others developed into large communities near important resources, such as iron ore or gold.
27 SOCIETYStorytellers called griots helped to preserve the history and culture of West Africa.Folktales and proverbs are also part of West Africa’s rich oral tradition.A log may lie in the water for ten years, but it will never become a crocodile. SonghaiDo not try to fight a lion if you are not one yourself. Swahili
28 SOCIETY Islam left a deep mark on West African society. In medieval times, Muslim scholars added a body of Arabic writings to this heritage, which were preserved in Qur’anic schools and mosques.There was a new emphasis on learning. People studied at Qur’anic schools and Islamic universities. Timbuktu became a center of Islamic and academic study.