History Podcasts

Terracotta Head from Mali's Inland Niger Delta Region

Terracotta Head from Mali's Inland Niger Delta Region


Terracotta Head from Mali's Inland Niger Delta Region - History

From A.D. 700 to 1600 the ancient empires of Ghana (700-1100), Mali (800-1550) and Songhay (1300-1600) controlled vast areas of West Africa (see map and time line). Although each empire rose to assert its power, they coexisted independently for centuries. At its peak (1200-1300), the Mali Empire covered an area that encompasses significant portions of the present-day country of Mali, southern and western Mauritania and Senegal. Note that the old kingdoms of Mali and Ghana are not the present-day countries of Mali and Ghana.

Predominately a savannah, this vast region has two seasons--a rainy season and a dry season, the latter being the longer of the two. The Mande-speaking peoples living in present-day Mali (Bamana, Senufo and Dogon peoples) have inhabited this area since the days of the Mali Empire. Today, Mande-speaking peoples live in almost all parts of West Africa, having migrated in search of trade or having been displaced by war or climatic conditions. Their migrations are indicative of the mobility of African peoples in many parts of Africa.

Human histories are reconstructed from a variety of sources--written, oral and archaeological. Each contributes a different element to the overall story.

The few written accounts about ancient Mali were recorded by Arab travelers and scholars. One of the most famous travelogues is Rihlah by the African-born Ibn Battuta (1304-1368/9), a great Arab traveler of the time. Rihlah describes life in Mali between 1352 and 1353/4 and records his travels to Anatolia (current-day Turkey), Crimea, east Africa, Persia (present-day Iran), India, Cylon, Sumatra, North Africa and perhaps China. Although other written accounts of the ancient West African empires exist, Ibn Battuta is one of the few who actually traveled to this area and wrote from personal experience.

Oral histories are the traditional means by which people typically pass on their histories. Oral sources of African histories included poems, praise songs, and accounts of past events. Official oral historians, known as griots, recorded the peoples' and courts' histories. The epic poem "Sundiata" (also spelled Sundjata) chronicles the life of Sundiata Keita (ca. 1210-1260), the son of the king who defeated the Ghana king Sumanguru and founded the empire of Mali.

Archaeology offers the most tangible evidence of earlier civilizations. Although archaeology has already provided invaluable information pertaining to the life styles and skills of the peoples from this region of West Africa, the archaeological record is still incomplete. The figurative sculptures featured in this resource furnish one part of the historical puzzle of this region. These handsome terracotta sculptures are from the Inland Niger Delta region near Djenne (pronounced JEH-nay also spelled Jenne), one of several important trading cities that grew and developed during the Mali Empire.


The emergence of the three centralized states at given points in history can be attributed to the coupling of the lucrative gold trade from the Sudan with the salt brought by North African Muslim traders. Ghana was the richest of the three in c. 1150, owing its wealth primarily to the vast gold fields of Buri and Bambak.

The acceptance of Islam by the rulers of Ghana, Mali and Songhay (also spelled Songhey and Songhai) in c. 1000 encouraged trade between the empires and North Africa. The introduction of Islam also instituted more cosmopolitan social structures, such as universities, world religions and, especially, centralized state systems and military forces.

At its peak, the Mali Empire extended across West Africa to the Atlantic Ocean and incorporated an estimated 40 to 50 million people. The administration of such an enormous territory was formidable and relied on the establishment of a government sensitive to the diversity of the land, population and cultures and accepting of the indigenous rulers and their customs. What distinguished the empires of West Africa, particularly Mali and later Songhay, was their ability to centralize political and military power while allowing the local rulers to maintain their identities along side Islam. The imperial powers were located in active commercial centers like Djenne, Timbuktu and Gao.

The wealth of the Mali Empire is illustrated by the Mali emperor Mansa Musa's pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324. His entourage reportedly included thousands of soldiers, officials and attendants, 100 camels each carrying 300 pounds of gold, and 500 maids and slaves to serve Mansa Musa's senior wife. Once in Egypt, Mansa Musa paid homage to the sultan with gifts of gold. He distributed so much gold that its value was decreased by 10 to 25 percent.



Commerce promoted the development of public works, including the building of social and religious structures. The imperial rulers ordered mosques constructed and palaces converted into mosques. Mosques were often identified with the cities where they were built and the rulers who commissioned their construction.

Using established building techniques, architects and builders increased the size of the mosques to accommodate a larger Muslim population and underscore the importance of Islam. The cities of Gao, Djenne and Timbuktu boasted large mosques. Mosques were constructed from specially prepared mixtures of mud. During the 19th century some of these historical structures fell into disrepair and eventually were replaced by newer structures.

Djenne had three mosques. The earliest dated to the 13th century and lasted into the early 19th century. During the 19th century Djenne ruler Sheik Amadou built a second mosque and allowed the first to deteriorate. The third mosque was built under the guidance of Ismaila Traoré, head of the builders' guild, on the site of the first. Constructed of blocks made from a mixture of rice husks, earth and water that was allowed to ferment, it is an impressive structure, four stories high, with three minarets almost 60 feet high. The spires are topped with ostrich eggs symbolic of good fortune and fertility. The annual maintenance of the mosque requires thousands of men climb the walls and replaster the cracks in the walls. Left unattended, the mosque would deteriorate rapidly.


Mali’s Lush Wetlands Drained by Foreign Agribusiness

Subsistence lifestyles and diverse wildlife hang in the balance.

This piece is part of Water Grabbers: A Global Rush on Freshwater, a special National Geographic News series on how grabbing land—and water—from poor people, desperate governments, and future generations threatens global food security, environmental sustainability, and local cultures. The piece is also this week's "In Focus" series—stepping back, looking closer.

Mayor Daouda Sanankoua had traveled overnight by boat to see me, through flooded forests and submerged banks of hippo grass. There was no other way.

Sanankoua's domain, the district of Deboye in the heart of Mali in West Africa, is on the edge of the Sahara. Yet Sanankoua's homeland is mostly water. His people live by catching fish, grazing cattle, and harvesting crops in one of the world's largest and most fecund wetlands, a massive inland delta created by the meandering waters of one of Africa's mightiest waterways, the Niger River.

Nearly two million Malians live on the delta. "Everything here depends on the water," said the mayor. "But"—and here he paused gravely, pushed his glasses down an elegant nose, and began waving a long finger—"the government is taking our water. They are giving it to foreign farmers. They don't even ask us."

What is happening here in Mali is happening all over the world. People who depend on the natural flow of water, and the burst of nature that comes with it, are losing out as powerful people upstream divert the water.

As the mayor talked in the schoolyard of Akka village, on an island in the heart of the Niger inland delta, women rushed around putting straw mats on the ground, and bringing bowls of food. By torchlight, we savored a supper of smoked fish, millet porridge, and green vegetables, all products of the waters around us.

This aquatic world, a green smudge on the edge of the Sahara 250 miles (402 kilometers) across, seemed well. It is a major wintering ground for millions of European birds. On the way to Akka, I constantly grabbed binoculars to watch birds I knew from back home. In England, kingfishers are rare here they seemed to be everywhere. There were other European water birds in profusion, like cormorants and herons, along with endangered local birds such as the black crowned crane.

Out there too were hippos, the odd crocodile, and, snoozing on the bottom, the little-known and largely nocturnal African manatee.

Without being too romantic, there seemed to be a remarkable degree of harmony between nature and human needs. I saw the Bozo people, the delta's original inhabitants, ply their canoes from dawn to dusk, casting nets that catch an estimated 100,000 tons of fish a year—from the ubiquitous Nile perch and bottom-living cichlids to favorite local species that live only amid roots in the flooded forests.

The Bambara, founders of the great 13th-century Mali Empire, planted millet and rice in the delta mud as the waters receded. By the early 19th century the Fulani arrived from across West Africa to graze their cattle and goats on the aquatic pastures of hippo grasses. There have been disputes, of course, but for the most part, by concentrating on different activities, the different groups have been able to respect each other's rights to harvest the wetland over generations. All the scientific evidence suggests that nature thrived too—until recently.

For the mayor was clear that the waters are receding. Fish catches are down. The flooded forests are being left high and dry. He fears his world could soon be gone. His people are doing their best to cope.

The following morning, I watched the women of Akka scrape channels in caked and cracked soils on the edge of the village, in an effort to persuade water from the lake to reach their kitchen gardens. Each year, it got harder, they said.

Diverting the Niger River

Some blame failing rains and changing climate for this crisis on the delta. Not so, said the mayor. Upstream diversions of water are to blame.

Back on dry land, I found the source of the mayor's ire just a few miles away, where engineers were constructing concrete barrages to tame the Niger River's flow and digging canals to divert its water just before it enters the wetland.

The aim is to provide water for Chinese sugar farms, Libyan rice growers, and German-, French-, and American-funded agricultural development schemes, in a region managed by a government irrigation agency called the Office du Niger. The government sees such development as the route to modernizing its agriculture through encouraging foreign investment. But critics say ministers in Bamako, the capital, are oblivious to the shortage of water that is a critical constraint on achieving this goal.

The Office du Niger already presides over a quarter of a million acres (roughly 100,000 hectares) of irrigated rice fields. That land takes 8 percent of the river's flow, according to the agency's records. That figure can rise to 70 percent in the dry season, says Leo Zwarts, a Dutch government hydrologist who is a leading authority on the Niger River.

The local engineer in charge of the main diversion structure on the river, the Markala barrage, agrees. Sitting on the riverbank beside the massive dam-like structure, Lansana Keita told me that he and his colleagues often failed to ensure the release of 1,413 cubic feet (40 cubic meters) a second, the official minimum flow of water downstream into the wetland. "We do our best, but irrigation has priority," he said.

That was evident. During the dry months, there is often more water in the canals that lead from the barrage to the fields than there is in the river itself as it heads for the delta.

As a result, the delta is already diminishing. Zwarts estimates that existing abstractions—diversions—have cut the area of delta that is flooded annually by an average of 232 square miles (600 square kilometers), killing many flooded forests and expanses of hippo grasses. He has a pair of graphs that show how the amount of fish sold in local markets goes up and down with the size of the delta inundation the previous year. In recent years, both have been declining.

But that is just the start. Behind Keita was a large metal sign displaying a map of the domain of the Office du Niger. It showed small areas painted green where there is already irrigation, and much larger areas painted yellow to show where irrigation is planned. All three main canals from the barrage were being enlarged during my visit.

The government eventually wants to irrigate ten times more land than today, and is bringing in foreign companies to do it. They are offered free land and as much water as they need. Zwarts predicts that the diversions could soon take the entire flow of the Niger River during the dry season. Add to that the impact of a hydroelectric dam planned farther upstream by the government of Guinea, and Zwarts says the delta could dry up every fourth year.

The Mali government does not confirm this analysis, but its own figures show that a fall in water levels of just one foot would dry out half of the delta. In an interview, the (now former) head of the Office du Niger said the government's targets for minimum flows will protect the delta. But he also said his office is tasked with increasing irrigation for agriculture. When I pointed out these two goals seem to be in contradiction, he declined to comment.

This won't all happen overnight. Political unrest in the north of Mali in recent months has discouraged foreign investment. A multiyear aid scheme funded by the U.S. government's Millennium Challenge Corporation to irrigate some 35,000 acres and turn herders into rice farmers was terminated a few months early, although many Malians did receive farm supplies.

But a 50,000-acre sugar scheme masterminded by the Chinese state-owned China Light Industrial Corporation for Foreign Economic and Technical Co-operation is close to completion. And other projects are expected to follow once peace returns, including the biggest of them all, a Libyan plan to grow rice on a quarter-million acres (roughly 100,000 hectares). The huge diversion canal for what is known as the Malibya project is already dug and full of water.

Critics of these megaprojects say the government of Mali is blind to the damage the water abstractions will do to the wetland, a mysterious region where officials seldom go. "The government is so obsessed with getting investment for its agriculture that it cannot see when that investment will do more harm than good to its people," Lamine Coulibaly of the National Coordination of Peasant Organizations of Mali told me.

Jane Madgwick, head of Wetlands International, a science-based NGO based in the Netherlands that is working with people on the delta, agrees. Far from filling the bellies of Malians, "these projects will decrease food security in Mali, by damaging the livelihoods of those most vulnerable," she says.

Water Grabbing: A Global Concern?

The situation in Mali may be part of an emerging global pattern. From the papyrus swamps of Lake Victoria in East Africa to the flooded forests of Cambodia's Great Lake, from the dried-up delta of the Colorado in Mexico to the marshes of Mesopotamia, those living downstream have been at the mercy of those they call water grabbers.

Some—like those in the Niger Delta—worry that they may become victims of the "next Aral Sea," the doomed body of water in central Asia that was once the world's fourth largest inland sea. Half a century ago, Soviet engineers began to grab its water to grow cotton. Over a few decades, they largely emptied the sea and created a giant new desert. Today, the formerly profitable fishing fleets and fertile wet-delta pastures are all gone. The surrounding region is poisoned by salt blown from the dried-up seabed, the climate is changing, the people are departing, and most of the sea is a distant memory.

Madgwick of Wetlands International says that what Mali plans for the inner Niger Delta would be similar, "a human catastrophe as vicious and shameful as the drainage of the Aral Sea." Out on the delta today, the Bozo and Bambara and Fulani people await news of their fate.

Fred Pearce is a journalist and author on environmental science. His books include When the Rivers Run Dry and The Land Grabbers, both for Beacon Press, Boston. He writes regularly for New Scientist magazine, Yale Environment 360, and The Guardian, and has been published by Nature and The Washington Post.


Contents

Paleolithic

The Sahara was often drier, but also more rainy for a long time than it is today. So it was a place uninhabitable for humans 325,000 to 290,000 years ago and 280,000 to 225,000 years ago, apart from favorable places such as the Tihodaïne lake on the water-storing Tassili n'Ajjer . In these and other dry phases, the desert expanded several times far north and south its sand dunes can be found far beyond today's borders of the Sahara. Human traces can only be expected in the rainier green phases. It is possible that anatomically modern humans (also called archaic Homo sapiens ), who perhaps developed in the said isolated phase 300,000 to 200,000 years ago south of the Sahara, already crossed the area, which was rich in water at that time, in the long green phase over 200,000 years ago. Even around 125,000 to 110,000 years ago there was a sufficient network of waterways that allowed numerous animal species to spread northward, followed by human hunters. Huge lakes contributed to this, such as the mega-Lake Chad , which at times comprised over 360,000 km². On the other hand, 70,000 to 58,000 years ago the desert expanded again far to the north and south and thus represented a barrier that was difficult to overcome. Another green phase followed 50,000 to 45,000 years ago.

In Mali, the find situation is less favorable than in the northern neighbors. Excavations at the Ounjougou find complex on the Dogon Plateau near Bandiagara have shown that there has been evidence that hunters and gatherers lived in the region more than 150,000 years ago. Dating back to between 70,000 and 25,000 years ago is certain. The Paleolithic ended very early in Mali because after this section 25,000 to 20,000 years ago there was another extreme dry phase , the Ogolia . When, towards the end of the last glacial period, the tropics expanded 800 km northwards, the Sahara was once again transformed into a fertile savannah landscape .

Neolithic

After the end of the last maximum expansion of the northern ice masses towards the end of the last glacial period , the climate was characterized by much higher humidity than today. The Niger created a huge inland lake in the area around Timbuktu and Araouane, as well as a similarly large lake in Chad . At the same time, savannah landscapes were created and in northern Mali a landscape comparable to that which characterizes the south today. This around 9500 BC The humid phase that began after the Younger Dryas , a cold period after the last glacial period, was around 5000 BC. Chr. Increasingly replaced by an increasingly dry phase.

The Neolithic , the time when people increasingly produced their own food instead of hunting, fishing or collecting it as before, developed during this humid phase. This is usually divided into three sections, which are separated from each other by distinct dry phases. Sorghum and millet were planted and around 8000 BC. Large herds of cattle that were close to the zebus grazed in what is now the Sahara Sheep and goats were not added until much later from West Asia , while cattle were first domesticated in Africa.

Here appears Ceramics , which was long thought to be a side effect of Neolithization in the earliest Neolithic, ie 9500-7000 v. BC, in the Aïr according to Marianne Cornevin as early as 10,000 BC. Thus, the earliest Neolithic is assigned to the phase of the productive way of life, although no plants were cultivated and no cattle were kept. In Mali, the Ravin de la Mouche site, which belongs here , was dated to an age of 11,400–10,200 years. This site is part of the Ounjougou complex on the Yamé , where all eras since the Upper Paleolithic have left traces and the oldest ceramics in Mali date back to 9400 BC. Was dated. In Ravin de la Mouche , artifacts could date between 9500 and 8500 BC. The site Ravin du Hibou 2 can be dated to 8000 to 7000 BC. After that, where the said oldest ceramic remains were found in the course of a research program that has been running since 1997 in the two gorges, a hiatus between 7000 and 3500 BC occurred . BC because the climate was too unfavorable - even for hunters and gatherers.

The middle Neolithic of the Dogon Plateau can be recognized by gray, bifacial stone tools made from quartzite . The first traces of nomadic cattle breeders can be found (again) around 4000 BC. BC, whereby it was around 3500 BC. The relatively humid climate came to an end. Excavations in Karkarichinkat (2500–1600 BC) and possibly in Village de la Frontière (3590 cal BC) prove this, as well as studies on Lake Fati . The latter existed continuously between 10,430 and 4660 BP as evidenced by layers of mud on its eastern edge. A 16 cm thick layer of sand was dated around 4500 BP, proving that the region dried up around 1000 years later than on the Mauritanian coast. A thousand years later, the dry phase, which apparently had driven nomads from the east to Mali, reached its climax. The northern lakes dried up and the population mostly moved south. The transition from the Neolithic to the Pre-Dogon is still unclear. In Karkarichinkat it became apparent that sheep, cattle and goats were kept, but hunting, gathering and fishing continued to play an important role. It may even be the case that successful pastoralism prevented agriculture from establishing itself for a long time.

The late Neolithic was marked by renewed immigration from the Sahara around 2500 BC. Chr., Which had grown into an enormously spacious desert. This aridization continued and forced further migrations to the south, the approximate course of which can also be archaeologically ascertained. On the basis of ethno-archaeological studies of ceramics, three groups were found that lived around Méma , the Canal de Sonni Ali and Windé Koroji on the border with Mauritania in the period around 2000 BC. Lived. This was proven by ceramic investigations at the Kobadi site (1700 to 1400 BC), the MN25 site near Hassi el Abiod and Kirkissoy near Niamey in Niger (1500 to 1000 BC). Apparently the two groups hiked towards Kirkissoy last. At the latest in the 2nd half of the 2nd millennium BC In BC millet cultivation reached the region at the Varves Ouest site, more precisely the cultivation of pearl millet ( Pennisetum glaucum ), but also wheat and emmer, which were established much earlier in the east of the Sahara, now (again?) Reached Mali. Ecological changes indicate that tillage must have already started in the 3rd millennium. But this phase of agriculture ended around 400 BC. In turn by an extreme drought.

The use of ocher for funerals was common until the 1st millennium, even with animals, as the spectacular find of a horse in the west of the inland delta, in Tell Natamatao (6 km from Thial in the Cercle Tenenkou ) shows, whose bones are with it Ocher had been sprinkled. There are also rock carvings typical of the entire Sahara, in which symbols and animal representations also appear as depictions of people. From the 1st millennium BC Paintings in the Boucle-du-Baoulé National Park (Fanfannyégèné), on the Dogon Plateau and in the Niger River Delta (Aire Soroba).

In Karkarichikat Nord (KN05) and Karkarichinkat Sud (KS05) in the lower Tilemsi Valley, a fossil river valley 70 km north of Gao , it was possible to prove for the first time in eleven women in West Africa south of the Sahara that the teeth were modified there for ritual reasons was in use around 4500-4200 BP, similar to the Maghreb . In contrast to the men, the women show modifications ranging from extractions to filings, so that the teeth are given a pointed shape. A custom that lasted until the 19th century.

It was also found there that the inhabitants of the valley already obtained 85% of their carbon intake from grass seeds, mainly from C4 plants this happened either through the consumption of wild plants, such as the wild millet, or through domesticated lamp-cleaning grasses . This was the earliest evidence of agricultural activity and cattle breeding in West Africa (around 2200 cal BP).

The sites of the Dhar-Tichitt tradition in the Méma region, a former river delta west of today's inland delta, also known as the "Dead Delta", belong to the period between 1800 and 800/400 BC. Chr. Their settlements measured between one and eight hectares , but the settlement was not continuous, which may be related to the fact that this region was not suitable for cattle farming during the rainy season. The reason for this was the tsetse fly , which prevented this way of life from expanding southwards for a long time.

In contrast to these cattle breeders, who then drove their herds northwards again, the members of the simultaneous Kobadi tradition, who had lived exclusively from fishing, collecting wild grasses and hunting since the middle of the 2nd millennium at the latest, remained relatively stationary. Both cultures had copper that they brought from Mauritania . At the same time, the different cultures cultivated a lively exchange.

Metal processing

The hunters as well as the cattle breeders and early arable farmers show a local processing of copper for the 1st millennium.

The famous rock paintings, which can be found in large parts of West Africa, were also discovered in Mali in the Ifora Mountains ( Adrar des Ifoghas ). Around the year 2000, more than 50 sites with pictographs and petroglyphs were known there. These rock paintings led to the assumption that metal processing in southern Morocco was brought with them by a population coming from the south, probably from Mali and Mauritania. This happened earlier than previously assumed, i.e. before the 2nd millennium BC. When this technology was adopted by the Iberian Peninsula.

Copper was first brought from Mauritania by the cultures in the Méma region, around in the 1st millennium BC. To be processed into first axes, daggers, arrowheads, but also into bars and jewelry. This happened on site, as found by slag finds. The effects on society, which were very pronounced in the Mediterranean area, are still unclear at the current state of research.

Arable farming has probably been around since 2000 BC at the latest. B.C. in the entire area, such as finds in Dia , Djenne-Djeno , Toguéré Galia, which are all in the Niger Inland Delta, Tellem ( Falaise de Bandiagara ), Tongo Maaré Diabel (Gourna), Windé Koroji West I (Gourna) and Gao Gadei prove. It is believed that the man of Asselar , who was discovered in 1927/28 and of whom the sex is not even considered certain, lived in the Neolithic.

Rice culture in the inland delta, urban culture from its own roots (800/300 BC – 1400 AD)

Around 800 to 400 BC In Dia, agriculture was based on domesticated rice ( Oryza glaberrima ), a plant that was more important than other species such as millet for the cultivation of the humid Niger region during this period . At the same time, this area was probably the first in which rice was cultivated in West Africa. The first confirmed finds come from Djenne-Djeno (300 BC - 300 AD). In addition, wild grass was still harvested, especially millet .

The first cities appeared in the inland delta of the Niger from around 300 BC. In addition to Djenne-Djeno, Dia stands out, lying northwest of it, across the river. Around this early city, which actually consisted of two settlements and a tell, there were more than 100 villages that were located on former and still existing tributaries of the Niger. Similar structures emerged around Timbuktu and Gourma-Rharous further downstream. In Wadi El-Ahmar north of Timbuktu, for example, a paleo canal that was regularly fed by the floods of the Niger was found, a 24-hectare site that was surrounded by nine such “satellites”.

The north of the country has been drying since around 1000 BC. And the nomads were forced to retreat to the mountainous areas, which still offered water, or to move south. Between 200 and 100 BC The north of Mali became extremely dry. The groups living in the north were not replaced by Berber and Tuareg groups until the 11th and 12th centuries AD .

The oldest finds in the Djenne-Djeno (also Jenné-Jeno) excavated from 1974 to 1998 in the inland delta were dated to around 250 BC. BC and thus prove the existence of a differentiated urban culture from its own roots. In Djenne-Djeno, as in the entire inland delta, iron and copper were already being used from the first millennium BC. Processed. The next iron ore deposit was near Bénédougou, around 75 km southwest of Djenne-Djeno. Two Roman or Hellenistic pearls indicate trans-Saharan trade, but otherwise no influences from the Mediterranean are recognizable, so that you have to reckon with numerous middlemen when trading and barter. By 450 the city had already reached an area of ​​25 hectares and grew by 850 to 33 hectares. It was surrounded by a 3.6 km long wall. The houses were mostly made of cylindrical, sun-burned bricks that were in use until the 1930s. At the same time, rectangular bricks were already being used, albeit to a lesser extent.

But around 500 the structure of society changed, because now there were organized cemeteries with burials in large vessels - mostly ceramics previously used as storage vessels - inside, and simple burials in pits on the edge or outside of the city. Around 800 there were their own blacksmiths at fixed locations, so that one reckons with a box-like organization of this craft. In the meantime the city had merged with the neighboring Hambarketolo to form a complex that covered 41 hectares.

In the 9th century there was a drastic change, because the previous round houses were replaced by cylindrical brick architecture - first recognizable by the 3.7 m thick city wall at the base - and the painted ceramics were replaced by stamped and engraved ones. About 60 archaeological sites within a radius of only four kilometers are known around Djenné , many of which flourished around 800 to 1000. However, while the area of ​​the villages was up to 2.9 and 5.8 hectares before the 8th century, afterwards they only reached an area of ​​1.2 hectares. In the early phase, the distance between the metropolises such as Djenné- Djeno or the Dia complex was particularly large, because the former comprised 33 hectares, the latter even 100 hectares.

The previously dominant city shrank in favor of Djenné around 1200 and was even given up around 1400. This was perhaps related to the predominance of Islam, but at the same time areas in the north were abandoned due to increasing drought, so that many people moved south. This may have caused severe political shocks.

It was not until the 11th and 12th centuries that Islam increased its influence, initially through the reviving Trans-Saharan trade. Archaeologically, these changes are reflected in the form of brass instruments, spindle whorls and rectangular instead of round houses. Traditionally it is believed that King (or Koi) Konboro of Djenné converted to Islam around 1180. The clearest sign, however, are the foundations of three mosques, especially at site 99.

Trans-Saharan trade between Berbers and Jews

In the time of the Romans , it is said again and again that Berber merchants operated a stage trade on the Trans-Sahara routes south of Morocco via the area of ​​what later became Mauritania to the middle Niger and Lake Chad , taking the culture of the local population noticeably influenced. John T. Swanson traced the origin of this “myth” in 1975, who on the one hand used the similarity of the trade route from the Nile to Timbuktu as an argument for such a trade from the 5th century BC onwards. . Based AD that Herodotus in his description Libyas called in Book IV. On the other hand, the growing volume of gold coinage in the Roman Empire between around 100 and 700 AD was cited in favor of a trans-Saharan gold trade, as well as the sheer size of the Mediterranean cities of North Africa, which could not seem to be explained without such intensive trade into the Sahel. This trade was therefore diminished by the invasion of the Vandals in North Africa and recovered after the reconquest by Eastern Current. But the few finds are insufficient to prove such intensive trade. The increasing drought and thus the length of the distances to be overcome could nevertheless have favored the introduction of a new riding and carrying animal, the camel , in the centuries before the turn of the century. Horses and donkeys were no longer able to cope with the extreme climate.

A deep split in Islam - in addition to the one between Sunnis and Shiites - which was connected with the prominent position of the Arabs, since they had produced the Prophet Mohammed , proved to be particularly beneficial . Because the peoples who soon became Islamic as well, such as the Berbers, in some cases vehemently rejected this priority. Therefore, the Berbers in the Maghreb supporters of egalitarian overlooking the successor as caliph flow of were Kharijites , all Muslims regarded as equal. The Kharijites had segregated themselves in 657 because they did not recognize the process of determining the successor to the founder of the religion, Mohammed. Anyone could lead the Muslim community, the umma , for them. When the Orthodox Abbasids tried to suppress this movement with massive violence, this brought many refugees to the Kharijite ruled areas in the Maghreb, which in turn soon promoted trade to the south. In the Maghreb, uprisings began around 740, and in 757 the Kharijites found refuge in Sidschilmasa , which until the middle of the 11th century dominated the Trans-Saharan trade towards Niger and Senegal, perhaps even only established it.

Following the Islamic-Arab expansion in North Africa until the end of the 7th century and a period of relative peace around 800, the previous stage trade was transformed into a continuous caravan trade of the Berbers and Jews from the northern to the southern edge of the Sahara. The overriding Berber group in the north were the lamtuna , in turn, the large group of Sanhaja dominated, so that the main trade route between Sidschilmassa and NUL in the Anti Atlas at one and Aoudaghost in Mali at the other end as "Lamtuni Route" (Tariq Lamtũnī) referred to was . At the same time, the Kharijite Sidjilmassa was at the end of the trade route across the Touat , which ran further to the east.

The boom in trans-Saharan trade in this form, however, presupposed the existence of structured empires south of the Sahara that would guarantee the political order.


  • Access supplemental materials and multimedia.
  • Unlimited access to purchased articles.
  • Ability to save and export citations.
  • Custom alerts when new content is added.

Current issues are available on the Chicago Journals website: Read the latest issue. RES is a journal of anthropology and comparative aesthetics dedicated to the study of the object, in particular cult and belief objects and objects of art. The journal brings together, in an anthropological perspective, contributions by art historians, archaeologists, philosophers, critics, architects, artists, and others. Its field of inquiry is open to all cultures, regions, and historical periods. In addition, RESseeks to make available textual and iconographic documents of importance for the history and theory of the arts.

Since its origins in 1890 as one of the three main divisions of the University of Chicago, The University of Chicago Press has embraced as its mission the obligation to disseminate scholarship of the highest standard and to publish serious works that promote education, foster public understanding, and enrich cultural life. Today, the Journals Division publishes more than 70 journals and hardcover serials, in a wide range of academic disciplines, including the social sciences, the humanities, education, the biological and medical sciences, and the physical sciences.

This item is part of a JSTOR Collection.
For terms and use, please refer to our Terms and Conditions
RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics © 2007 Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology
Request Permissions


In 1914 the ethnologist Arnold van Gennep claimed against the massive importation of African objects from the continent: “Some expeditions as that of Leo Frobenius made off with thousands of objects from Western Africa and Congo to the point that indigenous workshops of several tribes have disappeared. What a strange way to drive science forward” (van Gennep in Laude 1990 [1966]).

Translation from French is from the author.

For an overview over the postcolonial archaeological research in the Inland Niger Delta between the 1960s and the 1990s see Panella 2002: 149–154). The concentration of North American, Dutch and French archaeological projects in the Inland Niger Delta (Bedaux et al. 1978 McIntosh and Keech-McIntosh 1980 Bedaux et al. 2005), and the fact that the first available information on local networks referred to it, attracted greater media attention to the Mopti and Djenné regions than to southern ones, such as Bougouni and Sikasso, which yet were equally affected by the unearthing of ancient statuettes (Panella 2010).

A new publication on Djenne Terracotta by Bernard De Grunne is forthcoming. B. De Grunne (forthcoming) Jenne-jeno: 700 Years of Sculpture in Mali. Fonds Mercator.

Heritage studies consider the ‘heritization processes’ as the transformation of material and immaterial culture in ‘cultural heritage’ through a political selection of given historical and aesthetic values.

I presented a first paper on the link between conditionality policies and the fight against plunder of archaeological sites in Mali during the 2008 ASA Annual Meeting Conference (Chicago, 13–16 November 2008): ‘The ‘capital-pillage’ and the Fight Against Poverty in Mali’.

Nevertheless, some considerations make it difficult to automatically dismiss the notion that poverty equals pillage. During the 2004–2005 drought, Djenné (Mopti region, the outpost of the ‘North’), an essential hub of the terracotta’s traffic during the 1980s, was one of the cities that benefited from the World Food Program’s distribution of rice. However, in the years 1994, 2001 and 2006, the monetary poverty rating of the east-southern Sikasso’s region, the ‘grenier du pays’, shifted between 85 % and 81 % whereas the northern region Tomboctou/Gao/Kidal was shifting between 58 % and 29 % (Delarue et al. 2009). Despite this evidence, in 2004, rural development funds allocated to the ‘poor’ north were much greater than those to the Sikasso region. Moreover, Namaké, a wealthy farmer from Bougouni area (Sikasso region) described digging at ancient sites as one of his routine seasonal activities, in addition to gold washing and cotton-farming . When I asked him whether he did any digging during the severe drought of 1983–84, he answered yes, specifying that however the drought did not influence his choice to search for terracotta.

Data on rural actors presented in this article are issued by my dissertation thesis (Panella 2002: 169–187). Nevertheless, they have never before been published in English.

‘Satimbé’ and the names of the other rural actors are pseudonyms. Information on the social organization of teams presented in this article mainly come from the testimony of Dolo, a rural dealer settled in the Mopti region, from the core-group of his main digging team (the core of which is composed by four diggers), as well as from Satimbé.

The CFA franc was created in 1945 Mali left this currency in 1962 in order to issue Malians Francs before rejoining the FCFA again in 1984.

The Bandiagara Cliffs are a sandstone chain (over 200 km) marked at its end by the Hombori Tondo, Presumably Tellem people have been living in the Bandiagara Cliffs (in particular, Sangha region) between the eleventh and sixteenth centuries. They extinguished after epidemics and droughts. Between fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the Dogon left the Mande region, in the south, and migrated towards Sangha (Bedaux 2003: 37).

Recruitment of women is not included and diggers are never accompanied by their spouses. Farmers-diggers are used to work on ancient sites very far from their village, which constitutes a major difference with regard to teams working in southern regions of the country (Panella 2010).

I presented a previous analysis of the cartography of affect imbricated into clandestine digging during the ASA Annual Meeting, (New Orleans, 17–21 November 2009) in a paper titled: ‘Heroes and Looters as ‘imagined communities’. Narratives from the Margins and the Creation of Illegality in the Rhetoric of Malian Cultural Heritage’.


  • Access everything in the JPASS collection
  • Read the full-text of every article
  • Download up to 120 article PDFs to save and keep

Museum Studies offers readers in-depth explorations of the Art Institute's rich collections, history, and special exhibitions. In Museum Studies, we aim to create a publication that is both visually elegant and intellectually accessible â€Â" through high production values, inventive topics, and an intelligent, readable style, succeeds at meeting the needs of Art Institute members, scholars, and the wider public alike.

The Art Institute of Chicago collects, preserves, and interprets works of art of the highest quality, representing the world’s diverse artistic traditions, for the inspiration and education of the public and in accordance with our profession’s highest ethical standards and practices.

This item is part of a JSTOR Collection.
For terms and use, please refer to our Terms and Conditions
Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies © 1997 The Art Institute of Chicago
Request Permissions


Artbooks online.eu

The so-called Djenné statuary emerged circa A.D. 700 and flourished until 1750. The terracotta statues were manufactured by various groups inhabiting the Inland Niger Delta region of present-day Mali, centered around the ancient urban center of Djenné-Jeno. These terracotta sculptures, more than 300 of which are published in this book for the first time, express a remarkable range of physical conditions and human emotions, providing the largest corpus of ancient sacred gestures of any civilization in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Djenné-Jeno investigates this important and mainly unpublished corpus of terracotta statuary of one of the Mande art styles of West Africa, and traces potential connections between regions in West Africa whose artistic styles were previously thought to have developed independently. Generously illustrated with hundreds of color images, this book represents a significant contribution to the study of an art form virtually unknown until a few decades ago.


The 19th century

Most of the 19th century was characterized by French colonial expansion from Senegal in the west and by Islamic jihads (religious wars) that led to the establishment of theocratic states. Shehu Ahmadu Lobbo (Cheikou Amadou), a Fulani Muslim cleric, successfully overturned the ruling Fulani dynasty in Macina in 1810 and established a theocratic state with its capital at Hamdallahi. In the west, political events were dominated by al-Ḥājj ʿUmar Tal, a Tukulor Muslim cleric who led a series of jihads. ʿUmar conquered the Bambara kingdom of Ségou in 1861 and the Fulani empire of Macina in 1864. After ʿUmar was killed in a skirmish with the Fulani in 1864, his vast domains were divided among his sons and commanders. His eldest son, Amadou Tal, who had been installed at Ségou, unsuccessfully attempted to exert control over the whole Tukulor empire in a series of civil wars. He became head of the Ségou Tukulor empire, whose predominantly Bambara inhabitants mounted constant revolts against his rule.

The French, who established a fort at Médine in western Mali in 1855, viewed the Ségou Tukulor empire as the principal obstacle to their acquisition of the Niger River valley. Fearful of British designs on the same region, they engaged in a series of diplomatic overtures and military operations to push the limits of their control eastward. Between 1880 and 1881 the French succeeded in expanding their control from Médine 200 miles (320 km) east to Kita, primarily through the diplomatic efforts of Capt. Joseph-Simon Gallieni, who signed protectorate treaties with chiefs at Bafoulabé and Kita.

In 1883 Gustave Borgnis-Desbordes launched a series of military campaigns against the Tukulor and the forces of Samory Touré, a Dyula Muslim leader who had founded a state to the south in the late 1860s. Borgnis-Desbordes captured Bamako during that year, giving the French a presence on the Niger. Between 1890 and 1893, Col. Louis Archinard launched a series of successful military operations that led to the final conquest of Ségou in 1893. Samory was driven into the Côte d’Ivoire colony and captured in 1898, the same year that the small Dyula kingdom of Kenedougou around Sikasso was conquered by French forces under Col. H.M. Audeod. Timbuktu was conquered in 1894 by the French officers Gaston Boiteaux, Eugène Bonnier, and Joseph-Jacques-Césaire Joffre, and the southern Sahara was finally brought under French control by méharistes (camel corps) by 1899.


Terracotta Head from Mali's Inland Niger Delta Region - History

- In attesa dell'inizio delle lezioni

- Awaiting the start of the lessons.

Outside the Great Mosque of Djenné after Friday prayers, Niger River inland delta, central Mali, West Africa. Digital film scan, Asahi Pentax Spotmatic (SMC Pentax Zoom 45

Palaver outside the Great Mosque of Djenné after Friday prayers, Niger River inland delta, central Mali, West Africa. Digital film scan, Asahi Pentax Spotmatic (SMC Pentax Zoom 45

125mm f/4), shot directly under the noonday sun, circa 1976.

Peul (Fulani, Fulbe, Fula) herder and nobleman with traditional wide-brimmed fibre-and-leather conical hat, headed to the weekly market outside Djenné's Great Mosque, Niger River inland delta, central Mali, West Africa. Digital film scan, Asahi Pentax Spotmatic (SMC Pentax Zoom 45

125mm f/4), shot directly under the noonday sun, circa 1976.

This Peul herdsman is likely from the class of “free nobles” (mostly nomadic herders, religious and political leaders, some tradesmen and sedentary cultivators) at the top of a highly stratified caste-based Peul society. Ethnographers distinguish this class from lower-tiered occupational groups or “castes” (griot story tellers and song-praisers, artisans, blacksmiths, potters, woodworkers, dress makers) and descendants of slaves (labourers, brick makers, house builders).

© All rights to these photos and descriptions are reserved. explore#23

The Great Mosque of Djenné towers above an ancient labyrinth of traditional flat-roofed two-storey adobe houses and narrow backstreets, situated on the flood plain of the Niger River delta in central Mali. Noritsu Koki QSS-31 digital film scan, shot with an Asahi Pentax Spotmatic (SMC Pentax Zoom 45

The Great Mosque is the world’s largest adobe building and one of the greatest achievements of Sudano-Sahelian architecture, unique to the semi-arid Sahel zone that stretches across northern Africa just south of the Sahara.

A Peul (Fulani, Fulbe, Fula) herder wearing the iconic wide-brimmed fibre-and-leather conical hat can be seen on his way to Djenné's weekly Monday market in front of the Great Mosque where a colourful multi-ethnic gathering of traders converge from the surrounding regions.

Peul (Fulani, Fulbe, Fula) herdsmen with traditional wide-brimmed fibre-and-leather conical hats meet at the weekly market in front of Djenné's Great Mosque. A colourful multiethnic gathering of herders and traders converges at the mosque from the surrounding regions and fertile flood plains of the Niger River inland delta, central Mali. Digital film scan, Asahi Pentax Spotmatic, shot directly under the noonday sun, circa 1976.

The Great Mosque of Djenné towers over the market in a seemingly apocalyptic backdrop on this particular day. The mosque is considered the world’s largest adobe building and one of the greatest achievements of Sudano-Sahelian architecture, unique to the semi-arid Sahel zone that stretches across northern Africa just south of an encroaching Sahara.

These Peul herdsmen are likely from the class of “free nobles” (mostly nomadic herders, religious and political leaders, some tradesmen and sedentary cultivators) at the top of a highly stratified caste-based Peul society. Ethnographers distinguish this class from lower-tiered occupational groups or “castes” (griot story tellers and song-praisers, artisans, blacksmiths, potters, woodworkers, dress makers) and descendants of slaves (labourers, brick makers, house builders).

Postrscript - The enchanting Arabian Nights imagery emanating out of this ancient marketplace at the time if this photo shoot (1976) is reminiscent of a seemingly bygone Sahelian era devoid of smartphones, credit cards and packaged safari tours. Nowadays, nascent tourism is on hold and easy access to markets, pastures and farmlands is hampered as ethnic strife and intercommunal violence continue to erupt under a fragile Malian state.

In 2018, Human Rights Watch reported that the Mopti region of central Mali has become an epicentre of interethnic conflict, fuelled by a steady escalation of violence by armed Islamist groups largely allied with Al Qaeda’s advance from the north since 2015. Recruitment to the militant Islamist movement from Peul pastoral herding communities has inflamed tensions within sedentary agrarian communities (Bambara, Dogon, Tellem, Bozo and others) who rely on access to agricultural lands for their livelihood. Predominantly Muslim but opposing ethnic self-defence militias on both sides have been formed for the protection of their own respective communities. This has contributed to a continuous cycle of violent attacks and reprisals touching villages and hamlets, pastures and farmlands and some marketplaces.

While communal tensions are profoundly connected to a larger ethnopolitical conflict unfolding in northern Mali, chronic insecurities around the ancient town of Djenné and in the broader central regions of Mali are exacerbated by longstanding indigenous concerns over a struggle for scarce natural resources - agricultural land for settled farmers versus water and grazing land for semi-nomadic Peul herdsmen.

Efforts at mediation in the area around Djenné and the grand mosque include a Humanitarian Agreement specifically among Bambara and Bozo farmers, Dogan "hunters" protecting farmers' interests and Peul herders, all committed to guaranteeing the freedom of movement of people, goods and livestock in the "Circle of Djenné" situated in the Mopti region of central Mali.

© All rights to these photos and descriptions are reserved. Any use of this work requires my prior written permission. explore#19


Watch the video: Bio-rights in Malis Inner Niger Delta - Part 1 (January 2022).