Koumbi Saleh, the racially segregated capital of the Ghana Empire?

Jun 2013
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canada
Yikes:
In the mediaeval Arabic sources the word "Ghana" can refer to a royal title, the name of a capital city or a kingdom.[3] The earliest reference to Ghana as a town is by al-Khuwarizmi who died in around 846 AD.[4][5] Two centuries later a detailed description of the town is provided by al-Bakri in his Book of Routes and Realms which he completed in around 1068. Al-Bakri never visited the region but obtained his information from earlier writers and from informants that he met in his native Spain:
The city of Ghāna consists of two towns situated on a plain. One of these towns, which is inhabited by Muslims, is large and possesses twelve mosques, in one of which they assemble for Friday prayer. ... In the environs are wells with sweet water, from which they drink and with which they grow vegetables. The king's town is six miles distant from this one and bears the name of Al-Ghāba. Between these two towns are continuous habitations. The houses of the inhabitants are of stone and acacia wood. The king has a palace and a number of domed dwellings all surrounded with an enclosure like a city wall. In the king's town, and not far from his courts of justice, is a mosque where Muslims who arrive in his court pray. Around the king's town are domed buildings and groves and thickets where the sorcerers of these people, men in charge of the religious cult, live.[6]
Just by reading the description it seems like a cross between racial and religious segregation, One town for the African pagans/sorcerers and their king, the other for Muslims(Arab but African Muslims as well, most likely). It's possible this was done due to religious friction, Ancient Ghana I believe had a minority of Muslims, but I'm not entirely sure how quickly Islam spread throughout it and West Africa in general. They most likely would not have gotten along with practitioners of magic, considering Islam's views on it.

I thought the earliest accounts of racial/religious segregation were to Jews in Europe during the early Middle Ages, but it seems Ancient Ghana has been overlooked.
 

jehosafats

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
2,088
...
This was actually a fairly common occurrence in places where Islam gained a foothold in the region. I hesitate to call it racial or religious segregation though. The racial differences weren't stark enough and often Islamic and 'pagan' beliefs were intermingled so their leaders could maintain legitimacy, It seemed more like economic segregation. Recently converted elites were interested in currying favor with other Muslims in the region. Having a substantial "pagan" population was a hassle, so instead of converting people willy-nilly, they simply gave them separate quarters. It goes to show how organically Islam spread in medieval western Africa (at least before the al-Murabitun jihads).
 

PM96

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
4,676
California
From the quote I read religious but not racial terms. It seems to make a distinction between Muslims and Pagans, but not Arabs and Blacks.
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,720
This is very common type of setup throughout human history and makes sense here with Islam being brought by traders and immigrants while converts live nearest the mosques built to manage to get to daily prayer. Medieval cities everywhere adopted similar conditions and it would be more strange if some cities in Africa did something completely different.
 

cachibatches

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,354
I have read that even when Africans had adopted Islam, it was a thin veneer and Kings still kept a lot of the old ways in order to better rule over both sides, so this is new to me.

On a side note, I read that in Koumbi Saleh there was a great "hall of audience" and have looked all over the internet looking to see pics, but I suppose it has yet to be re-discovered. There are pics of some of the stone foundations of the city, however.
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,720
I have read that even when Africans had adopted Islam, it was a thin veneer and Kings still kept a lot of the old ways in order to better rule over both sides, so this is new to me.

On a side note, I read that in Koumbi Saleh there was a great "hall of audience" and have looked all over the internet looking to see pics, but I suppose it has yet to be re-discovered. There are pics of some of the stone foundations of the city, however.
That accusation usually follows new converts to most religions and probably has some truth but Islam has spreading to Africa not long after it arrived in Egypt in 640s. Particularly the resistance of Nubians and the construction of canal between Red Sea and Nile brought trade and explorers looking for goods into Africa and Islam came with. Early in Seljuk conquest we can read reports of Muslims bemoaning the uncivilized and still many pagan traditions Seljuks who were Muslims in name only.

By the time the OP is talking about though Islam is well established in Africa if not perhaps 100% strict is isn't 100% nearly anywhere as even in Persia and parts of Arabia there are older traditions surviving alongside Islam.
 
Jul 2015
3
Washington DC
Koumbi Saleh

Please indicate what evidence you are basing your title "...the racially segregated capital of Ghana..." There is absolutely no indication from the report of al-Bakri that the inhabitants of the two cities were of different races. If you assuming that because one city is Muslim and the other not, this is sheer stupidity. How are you able to interpret things in a way that is not at all supported by the documentation? Are you saying that the Muslims couldn't have been African, particularly in a civilization in sub-Saharan Africa? The people who founded the Ghana kingdom were Soninke. Some were Muslims and some were other religions.
This is 2015. Stop the nonsense!
 
Jun 2013
728
canada
Relax, it was just a question, considering that Ghana was largely a non-muslim state, I would assumed most muslim traders and visitors would be Maghrebis and Egyptian in origin as opposed to Sudanic, although there would indeed be some sudanic muslims as well, some ghanaian or others from tekrur.

Many African cities in the Coastal region and the Sudan were indeed segregated among ethnic lines. Groups like dyula, mande, hausa and ashanti often had their own quarters in cities. In cities like Gao, Jenne, and Timbuktu there were quarters for "whites(i.e. North Africans) who even had their own specially appointed judges to refer to for legal matters. Ibn Battuta even mentioned that when a white man died in the Mali Empire the city's judge or governor would pass on his property to a trustworthy white to hold on to until the deceased's relatives to could claim it.
 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,805
Cornwall
Yikes:

Just by reading the description it seems like a cross between racial and religious segregation, One town for the African pagans/sorcerers and their king, the other for Muslims(Arab but African Muslims as well, most likely). It's possible this was done due to religious friction, Ancient Ghana I believe had a minority of Muslims, but I'm not entirely sure how quickly Islam spread throughout it and West Africa in general. They most likely would not have gotten along with practitioners of magic, considering Islam's views on it.

I thought the earliest accounts of racial/religious segregation were to Jews in Europe during the early Middle Ages, but it seems Ancient Ghana has been overlooked.
Bit further back I would've thought. To say the least.
 

mansamusa

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
3,308
Relax, it was just a question, considering that Ghana was largely a non-muslim state, I would assumed most muslim traders and visitors would be Maghrebis and Egyptian in origin as opposed to Sudanic, although there would indeed be some sudanic muslims as well, some ghanaian or others from tekrur.

Many African cities in the Coastal region and the Sudan were indeed segregated among ethnic lines. Groups like dyula, mande, hausa and ashanti often had their own quarters in cities. In cities like Gao, Jenne, and Timbuktu there were quarters for "whites(i.e. North Africans) who even had their own specially appointed judges to refer to for legal matters. Ibn Battuta even mentioned that when a white man died in the Mali Empire the city's judge or governor would pass on his property to a trustworthy white to hold on to until the deceased's relatives to could claim it.
There is nothing in the sources to make us believe that the Muslims in the Muslim town of Ghana were anything else besides Soninke. The Royal elite of Medieval Ghana took a conscious decision not to adopt Islam. Neighbouring kingdoms such as Gao, whose trading and commercial networks were part of the Wangara trading networks did the opposite. Wangara is the name given to the network of Soninke Islamic merchants, who would have been the Muslims and merchants occupying the Islamic section of Koumbi Saleh. These Soninke merchants were also reported to be occupying predominantly Berber towns further north in the Sahara. They were the ones who brought Islam to Gao in the 10th century (which is almost contemporary or rather a little earlier with your quote from Al Bakri about Ghana).

It's hard to imagine that Wangara Islamic trading networks would be advanced enough to reach and influence Gao and yet a Soninke king would be relying on Maghrebis or foreigners as elites in his royal court or commercial capital . Here is a description of Gao, writen by Muhallabi in 990 ad. Your quote if I am not mistaken is from Al Bakri, written in 1068 ad:

.... a town on the Nile [Niger], on the eastern bank, which is called Sarnah
[Gao-Saney], where there are markets and trading houses and to which there
is continuous traffic from all parts. He has another town to the west of the
Nile where he and his men and those who have his confidence live. There is a
mosque there where he prays but the communal prayer-ground is between the
two towns. In his own town he has a palace which nobody inhabits with him
or has resort to except a eunuch slave. They are all Muslims. The costume of
their king and his chief companions consists of shirts and turbans. They ride
horses bareback. His kingdom is populous…. The wealth of the people of
his country consists of livestock. The king’s treasure-houses are spacious, his
treasure consisting principally of salt (Levtzion and Hopkins : ).

You can see that the king of Gao elected to be a Muslim and his royal court contained Muslims as well. It had nothing to do with ethnicity. The king of Ghana was simply particular about preserving the distinction between the traditional religion and the new religion of Islam.
 
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