10 Crucial Moments In West African History3 min read

10 Crucial Moments In West African History


The overwhelming majority of afro-descendant people in North America, South America and the Caribbean descended from the various ethnic groups of West and Central Africa but unfortunately very few people have actually mapped out West African history and highlighted its significant moments. The first significant event in this region centers on the introduction of Islam into West Africa. Various religions flowed into Africa just like it did in the rest of the world and Africans use the religion the way they saw fit resulting in good, bad and neutral moments. Islam entered into West Africa through a combination of merchants from the north and conquest. Many African rulers began new dynasties as they converted to Islam. Out of the three classical empires of West Africa Wagadu, Mali and Songhai, two of them were Muslim. The effects of Islam in West Africa has certainly been critiqued but what cannot be denied is the embrace of Islam by many West African elites and how it began to shape events in that region. The second significant event in West African history are the stone sediments of Dhar tichitt. Public culture has many preconceived notions about West Africa and its people and the idea of unsophisticated architecture is one of them.

Stone buildings have been a part of West African architecture since ancient times and were only just now beginning to understand the scope of it. Anthropological linguistic and archaeological evidence provides windows into the origins of West Africa’s very first Empire wall Wagadu. The stone settlements of dark Dhar tichitt possibly gives us some insight into the ancient origins of Wagadu. Dhar tichitt in what is now south central Mauritania was believed to have contained Soninke people and around 1900 BC they began to build stone settlements sparking the civilization we see today in West Africa. During the Classical phase of the Dhar tichitt civilization it featured around 540 stone walled compounds. The area also consisted of clear street layouts and massive surrounding walls. Soninke stone settlements at Dhar tichitt is significant because this is the first time were made aware of a rather large West African settlement possibly leading to the later development of an empire.

The third significant event in West Africa is the founding of the legendary city of Timbuktu. For some Timbuktu needs no introduction but it’s always great to revisit the grandness of this city. Timbuktu was one the most important city in West Africa during the medieval times and one of the wealthiest in the world and it was located in the modern-day West African country of Mali. In its prime Timbuktu became the primary destination for merchants from the Middle East and North Africa. It said that the level of learning at Timbuktu Sankore University was superior to that of many other Islamic centres in the world. Sankore University was capable of housing 25,000 students and had one of the largest libraries in the world with between 400,000 to 700,000 manuscripts. Local tradition dated the founding of Timbuktu to around the year 1100 AD originating at a seasonal nomad camp based around a well maintained by an old woman. The woman’s name was said to be Buktu and Tin means well, hence the name being said to mean the well of Buktu. Whatever the myth of the town’s origin this was a very significant moment in West African history and by the 12th century Timbuktu was already an active trading post on the routes crossing the Sahara into West Africa. In the 14th century the town was absorbed by the Mali Empire and enjoyed a period of prosperity is very interesting to learn that the most important and prominent City and all of West African history was most likely founded by a woman.

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