750-1900 Centuries of Greatness, The West African Kingdoms by Philip Koslow

Centuries of Greatness, is a great book to start off with, for those who do not know much about Ghana’s ancient history or West Africa’s ancient past as a collective.  You will learn immensely on the politics, economics, education, diverse ethnic groups, advancement in technology and more, from reading this book written by Philip Koslow. It will also dispel many myths on how sexuality was viewed, in addition to spiritual and religious beliefs.

For example, as Ibn Battuta traveled throughout Mali; he marveled at the beauty of the women who were treated with great respect and did not follow the Muslim practice of covering their faces in the presence of men. He also noted that the people of Mali were very free in sexual matters, with married men and women often having “companions” outside the family. He wrote:

A man may go into his house and find his wife entertaining her “companian”, but he takes no objection to it. One day at Walata I went into the qadi’s house. . . and found him with a young woman of remarkable beauty. When I saw her I was shocked and turned to go out, but she laughed at me, instead of being overcome with shame, and qadi said to me “Why are you going out? She is my companion.” I was amazed at their conduct, for he was a theologian and a pilgrim to boot. I was told that he had asked the sultan’s permission to make the pilgrimage [to Mecca] that year with his “companion” (whether this one or not I cannot say) but the sultan would not grant it.

Disclaimer; every culture with in Africa wasn’t exactly the same. Some had stricter codes or guidelines towards sexual activity, but usually in most of the cultures; people weren’t killed for their personal beliefs and attitudes towards the subject.

Government

Upper classes in society converted to Islam while lower classes often continued to follow traditional religions. Sermons emphasized obedience to the king. Timbuktu was the educational capital. Sonni Ali established a system of government under the royal court, later to be expanded by Askia Muhammad, which appointed governors and mayors to preside over local tributary states, situated around the Niger valley. Local chiefs were still granted authority over their respective domains as long as they did not undermine Songhai policy.

Tax was imposed onto peripheral chiefdoms and provinces to ensure the dominance of Songhai, and in return these provinces were given almost complete autonomy. Songhai rulers only intervened in the affairs of these neighboring states when a situation became volatile; usually an isolated incident. Each town was represented by government officials, holding positions and responsibilities similar to today’s central bureaucrats.

Under Askia Muhammad, the Empire saw increased centralization. He encouraged learning in Timbuktu by rewarding its professors with larger pensions as an incentive. He also established an order of precedence and protocol and was noted as a noble man who gave back generously to the poor. Under his policies, Muhammad brought much stability to Songhai.

Military

The number and frequency of conquests in the late 13th century and throughout the 14th century indicate the Kolonkan mansas inherited and or developed a capable military. Sundjata is credited with at least the initial organization of the Manding war machine. However, it went through radical changes before reaching the legendary proportions proclaimed by its subjects. Thanks to steady tax revenue and stable government beginning in the last quarter of the 13th century, the Mali Empire was able to project its power throughout its own extensive domain and beyond.

The Mali Empire maintained a semi-professional, full-time army in order to defend its borders. The entire nation was mobilized with each clan obligated to provide a quota of fighting age men. These men had to be freemen and appear with their own arms. Contemporary historians present during the height and decline of the Mali Empire consistently record its army at 100,000 with 10,000 of that number being made up of cavalry. With the help of the river clans, this army could be deployed throughout the realm on short notice.

http://www.timemaps.com/civilization/African-kingdoms

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