amulets,or charms, that they believed helped people or protected them from harm.
In the last chapter, you read about Ibn Battuta, an Arab who traveled to Mali in the 14th century. Battuta was upset by some local customs. For instance, women, including the daughters of rulers, went unclothed in public. Battuta also saw Muslims throwing dust over their heads when the king approached. These customs upset him because they went against the teachings of Islam.
Yet Battuta was also impressed by the devotion of West Africans to Islam. He wrote, “Anyone who is late at the mosque will find nowhere to pray, the crowd is so great. They zealously learn the Qur’an by heart. Those children who are neglectful in this are put in chains until they have memorized the Qur’an.” (Caption)
With the introduction of Islam, West Africans began praying five times a day. (Vocabulary)
amulet a piece of jewelry or other object used as a charm to provide protection against bad luck, illness, injury, or evil Page 159
Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa developed Islamic forms of government and law. Muslim rulers in West Africa adopted some of these ideas.
One important change concerned the line of succession, or inheritance of the right to rule. In West Africa, succession to the throne had traditionally been matrilineal. That is, the right to rule was traced through a woman rather than a man. As you have learned, in Ghana the son of the king’s sister inherited the throne. After the arrival of Islam, succession became patrilineal. Under this system, the right to rule passed from father to son.
A second change affected the structure of government. Muslims believed in a highly centralized government. After West African kings converted to Islam, they started to exercise more control of local rulers. Rulers also adopted titles used in Muslim lands. Often the head of a region was now called the sultan or the amir or emir. Amir and emir are shortened forms of Amir al-Muminin. This Arabic expression means “Commander of the Faithful.”
A third major change was the adoption of shari’ah (Islamic law). In many towns and cities, shari’ah replaced traditional customary law. The customary law of West Africa was very different from shari’ah. Laws were not written, but everyone knew what they were and accepted them. A chief or king usually enforced customary law but did not give physical punishments. Instead, the guilty party paid the injured party with gifts or services. The family or clan of the guilty person could also be punished.
One example of customary law was “trial by wood.” Suppose a man was accused of not paying debts or of injuring another person. The accused man was forced to drink water that had been poured over sour, bitter wood. If the man vomited, he was believed to be innocent.
Unlike customary law, shari’ah is written law. Muslims believed that shari’ah came from God. As you learned in Unit 2, shari’ah was administered by judges called qadis. The qadis heard cases in a court. They listened to witnesses and ruled on the basis of the law and the evidence presented to them. (Caption)
With the coming of Islam, the power of the ruler became greater and local chiefs grew less important. (Vocabulary)
Muslims greatly value learning. In West Africa, Muslims encouraged people to become educated. They built many schools and centers of learning.
One key center was the trading city of Timbuktu, on the Niger River. Under Mali and Songhai rule, Timbuktu became famous for its community of Islamic scholars. It remained an important center of learning until Songhai was conquered by Morocco in the late 1500s.
Several universities were built in Timbuktu. The most famous was the University of Sankore. It became one of the world’s great universities.
Sankore was made up of several small, independent schools. Each school was run by an imam, or scholar. The imams at Sankore were respected throughout the Islamic world.
Students at Sankore studied under a single imam. The basic course of learning included the Qur’an, Islamic studies, law, and literature. After mastering these subjects, students could go on to study a particular field. Many kinds of courses were available. Students could learn medicine and surgery. They could study astronomy, mathematics, physics, or chemistry. Or they could take up philosophy, geography, art, or history.
The highest degree at Sankore required about 10 years of study. During graduation, students wore a cloth headdress called a turban. The turban was a symbol of divine light, wisdom, knowledge, and excellent moral character.
When travelers and traders passed through Timbuktu, they were encouraged to study at one of the universities. Trade associations also set up their own colleges. Students in these colleges learned about the profession of trading in addition to Islam.
Muslims also set up schools to educate children in the Qur’an. Timbuktu had 150 or more Qur’anic schools where children learned to read and interpret Islam’s holy book.
With their love of education, Muslims treasured books. Muslims did not have printing presses, so books had to be copied by hand. Mosques and universities in West Africa built up large libraries of these precious volumes. Some individuals also created sizable collections. One Islamic scholar’s private library contained 700 volumes. Many of his books were among the rarest in the world. (Caption)
The influence of Muslims, who greatly value education, made the city of Timbuktu a center for learning. Several universities were established there. Page 161
14.6 A New Language
In Unit 2, you learned that Islam is rooted in Arabic culture. As Islam spread, so did the Arabic language.
In West Africa, Arabic became the language of religion, learning, commerce, and government. West Africans continued to use their native languages in everyday speech.
For Muslims, Arabic was the language of religion. The Qur’an, of course, was written in Arabic. All Muslims were expected to read the Qur’an and memorize parts of it. As West Africans converted to Islam, more and more of them learned Arabic.
Arabic also became the language of learning. The scholars who came to West Africa were mainly Arabic-speaking Muslims. Some of their students became scholars themselves. Like their teachers, they wrote in Arabic.
Scholars used Arabic to write about the history and culture of West Africa. They wrote about a wide variety of topics. They described how people used animals, plants, and minerals to cure diseases. They discussed ethical behavior for business and government. They told how to use the stars to determine the seasons. They recorded the history of Songhai. They also wrote about Islamic law. These writings are an invaluable source of knowledge about West Africa.
Finally, Arabic became the language of trade and government. Arabic allowed West African traders who spoke different languages to communicate more easily. Arabic also allowed rulers to keep records and to write to rulers in other countries. (Caption)
Arabic, the language in which the Qur’an is written, became the language of learning, government, and trade. Page 162
14.7 New Architectural Styles
The influence of Islam brought new styles of architecture to West Africa. People designed mosques for worship. They also created a new design for homes.
Traditionally, West Africans had built small shrines to the forces of nature. As they converted to Islam, they began to build mosques. The materials that were most available in the savanna were mud and wood. Using these materials, West Africans built mosques that blended Islamic architectural styles with their own traditional religious art. For example, the minaret (tower) of one mosque was designed to look like the symbol of a Songhai ancestor.
After his pilgrimage to Makkah, the Mali ruler Mansa Musa wanted to build more mosques. He convinced al-Saheli, an architect from Spain, to return to Mali with him. Al-Saheli built several structures in Mali. One of them is the most famous mosque in West Africa, Djingareyber. (See the photograph on page 154.) Located in Timbuktu, Djingareyber was built out of limestone and earth mixed with straw and wood. The walls of the mosque have beams projecting out of them. Workers used the beams as scaffolding when the building needed to be repaired.
Al-Saheli also introduced a new design for houses. Most traditional houses in West Africa were round with a cone-shaped, thatched roof. Al-Saheli built rectangular houses out of brick and with flat roofs. The outside walls were very plain and had no windows. Only a single wooden door decorated with a geometric design interrupted the rows of bricks.
Al-Saheli introduced another feature to houses that made life easier during the rainy season. To help prevent damage from rainwater, he built clay drain pipes. (Caption)
Islamic architects built flat-roofed houses made of sun-dried bricks. (Vocabulary)
scaffolding a framework used to support workers and materials during the construction or repair of a building Page 163
In Unit 2, you learned how Muslims used calligraphy (artistic writing) and geometric patterns in their decorative arts. West Africans adopted these designs for their own art and textiles.
Muslims used calligraphy to decorate objects with words or verses from the Qur’an. West Africans adopted this practice. They began using the Arabic word for God to decorate costumes, fans, and even weapons. They also wrote verses from the Qur’an in amulets.
Geometric patterns were an important element in Islamic art. Recall that Muslims used these patterns rather than drawing pictures of animals or people. Geometric designs were popular in traditional West African art as well. West Africans used them to decorate textiles for clothing and everyday objects such as stools and ceramic containers. The arrival of Islam reinforced this practice.
Muslims also influenced the way people dressed in West Africa. Arab Muslims commonly wore an Arabic robe as an outer layer of clothing. An Arabic robe has wide, long sleeves and a long skirt. Muslims used writing to identify and decorate their robes. West Africans adopted the Arabic robe. Like Arabs, they still wear it today. 14.9 Chapter Summary
In this chapter, you learned about the influence of Islam in West Africa. Islam left a deep mark on West African culture.
Traders and missionaries first brought Islam to Ghana in the eighth century. The influence of Islam grew under the rulers of Mali and Songhai.
Islam affected many areas of life in West Africa. It changed how people practiced religion. It brought new ideas about government and law. The royal succession became patrilineal. Government became more centralized. Shari’ah replaced customary law.
The Islamic love of learning brought a new emphasis on education to West Africa. People studied in Qur’anic schools and at Islamic universities. Timbuktu became a center of Islamic and academic study.
With the spread of Islam, Arabic became the language of religion, learning, commerce, and government. New styles of architecture developed as West Africans built mosques and changed the designs of their homes. They also adopted new styles in their decorative arts.
Traditional West African culture did not disappear with the arrival of Islam. In the next chapter, you will learn more about the cultural legacy of West Africa. (Caption)
Islam reinforced the West African tradition of using geometric designs in decorations. (Vocabulary)
textile a woven cloth Page 165
The Cultural Legacy of West Africa (Caption)
Kente cloth and hand-carved furniture are traditional arts in West African culture. 15.1 Introduction
In the last chapter, you learned about the impact of Islam on West Africa. Now you will explore West Africa’s rich cultural legacy.
West African culture is quite diverse. Many groups of people, each with their own language and ways of life, have lived in West Africa. From poems and stories to music and visual arts, their cultural achievements have left a lasting mark on the world.
One important part of West African culture is its oral traditions. Think for a moment of the oral traditions in your own culture. When you were younger, did you learn nursery rhymes from your family or friends? How about sayings such as “A penny saved is a penny earned”? Did you hear stories about your grandparents or more distant ancestors? You can probably think of many things that were passed down orally from one generation to the next.
Imagine now that your community depends on you to remember its oral traditions so they will never be forgotten. You memorize stories, sayings, and the history of your city or town. You know who the first people were to live there. You know how the community grew, and even which teams have won sports championships. On special occasions, you share your knowledge through stories and songs. You are a living library of your community’s history and traditions.
In parts of West Africa, there are people who have this task. They are talented poet-musicians called griots. For many centuries, griots have helped to preserve West Africa’s history and cultural legacy.
In this chapter, you’ll learn about the role of both oral traditions and written traditions in West Africa. You’ll also explore West African music and visual arts. Along the way, you’ll see how the cultural achievements of West Africans continue to influence our world today. (Caption)
Use this illustration of a cultural center as a graphic organizer to help you explore how the cultural achievements of West Africans influence the world today. Page 166
15.2 West African Oral and Written Traditions
For centuries, the beliefs, values, and knowledge of West Africans were passed down orally from one generation to the next. In medieval times, written traditions also became important. In this section, we’ll look at the oral and written traditions of West Africa.
Griots: Record Keepers of the People A griot is a verbal artist of the Mande people. These poet-musicians tell stories, sing songs of praise, and recite poems, often while playing a drum or stringed instrument. They perform music, dance, and drama. But griots are much more than skilled entertainers. They also educate their audiences with historical accounts and genealogies, or histories of people’s ancestry. In many ways, they are the record keepers of their people.
Long before the Mande had written histories, griots kept the memory of the past alive. Every village had its own griot. The griot memorized all the important events that occurred there. Griots could recite everything from births, deaths, and marriages to battles, hunts, and the coronations of kings. Some griots could tell the ancestry of every villager going back centuries. Griots were known to speak for hours, and sometimes even days.
This rich oral tradition passed from griot to griot. Rulers relied on griots as their trusted advisors. They used the griots’ knowledge of history to shed light on their current problems.
The most cherished of griot history is the story of Sundjata Keita. Sundjata was the king who founded Mali’s empire in the 13th century. The griot stories about him go back to his own day. Sundjata is still a hero to many people in West Africa. (Caption)
Modern-day court musicians play traditional instruments in honor of the sultan of Cameroon. (Vocabulary)
genealogy an account of the line of ancestry within a family Page 167
The art of the griots remains alive today. Some of the most famous stars in West African popular music are griots. These artists have changed traditional oral works into modern music. Poets and storytellers make recordings and appear on radio broadcasts performing both old and new works.
Folktales West Africa’s oral tradition includes hundreds of folktales. West Africans used folktales to pass along their history and to teach young people morals and values.
Many traditional folktales were brought to the Americas by West Africans who were sold into slavery beginning in the 1500s. The tales were spread orally among Africans and their descendants. They became a part of the culture of North and South America and the West Indies.
One example comes from a type of folktale known as a “trickster” tale. These stories tell of a clever animal or human who outsmarts others. Trickster tales are popular in many cultures. In West Africa, one famous trickster was the hare. West Africans brought tales of the hare to America, where he became known as Brer Rabbit. In the 19th century, a writer named Joel Chandler Harris retold a number of African American stories about Brer Rabbit. These stories have since been woven into American culture.
Proverbs West African oral tradition includes proverbs, or popular sayings. West African proverbs use images from everyday life to express ideas or give advice. They tell us a great deal about the wisdom and values of West Africans.
One proverb shows the value that Africans placed on stories. The proverb states, “A good story is like a garden carried in the pocket.” Another shows the importance of oral tradition. “Every time an old man dies,” the proverb says, “it is as if a library has burnt down.” Enslaved West Africans brought proverbs like these to the Americas.
Written Tradition After Islam spread to West Africa, written tradition became more important. As you learned in Chapter 14, Muslims published many works in Arabic. A number of these writings were preserved in mosques and Qur’anic schools. Today they are a key source of information about West African history, legends, and culture.
Modern writers in West Africa are adding to the literary legacy of the region. Some of them have turned ancient oral traditions into novels and other works. (Caption)
Griots, or storytellers, continue the oral traditions of the West African culture. They also represent the importance of elders in West African society. (Vocabulary)
folktale a story that is usually passed down orally and becomes part of a community’s tradition Page 168
15.3 West African Music
Music has always been an important part of life in West Africa. Music serves many functions in West African society. It communicates ideas, values, and feelings. It celebrates historic events and important occasions in people’s lives. For instance, there are songs for weddings, funerals, and ceremonies honoring ancestors. Among the Yoruba of present-day Nigeria, mothers of twins have their own special songs. In Ghana, there are songs for celebrating the loss of a child’s first tooth.
The musical traditions of West Africa continue to influence both African and world culture. Let’s look at some key aspects of West African music.
Call and Response A common style of music in West Africa is known as call and response. In call-and-response singing, a leader plays or sings a short phrase, known as a call. Then a group of people, the chorus, answer by playing or singing a short phrase, the response. The leader and chorus repeat this pattern over and over as they perform the song.
Enslaved Africans brought call-and-response songs to the Americas. Slaves used the songs to ease the burden of hard work, celebrate social occasions, and express outrage at their situation. This African tradition has influenced many American musical styles, including gospel, jazz, blues, rock and roll, and rap.
Musical Instruments Traditional musical instruments in West Africa include three that have been used by griots for centuries. They are the balafon, the ngoni, and the kora.
The balafon probably was the original griot instrument. Like a xylophone or marimba, a balafon is made of wooden bars laid across a frame. The musician strikes the bars with a mallet, or hammer, to make melodies. The balafon is used today in popular music in modern Guinea.
The ngoni is a small stringed instrument. It is made of a hollowed-out piece of wood carved in the shape of a canoe. The strings are made of thin fishing line. The ngoni is the most popular traditional stringed instrument in Mali today.
The kora is a harplike instrument with 21 strings. The body of the kora is made of a gourd that has been cut in half and covered with cow skin. The kora’s strings, (Caption)
Drumming is an important part of West African music. Drums of different sizes and shapes often have bells and rattles attached to them. (Vocabulary)