Ethnology and Ontology of the West African People

Peoples: Mande

One of the branches of the Niger-Congolese family is the Mande people. Their languages ​​differ significantly in fundamental parameters from other Niger-Congolese languages, therefore linguists consider them to be the first to separate from the main trunk, along with the Ijo and Dagon languages. The differences between the Mande and the very structure of the Niger-Congolese family are so great that there are classifications that distinguish the Mande languages ​​into a separate families.

The Mande peoples have ancient roots and are the creators and ruling class of the earliest Empires of West Africa. The ancestral home of the Mande peoples is considered the Manden region in the southeast of the modern state of Mali, from where different tribes spread in all directions, forming separate types of society, linked by similarities in language and culture, but possessing a separate and often quite separate identity.

The Manden languages ​​are divided into three large branches, western, eastern, and Samo-bobo, each of which includes both whole groups and individual languages.

The largest is the western branch, which includes four sub-branches:

  • central, which includes the Mandin groups (Mali, Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Liberia), Mokole, Vai-Kono, Jogo-jeri (Côte d’Ivoire ), soso-yalonka (Guinea);
  • southwestern, which includes the languages ​​of Mende, Loko, Bandi, Zialo, Loma and Kpelle (Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia);
  • northwestern, which includes the soninke-bobo group (Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso) and the samo-bobo group (Mali, Burkina Faso).

The languages ​​of the Manden group are the most common among this entire family (which has the same name), and in Mali and Guinea they have the status of national languages ​​(idioms). The languages ​​of this group are spoken by the peoples of Malinke (Mali), Bambara (Mali), Mandinka (Gambia, Senegal), Gyula (Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso), Mau (Côte d’Ivoire), Bologna (Burkina Faso) and etc. These peoples live in the area of ​​the Manden region, where the formation of the Mande people, which is the ancestor of all other branches and groups, probably took place.


The northwestern branch includes the language spoken by the Soninke people, whose ancestors were the ruling class in the most ancient city-states (Dar Tichit civilization) and Empires (primarily Ghana).

The eastern branch consists of two sub-branches –

  • eastern, which includes the Samo (Burkina Faso), Bissa (Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Burkina Faso), Busa Kyaenga (Nigeria, Benin) and
  • southern, which includes a group of tura-d’an-mano (Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire).

In general, these peoples have a similar culture, which, however, has a number of fundamental differences. A variable component is a presence in these societies of the upper class of dynastic families and military aristocracy, with the corresponding reflections of this level in solar and star cults and patriarchal ideas. For some Mande peoples, this vertical layer and the caste hierarchy persist even if they move from the state of imperial order to an agrarian (less often nomadic) way of life (almost all peoples of the Manden group, Soninke, etc.), while others (for example, Mende, Kpelle, Loma, Bissa, Dan, Mano, Sami, Bobo), this hierarchical structure is absent (which, in turn, is sometimes accompanied by the preservation of solar cults, and sometimes we see only the religion of spirits and ancestors).


This difference can have two explanations: either the Mande horizon was formed initially in the context of differentiated polities (which is quite possible given the antiquity of such urban civilizations as Dar Tichit), and then its individual branches were simplified (up to the loss of the solar and Uranic components), or the process was reversed and agrarian matriarchal cultures were integrated into complex stratified polities, where initially other peoples were the carriers of dynastic power and celestial religions, from which the Mande themselves adopted hierarchical structures, preserving in some cases their traces. Thus, the Mande tribes, where we do not find any castes or direct references to the heavenly paternal deities, can be considered both as the most archaic, outside the ethnosociological processes of the imperial type, and as the most “modern” that is, those who have lost the upper layers of their original identity (if we admit that this identity was deliberately vertically structured). Most often, a significant caste differential still predominates in Mande societies, although at the same time the structures of deep matriarchy are also very contrastingly emphasized.

Fulbe: tribes and polities

The Fulbe (also called Fula, Fulani, Peul, etc.) are a people that spread widely across the territories of West and Central Africa. It is the largest community among other speakers of the Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congolese languages. The Fulbe tribes settled on the vast expanses of the Atlantic coast of Africa up to the Nile.

Fulbe traditionally raised cattle and moved with their herds over considerable distances. Most likely, they adopted the nomadic way of life from the Berbers, but later made cattle breeding their main occupation, basing their entire way of life on this practice. According to another version, the Fulbe are a mixed people, formed on the basis of the nomadic (most likely Berber) tribes of North Africa and the peoples of the Niger-Congolese group. In the structure of the very branch of peoples speaking the Atlantic languages, there are significant cultural and even phenotypic differences. So Fulbe nomads and pastoralists. At the same time, their skin is often lighter than that of other Niger-Congolese, and their facial features have Caucasian features, close to Berbers and the peoples of the Chadian group (for example, Hausa). In the lifestyle and mythology of the Fulbe, we also see a similarity with the Afrasian horizon. Despite the fact that the majority of Fulbe are Muslims, in their societies, even after thousand-year domination of Islam, there are clear signs of matriarchy: the position of women is noticeably freer than that of other tribes surrounding the Fulbe.


Back in the early twentieth century, among linguists, a version was considered that the Fulbe language belongs to the Hamitic, and the proximity to the Niger-Congolese languages ​​is the result of secondary cultural contacts. And although this version was refuted on the basis of strictly linguistic methods, the very desire to see the people of the Afrasian horizon in the Fulba is indicative – it is so close to him typologically.

Like most of the peoples of West Africa associated with the political history of this region, there are three castes in Fulbe society that are endogamous:

  1. rulers (imams) – rimbe,
  2. free artisans and pastoralists – ningbbe and
  3. slaves are jayaabbe.

This hierarchy suggests that they are an organic part of the same horizon to which the Berbers, the Chadians and the peoples of the Mande branch belong, and who have had the experience of strictly vertical organizations since ancient times.

Fulbe often forms mixed societies with Berbers and Chadians (primarily from Hausa), occupying an equal position with Afrasians in these stratified structures. There is a cultural continuum between Berbers, Chadians (primarily Hausa), and Fulbe, which is reflected in the emergence of societies such as Hausa Fulani in Nigeria, where both peoples form a social unity, easily mixing with each other.

Historically, this is also reflected in the fact that the Fulbe were the first Niger-Congolese peoples to convert to Islam under the influence of the Berbers and Arabs. Some authors believe that the Fulbe comes from the Middle East, that is, they are the westernmost branch of the Afrasian horizon, which has lost its language due to mixing with the Niger-Congolese.


However, in a more limited perspective, the homeland of the Fulbe, like other peoples of the Atlantic group, was the Senegal River. From there, the Fulbe tribes spread across the Sahel and the savannas far to the east. Most often, the Fulbe still lead a semi-nomadic lifestyle and occasionally engage in agriculture, which is generally despised, like all nomads. The Tekuler people also speak a language close to Fulba.

According to some estimates, there are more than 30 million representatives of the Fulbe and Fula-speaking ethnic groups in modern Africa, and along with the Yoruba, Igbe, and Hausa peoples, they constitute the largest group of African tribes. The most significant percentage of the Fulbe population are in Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Niger, Upper Volta. In some cases, they mixed with other peoples, as is the case in Niger, where a significant number of Fulbe speaks the Hausa language (belonging to the Chadian group). Fulbes are also numerous in Mauritania, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Central African Republic. Separate groups of Fulbe are found in Chad, Sudan, and even Ethiopia.

One of the first Fulbe polities, about which documentary evidence has survived, was the state of Takrur. Its origins date back to the 9th century A.D. According to one version, the Fulbe came to these territories from the east and settled in the lower reaches of the Senegal River on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, and according to another, they were formed as a result of the interaction of the Berbers, who had their early polities in the Sahara, and the local people of the Serer (the Atlantic group of languages) … From that time on, in the north of the modern state of Senegal, on the border with Mauritania, centers of active trade were formed, and the Fulbe began to play the role of the ruling class.


The first Takrura dynasty, which existed before the advent of the Ghana Empire, is considered to be Dia Ogo. It is reported in the myths of the people of Senegal. The dynasty was founded by aliens from the northeast who were blacksmiths and sorcerers. Their ethnic identity cannot be reliably established; different versions trace to them both the peoples of the Atlantic branch (Fulbe and Serer) and the Mande branch (Malinke). Another ancient polity of Senegal, the kingdom of Namandiru, was under the rule of the Dia Ogo dynasty.
In the era of the Ghana Empire and until the rise of the Mali Empire, the second dynasty ruled – Manna from the Soninke people (a branch of the Mande). In the 1030s, the ruler of Takrura from this dynasty Var Jabi (? – 1041) officially converted to Islam and introduced Sharia law in his state. This was the first case of early conversion to Islam by the rulers of the Niger-Congolese peoples, while the Berbers began the process of Islamization much earlier.

The population of Takrura became known later as the Tukuler people.

Tukuler focused on the Islamic powers, the center of which was in the African Nord or on the Iberian Peninsula. Thus, the rulers of Takrura and other Fulbe tribes as part of the Almoravid army took an active part in crushing the Empire of Ghana. After the fall of Ghana, Takrur became a completely independent kingdom.

Later, the state of Takrur comes under the rule of the Malinka Empire, founded by the people of Mali. The next Tondion dynasty came to power from the Serer people, who made up the majority of the population of Takrur at an early stage. Its rulers are returning to traditional African beliefs.

In the 16th century, another Fulbe state emerged on the territory of Senegal – Futa Toro. It is conquered from the Jolof Empire (which will be discussed later) by the military leader Kolya Tengella (1512 – 1537), of mixed origin (Fulbe and Mandinka), who founded the Denianke dynasty. The Denianke dynasty remained in power until 1776.

From the second half of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century, the Islamic Tukuler tribes carried out a series of “jihadist attacks” on the territory of Senegal against the tribes (including the Fulbe tribes) that did not convert to Islam. So in 1776, the Islamists overthrew the Denianke dynasty and established Islamic rule in Futa Toro.

In the same period, in the 1770s, Fulbe Muslims created another state – Futa Jallon on the territory of modern Guinea. As in Futa Toro, it is headed by the heads of the Sufi orders.

In 1804 – 1809 Fulbe Usman dan Fodio (1754 – 1817) conquers the Hausa and founds the Sokoto Caliphate, which subjugates the Hausa city-states and intensifies the attacks of the Borno Empire. In 1809, the Fulbe founded the vassal Sokoto Adamawa Emirate with the capital Yola, whose lands include part of the territories of Nigeria, Cameroon and small zones of western Chad and the Central African Republic. The Sokoto Caliphate is commonly called the Fulbe Empire.


In the 20s of the XIX century, the Fulbe founded another state, the Masina sultanate on the territory of Mali (the modern region of Mopti) with the capital in the city of Hambullahi. The founder of the Masin Sultanate is Fulbe Sekou Amadou (c. 1776 – 1845).

A prominent figure in Fulba history was the Sufi sheik Omar Tall (1794 – 1864), also known as Omar Hajj. He is considered the creator of the Tukuler Empire or the Tijaniyya state. Omar Hajj visits Muslim saints in his youth and establishes close relations with the second ruler of the Sultanate of Sokoto, the son of Osman dan Fodio Mohammed Bello (1781 – 1837), as well as with the ruler of Masin Sekou Amadou (1776 – 1845). Omar Hajj was initiated into the Tijaniyya tariqa and became one of its authoritative Qutbs (poles), having received sanctions during the Hajj to head all the branches of the tariqah in western Africa. He gathers around him the warlike Tukuler tribes and creates from them an effective and disciplined army, which in a short time manages to seize significant territories, conquering the states of Segu and Kaarta (Bambara), the Mandinka polity, and also started a war with other Islamic states of the Fulbe – in particular, with Masina. The Bandiagara plateau was chosen as the center of the Tijaniyya state. Omar Hajj put forward a project of “transcendental unity of the peoples of Western Sudan”, which he proposed to unite around the Islamic religion and Sufi metaphysics. In its structure, this model of the Sufi Empire is in many respects close to the ideas of the Sufi tariqas of North Africa – from Morocco to Egypt and is consonant with the Sanusites of Cyrenaica.

In 1890, the French, together with the Bambara, captured the territories of the Tukuler Empire and annexed them to their colonial possessions. to whom he proposed to unite around the Islamic religion and Sufi metaphysics. In its structure, this model of the Sufi Empire is in many respects close to the ideas of the Sufi tariqas of North Africa – from Morocco to Egypt and is consonant with the Sanusites of Cyrenaica. In 1890, the French, together with the Bambara, captured the territories of the Tukuler Empire and annexed them to their colonial possessions. to whom he proposed to unite around the Islamic religion and Sufi metaphysics. In its structure, this model of the Sufi Empire is in many respects close to the ideas of the Sufi tariqas of North Africa – from Morocco to Egypt and is consonant with the Sanusites of Cyrenaica. In 1890, the French, together with the Bambara, captured the territories of the Tukuler Empire and annexed them to their colonial possessions.

In 1893, another Fulbe jihadist state, Futa Toro, came under their rule. In 1896, the French subjugated the main territories of Fouta Jallon in southern Senegal. Likewise, In 1901, the Emirate of Adam was divided between the British and the Germans who seized Cameroon. The last Fulbe state to be ruled by the British in 1903 was the Sokoto Caliphate.

Empire of Mali

During the period between the 11th and 16th centuries A.D. in different parts of the former empire of Ghana, several new large states arose, such as Mali and Songhai. As Ghana declined, Mali, on the other hand, grew in power and gradually became the main geopolitical power of West Africa.

The Mali Empire was founded by the Malinke people of the Mandan ethnic group. The name Mali comes from the ethnonym Malinke. The people closest to the Malinka, having a strictly identical structure of society, is the Bambara people. The peoples of Gyula, Dyakhanke, Soso, Dialonke, Bwa are also close to him. Malinke influenced the cultures of the Dogon (separate family), Senufo (Atlantic group of languages), Mosi (Gur languages), etc.

Malinke’s history dates back to the early days of the Wagadu state, when two groups of hunters led by their legendary ancestors, Contron and Sonin, retired to the Mandan area, where they founded their own hunting polity. These two groups later became known as the Malinke and Bambara tribes. Gradually, they moved to a sedentary lifestyle and agricultural practices.

After the defeat of Ghana by the Almoravids in the 12th century, the Kaniaga polity (the territory of modern Mali) was strengthened, founded by the Soso (or Susu) people, who were previously dependent on the Soninka. The dynasty of this state-led its origin from the caste of blacksmiths, which is considered lower in other societies, but performed priestly functions among the Soso. The ancestor of the royal family was the mythical blacksmith-sorcerer Kante. The Soso kings rejected Islam longer than other neighboring Mande peoples, followed ancient traditions and were considered powerful sorcerers and miracle workers. In 1180, they subdued the Soninka, who had previously been their overlords, forcing them to pay tribute. In 1203, the Soso captured the capital of Ghana, Kumbi Saleh. Under the ruler of Kaniagi, Sumanguru Kwannta (c. 1200 – c. 1235), the Soso also extended their rule to Manden.

The ruler (manse) of one of the principalities of the Manden country centered in the village of Niani Sundyatta Keita (c. 1217 – c. 1255), whom the prophets predicted to become a great king, raised a rebellion against Kaniaga, and the coalition of Malinke tribes created by him (in particular, the ruler of the city-state of Kangaba) and Soninka in 1235 defeated Soso at the Battle of Kirin.

After defeating Soso, Sundyatta Keita captured the capital of Ghana, Kumbi Saleh, in 1240, and thus became the geopolitical successor of the Soninke state. Sundiata Keita made Niani the capital of Mali, in which he ruled.

Stories about the exploits of this legendary monarch were included in the Epic of Sundiata. Most likely, with this king, who in the epic appears as a powerful magician, capable not only of military victories but also of performing miracles, the dynastic family adopts Islam.

During the reign of the descendants of Sundyatta Keita, Mali subordinates a number of regional polities – such as Takrur, Songhai, etc., and also establishes control over the Berber nomadic tribes.

One of the foundations of the economy of the Mali Empire, like the former Empire of Ghana, was the gold mines of West Africa, which became the source of prosperity for the ruling dynasty. The continuity of the miracle of the “black serpent” was preserved in this Empire.

If we turn to the map on which we place the states of West Africa at the end of the 12th – beginning of the 13th centuries, we will see that the Empire of Mali occupies a central place in the whole constellation of bordering polities, which are somehow connected with Mali and are partly under its influence. … These polities are located, with rare exceptions, close to each other, creating a political continuum, where each segment is a stratified hierarchical society, that is, a state – an Empire, kingdom or principality. This indicates the enormous influence that the imperial structure has on all societies in West Africa, which are under the dominant influence of the vertical political Logos. In this configuration, the Mande peoples are at the center of this entire system, representing the peoples associated with the most ancient forms of political organization (the era of Dar Tichit), as well as with the latest and largest Empires in West Africa – Ghana (Soninke) and Mali (Malinke).

Thus, either the Mande peoples themselves, in the depths of their identity, bear the patriarchal Logos, or they were more than others and earlier than other Niger-Congolese peoples affected by Apollonian influences. This influence is clearly discernible in the very structure of the space adjacent to the Empire of Mali from all sides, moving away from the pole of Mande, the concentration of hierarchical society begins to weaken. Therefore, in West Africa in the zone of the Empire of Ghana and Mali, one should look for the original pole of Apollonian statehood, although the very structure of religion and traditions of the Mande, that is, the creators of the Empire of Mali and some of the polities adjacent to it, is not so openly Apollonian. as the traditions of the Nilo-Saharan peoples, and carries a significant and significant matriarchal component. Therefore, the entire Mande horizon, inextricably linked with clearly stratified societies, should be viewed as a complex and multi-level phenomenon from the very beginning.

It is significant that, along with the polities of the Mande peoples in the zone of influence of the Empire of Mali and the adjacent spaces, we meet other West African peoples of the Niger-Congolese family belonging to the Atlantic branch (Fulbe, Wolof, Serer), to the upper and lower Volt branch (peoples of Gur and Kwa), as well as Yoruba, Igbo, etc. And where this political organization exists, there we also meet the corresponding stratified societies, organized according to the hierarchical principle. As the distance from this West African pole – to the east and south – towards the Adamawa-Ubangi peoples and the Bantu oikumene, this vertical weakening occurs, and consequently, societies are losing the dynastic-aristocratic stratum and the corresponding levels of solar and Uranian theology.

Guinea: mande vs peul

Another state where the Fulbe (also called Peul) people predominate is Guinea, located on the Atlantic coast between Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone, bordering Mali to the east. The capital of Guinea is the city of Conakry.
The Fulbe came to this territory, formerly part of the Empires of Ghana and Mali, in the 16th century, whereas before it was inhabited mainly by the peoples of the Mande group – Malinke, Yalunka, and Soso. The Fulbe, as we have seen, turned to the practice of “jihadism,” and in the 18th century began a series of raids, attacking the Jolof Empire (Senegal) and other tribes (primarily the Mande), as well as the Fulbe tribes that preserve the ancient faith. This is how the state of Futa Jallon was created. The main territories of this state are located in the mountain range, and the Fulbe, who settled in these places – unlike most other branches – moved to a settled way. Previously, these territories were inhabited by the Mande peoples – primarily the Soso and Yalunka. The Yalunka (a people close to the Soso) converted to Islam at the same time as the Fulbe, but their version was fundamentally different from the jihadist version of the Fulbe of the 18th-19th centuries, so much so,

From the end of the 19th century, Futa Jallon became part of French Guinea.

After gaining independence, Ahmed Sekou Toure (1922 – 1984) from the Malinke people became the first president of Guinea. Ahmed Sekou was a supporter of total decolonization and pursued a tough anti-French policy. Being keen on socialism, he drew closer to the USSR and carried out a number of socialist transformations in the country. Later, he somewhat reoriented his policy towards the United States.

After the death of Ahmed Sekou, power in Guinea during a military coup was seized by Colonel Lansana Conte (1934 – 2008) from the Soso people, also of the Mande group. The ethnicity of the ruler predetermined the balance of power in politics. Soso, Yalunka, and Malinke supported Conte, while the Fulbe (Peul) were in opposition. The purges of the state apparatus followed the same logic since each Peul was suspected of belonging to the opposition and viewed as a potential conspirator. Representatives of the Soso (more broadly, Mande), on the contrary, were considered loyal and formed the basis of the personnel reserve.

Conte established an authoritarian regime that collapsed immediately after his death when another military coup took place. This time the military junta was headed by Colonel Moussa Camara of the Kpelle people (also the Mande group). Peul again finds themselves in opposition, and the elite are recruited from the Kpelle.

In 2009, the people began a series of protests, and Moussa Camara ordered the brutal suppression of them, which led to bloodshed and violence against the Fulbe.


Moussa Kamara himself, in turn, was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt in 2009 by security officer Abubakar Tumba Diakite.

In 2010, the rule of the military ended, and as a result of the first multi-party elections in Guinea, power passed to the Malinka President Alpha Conde. In 2011, an attempt was made on him.

Despite the fact that the Fulbe make up the majority of the population of Guinea, political power remains with the representatives of the Mande group (Malinke, Soso, Kpelle), who constituted the main population of this country until the massive arrival of the Fulbe jihadists in the 18th century. Former Prime Minister Cello Dylan Gyallo of the Peul people ran for the 2015 election but was eventually won again by Mande’s Alfa Conde.

On September 5, 2021, in Alpha Conde in Guinea, there was a military coup under the command of Colonel Mamadi Dumbui, also belonging to the Mande people.