The Influence of Mande Expansion

Table of Content

Historical Background:

Mande is one of the many diverse ethnicities of Western Africa. The Mandika is not to be confused with the Mande peoples for the Mandika is only a subdivision of the Mande. Proto- Mandekan evolved 1000 years ago in an area from Sengou in the north, to Niger in the south, to Falem in the west (Bird). Spanning the Western regions of Africa, Mande can be found in countries such as Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal. Once prosperous kingdoms, the Mande influence has been palpable in language and culture of Mali, Songhai, and Ghana. The Mande language is derived from the Niger Congo language existent since around 4,000 B.C. (Meshesha).

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Between 1100 and 1500, the Mande people implemented horses to conduct warfare and accomplished the expansion of their empire by mastering this martial technique. The Mande, as typical warrior people concentrated on horse cavalries. Horses also were used as a prime commodity for trade and transport, as a result dense networks of trade routes were forged which facilitated the growth and expansion of the Mande language. The origin of the horse warrior proceeded from the Arabs who were excellent warriors and industrious traders since the 8th century A.D. The horse warrior propagated the regions of West Africa and due to the rigid social hierarchy, a ruling warring elite arose which asserted claims to dominion. One Mande language, known as Bambara, is spoken by up to 3 million people in Senegal, Mali, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire. Other important Mande languages are Mende in Sierra Leone and Kpelle in Liberia. The Mande languages are believed to be the oldest offshoots of the parent Niger-Congo language spoken more than 5,000 years ago.

The Mande diaspora has birthed the expansion reaching several countries so that it becomes distributed to neighbouring countries. Kuranko and Kono are tribal groups residing in the forest areas of southern modern-day Mali and northern Guinea. Kissidougou emergence came about around 1630 however today the formerly inhabited areas of the Kissis are now considered Mande. The etymological amalgamations have arisen through the general nomadic patterns of the tribes and the prevalence of intercommunal commerce and warfare. Among the Kissi captives, the Mande were warlords hence one sees the simple imposition and adaptation of the victor’s language on the Kissi. The captives of the conquered societies were highly inclined to learn Mandekan languages in changing their social status from nonpersons to individuals associated with protectors and kin groups. The Lele is another variant of the linguistic sector of the Kissi. Lele has very strong connections to the Kono-Mandekan language. Although not prominent, the Lele and the Kono had established ties since the fifteen century. However in the 18th and 19th centuries, the strengthening of the Kuranko people uprooted them and forced them to move more southward of the Sahara. Upon conquest, the Kissi languages would adopt a Kuranko equivalent so that the Mende language becomes infused into Kissi and vice versa. The Maninka is another dialect of the Mande which originated with the horse warriors which pervaded West Africa for business and conquest.

v Greeting Expressions:

Balèka or Níwalí (Thank you)

Hakató (Excuse me)

Ise or Lawose (Hello or Greetings)

Wóní Walí (Congratulations)

Yandíí (Please)

Idííyo or Idííyale (Goodbye)

v Family Relations:

As in most African communities, the Mandekan peoples treasured a patriarchal system which gave precedence to the male therefore the family structure can only be understood in harmony under the gender-distributed roles. The concept of kulusijala legitimizes paternal domination and appropriation of the children so that the father has an advantageous claim for the children rather than the mother. Kulusijala prefers to surname the first two children after the father while the mother is only entitled to naming the third, sixth, and ninth child; as a consequence, the father has a 2/3 majority. The male’s role is that of breadwinner and due to the polygamous system, a man can wed several wives and father many children. This kulusijala system causes ambiguities on issues of right to inheritance since family rule is usually passed down among brothers rather than from father to son. The matriarchal concept, called kònòwolo, meaning the womb signifies the woman’s right over the children. However since the kulusijala philosophy take pre-eminence, the kònòwolo has had little influence. At his prime of life, the male-dominated ideology is in force, on the other side, when the patriarch of the family ages and begins to be in need of the care of his wife’s children, the female concept comes in. The female relationships between men can also feminise the male identity. A man can be recognized as the male ‘mother’ to his sister’s children, so that the bènkè, signifying maternal uncle, starts with ba (mother); therefore the term uncle is gendered female. The language of Mande contains some overtones of gender heterogeneity (Kone 2004). Another twin sex-based school of thought ruling the family is the sibling relationships: the badenya (mother-childness) and the fadenya (father-childness)

Commerce ; Number Terms:

The commerce of the Mande revolved around gold and iron mining due to the widespread influence of the smiths. In particular, Mali boasted rich deposits of gold so that it became of the wealthiest kingdoms of Africa. The smiths were the kings in society for they governed fishing and hunting, the main careers since these rely heavily on metal-wrought tools. A form of proto-Mandekan became a trade language, and the simplified rules of such language transformed into the norms for the whole society (Bird). The rise of the smiths in society takes place so that the demand was always high for men equipped with these specialties and seemingly inexhaustible resources. The importance of gold and iron commerce forged secret societies so that the secrets to success in these professions were guarded. Lying on the coastal areas, fishing also became another sought-after occupation. The economy was not agriculture-based.

ta? ni? kili?
ta? saba
ta? naani
Fig. 1 The Number System of the Mande

Traders and smiths helped carry abroad the Mande linguistic ethic. History annals note that these specialized artisans moved to meteorological, geographic, and social reasons. Since the 1100s, the blight of drought and the search for raw materials for manufactured products stimulated mass movement. Implements produced by smiths and weapon terms are essential to life and livelihood since the Mande were a fierce group of hunters. Hunters were distinguished above the rest of members of society since they are the ultimate breadwinners. Hunter techniques become vital not only in capturing game but also in fighting warfare. Hunter implements are not simple tools. They were often made by very skilled artisans who would then permeate these magnificent tools with magical powers daliluw to ensure success. The hunter in Mande folklore is popular so that hunters are the highly praised heroes. Horns and stones are the raw materials of the implements. Since the Mande had male secret societies the circumcision tools with pointed ends. The binye or horn means any pointed projectile with the ability to cut sharply. Modern day bullets are translated as binye. In Proto-Mande, kaa is the term which means to cut and which also means respect. The word tege signifies the noun cut, and tege-na equates to cutting tool. These cutting tools were symbolic of the initiation process into manhood and warfare (McNaughton).

Music becomes an integral part of society since it is used for religious rites and in oral historical transmission. Music is one of the essential keys to power in society since the Mande peoples believed that music had a magical quality which could influence the gods. The sora are the musicians who would praise the feats of the hunters and the warriors. The sora are perceived as an imitation of the jelis of the Mali empire who played the kora or simbi harp-like instruments, told stories, and speechified. The bala, the xylophone is an instrument which was popularized around the Mali’s Sundiata era. The jembe drumming is another musical tool which served to call the village together, celebrate, or spur warriors and workers alike (Charry).

Kissi has borrowed some of its vocabulary from other Mande languages. A salient example is garden and vegetable garden.

Works Cited:

Brooks, George E. Ecological Perspectives on Mande Population Movement, Commercial

Networks, and Settlement Patters from the Atlantic Wet Phase (ca. 5500-2500 B.C.) to the present. Indiana University.

Brooks, George E. 1993. Landlords and Strangers: Ecology, Society, and Trade in Western

Africa, 1000-1630. Boulder, CO; San Francisco, CA; and Oxford: Westview Press.;jsessionid=5C125773AEC98D60C0BF581610471880?sequence=1

Charry, Eric S. Mande Music: traditional and modern music of the Maninka and the Mandinka of

West Africa. University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Childs, George Tucker. A Grammar of Kisi: A Southern Atlantic Language. Mouton de Gruyter,


Hoeth, Sabine. Southern Samo Language Contact. University of Frankfurt, Germany. Nordic

Journal of African Studies 12(1): 57-77 (2003).

Kassim Kone, Kassim. When male becomes female and female becomes male in Mande.

Wagadu Volume 1, Spring 2004

McNaughton, Patrick R. The Shirts that Mande Hunters Wear

McNaughton, Patrick R. The Mande Blacksmiths: knowledge, power, and art in West Africa

Meshesha, Million. C. V. Jawahar. Indigenous Scripts of African Languages. Center for Visual

Information Technology, International Institute of Information Technology,

Rodney, Walter. A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545-1800. Oxford: Clarendon

Press, 1970.

Schaffer, Matt. Bound to Africa: The Mandinka Legacy in the New World. History in Africa,

Published by African Studies Association. Volume 32, 2005, pp. 321-369.

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