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Culture and Kingdoms in Medieval West Africa. Mrs. Rand University Preparatory School Content Adapted from History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond, Teacher’s Curriculum Institute . Early Societies in West Africa. Introduction:

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culture and kingdoms in medieval west africa

Culture and Kingdoms in Medieval West Africa

Mrs. Rand

University Preparatory School

Content Adapted from History Alive! The Medieval World and Beyond, Teacher’s Curriculum Institute

early societies in west africa
Early Societies in West Africa


Use this presentation to help you complete assessment worksheets.

You may re-visit this presentation again as you prepare for your unit exams by visiting Mrs. Rand’s ePortfolio website.

This presentation will help you complete assessment worksheets 12, 13, 14, and 15.

early societies in west africa1
Early Societies In West Africa
  • You will be learning about West African culture between c. 500 and 1600 C.E.
  • You will be learning about three kingdoms (Ghana, Mali, and Songhai) that arose south of the Sahara Desert region.

Questions to Consider:

    • How did these kingdoms come to be?
    • Why did they develop the where they did?

To help answer these questions, we must first look at geography.

geography and trade
Geography and Trade

geography s impact
Geography’s Impact

In the north, West Africa begins in the Sahara Desert. To the west and south it is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, and to the east by the mountains of present-day Cameroon.

The geography of West Africa influenced the patterns of trade that developed.


Different resources are found in each of the vegetation zones.

For example, people in the savannah may have traded grains in return for yams or mahogany from the forests.

Several major rivers served as trading routes in West Africa. The Niger is the region’s longest river. It became a kind of trading highway.

early communities and villages
Early Communities and Villages

early communities and villages1

Early Communities and Villages

The earliest farming communities were made up of extended families.

An extended family includes close relatives such as:


Aunts & Uncles

Children of Aunts and Uncles

An extended family might have 15 to 20 members.


Over time, family communities joined together to form villages.

A village might contain 100 to 200 people.

The village leader was probably chosen for his wisdom.

Banding together in villages allowed people to take advantage of natural resources and protect themselves from attack.

development of towns cities of Towns & Cities

Why did villages grow into cities in West Africa?

Iron-Working & Trade

Iron-working reached West Africa by the 500s B.C.E.

The Nok people were making iron tools by heating and melting iron ore and shaping it into tools and weapons.

rise of kingdoms and empires
Rise of Kingdoms and Empires

Trade: Creating Powerful Kingdoms

Trading cities became powerful empires by collecting taxes from the goods that were bought and sold.

With their wealth, they could afford to raise large armies… and then conquer neighboring territories.

Rulers also collected TRIBUTE from the people they conquered… this could also pay for protection from outside attackers.

in your notes list advantages disadvantages of being a part of an empire kingdom
In your notes, list advantages & disadvantages of being a part of an empire/kingdom.








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Geography was a major factor in the development of societies in West Africa

Settled communities grew up below the Sahara Desert, where the land permitted farming.

Communities traded with one another for items they could not produce locally.

Rivers such as the Niger served as trade routes.


Earliest societies in West Africa were family-based communities.

Iron-making and trade helped some villages grow into towns and cities.

Naturalistic faces occur rarely on pulleys. Senufo artists draw upon a wide repertoire of facial styles that appear on statues for spirits and masks. The large eyed face on this pulley is that of the friendly Tugubele spirits of the forest.

  • * Senufo, Ivory Coast
  • * Wood
  • The face on this pulley portrays a buffalo mask as it appears on a dancer in the men's Poro age-grade society. The buffalo motif symbolizes advancement and regeneration in the Poro society, the path that leads to adulthood and social fulfillment.

Trade brought cities great wealth.

Wealthiest cities conquered neighboring areas, leading to the rise of kingdoms and empires.

Rulers gained even more wealth through tribute as well as control of trade.

ghana a west african trading empire
Ghana: A West African Trading Empire

The earliest writings about the kingdom of Ghana come from Arab scholars… why do you think this is the case??

In this section you will learn about Ghana’s government and military.

To preserve wealth, the king tightly controlled the supply of gold.

All the gold nuggets, or chunks, found in the kingdom had to be given to the king.

Other people could only have the gold dust.

Each day, the king held court with his people. The king arrived to court to the beating of royal drums.

He was splendidly dressed in colorful robes, gold jewelry, and a cap decorated with gold.

His people showed respect for him by kneeling and throwing dust on their heads as he approached.

role of the military
Role of the Military
  • Keep the borders secure
  • Put down revolts
  • Maintain peace and order

During Wartime:

  • King called up additional reserve forces and troops of governors under his rule
  • Every man in the empire was expected to complete military training so that he would be ready to serve if called upon
trade source of ghana s wealth
Trade: Source of Ghana’s Wealth
  • Ghana was located between two areas that wanted to trade—North Africa and the southern forests of West Africa.
  • Traders from the North crossed the Sahara with:
    • Salt
    • Copper
    • Cowrie Shells (the shells were used as money)
trans saharan trade
Trans-Saharan Trade
  • They traded with Traders from the Southern forests for… kola nuts, hides, leather goods, ivory, slaves, and gold.
  • Taxing those who had to pass through Ghana on the goods they traded made Ghana a wealthy and influential empire.