The Soninke people, originating from West Africa, are the founders of the ancient Ghana Empire. Predominantly found today in Mali, Senegal, and Mauritania, their rich history is marked by trade, especially in gold, and the spread of Islam through trans-Saharan routes.

These people are the founders of the Ancient Kingdom of Ghana which ruled western Africa from 300-1240 CE. Soninke people were one of the early West Africans to convert to Islam around the 10th century and they have been Muslim since they converted.

An image illustrating the palace of the ancient kingdom of Ghana.

The Soninke people had a coastal trade link with the Berbers from the Mahgreb region and other empires in West Africa. They exchanged salt for gold between the north and west coast and inland. Because of this, Muslim traders came to them, notably Arabs who were interested in gold since Islam arrived in North Africa. As well as engaging in trade, the Soninke people engaged in agriculture.

In modern times, the population of the Soninke people are around 2 million. They live throughout West Africa and France. They are one of the first groups from West Africa to migrate to France since Senegal and Mali were part of the French colonial empire.

The majority of the Soninke people can be found in the valley of the upper Senegal river as well as the Mali, Senegal and Mauritania border.

Trade networks also spread the Soninke people and their culture through to the Gambia and northern Burkina Faso, which led to them becoming an influential group in Mali, Gambia and Senegal.

Archaeologists have found that regions the Soninke people are found were lived in during ancient times. Despite a lack of records to show which ethnic group lived in these regions, archaeologists have dated the stone settlements found in these regions to be between 2500 and 600 BC. It is safe to assume these ancient settlers were related to the greater Mande people as well as the Soninke people. Archaeologists concluded that an agro-pastoral society developed in this region during the prehistoric era.

According to oral tradition from the Soninke people, their ancestor was Dinga who came from the Middle East. His son, Dyabe Sisse was the founder of the Ancient Kingdom of Ghana. Another Soninke oral tradition suggests that their origins are a result of people migrating from Aswan, Egypt.

Archaeologists dispute the oral traditions of their origins being from the Middle East or Egypt. Archaeological evidence points to the Dhar Tichitt being the ancestors of the Soninke people instead of the Middle East and North Africa. However, evidence from archaeologists supports the fact that they founded the Kingdom of Ghana.


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Sources

Falola, Toyin, and August Okpe. “Soninke Peoples and States.” In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History, edited by Thomas Spear. Oxford University Press, 2019. https://oxfordre.com/africanhistory/display/10.1093/acrefore/9780190277734.001.0001/acrefore-9780190277734-e-160;jsessionid=59589CFFFB9BC2360B2C4318060B20F1.

“Soninke.” In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed November 10, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Soninke.

“History & Culture of One Mali Ethnic Group: The Soninke.” Mali Rising Foundation. December 24, 2021. http://www.malirisingfdn.org/blog/2021/12/24/history-amp-culture-of-one-mali-ethnic-group-the-sonink.

Wikipedia contributors, “Soninke people,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soninke_people (accessed April 26, 2023)