Al Bakir - A Glimpse of Ghana

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Glimpses of Ghana by Al-Bakir (excerpt)
HistoryWiz Primary Source

Al-Bakir 1067

These are the observations of a Muslim Spaniard who traveled through the kingdom of Ghana in the 11th century. They indicate the complexity of the society.  

The city of Ghana consists of two towns lying on a plain, one of which is inhabited by Muslims and is large, possessing twelve mosques-one of which is a congregational mosque for Friday prayer; each has its imam, its muezzin and paid reciters of the Quran. The town possesses a large number of juriconsults and learned men.' . . .

The town inhabited by the king is six miles from the Muslim one and is called Al Ghana.... The residence of the king consists of a palace and a number of dome-shaped dwellings, all of them surrounded by a strong enclosure, like a city wall. In the town


... is a mosque, where Musl-lms who come on diplomatic missions to hear the king pray. The town where the king lives is surrounded by domed huts, woods, and copses where priest-magicians live; in these woods also are the religious idols and tombs of the kings. Special guards protect this area and prevent anyone from entering it so that no foreigners know what is inside. Here also are the king's prisons, and if anyone is imprisoned there, nothing more is heard of him....

Ghana is the title of the kings of this people, while the name of their country is Aoukar [Wagadu in surviving traditions, however]. The king who governs them at present ... is called Tenkaminen; he came to the throne in AD 455.... Tenkaminen is the master of a large empire and a formidable power.... The king of Ghana can put two hundred thousand warriors in the field, more than forty thousand being armed with bow and arrow....

When he gives audience to his people, to listen to their complaints and set them to rights, he sits in a pavilion around which stand ten pages holding shields and gold-

mounted swords: and on his right hand are the sons of the princes of his empire, splendidly clad and with gold plaited into their hair. The governor of the city is seated on the ground in front of the king, and all around him are his vizirs in the same position. The gate of. the chamber is guarded by dogs of an excellent breed, who never leave the king's seat: they wear collars of gold and silver, ornamented with the same metals. The beginning of a royal audience is announced by the beating of a kind of drum which they call deba, made of a long piece of hollowed wood. The people gather when they hear this sound....

The king [of Ghana] exacts the right of one dinar of gold on each donkey-load of salt that enters his country, and two dinars of gold on each load of salt that goes out. A load of copper carries a duty of five mitqals and a load of merchandise ten mitqals. The best gold in the country comes from Ghiaru, a town situated eighteen days' journey from the capital [Kumbi] in a country that is densely populated by Negroes and covered with villages. All pieces of native gold found in the mines of the empire belong to the sovereign, although he lets the public have the gold dust that everybody knows about; without this precaution, gold would become so abundant as practically to lose its value.... The Negroes ... known as Nougharmarta are traders, and carry gold dust from Iresni all over the place.....

Source:  Quoted in A.A Boahen, "Kingdoms of West Africa. C.A.D. 500-1600."  

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