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Les Rois de Gao-Sané et les Almoravides

Dierk Lange
The Journal of African History
Vol. 32, No. 2 (1991), pp. 251-275
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/182617
Page Count: 25
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Les Rois de Gao-Sané et les Almoravides
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Abstract

In recent years the impact of the Almoravid movement on the sahelian societies has been the object of some debate. Ancient Ghana seemed to be the most rewarding area of investigation, since al-Zuhrī (1154) and Ibn Khaldūn (end of the fourteenth century) suggested its 'conquest' by Almoravid forces. The evidence provided by these narrative sources has been disputed, but it could not be discarded. A new field of investigation was opened by the discovery in 1939 of a number of royal tombstones in Gao-Sané close to the old capital of the Gawgaw empire. The dates of the epitaphs extend from the early twelfth to the late thirteenth century. However, none of the Arabic names given to the rulers of Gao-Sané seemed to correspond to any of the names provided in the chronicles of Timbuktu, the T. al-Sūdān and the T. al-Fattāsh. A closer look at the epitaphs shows that the third ruler of Gao-Sané, called 'Umar b. al-Khaṭṭāb and also Yāmā b. K.mā and who died in 1120, is in fact identical with Yama Kitsi mentioned in the chronicles. The available evidence suggests that by 1080 the local Berbers of Gao-Sané were able to seize power from the earlier Qanda/Kanta dynasty of Old Gao. This change of dynasty was certainly not the result of a military conquest, although it is likely that Almoravid propagandists contributed to arouse the religious fervour of the local Muslims in both Gao-Sané with its community of traders and Old Gao with its Islamic court members and dynastic factions. The clear message of the Gao epitaphs is that the new rulers of Gao-Sané, the Zāghē, tried to establish good relations with members of the former ruling clan resorting to a policy of intermarriage. By the middle of the thirteenth century the Zāghē rulers were so much integrated into the local Mandé society that they adopted the title Z.wā (Zā) which was originally the title of the Kanta rulers. Thus it would appear that in spite of the far-reaching dynastic effects resulting from the religious and political upheaval of the Almoravid period, there was no major incursion of Berber people into the kingdom of Gawgaw. Indeed, there are reasons to believe that the basic institutions of the original 'Mande' society were destroyed only in the course of the fifteenth century, when Songhay warrior groups from the east under the leadership of the Sonni radically changed the ethnic set-up of the Middle Niger. In spite of these changes the Zarma, whose aristocracy descend from the Zā, preserve the tradition of their origin from Mali until the present day.

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