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West Africa: Geography Part 1

Geography-Physical environment and how it may influence an economy and culture.


The region known as West Africa takes up part of the northwestern portion of the African continent. In the
north, West Africa is bordered by the Sahara Desert; in the south it is bordered by both the Atlantic Ocean
and a forest region. The Atlantic Ocean provides the western border, while the mountainous region of
modern-day Cameroon acts as West Africas eastern border. The West African region is home to four
separate vegetation zones. A vegetation zone is an area characterized by climate, physical terrain, and soil
type. West Africas vegetation zones include forest, savannah, desert, and semi-desert regions. The Sahara

Desert is an inhospitable environment with high daytime temperatures, low nighttime temperatures, rocky
soil, and very little rainfall or vegetation. Despite the challenging terrain, the Sahara is the home to valuable
natural resources including salt, gold, and copper mines. The Sahel, or West Africas semi-desert vegetation
zone, has more rainfall than the Sahara which allows for the growth of grasses and low shrubs. The savanna
has more annual rainfall than the Sahel; as a result tall grasses and trees are able to grow in the area. Thanks
to the Niger River and the savannas rainy season, inhabitants of West Africa are able to grow crops like
sorghum, rice, and millet, and raise livestock such as camels, goats, and cattle. In addition to providing fertile
soil for farming, the Niger River offers regional transportation for trade.
Other regional natural resources include yams, oil palms, and iron ore.

Kingdom of Ghana (500 C.E.-1203 C.E.)


The Kingdom of Ghana was located in the Sahel, contained by the
Senegal and Niger Rivers. Despite its name, the Kingdom of Ghana did
not exist in the same place as the modern country of Ghana. Instead,
the empire existed in modern-day Mauritania and Mali.

Kingdom of Mali (1240 C.E.-1400s)


The Kingdom of Mali gave rise south of the Kingdom of Ghanas
capital city at Kumbi. Mali grew rapidly and at its peak covered parts
of modern-day Mauritania, Mali, Senegal, the Gambia, Guinea Bissau,
and Guinea. The Kingdom of Mali extended north into the Sahara
Desert where they benefited from salt and gold mines.

Copyright 2015 Instructomania Pavlovich

West Africa: Geography Part 2


Geography-Physical environment and how it may influence an economy and culture.
Kingdom of Songhai (1400s-1600s)
The Kingdom of Songhai broke away from the Kingdom
of Mali around 1460. As the small kingdom grew
increasingly powerful, their influence spread across the
region. Ultimately, the Songhai conquered the Kingdom
of Mali, extending their empire from the Atlantic Ocean
well past the Niger River. At its peak, the Kingdom of
Songhai spanned across modern-day Burkina Faso,
Benin, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Nigeria.

1. Vegetation Zones: A. List the four vegetation zones found in West Africa. B. Describe which of the
vegetation zones is the best for growing crops and livestock. Explain why this climate zone is the best for
farming.
2. Support with Evidence from the Text - Support the following sentence with evidence in the form of a
direct quote from the text: The West African region is home to four separate vegetation zones. Make
sure to include quotation marks around the text youve chosen to quote.
3. Using the maps as a reference, do the following on your paper: A. Draw a rough outline of West Africa
B. Draw the Niger River C. Draw quick sketch of the empire of Songhai.

Reference Map

Copyright 2015 Instructomania Pavlovich

Economy
Economy-How a civilization makes money through the buying and selling of goods and services.
Kingdom of Ghana (500 C.E.1203 C.E.)
The Kingdom of Ghana became a powerful empire as a result of trans-Saharan trade. Ghana was located
between salt mines in North Africa and the gold mines located along
West Africas southern forest. Ghana acted as an intermediary
between the north and south, collecting heavy taxes for all goods that
entered or left the kingdom. Around 300 C.E., camels became an
important part of trading caravans traveling through the Sahara.
Camels are adapted to the harsh environment; they are able to travel
for several days without having to drink water, and their thick
eyelashes allow them to see in the sandy desert. Northern traders
traded salt, cowrie shells, and copper while southern traders provided
gold. People living in the southern part of West Africa relied on
valuable salt to preserve and flavor their food, as well as restore their natural pH balance from sweating.
Much of North Africas salt came from Taghaza, while the mines of Wangara to the south of the Kingdom of
Ghana produced gold. Kumbi, Ghanas most important and wealthiest city, benefited from the trans-Saharan
trade and provided many of its own commodities as well, including slaves, jewelry, and ivory. The taxes
collected from the salt-gold trade in Ghana allowed the kingdom to grow increasingly powerful.
Kingdom of Mali (1240 C.E.1400s) and Kingdom of Songhai (1400s1600s)
Like Ghana, the Kingdom of Mali was very wealthy thanks to trade and agriculture. One of its kings, Sundiata,
supported agriculture in the empire. Farmers grew rice, onions,
beans, and cotton. The trading economy grew thanks to the
help of the Berbers, a group of northern African people that
lead desert caravans through the Sahara. In addition to
caravans and over-land trade, the Kingdom of Mali turned to
the Niger River as an important source of travel. Located just
below the former Kingdom of Ghana, the Kingdom of Mali
discovered more gold mines that made empire powerful and
wealthy.
The Kingdom of Songhai had a similar economy to Mali.
As Islam continued to spread throughout the kingdom, the cities of Timbuktu and Dienne became centers of
learning and commerce that attracted Muslim merchants from across Africa and the Middle East.

1. Support with Evidence from the Text: Support the following sentence with evidence in the form of a
direct quote from the text: The Kingdom of Ghana benefited from the trans-Saharan salt-gold trade.
Make sure to place the sentence chosen in quotes when you write it down.
2. How did the introduction of the camel impact trade in West Africa?
3. Think about it: How did the Kingdom of Mali become more powerful than its predecessor, the
Kingdom of Ghana?

Copyright 2015 Instructomania

Achievements
Achievements-The lasting contributions of a civilization.
Kingdom of Ghana (500 C.E.-1203 C.E.)

Although Ghana profited greatly from the taxes it collected from the salt-gold trade, the people of
Ghana boast other important achievements. The Nok people who resided in modern-day Nigeria
were the first to use iron to make farming tools and weapons. The iron technology spread
throughout Ghana and contributed to its ability to conquer neighboring tribes along the Niger River.

Iron farming tools also made farming along the Niger River more efficient. Food surpluses, or an
excess supply of food, supported Ghanas growing population.
Kingdom of Mali (1240 C.E.-1400s) and Kingdom of Songhai (1400s-1600s)

One of Malis greatest achievements was its fabulous


wealth. The empire inherited much of Ghanas former
glory, however, Malis discovery of additional gold mines
increased its wealth and power. Mansa Musa, one of

Malis most famous leaders, is


responsible for making Timbuktu an
important center of learning. Mansa
Musa was a devout Muslim; after his hajj, or trip to Makkah (Mecca), Mansa
Musas wealth became renowned throughout Africa and the Middle East. He
hired architects to build large mosques, or places of Islamic worship, many of
which still stand in West Africa, and sent scholars to study in Morocco. The

University of Sankore, located in Timbuktu, was one of the most important centers of Islamic study
that persisted through both the Kingdoms of Mali and Songhai. Areas of study included medicine,
chemistry, math, astronomy, history, philosophy, and art.
1. How did iron tools impact the Kingdom of Ghana?
2. What subjects could scholars study at the University of Sankore?
3. Why do you think Timbuktu became an important center of learning?

Copyright 2015 Instructomania

Social Classes
Social Class-How a civilization is divided into classes that have different roles, responsibilities and privileges.

Kingdom of Ghana (500 C.E.-1203 C.E.)


The king of Ghana was at the top of the social hierarchy. Below the king, vassal kings, or lesser rulers of
territories conquered by Ghana, paid tribute to the king. Governors and ministers played an important role
in government. The middle class was comprised of merchants, traders, and farmers. The people of Ghana
showed respect to the King but kneeling and covering their heads with dust as a sign of reverence. At the
bottom, slaves were captured or conquered peoples who were sold as laborers.

Kingdom of Mali (1240 C.E.-1400s) and Kingdom of Songhai (1400s-1600s)


The Kingdoms of Mali and Songhai were greatly influenced by Islam. The king was the most powerful person
in the kingdom, while sultans or emirs were less powerful local rulers. Gadis, or judges, played an important
role because they administered justice within the kingdom. Imams also had a special place in the kingdom
because they were both religious leaders and scholars. Like the Kingdom of Ghana, the Mali and Songhai had
a similar middle and slave class.

1. Categorize: For the Kingdom of Ghana,


create a four tier pyramid of power on
your paper with the people who had the

most power at the top and those with


the least power at the bottom.
2. Describe one thing that you learned from
the reading that was surprising to you.

Copyright 2015 Instructomania

Religion
Religion-A belief system that influences the development of a civilization.
Kingdom of Ghana (500 C.E.1203 C.E.)
The people of the Kingdom of Ghana practiced a polytheistic religion, meaning they believed in many gods.
The spirits of ancestors also played an important role in their religion. The king of Ghana, was not just a
political leader, but a religious one as well who performed different rituals and ceremonies to please the
gods. In the mid-600s C.E., Muslim invaders entered the Kingdom of Ghana; though Ghana defeated their
advances, many Muslims settled in the kingdom. The Kingdom of Ghana practiced tolerance towards the
Muslims, and Islam continued to spread throughout the region. The city of Kumbi became the home of
twelve different mosques, or places or Muslim worship. In 1076 C.E. the Almoravids, a group of Muslim
invaders, captured Kumbi and increased the influence of Islam.
Kingdom of Mali (1240 C.E.1400s) and Kingdom of Songhai (1400s1600s)
Islam played a much greater role in the Kingdoms of Mali and Songhai. The
Mande people of Mali accepted Islam but retained many of their traditional
practices including ancestor worship, seeking guidance from and holding the
spirits of deceased ancestors in high esteem. Islam is a monotheistic religion,
meaning there is only one god. Before the king Mansa Musa, the leaders of
Mali restricted some of the teachings of Islam. Mansa Musa, however, was a
devout Muslim. As part of his faith, Mansa Musa went on the hajj to Makkah
(Mecca); on his trek, he passed through Egypt. Tales of his wealth and power
spread across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Mansa Musa
commissioned mosques and turned Timbuktu into an important center of
culture, religion, and education. At the beginning of the Kingdom of Songhai, its first leader Sunni Ali was not
a devout Muslim. Eventually, Askia Mohammed Toure or Askia the Great was placed on the throne. Askia
strictly enforced Islam and event went to war to convert non-believers. People of Mali and Songhai followed
the Five Pillars of Islamand embraced the Muslim way of life, including shariah, or Muslim law interpreted
from the Qur'an. Imams were religious leaders.
1. Compare and contrast religion in the Kingdom of Ghana with the Kingdoms of Mali and Songhai.
2. What role did the king play in Ghana?
3. Explain the spread of Islams influence in West Africa.
Copyright 2015 Instructomania

Government
Leadership/ Government- How a civilization creates an organized way of leadership.
Kingdom of Ghana (500 C.E.-1203 C.E.)
The Kingdom of Ghana was a dominating force in West Africa. Through a strong government and military,
Ghana conquered neighboring kingdoms and spread
its influence throughout the region. The king, called
the ghana, was the head of government and had
supreme authority. He held court on a daily basis to
listen to the problems of his people. Below the king,
governors oversaw cities and territories in the
kingdom, while ministers oversaw various aspects of
the empire like the military and tax collection.
Ministers also served as advisors to the king. The Kingdom of Ghana was very wealthy due to the salt-gold
trade; while Ghana traded many goods of its own, most of its wealth came from taxes on trade. The taxes
were used to build and maintain a large army used for self-defense and to conquer other peoples. All men

were required to complete military training. Vassal kings, or local rulers conquered by Ghana, payed tribute
to the king. Unlike many other societies, the son of the king did not become the ruler after his father passed
away. Instead, the bloodlines for ruling were matrilineal, or through the mothers side; the son of the kings
sister would take the throne.
Kingdom of Mali (1240 C.E.-1400s) and Kingdom of Songhai (1400s-1600s)
Islam played a much greater role in the governments of Mali and Songhai. The king was still the supreme
leader of the empire, however, the government became much more centralized. Power was taken from the
lesser local rulers, and placed in the hands of the central government instead. shariah, or Muslim law
interpreted from the Qur'an replaced many traditional local laws; gadis, or judges, administered justice. The
government still maintained a powerful army and continued to collect taxes on trade. Instead of the
matrilineal line of succession followed by Ghana, Mali and Songhai adopted the Muslim custom of patrilineal
succession. The male heir of the king assumed the throne after the king died.
1. Compare and contrast: Compare and contrast the government of Ghana with the governments of Mali
and Songhai. How are they similar? How are they different?
Copyright 2015 Instructomania

Decline of the Kingdoms


Decline - How each kingdom lost strength and regional influence.
Decline of Ghana (500s C.E.-1203 C.E.)
The Kingdom of Ghana began as early as the 500s C.E. Within five hundred years, Ghana reached its peak around 1000
C.E., however this strength and regional dominance was relatively short-lived. A group of strict Muslims living in the
Kingdom of Ghana, known as the Almoravids, believed it was their destiny to take over Ghana. In 1076 C.E., the
Almovarids sacked the capital of Kumbi and overthrew the king. Although the king of Ghana was reinstated in 1087,
the Kingdom of Ghana was severely weakened after fourteen years of fighting. Other factors contributed to Ghanas

decline as well. The Almoravids brought herding animals to Ghana; the herds overgrazed, or ate the grass and left the
ground exposed to the sun. As a result, the soil became hard and infertile, making it difficult to farm or grow crops.
Internal rebellion continued to weaken Ghana, and external attacks by neighboring peoples led to its eventual fall in
1203 C.E.

Decline of Mali (1240 C.E.-1400s C.E.)


The Kingdom of Mali enjoyed just over a decade of dominance in West Africa. Mansa Musa was a powerful and
impactful ruler, however, after his death, the Kingdom of Mali suffered under weak leadership. Invaders, hungry for
Malis vast resources and wealth, weakened the empire and burned schools in the kingdoms most important city,
Timbuktu. The Kingdom of Mali, roughly twice as large as its predecessor, Ghana, was so vast that it became difficult
for its leaders to manage; as a result, outlying areas began to break off from the empire, including the Kingdom of
Songhai. Malis kings were no longer able to protect their territory. Songhai eventually defeated the Kingdom of Mali,
and made it a part of its own extensive empire in West Africa.

Decline of Songhai (1400s - 1600s)


Under the leadership of Sunni Ali, Songhai was able to break away from the Kingdom of Mali and establish its own
separate and unified kingdom. The small kingdom rapidly grew and eventually absorbed the Kingdom of Mali as part of
its empire. Due to its exceptional wealth and prosperity, the Kingdom of Songhai was appealing to external forces. In
the late 1500s, Moroccan troops, armed with guns, captured Songhais valuable salt mines and sought to take over the
prosperous gold mines as well. Songhai would stay around for another 150 years, but not as a well-organized empire.
The kingdom broke into a series of military camps
1. Create a timeline beginning in 500 C.E. to 1600 C.E. Next to the date, indicate which kingdom the event relates to.
Below, briefly describe the event with at least one key detail. The dates included may be specific or an
approximation. Include at least five events on the timeline.

500 C.E. Kingdom of Ghana


The Kingdom of Ghana began as
early as 500 C.E.
Copyright 2015 Instructomania Pavlovich

West African Kingdoms Questions


Geography
1. Vegetation Zones: List the four vegetation zones found in West Africa. Which of the vegetation zones is
the best for growing crops and livestock? Explain why this climate zone is the best for farming.
______________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
2. Support with Evidence from the Text: Support the following sentence with evidence in the form of a
direct quote from the text: The West African region is home to four separate vegetation zones. Make
sure to include quotation marks around the text youve chosen to quote. __________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
3. Using the reference map : A. Draw the Niger River on the map to the left. B. Draw quick sketch of the
regions occupied by Songhai according to the reading.

Africa Sketch Map

Reference Map

Economy
1. Support with Evidence from the Text: Support the following sentence with evidence in the form of a
direct quote from the text: The Kingdom of Ghana benefited from the trans-Saharan salt-gold trade.
Make sure to place the sentence chosen in quotes when you write it down. ________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
2. How did the introduction of the camel impact trade in West Africa? ______________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
3. Think about it: How did the Kingdom of Mali become more powerful than its predecessor, the Kingdom
of Ghana? _____________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
Copyright 2015 Instructomania

West African Kingdoms Questions


Achievements
1. How did iron tools impact the Kingdom of Ghana? _______________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
2. What subjects could scholars study at the University of Sankore? ___________________________
________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________

3. Why do you think Timbuktu became an important center of learning? _______________________


________________________________________________________________________________
________________________________________________________________________________

Social Classes
1. Describe one thing that you learned from the reading that was surprising to you.____________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
2. Categorize: For the Kingdom of Ghana, create a four tier pyramid of power on your paper with the people who had the most power at the top and those with the least power at the bottom.

Copyright 2015 Instructomania

West African Kingdoms Questions


Religion
1. Compare and contrast religion in the Kingdom of Ghana with the Kingdoms of Mali and Songhai.
______________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
2. What role did the king play in Ghana? ______________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
3. Explain the spread of Islams influence in West Africa. __________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________

Government
1. Compare and contrast: Compare and contrast the government of Ghana with the governments of Mali
and Songhai. How are they similar? How are they different? ____________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________
______________________________________________________________________________________

Decline of the Kingdoms


1. Create a timeline beginning in 500 C.E. to 1600 C.E. Next to the date, indicate which kingdom the event relates to.
Below, briefly describe the event with at least one key detail. The dates included may be specific or an approximation. Include at least five events on the timeline.

Date:

Date:

Date:

Date:

Date:

Kingdom:

Kingdom:

Kingdom:

Kingdom:

Kingdom:

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Copyright 2015 Instructomania