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African DominionA New History of Empire in Early and Medieval West Africa$
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Michael A. Gomez

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691196824

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691196824.001.0001

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Sunni ‘Alī and the Reinvention of Songhay

Sunni ‘Alī and the Reinvention of Songhay

Chapter Eight Sunni ‘Alī and the Reinvention of Songhay (p.169)
African Dominion

Michael A. Gomez

Princeton University Press

This chapter studies the onset of Songhay, which was in fact a reemergence, in that it recentered the ancient town of Gao, capital of the novel experiment. Inheriting the mantle of Mali, Songhay would undertake important innovations in meeting the demands of international commerce, ethnic diversity, and Islam's expansion. By way of serial effort, experimentation, and even regime change, Songhay boldly attempted the realization of a pluralist society fully reflective of its multiple constituencies—an approach premised on a new theory of governance in which spheres of influence were distributed to shareholders as self-organized groupings or communities. Informed by both local practice and international engagement, Songhay would eventually achieve a remarkable social compact by which new levels of mutual respect and tolerance were reached, and through which Songhay came to be characterized. In this way, it distinguished itself from its Malian predecessor, for the Malian empire was first and foremost a Mande operation, in which the Mande sought to control all levers of political, social, and cultural power. In contrast, Songhay would evolve differently, becoming a much more ethnically heterogeneous society in which allegiance to the state transcended loyalties to clan and culture, with its leadership becoming much more diverse.

Keywords:   Songhay, international commerce, ethnic diversity, Islam, pluralist society, shareholders, diverse leadership, state allegiance

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