Sanhajal and Ghana – Two Great African Empires of Western Sudan:
In 1075, the Almoravids army of the Sanhaja Empire conquered and absorbed parts of the old Ghana Empire. Ghana declined and degraded into a collection of motley tribal units shortly thereafter. One must note that old Ghana Empire was in the areas of modern day southern Mauritania.
The Ghana Empire was a so-called black African Empire. Sanhajal (Senegal) Empire was equally a so-called black African Empire. One defeated and absorbed the other in the never ending struggle for power and primacy among powerful people. Yet, both were so-called Black African Empires.
Some ideologically motivated scholars have often lamented the destruction of Ghana Empire (which is tagged a “Black” Sudanese Empire) by the mythical “white” Moors/Arabs/Semites or anything but “Black” group called the Almoravids. This brief historical sketch should leave all in no doubt about the ethnicity of the Almoravids. They are same as the modern day Senegalese who are named after their late Sanhajalese Empire.
The one reason for this attempted obfuscation of cultural ethnicity of the Almoravid Sanhajas is due to the fact that they were the ones who founded the geopolitical entities which later morphed into the present day Senegal, Mauritania, and Morocco as this was the extent of the spread of this African Empire.
The other reason for the attempted hijack of the identity of the Black Moors of Senegal is that they conquered, ruled and civilized a huge swat of southern European countries including Portugal, Spain, Corsica, Malta, and Sicily, who were beyond the pale in terms of backwardness and savagery in those days.
The Europeans are loath to admit that it was the Moors, the present day so called sub-Saharan Africans living in the present day Senegal, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Libya, Morocco, and Sudan who brought them this modern phase of civilization.
By introducing books, culture, travel, modern sciences, alchemy, mathematics, geology, agronomy, architecture, and medicine in Europe, those Africans brought the Europeans out of the caves, from what is described as the “dark” ages to the light of culture and enlightenment.
Those Africans of the Sanhaja Empire built libraries, great cities, and great universities which remain in tact as part of the material legacy of modern day Europe and America. Yet, rather than acknowledge the true dynamics of history, Europeans at home and abroad have sought to denigrate, and discount the contributions of Africans in the modern world with defamatory lies and calumnies.
The Sanhaja Conquest of Iberia
In 1086 the Muslim princes of the increasingly dysfunctional Cordoba Caliphate were under pressure from the gothic Christian migrant warriors who menaced their very existence and had focussed their strength around a marauding crusader war-lord named Alfonso the VI of the region of Castille and Leon. The Muslims appealed to the Almoravids for help.
Yusuf and his Almoravid army of Sanhajas crossed the straits of Gibraltar landed on Algerciras. There he dealt a sever defeat on the hordes of crusader marauders of Castille region. He did not follow up on this success as he had to return to his defacto capital Marakeshi to deal with internal political problem.
When Yusuf returned to Iberia with his Black African Moorish Army in 1090, it was to depose the decadent Muslim princes of the then dysfunctional Cordoba caliphate, who were vilely resented by their subjects, and widely indicted by religious scholars.
In 1094, the Sanhajalese/Senegalese conquest of the Iberian Peninsula was complete. Spain, and some parts of Portugal fell under the political hegemony of the West African Empire of Sanhajal or Senegal. Southern Europe was political subjugated and ruled from the African cities Tekrur in modern day Senegal, and Marakesh, in the present day Morocco.
Yusuf later went on to become one of the greatest, military, spiritual and political role model birthed by the African continent. He was illuminated of the mind, and keen of intelligence. He laid the foundation of one of the greatest political Empires of Africa ever built; stretching from the rustic landscapes of Tekrur Senegal to the furthest reaches of Mediterranean Iberica.
At this point, Yusuf was the pre-eminent light of the Islamic world. Unparallelled in power and wealth, he was undisputedly acknowledged as Amir al Muslimi al Nazaradin, translated as the leader of the learned Moors and of the Nazarenes.
Yusuf died in 1106 at the age of 100 years.
Decline of Sanhaja Empire
The Sanhaja Empire lasted approximately 100 years from its foundation to its fall. The conquest of the city of Marakesh by another rival African revivalist movement, the Almohades in 1146 signified its lowest point.
The Sanhaja Empire broke up into different segments thereafter. A measure of continuity was maintained in the southern reaches which paid allegiance to Tekrur in Senegal. Other segments continued to exist in the Baleric Islands, and in Tunisia.
The segmented and broken parts of this great empire fell under the influence of individual free-lancing marabouts and nasaradins who subscribed to the philosophy of the original marabouts but were not formally connected to them. The influence of marabouts and their philosophy persists due to its internal vigour, and effective healing arts. For a long time the Marabouts ruled in different parts of Morocco as well as Sudan.
Morocco was eventually united under an Arab dynasty different than the Marabouts. Moorish Sudan also came under the influence of other potentates and rulers but the charm, allure and influence of the Marabouts still lives on even today in modern Africa. The entire population of Muslim Africa from Senegal, Mauritania Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Libya, Morocco, is directed, advised, and pastured by marabouts (so called Islamic holymen) but actually followers of the philosophy of the Almoravids, Almurabitum al Nasarene of Sanhaja.
In Italy, Sicily and Spain, Calabria, the Aeolian Islands, family names like Morabito, Murabito and Mirabito have been common since the time of the Almurabitum or the Almoravids. Mourabit is a common family name among huge swats of the population of Morocco, Tunisia and Mauritania.
One must also bear in mind that the Sanhajas were also the main movers of the Fatmid caliphate, another African Empire composed primarily of modern day Senegalese, Malians, and Mauritanians, that dazzled the globe in the middle ages.
In 11th century AD political problems within the different Sanhaja families that formed the elites of the Fatmid Empire eventually precipitated the invasion and settling of large portions of the territories of the Sanhajas by the Arab Banu Hilal tribe from Saudi Arabia.
Later in the 17th century Sanhajas lost the Char Bouba war against the Maqil Arabs who comprised mainly of Banu Hassan tribe of Yemen another group of Black Arabs. A fallout of this war was the supression of the Sanhaja culture and language by the conquering immigrant group, and it replacement with the Arabic language.
This is how come Mauritania of today is no longer a Senega speaking country. The language and culture of the Sanhajas were supplanted by the Hassaniya-Arab dialect and culture of the latter immigrants.
As seen earlier, the Sanhajas mostly concentrate today in the areas of Senegal and the border areas of Senegal and Mauritania. Groups of Sanhajas such as the Peul or the Fulanis of Senegal, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria are still highly influence in the political and cultural life of West Africa.
This history, our history, our legacy should be reclaimed by all people of the modern Africa particularly the Western coasts of Africa.
May 18th 2009