The Wolof Empire (also spelt Wollof, Jolof or Jollof) emerged
soon after 300 AD in the Senegambia Valley between the Gambia
and Senegal rivers. To the north east it was bounded by
the semi-desert ferlo, beyond which was Futa
Toro. To the east it was bounded by the states which came
under the rule of the Manding. And finally to the south lay the
It is thought the Wollof people originated
from the Sahara before is became hostile to farming due to desertification.
As the environment deteriorated some of them drifted into the
Senegalese areas of Futa Toro and
modern-day south eastern Mauritania. With the Arab conquests of
around 640 AD they were forced to move into north and east Senegal
where over time villages developed into autonomous states such
as Baol, Kayor, Saloum, Dimar, Walo and Sine the overall ruling
state being that of Jolof who came together voluntarily to form
the Jolof Empire.
Legend has it that in Walo the fishermen from several villages
argued vehemently over firewood which lay along the edge of a
lake at Mengen. Just before matters developed into violence a
mysterious person called Ndyadyane Ndyaye (Njanjan Njie) arose
from the lake and shared out the firewood fairly among the men
and promptly vanished much to their bafflement. The decision was
made to try and catch him so they feigned another argument and
when he appeared he was caught. When Mansa Wali Jon the ruler
of Sine, who was himself endowed with supernatural powers, heard
about the strange goings on in Mengen he shouted "Ndyadyane
Ndyaye" which is an expression of utter amazement. This name
was given to the strange visitor (actual name: Amadu Bubakar Ibn
Muhammed). He became the first ruler of the new empire with the
title Burba Jolof and other states voluntarily pledged allegiance
to him. Thus the new empire arose around 300 AD in the Senegambia
valley which stretched from the Gambia
River and encompassed most of modern-day Senegal.
By the end of the 15th century, the Wolof states of Jolof, Kayor,
Baol and Walo had become united in a federation with Jolof as
the metropolitan power. The position of king was held by the Burba
Wolof and the rulers of the other component states owed loyalty
to him while being allowed local sovereignty in internal state
matters. Saloum and Sine were later brought within the union.
Before they became involved in trading with the Portuguese merchants
on the coast, the Wolof people enjoyed the benefits of long established
trading and cultural ties with the Western Sudanese empires and
had also benefited from trading with Futa Toro and the Berbers
from North Africa. Through these early trading links and organisation
the Wolof states grew wealthy and had formidable strength.
Emergence of Cayor:
Starting in the 1440's Portuguese soldiers and seamen garrisoned
the small island of Arguin, on the northerly coast of Mauritania
and raided the Senegambian mainland for captives whom they took
back to Portugal and sold as slaves. By the 1450's, however, this
form of kidnapping gradually developed into regular trade between
the trade representatives of Burba Wolof and his petty state rulers
and the Portuguese sea captains. The kings of the various Wolof
states proved eager to exchange captives for European goods such
as textiles, firearms, metal items and cotton.
Cayor state benefited greatly from this trade because it bordered
the coast and included the lands around Cape Verde where the Portuguese
set up their initial trading links with the Wollof. This geographical
advantage gave the prominent men of Cayor commercial advantages
which made them powerful and gave them the desire to be independent
of Jolof's hegemony over them. In around 1556 the nobility of
Cayor rebelled against the Burba Jolof and gained its independence.
The new royal title of the king of Cayor was Damel. Emboldened
by this success the Damel of Cayor invaded and conquered the neighbouring
state of Baol. To cap it all Cayor later defeated the Jolof army
and their Burba leader.
Decline & Fall:
As a result of this new state of affairs the prosperity of Jolof
declined due to the fact that its contact with the European traders
was severed by Cayor. However, because the Damels of Cayor late
proved incapable of building a cohesive and strong empire of their
own they were repeatedly attacked by the northern Mauritanian
This led to Baol severing the domination of Cayor in 1686. Shortly
after this Jolof took advantage of this weakness in Cayor's power
and attacked. They had partial success when the Damel was killed.
In later battles the Burba Jolof was killed and his army forced
back. After this the king of Baol, Latir Faal Sukabe, took control
of Cayor and became the new Damel. He ruled until 1702.
Such battles and wars continued between the noble rulers of the
Jolof states until the late 19th century when they were eventually
subdued by the French colonials.
See also the
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