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Mandinka Tribe in Gambia

Mandinka History      PHOTOS
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The Mandinka of Gambia are the largest ethnic group of people in the country. They are sometimes referred to as the Mandingo,  Malinke or Mande and make up 42% of the population of Gambia.

They are widespread throughout the whole of West Africa particularly in Mali, Mandinka manSenegal and Guinea. In the second half of the 19th century the Mandinka converted to Islam until today it can be said that 99% are Muslims. Their musical hallmark is the Kora followed by the Balafon which griots and 'Jalis' use to narrate Mandinka history.

GriotIn the country they have traditionally been engaged in either peanut farming or fishing. Under president Kairaba Jawara, (a Mandinka), they were pre-eminent in the political scene between 1962 to 1994 until Yahya Jammeh, (a Jola), seized control in 1994 in a bloodless coup.

Traditional Social Class Structure:
Traditionally Mandingo society was divided into four main groups. The Slaves, Caste group, Commoners and Nobles.

The nobles were members of royal household or potential holders of power such as great war leaders and their family members.

The people belonging to the second social group are the commoners who included farm owners, traders, clerics and marabouts. Both the noble and commoner class were both considered free-born.

The third class were the caste members or artisans such as griots, blacksmiths, carpenters and leather workers. Marriage to this group from higher castes was strictly prohibited and was limited to each occupation. This group was further divided into sub-classes of subservience. Furthermore, this lower caste did not marry into any other higher or lower caste such as slaves though they did attach themselves to a free-born family. In this area the griots had a special place because of their unique relationship to the members of the ruling class and who represented the collective memory of the tribe and village as oral historians.

At the bottom of the social scale were the slaves. This was the case in Gambia as well as other west African regions. Even here there were two types. Household and agricultural slaves who were taken into the family setting and were treated better than the second kind of slave who was usually a prisoner of war or captured in raids on local villages. The relationship between the domestic slave and certain families could carry through to many generations. The war slave was basically treated like merchandise and traded as soon as possible.

This social structure of the Mandinkas was also true for much of Gambia's other tribes though it has broken down to a certain extent but still quite strict regarding marriage to any of the artisan group. Today the 'slaves' exist in name only as their ancestors had once been from slave families however, till this day some still visit their former patron households.

Power and Government:
The system of governing under the Mandinka tradition is made up of three layers. The first is at the family level where the eldest male member of a household would automatically be the head and would have the last word on any disputes or decisions involving marriage, funeral rites etc.,  within the family compound.

The head of the village was the oldest member of the family that first established the settlement. Again his decisions were final on disputes or traditional rites though he would seek advice and participate in the village council of elders who meet to discuss important issues affecting the village.

At the state level ultimate power resided in the "Mansa" or chief. He would be responsible for providing protection to the villages within the state in return for a yearly levy of taxes. He would also be the judge and jury for serious crimes. Again he would seek advice from elders in his family, heads of the army and some village elders however, his decisions were final.

The origins of the Mandinkas in Gambia date back from Manding (Kangaba) which was one of the states of the ancient Mali Empire.
Mandinka History
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