Djenne-Jeno: Past meets Present
Djenne-jeno is the site of the oldest known settlement in Africa, dating from the third century B.C.E. Susan Keech McIntosh and Roderick J. McIntosh did their Ph.D. work here in the 1970s and uncovered evidence that radically changed the way we looked at the rise of civilization. Many scholars had believed that complex social organization didnt exist in sub-Saharan Africa before the arrival of Islamic traders in the seventh and eighth centuries. The McIntoshes found that the archaelogy clearly shows that indigenous trade networks and social structures were in place starting from 200 B.C.E.
Djenne is located in the upper Inland Niger Delta, where yearly flooding makes
agriculture possible over an area the size of Belgium. What is now the Sahara desert was
still an environment of grassy plains and shallow lakes in 1000 B.C.E., and the delta was
underwater for most of the year, prohibiting agriculture. As the climate became dryer
during the next millenium, nomads moved south to the delta seeking more reliable water
Between 800 and 1000 C.E. Djenne-Jeno was a thriving area, owing to the combination of
rich rice-growing soils, levees for pasture in the flood season, deep basin for pasture in
the dry season, access to both major river channels and the entire system of inland trade
In the eleventh and twelfth centuries traders from North Africa reached Djenne, evidenced by the presence of brass, spindle whorls, and four-walled (instead of round) houses. In 1180 C.E. Jennes king (Koi) Konboro converted to Islam, according to the Tarikh es-Sudan. Over the next 200 years Djenne-Jeno became a ghost town, and modern Djenne grew in size. The McIntoshes speculate that Djennes status as an Islamic city attracted Muslim traders away from Djenne-jeno, which shows evidence of animist practices well into the sixteenth centuries.
Students at the koranic schools in Mali copy down passages from the Muslim holy book. By the time they finish they will have memorized the entire scriptures, and will be qualified to become teachers, marabouts, or imams. Koranic schools are not government funded and students must beg for money to buy school supplies and pay tuition.
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