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 1970’s and uncovered evidence that radically changed the way we looked at the rise of civilization. Many scholars had believed that complex social organization didn’t 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 sources.


Djenne-jeno is the site of the oldest known settlement in Africa: indigenous trade networks and social structures were in place starting from 200 B.C.


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 routes.

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. Jenne’s 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 Djenne’s 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.

<< Back           Home           Next >>

| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 |