8.6 Kingdoms of West Africa

As the Sahara dried out in Neolithic times, people were forced to migrate. Some moved into the savanna, the grasslands area that offered land for farming and pasturing herds. There, farmers grew beans, melons, and a variety of grains. Men cleared the land and prepared fields for planting. Women weeded, transplanted seeds, and threshed or ground grains.

Stylized relief sculpture of a man in loincloth holding a sword, wearing a head dress and chin covering.

Artists working in Benin sculpted many figures in bronze, including this warrior.


  • Analyze how the gold and salt trade in Africa facilitated the spread of ideas and trade.
  • Describe how the rulers of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai built strong kingdoms.
  • Summarize how other West African societies developed.

Key Terms

  • surplus
  • commodity
  • Ghana
  • Sundiata
  • Mali
  • Mansa Musa
  • Songhai

Trade Grows Across the Sahara

By A.D. 100, settled farming villages were expanding, especially along the Senegal and Niger rivers and around Lake Chad. In time, these villages grew into towns with local rulers creating governments over growing populations.

Trading Patterns Emerge

Farming villages began to produce a surplus; that is, more food than they needed. They began to trade their surplus food for products from other villages. Gradually, a trade network emerged across the savanna. It linked the savanna to the forest lands in the south and then funneled goods across the Sahara to the Mediterranean world and the Middle East. From West Africa, caravans crossed the Sahara carrying leather goods, kola nuts, cotton cloth, and enslaved people. From North Africa, Arab and Berber merchants brought silk, metal, beads, and horses to the peoples south of the Sahara. They also spread their beliefs and ideas

Trading Gold for Salt

Two products, gold and salt, dominated the Sahara trade. Gold was widely available in the area of present-day Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments