(Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons. 19th Century French depiction of a Malinke woman. I would prefer not to use a later European depiction, but the image is interesting and better than a grainy 19th century photo. The woman’s cotton robe matches descriptions from Ibn Battuta of Malinke clothing. The bowl in front of her is interesting as well, likely the work of a woman of the blacksmith caste who were responsible for pottery. Behind her is her village, with characteristic Malinke conical mud-brick huts with thatched roofs. Many contemporary photos feature women topless with cloth wrapped around their waists – is that a European exaggeration? Or is this woman clothed to preserve the sensibilities of the presumed European viewer? It’s interesting, but this is supposed to be a photo caption, and I’m starting to ramble…)
This episode marks the first part of a two-part miniseries on social history of Mali.
Due to the difficulties of reconstructing the history of common people, we have to rely even more on anthropology to understand the social history of the Malinke and all those encompassed under the Mali Empire.
The Malinke were a stratified, complex society. Agriculture was their foundation, which allowed the growth of large cities and states. This culminated in the elaborate court of the Mansa, whose wealth and power impressed all visitors – local and foreign alike.
Today we look at both of these topics – the social structure of the Malinke and the court of the Mansa. Next time we’ll cover cities, trade and religion before finally returning to our narrative.