Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Having looked at the Aku, the Fula, the Mandinka and the Jola during the past few weeks, we now come to the last three groups. One such group was the Serahule, former builders of the Ghana Empire, who form the fifth largest ethnic group in The Gambia today. Next week we will look at the Serer and the week after we end we the alphabetically last group, the Wollofs. If our readers have other contributions to our history of Gambian peoples (such as the Ghanaians, or even the handful of Ethiopians, the Daily Observer would be deligted to publish their history).
The Serahule, sometimes called the Soninke, are to be found throughout West Africa forming minority ethnic groups in such countries like Senegal, Mauritania, Guinea Bissau and Burkina Faso.
At stated earlier on, the founders of the ancient Empire of Ghana were the Serahule. At its height in the early eleventh century the Kingdom of Ghana was mainly populated by the Serahule.
Serahuli society was also stratified into the nobles known as the Nore, the artisan class comprising the Jaare or praise singers, the Tagge or smiths and the Garauke or leather workers. At the bottom of the social ladder were the slave class known as the Komme and also consiting of domestic and commercial slaves.
As middle men in the Trans-Saharan Trade, as we shall see, the Serahule grew wealthy and became great traders. With the conquest of Ghana in the eleventh century by the Almoravids, the Trans-Saharan Trade got disrupted and the trade routes shifted from Serahule territory. The Almoravid conquest of Ghana and the resultant loss of fortune by the Serahule contributed in their dispersal into other West Africa.
Although they were not permanent residents for the most part, Serahule were found scattered in many Gambian districts with their largest concentration in the Upper River Division of The Gambia.
The Serahule had long been associated with the Mandinka as long distance traders from the Senegal and Upper Niger regions. Coming from the Senegal valley to The Gambia, they would hire land from the Mandinka chiefs and grow groundnuts for few years, just long enough to be able to buy the goods they wanted from the European traders before returning home. Of course the Serahule were predominantly traders, but they also engaged in farming. They grew groundnuts and cotton and their women folk are noted for manufacturing decorated clay pots.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Serahule, mobile and without local ties, proved themselves useful to the local Gambian kings as mercenaries and were paid out of the profits from the raids which they undertook. In Numi, for example, Demba Sonko, King of Niumi, during the 1850s, hired a band of 700 Serahule to maintain order within the kingdom and exact custom duties from its rebellious eastern districts.
Despite being a minority ethnic group in The Gambia, however, the Serahule are today among the leading entrepreneurs of the country and have contributed immensely in its economic activities through their skills as renowned traders.
Source: Dawda Fall