Mandinka of West Africa received an amount of world recognition
when author Alex Haley traced his Roots and ancestry (Kunta Kinte)
to the small Mandinka village of Juffreh in The Gambia, West
Originally from Mali, the Mandinka gained their independence
from previous empires in the thirteenth century, and founded
an empire which stretched across West Africa. They migrated west
from the Niger River basin in search of better agricultural lands
and more opportunities for conquest. During this expansion, they
established their rule from modern day The Gambia to Guinea (Conakry).
Here they founded the empire of Kaabu, comprised of 20 small
kingdoms. Through a series of Islamic holy wars between 1855
and 1890 the Mandinkas were converted to Islam.
95% of Mandinkas are Muslims. Most Mandinkas live in family-related
compounds in traditional rural villages. Mandinka villages are
fairly autonomous and self-ruled, being led by a chief and group
Interpersonal relationships are important and maintained through
reciprocal visits at weddings, naming ceremonies, circumcisions,
funerals, and times of assistance.
most important social grouping is the kafoo (kah' foe), formed
at the time of circumcision initiation and lasting throughout
life. Mandinkas live in an oral society. Learning is traditionally
done through stories, songs and proverbs. Western education's
impact is minimal; the literacy rate in Roman script overall
in The Gambia, Senegal, and Guinea-Bissau is quite low. However, more than half the adult population can read the local
Arabic script; small Qur'anic schools for children where this
is taught are quite more common.
live in one of the poorest areas of the world. Diarrhea, malaria,
and upper respiratory tract infections
account for much
of the high childhood death rate; infant mortality is 120 per
1,000 live births, and life expectancy is only about 50 years.
Eighty percent of children suffer from chronic malnutrition.
The annual per capita income is less than $300. Most Mandinkas
are poor subsistence farmers living on the edge of survival;
one poor rainy season can spell a year of hunger and despair.
the rainy season (June through October), men plant peanuts
as their main
cash crop; peanuts are also a
staple of the MNK
diet. Men also plant millet (coos) and corn, mostly for family
consumption. Women work in the rice fields,
tending the plants by hand. This is an extremely labor intensive
and physically demanding
Only about 50% of the rice consumption needs are met by local
planting; the rest is imported from Asia and the United States.
While farming is the predominant profession among the Mandinka,
men also work as tailors, butchers, taxi drivers, woodworkers,
metal workers, soldiers, nurses, and extension workers for aid
agencies. However, most women, probably 95%, remain in the home
as wives and mothers.