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Mandinka People

Updated on July 14, 2014

A significant number of African Americans in the United States are descendants of the Mandinka people. If you know about Kunta Kinte from the TV series “ROOTS”, based on the book of Alex Haley, you know about the Mandinka of West Africa. If you do not know about the series or them, then in this article I will present the Mandinka people for the letter “M ” of my article series of African People from “A to Z ”.

Who are the members of the Mandinka people?

The members of the Mandinka are also known as Mandinga, Mondinka, Malinké, Mandé or Manden people came originally from Mali. They are believed to have been the original inhabitants of the legendary ancient city of Djenné-Jeno.They gained their independence from previous empires in the 13th century. They then founded an empire which stretches across West Africa. Searching for better agricultural lands and more opportunities of conquest, they migrated west from the Niger River. The tribe comprises sub-tribes like the Mandé, Dyula, Bambara and Bozo.

South of the Sahara Desert, an area known as the Sahel.
South of the Sahara Desert, an area known as the Sahel. | Source
Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, and Gambia
Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, and Gambia | Source

Where are the Mandinka people located?

The Mandinkas founded the empire of Kaabu, comprised of 20 small kingdoms from Gambia to Guinea.They live throughout West Africa, predominantly in the Senegal, Guinea, and Gambia. It is a densely populated savanna area, just south of the Sahara Desert in an area known as the Sahel.

They set up home in West Africa and lived harmoniously, until the onslaught of slavery. From the 16th century through the 18th century the hunt for people shipped more than a 3rd of the Mandinka people out of Africa.

Hut | Source
The Big Deal About Little Gambia
The Big Deal About Little Gambia | Source

How do the Mandinka people live?

Most Mandinkas live in family related compounds in traditional rural villages. The Mandika's villages are led by a chief and group of elders, and are fairly autonomous and self ruled. They mainly live in huts that are round or rectangular, with walls made of sun-dried brick and with thatched straw roofs. The houses are often grouped in substantial numbers and surrounded by a palisade.

Their descent, inheritance, and succession are patrilineal. They have arranged marriages and practice polygamy. Mandinka men are allowed to have up to four wives if they can feed and have them dressed. Having children for the Mandinka women is very important, especially sons.

The Mandinka live in one of the poorest areas of the world; 80% of children suffer chronic malnutrition. The high death of children is caused from diarrhea, malaria, and upper respiratory tract infections. Life expectancy is only 50 years.

How do the Mandinka people communicate?

The Mandinka people speak a Mandekan language of the Mande branch of the Niger-Congo family. They live in an oral society. Their traditional learning methods are by stories, songs, and proverbs. A largely oral society of the Mandinka will generally speak 3-4 different languages. They are almost familiar with Arabic from studying in Koranic schools.

How do the Mandinka people survive?

The average income is less than $300. The Mandinka people survive planting peanuts, millet, corn and rice in the rainy season. Most Mandinkas are poor subsistence farmers living on the edge of survival; one poor rain season can spell a year of hunger and despair (the rainy season is from June to October). For local bartering, men plant watermelon and pumpkins. They also fish along the Casamance and Gambia rivers.

Goats and sheep are tended and cattle are kept as a sign of wealth. They do not drink the milk. They do not make butter. They do raise bees for honey market.

Men also work as tailors, butchers, taxi drivers, woodworkers, metal workers, soldiers, nurses, and extension workers for aid agencies.

Women work in the rice fields, tending the plants by hand. This is a very hard work. Only about 50% of the rice consumption needs are met by local planting, the rest is imported from Asia and The United States. Most women remain as housewives and mothers.

kora | Source

What characteristics define the diversity of the Mandinka people?

Interpersonal relationships are important and maintained through reciprocal visits at the different kinds of ceremonies and events.

The Mandinkas are beautiful people known for their musical abilities. They are amazing dancers, and are especially known for their dancing and singing.

They are makers of the kora. It is a 21 string harp-like instrument made of a large calabash or gourd covered with cow skin. Many dancers and singers will tell stories through the use of these instruments. It is believed that when the kora player plays, the instrument and the singer become one.

The belief is that God's power is in the word and not the understanding of language.

Since around the 12th century, the Mandinka people have mostly been Muslim.

Christian converts are viewed as traitors to Mandinka society, its heritage and ancestral beliefs.

Final words

I was asked once to write about the Massai people for the letter "M" of this series, but another hubber had written a great article titled The Massai: A tribe that has defied odds of civilization (Sorry...this hub was removed). He wrote an informative article, which I recommend. I know that everything happens for a reason and when my middle sister told me about the Mandinka, this deep enthusiasm burned my heart until I finished this article, and here is why...

Here in Puerto Rico, we have an urban saying: “Who doesn't have Dinga, has Mandinga”, because during the years of free slave trade, the Mandinka constituted the vast majority of those who came to our hemisphere forcibly enslaved. Our mix from Spanish, Africans, Europeans and Americans cannot be covered in us, the Boricuas. Fernando Fortunato Vizcarrondo said it very well in his poem: “Dinga y Mandinga” (1942). I will finalize this article with the translation below, a video for you to enjoy the Mandinka's rhythm, and of course with:

Blessings to all, it is so wonderful and fills me with pride to know my Mandinka roots.!

© María Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill

Dinga and Mandinga

Click thumbnail to view full-size
poem translatedAuthor of: “Dinga y mandinga”
poem translated
poem translated | Source
Author of: “Dinga y mandinga”
Author of: “Dinga y mandinga” | Source

© 2013 Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill


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    • Lastheart profile image

      Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill 4 years ago from Borikén the great land of the valiant and noble Lord

      Thanks Froggy Happy Birthday, and remember Psalm 13:2 as you go down the hill of life. Hope we make it to Africa.

    • Froggy213 profile image

      Greg Boudonck 4 years ago from On A Mountain In Puerto Rico

      What a great study you made on this. I saw you working hard to get it right. Great hub voting up across the board. By the way, I love you!

    • Lastheart profile image

      Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill 4 years ago from Borikén the great land of the valiant and noble Lord

      Ericdierker thanks! I like the words you have quoted. I know that I want to be in Africa. If I die before... for than like your words I have visited them in my heart where they live.

      Africa has this I do not know what, that a simple thing about them, makes lovely changes in all.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      "There is no life in a land save that of the earth. But in the hearts of men there are nations. And in those nations there are peoples. And in their hearts they create nations. This is so peoples survive and not nations."

      Wonderful hub. It is true that I am a better man for having read it.