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Mali’s Defeat of Portugal and the Battle for Jolof Rice!

Mali’s Defeat of Portugal and the Battle for Jolof Rice!

The new state of Djolof, named for the central province where the king resided, was a vassal of the Mali Empire for much of its early history. The Kingdom of Jolof (Arabic: جولوف), also known as Wolof and Wollof, was a West African state located in what is today the nation of Senegal. The Mali Empire was the second of three West African empires to emerge in the vast savanna grasslands located between the Sahara Desert to the north and the coastal rain forest in the south. Beginning as a series of small successor trading states, Ancient Ghana, the empire grew to encompass the territory between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Chad, a distance of 2,600 miles (nearly equal to the distance between Baltimore and San Francisco). Encompassing all or part of the modern nations of Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad, at its height in 1300, Mali was one of the largest empires in the world.

The Mali Empire was strategically located between the West African gold mines and the agriculturally rich Niger River floodplain. Mali’s rise began when the political leaders of Ghana could not reestablish that empire’s former glory following its conquest and occupation by the Almoravids in 1076. Consequently a number of small states vied to control the salt and gold trade that accounted for Ghana’s wealth and power.

‘In 1235 Sundiata Keita, the leader of one of these states, Kangaba, defeated its principal rival, the neighboring kingdom of Susu, and began consolidating power in the region. Sundiata’s conquest in 1235 is considered the founding of the Malian Empire. Under Sundiata’s successors Mali extended its control west to the Atlantic, south into the rain forest region, including the Wangara gold fields, and east beyond the great bend of the Niger River. They established the Jolof Empire around 1350.The origins of jolof rice can be traced to the Senegambian region that was ruled by the Wolof or Jolof Empire in the 14th century, spanning parts of today's Senegal, The Gambia and Mauritania, where rice was grown.

At its height in 1350 the Mali Empire was a confederation of three states, Mali, Memo and Wagadou and twelve garrisoned provinces. The emperor or Mansa ruled over 400 cities, towns and villages of various ethnicities and controlled a population of approximately 25 million people from the capitol at Niani. The Malian Army numbered 100,000 men including 10,000 cavalry. During this time only the Mongol Empire (China) and the Russian Empire exceeded Mali in size. The mansa reserved the exclusive right to dispense justice and to tax both local and international trade. That trade was centered in three major cities, Timbuktu, Djenne and Gao.

Mansa(meaning Emperor) Musa I was the ninth Mansa of the Mali Empire, which reached its territorial peak during his reign. Musa was known for his wealth and generosity.It was Mansa Musa's astonishing revelation of the magnitude of Africa's gold wealth during his pilgrimage to Mecca that brought the greedy Portuguese scrambling to get to the West Africa shores in the 15th century. The conflict between the Mali Empire and Portugal (1444–1456) was essentially a defensive, anti-piratical effort against the latter. Meaning Portugal tried to steal their wealth thinking they had superior weapons that could defeat any opposition.

Although the Portuguese had the technological advantage of heavier ships, Mali countered this advantage with intelligence and their own traditional form of naval guerrilla warfare!

Europeans visited this coast from the sea for the first time in the middle decades of the fifteenth century, and after a few trial raids on coastal populations were resoundingly defeated in the 1450s by naval forces from Mali’s Gambian states, and Great Jolofs Saalum and Siin using their shallow draught watercraft to attack Portuguese parties seeking to land in longboats. The Portuguese arrived on the Senegambian coast in 1444,and they were not coming in peace. Using caravels to launch slave raids on coastal inhabitants, the Malian vassal territories were caught off guard by both vessels and the raiders within them. The Malians were superior bowmen and ironworkers they also used crossbows more effectively than the Portuguese and their tips were poisoned. The Mali Empire countered the Portuguese raids with fast shallow-draught watercraft overwhelming the bulky cargo like ships of the Portuguese. The Mandekalu inflicted a series of defeats against the Portuguese due to their expert war archers, and their use of poison arrows. The defeats forced Portugal's king to dispatch his courtier Diogo Gomes in 1456 to beg for peace. The effort was a success by 1462, and trade became Portugal's focus along the Senegambia.

As a result of these losses, the king of Portugal dispatched his courtier Diogo Gomes in 1456 to patch up relations with the people of the region, and by 1462 Portugal had negotiated a relationship of peaceful trade throughout the area. But European presence in the region was confined by the Mali Empire to the offshore Cape Verde islands, which grew as colonial societies on the previously uninhabited islands. European history is one of continuous attempts to colonize each other and every place they visit. Spain controlled Portugal for a number of years. Sweden, Denmark and Norway went through a period where each one was trying to conquer or control at least one of the other two. England conquered and controlled Scotland and Ireland at various points in the last millennium. More recently Germany attacked, invaded and conquered much of Europe duringWW1 and WW2. The erstwhile USSR or Russian Federation can also be seen as Russian colonization of much of Eastern Europe the latest being the Ukraine. These are but a few instances of one European country colonizing one another it seems to be their nature.

As for the Battle for Jolof Rice...The authorship – and therefore origins – of jolof rice (called ceebu jën in Senegal according to the Wolof spelling) is the subject of a spicy debate between West African nations. In particular, Senegalese, Nigerians and Ghanaians claim ownership. And each believes their recipe surpasses all others. But the answer is they are all correct, because at one time they were all one people as part of the Mali Empire!



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