Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Songhai and closely related Zarma peoples, centered on the Niger-Mali border area, are united by a shared Nilo-Saharan language spread by the Songhai Empire at its peak in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. They are largely village dwelling dryland farmers, with rice grown along rivers. Authority is vested in elected chiefs forming a village council, with an appointed village chief who, in larger villages, may be a paramount chief of noble decent; a rising class of wealthy merchants and government officials is challenging that traditional authority.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Africa --Western Africa






Burkina Faso

OWC Code


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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication, and title where necessary.

The documents in the Songhai file focus mainly on religion, on the history of the Songhai Empire (1375-1591), and on colonial through post-colonial cultural adjustments (1898 forward).

Stoller writes extensively on Songhai religion through various theoretical lenses: possession as a form of embodied history (Stoller 1994) and the metaphorical meaning of magical charms (Stoller 1980 "The epistemology of sorkotarey"). His major ethnography is on Songhai possession cults (Stoller 1989). Rouch provides an overview of Songhai culture (Rouch 1954) and a comprehensive monograph on Songhai religion and magic (Rouch 1960). Bisilliat (1992) adds information about the Songhai family system.

Hunwick (1966) looks at role of religion in the imperial period; Van Dyke (2005) considers the spiritualized landscape and architecture of the period. Kaba (1981) writes about the fall of the empire. Stoller examines changes in social status in the colonial and post-colonial period as reflected in informal political groupings (Stoller 1981) and settlement patterns (Stoller 1980 " The negotiation of Songhay space").

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Ian Skoggard

Baraka – magical blessing – use MAGIC (789)

Biya – soul – use ANIMISM (774)

Fakarey – discussion group – use SODALITIES (575)

Fula – as willpower (literally, a type of hat) – use ETHNOPSYCHOLOGY (828)

Hampi – ritual vase – use SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)

Holey – spirits – use SPIRITS AND GODS (776)

Hunde – life force – use LIFE AND DEATH (761)

Iblis – demons – use SPIRITS AND GODS (776)

Korte – magical charms – use MAGIC (789)

Kumbaw – as priest/magician (alternatively, a weeding tool) – use PRIESTHOOD (793) or MAGICIANS AND DIVINERS (791)

Lakkal – wisdom of leadership (generally, perspicacity) – use ETHNOPSYCHOLOGY (828)

Maleka – angels – use SPIRITS AND GODS (776)

Sasale – as a social movement (alternatively, a cult or spirits of that cult) – use POLITICAL MOVEMENTS (668)

Sohantye – (hereditary class of) magician and diviner – use MAGICIANS AND DIVINERS (791)

Yenaandi – rain-making ceremony – use RITUAL (788) or MAGIC (789)

Zin – earth spirit, djinn, genie – use ANIMISM (774) or SPIRITS AND GODS (776)

Indexing Notes by

Ian Skoggard

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