The Jolof Empire, also known as the Wolof or Wollof Empire, was a Sahelian state that ruled parts of Senegal river and down the coast up to the to the mouth of the Gambia river from 14th to 15th century. It was conquered by the Malian Empire in the 15th century.
It has been suggested by Malian and Songhai historians that the foundations of the Jolof empire was set down by the voluntary association of several small states beginning with Waalo in the north and that just prior to the empire's formation, Waalo was divided into villages ruled by separate kings using the Serer title Lamane. The new state, was a vassal of the Mali Empire for much of its early history. Jolof remained within that empire's sphere of influence until the latter half of the 14th century.
The Empire had already collapse and disintegrated internally by the times it was conquered by the Malian. Internal and foreign conflicts marked its last decades until its final topple down by the Malian armies.
Trade and conflict
Its coastal location between the Senegal and Gambia rivers at the southern end of the Trans-Saharan trade, gave its ports an advantage over the land caravans. This growing trade and riches was one of the causes of is Independence from the Mali Empire.
However the establishment of Arab and Berber trading factories in Ndar (1242, 640 AH) and Takrur (1244, 642 AH) on the Senegal river became as a threat for the Wolof merchants. Tensions grew also as the Almohad factories also spread Islamic customs and justice, and Islamic land and sea traders started to prefer them over the Jolof ports.
Numerous incursions and piracy by the southern Wolof kingdoms came to the attention of the Almohad Caliph Almohad Caliph. Despite repeated calls to stop the raids and become a tributary of the Almohad Empire. Allied Berber tribes and Almohad attacked in several occasions the Jolof. They also brided and gave support to rival claims to kingship in the most Islamize kingdoms. Civil wars opponents were brought or sold out by the gold and silver of the Almohad and later also of the Mali. Along the main military threat, marked the end of Empire, were the zealous Tuareg tribes engage in a Jihad against the Wolof, heavily equipped by Alhmohad emirs.
The Wolof developed hierarchical system involving different classes of royal and non-royal nobles, free men, occupational castes and slaves. Occupational castes included blacksmiths, jewellers, tanners, tailors, musicians and griots. Smiths were important to the society for their ability to make weapons of war as well as their trusted status for mediating disputes fairly. Griots were employed by every important family as chroniclers and advisors, without whom much of early Jolof history would be unknown.
Jolof's nobility were nominally animists, but some combined this with Islam. However, Islam failed to fully penetrate Wolof society until about the disintegration and fall of the Empire in hands of the Mali. From there traditional religious practices were outlawed and persecuted and forced conversion to Islam to all.
The Jolof Empire was organized as five coastal kingdoms from north to south which included Waalo, Kayor, Baol, Sine and Kingdom of Saloum. All of these states were tributary to the land-locked state of Jolof. The ruler of Jolof was known as the Buur-ba, and ruled from the capital of Linguère.
Each Wolof state was governed by its own ruler appointed from the descendants of the founder of the state. State rulers were chosen by their respective nobles, while the Bour was selected by a college of electors which also included the rulers of the five kingdoms. There was the Bour of Waalo, the Damel of Kayor, the Teny (or Teigne) of Baol, as well as the two Lamanes of the Serer states of Sine and Saloum. Each ruler had practical autonomy but was expected to cooperate with the Bour on matters of defense, trade and provision of imperial revenue. Once appointed, office holders went through elaborate rituals to both familiarize themselves with their new duties and elevate them to a divine status. From then on, they were expected to lead their states to greatness or risk being declared unfavored by the gods and being deposed. The stresses of this political structure resulted in a very autocratic government where personal armies and wealth often superseded constitutional values.
- OTL Saint-Louis, Senegal