The Spread of Cattle Domestication among the Mande speaking people





Agricultural revolutions and the resulting increased food production has been the principal catalyst for the wide spread dispersal of populations speaking similar languages. Using linguistic and archaeological data Peter Bellwood (1991) and Colin Renfrew (1988) have shown the role agriculture played in the dispersal of the Austronesian and Indo-European speakers in prehistoric times.

Recent archaeological research in Africa suggest that although agriculture played a role in the spread of some African linguistic groups such as the Bantu and Cushitic speakers, cattle domestication led to the spread of other African groups across enormous parts of West Africa. This hypothesis suits the evidence we have regarding the spread of the Proto-Mande from the Saharan highlands in the east, to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in the west (Winters 1986b).

Archaeological research from North Africa clearly illustrates the movement of semi-sedentary cattle herders from the Magreb and Saharan sites into West Africa. This agropastoral sedentary economy resulted in a growth in populations great enough to make it possible for the Mande speakers to expand across much of

Northwest and West Africa between 5000 and 3000 years before the

present (BP).

Archaeological evidence has increased in relation to prehistoric Africa in the past ten years. Linguistic material will be used to compliment the macrobotanical remains and evidence of material culture uncovered during archaeological excavation, so we can see clearly the subsistence and settlement

patterns of the Proto-Mande.

The Mande speakers are often associated with the Niger-Congo

family /superset of languages. Wm. Welmers (1971) has postulated an original homeland for the Niger-Congo Superset in the general vicinity of the Upper Nile. Ehret and Posnansky (1982) has suggested that the Mande diverged from the Kwa around 5000-4000 BC Dr. Welmers (1971) has hypothesized that around 3000 BC the Mande languages separated into Northern and Southeastern branches.

The Niger-Congo speakers probably inhabited the plateau and mountain regions of the Sahara: Air, Ennedi, Tibesti and Hoggar.

These highland areas eight thousand years ago formed the "Saharan

Fertile Crescent". The linguistic evidence suggest that the Nilo-

Saharan, Chadic, Egyptian and other supersets and subsets of languages also lived in this highland paradise.

Greenberg (1970) believes that during the Neolithic the Niger-Congo speakers had domesticated ovicaprids (sheep/goats). Winters (1986b) has illustrated that the Niger-Congo people utilized selected plant food including millet and rice .

Much of this discussion of the Proto-Mande migrations will involve discussion of the Mandekan or Manding languages of the Mande group of languages (Platiel 1978; Galtier 1980). Mann and Dalby (1987) give Mande a peripheral status in the Niger-Congo superset.

The Manding languages include the Malinke-Bambara subset of the Northwestern Mande subgroup of languages. The original Manding lived in the southern Saharan highlands (Winters 1986b).

Now the Mande are dispersed from the Sahara to the Atlantic Ocean in the so-called fragmentation belt of Africa. The Manding languages have a high frequency of disyllabic roots of the CVCV,CV and CVV kind. Monosyllabic roots of the CV kind often reflect the proto-form for many Manding words (Winters 1986b).

The Manding languages are genetically related to the Dravidian and Sumerian languages (Winters 1983a,1985,1989,1994). It also has affinity to Japanese (Winters 1983b), Coptic ,

and Magyar (Winters 1987; Zoltan 1985). Recently Winters (1988) has shown that the Manding languages may be the substratum languages of Tokharian. In addition, Manding shares many topological- features with Amerind languages, including SOV/SVO sentence pattern, monosyllabic roots and agglutination (Welmers 1970).

Controversy surrounds the classification of the Mande language family. Greenberg (1963) popularized the idea that the Mande subset was a member of the Niger-Congo Superset of

Africa languages. The position of Mande in the Niger-Congo Superset has long been precarious and today it is given a peripheral status to the Niger-Congo Superset (Bennett & Sterk 1977; Dalby 1988). Murkarovsky (1966) believes that the Mande group of languages does not belong in the Niger-Congo Superset, while Welmers (1971) has advanced the idea that Mande was the first group to break away from Niger-Congo.

The Mande languages are also closely related to Songhay ( Mukarovsky 1976/77; Zima 1989), Nilo-Saharan ( Boyd 1978; Creissels 1981; Bender 1981) and the Chadic group. Zima (1989) compared 25 Songhay and Mandekan terms from the cultural vocabulary to highlight the correspondence between these two language groups. Zima (1989:110) made it clear that "the lexical affinities between the Songhay and Mande languages are evident".

Mukarovsky (1987) has presented hundreds of analogous Mande and Cushitic terms. Due to the similarities between the Mande and Cushitic language families Mukarovsky (1987) would place Mande into the Afro-Asiatic Superset of languages.

The traditional view of the dispersal of the Proto-Mande would place their original home in the woodland savanna zone of West Africa, in the area of the Niger Basin (Ehret and Posnansky 1982:242). Bimson (1980) has proposed that the Mande migration waves originated from the Inland Niger Delta around 2000 BC.

This is a most attractive theory but it does not conform to the archaeological data collected

Over the past decade in Africa that illustrates that until the second millennium BC the Inland Niger Delta was sparsely populated (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981 ,1986).

The original homeland of the Proto-Mande was probably the Saharan highlands (Winters 1986b). The archaeological data suggest that the Proto-Mande migrated first north (westward), and then southward to their present centers of habitation (Winters 1981b:81).

By the late stone age (LAS) black Africans were well established in the Sahara (Winters 1985b). These blacks were members of the Saharo-Sudanese tradition (Camps 1974). These blacks lived in the highlands. The early Fezzanese and Sudanese were sedentary pastoralist.

We call these blacks Proto-Saharans (Winters 1985b). Most of the Proto-Saharans lived on hillocks or slopes near water. But some Paleo-Africans lived on the plains, which featured lakes and marshes. During much of the Neolithic/epipaleolithic period the Sahara resembled the Mediterranean region in climate and ecology.

Ceramics spread from the Central and Eastern Sahara into North Africa. These ceramics were of Sudanese inspiration and date back to the 7th millennium BC This pottery was used from the Ennedi to Hoggar. The makers of this pottery were from the Sudan (Andah 1981).

In the Sahelian zone there was a short wet phase during the Holocene (c. 7500-4400 BC), which led to the formation of large lakes and marshes in Mauritania, the Niger massifs and Chad. The Inland Niger Delta was unoccupied. In other parts of the Niger area the wet phase existed in the eight/seventh and fourth/third millennia BC (McIntosh & McIntosh 1986:417).

There were few habitable sites in West Africa during the Holocene wet phase. McIntosh and McIntosh (1986) have illustrated that the only human occupation of the Sahara during this period were the Saharan massifs along wadis. By the 8th millennium BC Saharan-Sudanese pottery was used in the Air (Roset 1983). Ceramics of this style have also been found at sites in the Hoggar (McIntosh & McIntosh 1983b:230). Dotted wavy-line pottery

has also been discovered in the Libyan Sahara (Barich 1985).

During the late Pleistocene clay hunter/fisher/gather groups to collect grain, as evidenced by numerous millstones found on early Saharan sites probably used pottery or baskets.

These hunters early domesticated the dog. Hunters to catch their prey used these dogs. The Egyptian term for dog is 0 uher #. This Egyptian term corresponds to many African, and Dravidian terms for dog:

Egptian uher

Azer wulle

Bozo kongoro

Guro bere

Vai wuru, ulu

Bo(Bambara) -ulu

Wassulunka wulu

Konyanka wulu

Malinke wuli, wuru, wulu

Dravidian ori

The above data indicates that there is contrast between Paleo-Afican l =/= r. The Egyptian 0 uher # , Azer 0 wulle # and Manding 0 wuru # suggest that the r> l in Paleo-African. There is also vowel alternation in the terms for dog o =/= u. The predominance of the vowel /u/ in the terms for dog, make it clear that o<u. This evidence suggest that there are two Paleo-African terms for dog: Paleo-African (PA) *uru and *oro.

Although the Paleo-Africans may have had seasonal migration patterns their ceramic traditions and intensive exploitation of plant foods show a continuity of the technological and structural tradition in the Libyan Sahara, and in our opinion do not reflect a true nomadic herder tradition characterized by historic nomadic societies (Winters 1986b). It is interesting to note that while cattle predominate the pictorial scenes in the Libyan Sahara, the faunal remains from Uan Muhuggiag and El Kaduda for example, indicate that most Paleo-Africans kept domesticated goat/sheep (Obenga 1988; Barich 1985; Winters 1985a,1986b). Moreover the earliest animal engravings in the Fezzan were of rams and goats/ sheep (Quellec 1985:367).

The inhabitants of the Fezzan were roundhead blacks (Jelinek 1985:273). The cultural characteristics of the Fezzanese were analogous to C-Group culture items and people of Nubia (Quellec 1985; Jelinek 1985). The C-Group people occupied the Sudan and Fezzan regions between 3700-1300 BC (Close 1988).

These early Paleo-Africans of Libya were called the Temehu

by the Egyptians (Behrens 1984:30). Ethnically the Temehu had the same physical features of black African people (Quellec 1985; Jelinek 1985; Diop 1984:72).

These C-Group people used a common black-and-red ware. B.B. Lal (1963) of the Indian Expedition in the Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia proved that the Dravidian people probably originally lived in middle Africa before they settled South India. A common origin for black Africans and Dravidians would explain the analogous cultural and linguistic features of these two groups (Anselin 1982; Winters 1980,1981,1981b,1985a, 1985c, 1994).

The Proto-Mande speakers in the Saharan highlands were probably one of the numerous C-Group tribes settled in this area (1986b). If we accept this hypothesis the C-Group people would represent a collection of ethnic groups that later became the Supersets we now find in the fragmentation belt, such as the Niger-Congo speakers Greenberg (1970) believes early domesticated ovicaprids. The origin of the Mande among the sedentary pastoral C-Group ethnic groups supports the linguistic data indicating an early Mande domestication of cattle.

In the Sahara pastoralism was the first form of food production. Augustin Holl (1989) a specialist on western Africa believes that pastoralism was the first form of food production developed by post-Paleolithic groups in the Sahara.

In the eastern Sahara it would appear that ovicaprid husbandry preceded cattle domestication because cattle were maladaptive to rocky lands. This is in sharp contrast to the western Sahara where a cattle was the mainstay domesticates for sedentary pastoral economies.

Much of the evidence relating to this pastoral way of life comes from the discovery of cattle bones at excavated sites in the Sahara dated between 7000-2000 BC, and the rock drawings of cattle (McIntosh &McIntosh 1981). In the western Sahara, sites such as Erg In-Sakane region, and the Taoudenni basin of northern Mali, attest to cattle husbandry between 6000 and 5000 BP. The ovicaprid husbandry on the other hand began in this area between 5000 to 3000 BP. Cattle pastoral people began to settle Dar Tichitt and Karkarichinkat between 5000 to 3500 BP.

The term for cattle,cow in the various African languages

show much correspondence. Below we will compare the term for cow

from various African languages:



Egyptian ng, nag

Wolof nag

Peul/Fulfulde nag

Angas ning

Ankwe ning

Susu ninge

Nuer yang

Baguirmi m-ang, mang

Gbea m-angu, mangu

Sar(a) m-ang, mang

Serere nak

Mande nika

Burma nak

Jarawa i-nak

Kagoro nyak

Kaje nyak

Burak nyek

Kagoma nyak

Bobo nyanga

Kono-Vai nige

So.W. Mande ninke

Sembla nigi

Congo-Benue *i-nak

Duala nyaka

Mpongwe nyare

Fang nyar

Kwa nare

Azer(Azayr) na

Soninke na

Gourmantche nua, nue

Senufo nu

Ewe nyi

Niellim nya

Boua (Bwa) nya

Tarok ina

Iregwe nya

Dadiya nee

Amo na

Baya nday

Bobofing nya-nga

Gera ndiya

Koro indak

Hausa nagge

Dravidian Languages

Tamil naku

Tulu naku

The correspondence between African terms for cattle support the archaeological evidence for the early domestication of cattle in the Proto-Sahara (Winters 1985). This view is supported by the similarity in the terms for cow/cattle by speakers of the Mande, Niger-Congo, Chadic, and Afro Asiatic Supersets.

The oldest written evidence from Africa comes from the Egyptian language. The Egyptian terms for cattle/ cow were ng and nag . In other African languages we find either the consonant n-, before the consonant g/k , e.g., n/v______(v)g/k ;or the nasal consonant n- , before the vowels -i,-y , and -a , e.g., n+i+a = nia , or n+y+a = nya .

This evidence of cognition in African terms for cattle/cow shows considerable correspondence in consonants and vowels within roots.

Table 1.

Correspondence within Roots

Niger-Congo Nilotic Mande Chadic Egyptian

-g/-k g -g/-k -k -g

-s- -s- -z- s/z

-n- -n- -n- -m- n-

Table 2.

Correspondence within Vowels

Niger-Congo Nilotic Mande Chadic Egyptian

-i/-y -i/-y -i/-y -y

a/u a a/u a/u a


The linguistic evidence supports the view that the Paleo-African term for cattle/cow was *n'n , *n'g /n'k , and *nia . This data also makes it clear that /g/ and /k/ were interchangeable consonants long before the separation of the Proto-Saharans into distinct African cultural and linguistic groups.

The Proto-Mande terms for cow/cattle were *ni, *nag/*nak (Winters 1986b). There may be other Proto-Mande terms for cow/cattle. Dwyer (1987-1988) has argued that the Proto-Mande terms for cow are *n-de-n and *n-di-nge. He believes that the morpheme *ge is a female marker in the Mande group. Thusly, the term *n-di-n-ge may relate to the cow as the female of the species.

It is interesting to note that the Chadic terms for cow and cattle correspond to the Mande terms. Mukarovsky (1987) provides numerous analogous Mande and Chadic terms for cow/cattle.

Mande Chadic

Bamabara misi Sha nisi mu

Xassanke nyinsi Gofa mizzaa

Dyula misi Welamo mizzaa

Malinke nisi, misi Zala mizzaa

Basketo mizaa

Boro miizaa

Anfillo mintso

*misi *mizaa


This illustrates an ancient alternation of the s =/= z consonants in Paleo-African. In relation to the term for cow and cattle it would appear that the usual phonetic pattern was m/v__(v) s/z__.


Susu ninge Anga nin

Mende nika Goemai nin, nen

Malinke ningi Kofyar nen

Kono ningi Sura nin

Vai nii Sha nisi mu

Bande nika-i

Lomo nik

Kpelle nina

Bobo nyanga

*nig / *nik, *nin *nin

In the above Chadic and Mande terms for cow/cattle we see the n/v_________(v) n. The cognition between Chadic and Mande terms for cattle/cow indicate that the speakers of these languages were in close proximity to one another during the Neolithic.

The Paleo-African hunters quickly learned the habits of wild sheep and goats. As a result of this hunting experience and the shock of the short arid period after 8500 BC, Paleo-Africans began to domesticate goat/sheep to insure a reliable source of food. By 6000 BP the inhabitants of Tadrart Acacus were reliant on sheep and goats (Barich 1985).

The first domesticated goats came from North Africa. This was the screw horn goat common to Algeria, where it may have been deposited in Neolithic times. We certainly see goat/sheep domestication moving eastward: Tadrart Acacus (Camps 1974), Tassili-n-Ajjer , Mali (McIntosh & McIntosh 1988), Niger (Roset 1983) and the Sudan. Barker (1989) has argued that sheep and goats increased in importance over cattle because of their adaptation to desiccation.

The Egyptian terms for sheep,ram are 0 zr #, 0 sr # . In the terms for sheep we find either the consonant /s/ or /z/ before the consonant /r/, e.g., s>0/#________r. This corresponds to many other African terms for sheep, ram:

Egyptian sr, zr Wolof xar

Coptic sro Bisa sir

Kouy siri Lebir sir

Amo zara Dravidian kuri,korri

Bobofing se-ge,sege Toma seree

Malinke sara Busa sa

Bambara sarha,saga Koro isor

Boko sa Bir sir

Azer sege 'goat' Diola sarha


There is phonological contrast between s =/= z. We find both

0 sr # and 0 zr # for sheep. Here we have s>z/V_______(V)r


There is also clear evidence for the Paleo-African domestication of the goat. The Egyptian word for ram is 0 b # 0 ba #. This corespondence to many African terms for goat:

Wasulu ba Malinke ba Kpelle bala

Cham bii Vai ba Mende mbala

Daduja bii Bambara ba Loma baala

Burak bii Dyala ba

Egyptian ba Gban bu

Bagirmien ba-t Boko ble

In the African terms for goat we find an a>i pattern . This suggest that /i/ developed from /a/ as a result of sound change. This is not surprising because we find a similar a > i pattern in the African term for sheep. The Paleo-African term for goat was *ba .

Increased agricultural production also played a limited role in the expansion of the Proto-Mande. The major grain exploited by Saharan populations was rice ,the yam and pennisetum. McIntosh and McIntosh (1988) has shown that the principal domesticate in the southern Sahara was bulrush millet (pennisetum). Millet impressions have been found on Mande ceramics from both Karkarchinkat in the Tilemsi Valley of Mali, and Dar Tichitt in Mauritania between 4000 and 3000 BP. (McIntosh & McIntosh 1983a,1988; Winters 1986b; Andah 1981)


Azer soma, kenge

Bozo dyempi, pyin

Manding kene, nyo

Dravidian sonne, connal

Wolof suna

Bambara nyo


Azer dankante

Soninke dugo

Vai ko'o

Manding malo

Dravidian mala-kurula

Mende molo, konu

Kpelle moloy

Boko mole

Bisa muhi

Busa mole

Sa mela

Bambara kini


Bozo ku, kunan

Vai jambi

Malinke ku

Dravidian kui, kuna, ku

Bambara ku

It would appear that all the Proto-Mande were familiar with the cultivation of rice, yams and millet. There are similarities in the Malinke-Bambara and Vai terms for plant domesticates. This suggests that these groups early adopted agriculture and made animal domestication secondary to the cultivation of millet, rice and yams. The analogy for the Malinke-Bambara and Dravidians terms for rice, millet and yams suggest a very early date for the domestication of these crops.

Most of the Soninke speakers , on the other hand, appear to have remained primarily pastoralist for a much longer time than the Malinke-Bambara. The Bozo specialized in fishing and the Marka were rice farmers.

In summary the Proto-Mande migration waves, as the general separation of other Paleo-African linguistic Supersets were the result of environmental stresses during the later Holocene period in middle Africa. Population pressure in the Sahara during this period of increasing hyperaridity forced hunter/gather/fisher Proto-Mande people to first domesticate animals and then crops.

The Mande pastoral-sedentary tradition is a highly developed specialization exploiting food resources of the savanna and herding cattle throughout middle Africa over 5000 years ago. The bioarchaeological remains from the Sahara discussed above

indicates a mixed economy for the Proto-Mande based on herding cattle: *ni, *nag/ *nak, goats: *ba, bal-, and sheep sa .

The Proto-Mande also early domesticated the dog *wuru/wulu.

Wm. Welmers (1971:119) has suggested that the Mande took their Basenji dogs with them westward on their migrations out of the southern Sahara.

The hypothesis that the ancestral homeland of the Proto-Mande was in the Saharan highlands best explains their migration routes into the Niger Basin, northwest and west Africa in general (Winters 1986b). This hypothetical migratory route for the Mande is supported by the diffusion of Saharan pottery styles dating from 2000-500 BC, from the southern Sahara to the

Inland Niger Delta (McIntosh & McIntosh 1979:246,1983).

The archaeological and linguistic evidence suggests that changes in the Mande subsistence economy resulted from a combination of factors including demographic stress and ecological change. It was ecological change, which led to the Proto-Mande domestication of goats/sheep and cattle.

The Mande cultural lexicon makes it clear that animal husbandry, and not agriculture played a dominant role in the

expansion of the Proto-Mande. The deep internal divisions within the Mande set of languages in regards to the names for cultivated crops reflect the limited role of agriculture in the Mande dispersals.

The linguistic evidence suggest that the Malinke-Bambara early adopted agriculture after they migrated westward from the Fezzan and Hoggar regions (Winters 1986b). Our examination of the linguistic evidence also indicates that the Soninke and South

Eastern Mande speakers , on the other hand, remained primarily pastoralist. As a result they adopted the names of cultivated plants used by the Malinke-Bambara or of agriculturists they met in their travels.



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