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Where are the Descendants of Malians in Yorubaland?

By Farooq Kperogi Twitter: @farooqkperogi Although traces of Islam first came to Yorubaland through the Trans-Saharan Trade (from about the ...

By Farooq Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Although traces of Islam first came to Yorubaland through the Trans-Saharan Trade (from about the 8th century through the 16th century), which saw Arab traders travel from Arabia through North Africa to parts of West Africa in search of gold, salt, and human labor, it was the mass migration of Malians to the area from about the 14th century that brought the form of Islam we see there today.

It wasn’t only Yoruba land that the Malians took Islam to. It was they who also brought Islam to Hausaland, Borgu, and many historically Muslim polities in what is now Nigeria (with Borno being a notable exception) and Niger Republic. 

In Hausaland, Guinea-Bissau, other places (where they were also known for trade), they were (and still are) called Wangara (plural: Wangarawa in Hausa). 

In modern Mali (the southern part of which was part of the ancient Mali Empire), they’re called Bambara. In Senegambia and Guinea-Conakry, they’re called Malinke or Mandinka (which the Portuguese corrupted to Mandingo, perhaps from the term Manding).

In Ivory Coast, they’re called Dyula (also sometimes spelled Dioula or Juula). Elsewhere, they’re called Soninke. 

Their names are almost limitless, but scholars call them by the umbrella name Mande.

In Borgu, their descendants (of which my mother is one) are identified by the Mande patronyms that they still bear even when they have no memories of their descent from their Malian ancestors and neither speak the language nor identify with the culture. 

Their patronyms are part of their “praise names” (known as Oriki in Yoruba and Tomaru in Baatonum) and include such names as Manneh (which my mother bears), Toure (which is my maternal great-grandmother’s patronym), Sissey, Taruwere (Traore), Fafana (Fofana), and Daabu (Darboe).

Since Malians also migrated in large numbers into Yorubaland for centuries, where are their descendants now? How are they identified? What is their Oriki? Are there any Yoruba people we can point to who are descended patrilineally—or even matrilineally—from the Malians?

I asked my friend and Saturday Tribune editor Lasisi Olagunju who is a living, moving library of Yoruba history and cosmology. He had no answers.

I asked Professor Toyin Falola of the University of Texas, easily the most widely published and most cited African historian of all time. He had no answers. 

He linked me up with Yoruba historians, archeologists, and folklorists. None of them had any clue what happened to the descendants of Malians in Yorubaland.

But they are there. They didn’t go back to Mali. They couldn’t. Like elsewhere, they married and melded into their host communities. 

Nonetheless, like Borgu has Tomaru (or praise names, which invoke ancestry as a daily routine), Yoruba people have Oriki, which calls attention to people’s ancestry.

So, why has even the famous Yoruba Oriki failed to reveal Yoruba people who trace (distant) paternal ancestry to Mali? Can the Oriki be rigged?

Well, as I was ruminating on this yet again, I remembered a newspaper clipping I saw many years ago. It was a front-page story about the late Dr. Olusola Saraki who liked to say that his paternal ancestors were Fulani from Mali. (His mother, according to him, was a Yoruba woman from Iseyin in Oyo State).

 Well, in what appears to be a 1980s edition of the weekly Irohin Yoruba newspaper that someone shared with me many years ago, Olusola Saraki said he was a native of Ogun State, presumably from the Egba subgroup of the Yoruba people. 

The screaming headline reads: “Omo ipinle Ogun ni mi—Saraki” which translates as “I am an indigene of Ogun State—Saraki.”

On the same front page, the newspaper cast a counter screaming headline that went: “Iro ni Saraki pa—Abiola,” which translates as “Saraki is lying—Abiola.” The Abiola the headline quoted was MKO Abiola, who was Egba. 

Now, get this: Olusola Saraki’s father, Muktar Saraki, went to Ilorin from Abeokuta as a Quranic student. His contemporaries, as the late Alhaji Abdulganiyu Folorunsho AbdulRazaq (A.G.F) pointed out in interviews, knew him as an Egba man from Abeokuta.

 Yet Abeokuta people say he was not native to their town, and Ilorin people called his son, Olusola, a carpetbagger from Abeokuta who took over their town. 

(In a two-part series titled "Ilorin is an ethnogenesis: Response to Kawu's Anti-Saraki Ilorin Purism," I made the case that because Ilorin is itself a relatively new ethnogenesis that borrowed from different elements, Saraki could legitimately lay claims to being an indigene of the town).

Well, if neither Abeokuta nor Ilorin people accept the Sarakis as native to their cities, could they be descendants of the Malians I’ve been looking for in Yorubaland? 

This seems especially likely because Olusola Saraki repeatedly claimed his paternal ancestors were Malians, except that he said they were Fulani, even though "Saraki" is the Hausa word for "kings."

We do know from historical accounts that the Malians who migrated to Hausaland, Borgu, and Yorubaland were not Fulani; they were Mande. 

This is my way to seek public help for traces of the Malian presence in Yorubaland for a book I am working on. If anyone has any ideas, please shoot me an email at farooqkperogiatgmaildotcom

Related Articles:

Ilorin is an Ethnogenesis: Response to Kawu’s Anti-Saraki Ilorin Purism

Ilorin is an Ethnogenesis: Response to Kawu’s Anti-Saraki Ilorin Purism (II)

Surprising American Cousins Through My Mother’s Ancestry

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