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Jakhanke people

Total population
Regions with significant populations
West Africa
Jahanke language, Western Malinke,[1] Manding languages
Predominantly Muslim
Related ethnic groups
Mande peoples, including: Soninke, Manding(Mandinka, Malinke people, Dyula, Bambara people), Bafour people, Imraguen people, Ligbi people, Bissa people, Kpelle people, Bozo people

The Jakhanke people (var. Diakhanké, Diakanké, or Diakhankesare) are a Manding-speaking ethnic group in the Senegambia region, often classified as a subgroup of the larger Soninke.[2] The Jakhanke have historically constituted a specialized caste of professional Muslim clerics (ulema) and educators.[3] Today they form a defined ethnic group within Soninke society, who number approximately 13,000 people in four nations.[1] They are centered on one larger group in Guinea, with smaller populations in the Gambia, Senegal, and in Mali (near the Guinean border). They speak a Manding language called Jahanke, very similar to Western Malinke.[1] Although technically considered members of the Soninke ethnic group (a Mandé people descending from the Bafour), the Jakhanke prefer to be called Serakulle or Sarakolé, a variation of the Soninke name. Since the fifteenth century the Jakhanke clerical communities have constituted an integral part of region and have exercised a high level of economic and religious influence upon Soninke as well as related Manding speaking communities such as the (Dyula and Mandinka) in what is now Mali, Guinea, Senegal, and The Gambia.[3] While grown out of a religious caste of the Sarakolé, the Jahanke are equally famed as merchants, operating trade routes, especially dealing in coastal rice, from the Guinea and Gambian coasts to the interior from at least the 17th century.[4] In this way they are often compared with the Dyula, who formed a trade diaspora from the heartlands of the Mali Empire to the coast of what is today Côte d'Ivoire.[5] Today Jakhanke are as likely to be farmers as merchants or scholars.[1]


  • Historical background 1
  • Islamic Practice 2
  • Commerce and the Spread of Islam 3
  • Caste and Educational System 4
    • Jakhanke Curriculum 4.1
  • Notable members 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8

Historical background

The Jakhanke cultural ethos is best characterized by a staunch dedication to Islam, historical accuracy, rejection of jihad, non-involvement in political affairs and the religious instruction of young people. Formation of their regional Islamic identity began shortly after contact with Muslim Almoravid traders from North Africa in 1065, when Soninke nobles in Takrur (along the Senegal River in present-day Senegal) embraced Islam, being among the earliest sub-Saharan ethnic groups to follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

In Senegambia, the Jakhanke inhabited scattered towns and villages in Futa Jallon, Futa Bundu, Dentilia, Bambuk, and other places. By 1725, at least fifteen Jakhanke villages were located in what would become Bundu.[6] They claim to originate in Ja on the Niger River and Jahaba on the Bafing River, from which they moved to Bundu, Futa Jallon and Gambia. The Jakhanke were not primarily merchants, but agriculturists supported by slave labor. The various Jakhanke villages were independent of each other and of the local chiefs. The Jakhanke were committed to peaceful coexistence and refused to become engaged in politics or war. When threatened, they simply relocated their villages into safer territory. Often their villages enjoyed the privileges of sanctuary, judicial independence, and freedom from military service.

Islamic Practice

The Jakhanke have a reputation for exceptional learning. They trace their spiritual ancestry to Shiekh Al-Hajj Salim Suwari (d. 1525), a Muslim scholar who lived in the late fifteenth century. They adhere to Maliki fiqh, although they have been tolerant of customary practices. Primary importance was stressed on obedience to the murshid, or Sufi master, and of stages of initiation into the teachings of the community. Schooled in the bāṭin (secret) sciences, Jakhanke clerics interpreted dreams and gave amulets for protection, which continue to be highly prized items. They celebrate the mawlid an-nabī (birthday of the Prophet) and the ‘īdu l-fiṭr (عيد الفطر) feasts at the end of Ramadan and other Muslim holidays.

Commerce and the Spread of Islam

Map of the ethnic groups of Senegal drawn by David Boilat (1853)

The critical role played by commerce and long-distance trade is of particular importance. Indeed, the overall theme of trade is inextricably interwoven into the fabric of West African Islam. Most Jakhanke tribesmen were also professional Islamic scholars (ulema or marabouts), and their business as traders and their professions as scholars and judges were intertwined. Indeed, this connection between trade and religion was so intimate that both contemporary witnesses and modern scholars have debated whether they were principally religious scholars who took up commerce on the side, or traders who, upon conversion to Islam, became devoted to scholarship.[7]

West Africa's pre-Islamic trading networks grew rapidly during the early phases of Muslim development. In a relatively short time, professional merchants could be found in every part of Atlantic Africa. They often formed self-governing communities in towns which were linked to business networks that Philip Curtin dubbed a "trading Diaspora." One good example of such a trading diaspora is the Jakhanke tribe from the Upper Guinea. According to Jakhanke historians, these traders began in the city of Jakha (on the Bafing River, a tributary of the Senegal) and, following their businesses, expanded into other locations. New Jakhanke towns were founded, under the auspices of local rulers who often permitted self-governance and autonomy. Sixteenth-century Europeans met Jakhanke traders at coastal points as far afield as Gambia and the Gold Coast; hence, they imagined the city called "Jaga" (Jakha) was a great metropolis controlling trade in all West Africa. Trading groups like the Dyula and Jakhanke did indeed dominate commerce of Upper Guinea, becoming involved not just in moving merchandise, but also in production of goods on plantations worked by their slaves.[8]

Caste and Educational System

The Jakhanke education system spread rapidly throughout West Africa, accomplished by the individual transmission of their unique clerical tradition from master to student. Understanding how this tradition influenced regional Islam requires examination of the Soninke devils. They are followed by jaroo (praise-singers), the most famous naxamala, acting as societal orators. Last on naxamala hierarchy are garanko (cobblers). The third level after horoo (free-men) and naxamala (dependent men) are the komo (slaves).

Jakhanke Curriculum

The Jakhanke clerical tradition is respected throughout the Muslim world for producing erudite and distinguished Islamic scholars. Their curriculum vitae are considered an excellent quality, nurturing the young with Muslim values while simultaneously encouraging intellectual pursuits in their natural environment. The standard madrasah program offered for Islamic sciences begins by incorporating a formal introduction into the rules governing recitation (tajweed) and memorization of the Qur'an. Recitation should be done according to rules of pronunciation, intonation, and caesuras established by the Prophet Muhammad, though first recorded in the 8th century. There are seven schools of tajwid, the most popular being the school of Hafs on the authority of ‘asim.

This is followed by an in-depth inquiry into the classical studies of Ulum al-hadith (Science of Hadith), Usul al-fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), Nahw arabī or Qawāidu 'l-luġati 'l'Arabiyyah (Standard Arabic Grammar): and language acquisition, which studies the learners processes of acquiring language. The program is concluded following advanced level courses on the science of Qur'anic exegesis (tafsir). A total of 28 books must be mastered before a student is eligible to receive the cijaza or sanad (license to teach) from the University. In order to graduate, students are required to completely copy these 28 individual books by hand. If approved by their sheikh, the student is officially awarded permission to begin Islamic instruction at their own Karanta (school).

Notable members

  • Imam Fode Drame
  • Sidya Toure (Guinean politician and 2010 Presidential candidate)[9]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Ethnologue: Jahanke
  2. ^ Muḥammad Zuhdī Yakan. Almanac of African peoples & nations. Transaction Publishers, 1999 ISBN 978-1-56000-433-2 p. 280
  3. ^ a b Lamin O. Sanneh. The Jakhanke: The history of an Islamic clerical people of the Senegambia. London (1979) ISBN 978-0-85302-059-2
  4. ^ Philip D. Curtin. "Jihad in West Africa: early phases and inter-relations in Mauritania and Senegal". The Journal of African History (1971), 12:11-24
  5. ^ Juliet E.K. Walker. "Trade Markets in Precolonial West and Central Africa..." in Thomas D. Boston(ed.) A Different Vision: Race and public policy. Volume 2 of African American Economic Thought Series: Routledge, 1997 ISBN 978-0-415-09591-4 pp.206-253, p.217
  6. ^ Michael A. Gomez, Pragmatism in the Age of Jihad
  7. ^ Trimingham, Spencer. "History of Islam in West Africa". New York: Oxford University Press, 1962
  8. ^ Wilks, Ivor, "The Juula & the Expansion of Islam into the Forest", in N. Levtzion and Randall L. Pouwels (eds.), History of Islam in Africa, Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000
  9. ^ Voting begins as Guinea savors free election. Daniel Magnowski and Saliou Samb, Reuters. 27 June 2010.

Further reading

  • PANOS Institute, Guinée. Symbiose ethnique : les Diakhankés, ces cousins des Peuls. Panos Infos. Vol.1 Les réfugiés en Afrique de l'Ouest, 2002
  • Lamin Ousman Sanneh, The History of the Jakhanke People of Senegambia. A Study of a Clerical Tradition in West African Islam, London, SOAS, 1974, 474 p. (Doctoral Thesis)
  • Lamin Ousman Sanneh, "The Jahanke", The International Journal of African Historical Studies, vol. 14, no 4, 1981, p. 738-741
  • Pierre Smith, "Les Diakanké. Histoire d'une dispersion", Cahiers du Centre de recherches anthropologiques, no 4, 1965, p. 231-262
  • Pierre Smith, "Notes sur l'organisation sociale des Diakanké. Aspects particuliers à la région de Kédougou", Cahiers du Centre de recherches anthropologiques, no 4, 1965, p. 263-302
  • Pierre Smith, "Le réseau des villages diakhanké", Objets et mondes, Vol XII, issue 4, Winter 1972, p. 411-414
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