Map of Soninke Territory











The majority of the 1,300,000 Soninke people (called Seracole by outsiders) live in north-west Mali. Others are found in Senegal, southern Mauritania and Gambia.


The Soninkes have a long history. They exercised authority and power over the ancient empire of Ghana (now part of north-west Mali and southern Mauritania). This was probably formed around AD 400 and lasted until the eleventh century. They had good trading relations with the Berbers who lived north of them. Through them they conducted their trade of gold and salt across the desert.


After the Arab conquest of the eighth century many of the North African and Berber traders of the Sahara accepted Islam. Islam then spread further south and the Soninkes were one of the first black tribes who were forced to convert to Islam. In the course of time they became 'the prophets of Islam in West Africa'.


Even to this day some of the most influential Islamic scholars in West Africa are Soninkes. In spite of this the everyday life of this people group is still strongly determined by pre-Islamic beliefs. Folklore is very much alive, especially in their attitudes and practices relating to the cycle of life: name-giving, initiation, marriage and death.


Unlike many of the surrounding tribes, the Soninkes are not nomadic. They are farmers and traders and are known as industrious people. After the harvest, when others take life a little easier, they continue working. The younger people move to neighbouring countries at that time, looking for work. The women busy themselves at home with all kinds of crafts - for example producing and dying cotton material. Dark blue indigo is considered a typical Soninke colour.


With their diligence and hard work, the Soninkes have achieved a considerably higher standard of living than other inhabitants of the Sahel.


A great number of Soninke men leave their families and move to other countries looking for work. Many now live in France - mostly in Paris, but also in other industrial areas, where they often work in the car industry.


Christian work among the Soninkes started in the 1980s. As yet no visible Christian church has been established. The language has been roughly analysed, and some parts of the Bible have been translated. The Jesus Film is also available in Soninke.


There are only a few Soninke Christians, most of whom came to Christ while away from home (mostly in France).