Western and Central Sudan, 1600–1800 A.D.

  • Ritual Vessel: Horse with Figures (Aduno Koro)
  • Female Figure with Mortar and Pestle
  • Lidded Vessel: Equestrian Figure
  • Altar: Female Figures
  • Staff: Seated Male Figure
  • Figure: Pair of Balafon Players
  • Figure: Seated Couple


1600 A.D.

1650 A.D.

1650 A.D.

1700 A.D.

First wave of Muslim reform in Senegambia, 1660–1670
Second wave of Muslim reform in Senegambia, 1700–1800
Rise of large Mossi kingdoms Yatenga and Ouagadougou, 18th–early 19th century

1700 A.D.

1750 A.D.

Second wave of Muslim reform in Senegambia, 1700–1800
Formation and expansion of Bamana states of Ségou and Kaarta, 1712–early 1800
Rise of large Mossi kingdoms Yatenga and Ouagadougou, 18th–early 19th century

1750 A.D.

1800 A.D.

Second wave of Muslim reform in Senegambia, 1700–1800
Formation and expansion of Bamana states of Ségou and Kaarta, 1712–early 1800
Rise of large Mossi kingdoms Yatenga and Ouagadougou, 18th–early 19th century


The Moroccan invasion at the end of the sixteenth century destroys the Songhai empire and creates a period of social and political instability that provides an opportunity for the formation of other states such as Ségou. Increased contact with European merchants along the Atlantic coast draws trade away from traditional routes in the interior, and increased slave trading causes hardship among the local populations. The continuing spread of Islam throughout the region results in two waves of militant Muslim reform leading to the creation of several theocratic states.

Key Events

  • 1591–ca. 1700

    The Moroccan army occupies the former Songhai empire, including the great trading centers of Jenne, Timbuktu, and Gao. The sultanate installs a class of foreign rulers called the arma, who assert a tenuous control over the region. Their power is challenged from within by the increasingly dominant military, while Tuareg and non-Muslim Bamana aggressors exert steady military pressure from without. The region suffers an overall decline in regional trade and political stability.

  • 1621

    Dutch traders establish a base at Gorée Island, off the coast of present-day Senegal, to trade for slaves, gold, and textiles. The island exchanges hands four times as France, Portugal, England, and the Netherlands vie for control of the region over the next fifty years.

  • ca. 1650

    The first large-scale Bamana state centered at the town of Ségou-Koro coalesces under Kaladian Coulibaly, but disintegrates upon his death sometime in the late seventeenth century.

  • 1651

    The English build Fort St. James on the mouth of the River Gambia, giving it access to the Sudanic trade routes of the interior.

  • 1659

    French trading interests settle at Saint-Louis at the mouth of the Senegal River and control mercantile traffic along the river.

  • ca. 1660–1670

    An Islamic jihad led by marabout Nasir al-Din sweeps across northern Senegambia (the region between the Senegal and Gambia rivers), replacing despotic regimes with Muslim theocracies. The violent revitalization of Islam in this region is in response to the intensified slave raiding and the realignment of trade routes toward the coast, which had created hardship among populations of the Senegambian interior. The displaced African aristocracies, with the assistance of the French, regain control of the region by the end of the 1670s, while the protagonists of the jihad migrate south toward the Futa Jallon in present-day Guinea.

  • ca. 1689

    Kaladian Coulibaly’s great-grandson Mamary Coulibaly (died 1755), called Bitòn, settles in Ségou and becomes head of the tòn, an all-male age-grade organization. Under Bitòn’s leadership, the tòn changes from an egalitarian society devoted to communal agriculture to a vertically organized military association.

  • 1712–1755

    Using the tòn to subdue opposing chiefs, Bitòn expands the state of Ségou over the fertile middle Niger Delta, benefiting from trade with nearby commercial centers such as Jenne and Timbuktu. The kingdom is organized around traditional Bamana social structures; specialized associations such as kòmò manage political and theological concerns with the assistance of sculptures and assemblages imbued with immense power. Among the most important of these objects are the four state boliw, large altars composed of diverse, supernaturally potent substances essential for the acquisition and maintenance of political power.

  • 1700–1800

    A second wave of Muslim revolutions leads to the formation of theocratic states in Futa Jallon, Bondu, and Futa Toro. Unlike their seventeenth-century predecessors, these states willingly trade with the European powers.

  • 1700–1750

    The Mossi kingdoms of Yatenga and Ouagadougou emerge as the dominant political forces on the Central Volta Plateau. Cultural synthesis and exchange occurs throughout the region as the kingdoms expand and incorporate diverse ethnic groups. The religious beliefs and institutions of autochthonous peoples such as the Kurumba are adopted by the Mossi elite for official courtly use.

  • 1753

    Kaarta, a second Bamana state, is founded on the site of the old Ghana empire approximately 300 kilometers to the northwest of Ségou.

  • 1766

    The rise of Ngolo Diarra as ruler of Ségou closes a decade of political instability following Bitòn’s death in 1755. Ruling for about thirty years, Ngolo establishes the Diarra dynasty.

  • 1796

    The Scottish explorer Mungo Park travels through the central and western Sudan.

  • ca. 1800

    Ségou conquers Timbuktu under the leadership of Mansong Diarra.


“Western and Central Sudan, 1600–1800 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=09&region=afu (October 2003)