In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mande

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Social Organization
  • Economics
  • Modern Popular Culture

African Studies Mande
David C. Conrad, Stephen Belcher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0175


The term “Mande” covers a linguistically and historically related group of peoples sharing an extremely rich and vibrant historical background, the high point of which was the Mali Empire that flourished from roughly the mid-13th to the early 15th century. The heartland of Mande territory is located in what is now northeastern Guinea and southern Mali, but Mande peoples are found across a much larger portion of sub-Saharan West Africa, speaking various dialects of the Manding family of languages. Recognized linguistic groups include the Maninka of northeastern Guinea and southern Mali, the Bamana of Mali, the Mandinka of Senegambia and Guinea-Bissau, the Mandingo of northern Liberia, the Kuranko of Sierra Leone, and the Dyula of northern Côte d’Ivoire. The Soninke provide a linguistic and historical substrate for much of this region. Many other culturally related groups are located around the periphery of this central zone between southern Mauritania, western Burkina Faso, northern Benin, and the Atlantic coast of Senegambia. The Mande cultural complex is distinguished by two especially prominent features, one of which is a social structure that divides the society into noble and servile, but also includes a separate professional class of occupationally defined craft specialists and artists (e.g., bards, blacksmiths, potters, and leatherworkers) called nyamakalaw who provide services and products essential to farmers, pastoralists, and traders. The second distinguishing characteristic is the Mande peoples’ profound sense of self-awareness derived from an identity grounded in a body of historical knowledge preserved and articulated by a vast body of professionally maintained oral tradition. See also the Oxford Bibliographies article “Early States of the Western Sudan.”

General Overviews

Brasseur 1964 and Imperato and Imperato 2008 provide good starting points for research in the Mande world. The first is useful for the period through independence; the second addresses more current affairs. The two multivolume histories, Cambridge History of Africa (Fage and Oliver 1975–1986) and the General History of Africa (UNESCO 1981–1993), offer valuable coverage of the region and the Mande group through the overall history.

  • Brasseur, Paule. Bibliographie générale du Mali (anciens Soudan français et Haut-Sénégal-Niger). Dakar, Senegal: Institut Français d’Afrique Noire (IFAN), 1964.

    A comprehensive listing of French colonial research articles on the former Afrique Occidentale Française, many with informative annotations. Includes very obscure titles and topics that might otherwise be impossible to discover.

  • Fage, J. D., and Roland Anthony Oliver, eds. Cambridge History of Africa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1975–1986.

    An always useful multivolume history of the continent; the specific chapters dealing with West Africa offer valuable coverage of the Mande world and excellent reference to sources. Now available online by subscription.

  • Imperato, Pascal James, and Gavin H. Imperato. Historical Dictionary of Mali. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2008.

    A basic reference work, most useful for individual biographies in the 20th century, perhaps less reliable for earlier periods. Other volumes in the series cover countries relevant to the Mande world: Guinea, Senegal, and Gambia.

  • UNESCO. General History of Africa. London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1981–1993.

    An African-centered multivolume history of the continent available in English, French, and other languages. Individual volumes now available online through the UNESCO website.

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