The Mandinkas are a West African people belonging to the Mandé people. They are known by other names such as Bambara in Mali, Dioula in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso and Malinké in Guinea, Senegal and Gambia. If they speak related languages and form a linguistic group, they display significantly different cultures and traditions



Mandé (south of actual Mali) is considered to be the country of origin of the Mandé people. The Mandé people are made of many ethnic groups, including Mandinka, Soninké, Vaïs, Konos, Soussous, Dialonkés, Mendés, Kpelles, Bobo, Samoghos, Dans, Samos and Bissas.
The Soninke established the Empire of Ghana from the third century. Between the 11th and 12th centuries, the Keita clan unified the Mandinka tribes, and at the beginning of the 13th century, the Mandinka built the Mali Empire, under the leadership of Soundiata Keïta, who liberated them from the rule of the King of Sosso Soumangoro Kanté. The Mandinka constituted many kingdoms that lasted until the end of the 19th century and the beginning of European colonization, the best known of which are:

• The Bambara kingdoms of Segou and Kaarta, Mali.
• Kaabu, between Senegal and Guinea-Bissau.
• The Kingdom of Diarra, between Mauritania and Mali.
• Galam or Gadiaga near the Sénégal River.
• Khasso, west of Mali.
• Niani, Woulli, Bambouk, in eastern Senegal.
• The kingdom of Wassolo, between Guinea and Burkina Faso.


Originally the Mandinkas all practiced traditional religion. Between the 8th and 10th centuries, the Soninke (especially those of the nobility of the Empire of Ghana) were the first Mandinka to accept Islam thanks to the arabo-berbers who were coming to trade in this part of the world.  Soundiata Keïta converted to Islam as well as many Mandinka groups. But Islam still remained the religion of the nobles. With Islam, prestigious Mandinka communities will emerge, especially the Dyula and the Diakhanke. However the traditional religion remained much more practiced, by the majority of the Mandinka, until the XIXe century. Today almost all Mandinka are Muslims, but according to the various groups, traditional rituals and beliefs have been more or less preserved.
In the traditional Mandinka religion, God is called Maa Ngala. In the traditional religion, God being too high to be invoked directly, the ancestors and the spirits are the entities to which the prayers are addressed; they are the intermediaries between god and men. God is the great creator. Among the Mandinka, the Komotigui (men or women) are those who have reached the highest level of spiritual knowledge. To become Komotigui, initiation is an obligatory condition. According to initiatory groups, Komo or Nama, the duration of the initiation is more or less long. In general it is a cycle of seven times seven years, then a new cycle of the same duration. To benefit from the blessings of the Creator, respect of forbidden and tribute to Maa Ngala are compulsory. Prayers, offerings to the intermediate entities (ancestors and spirits), individually, in family, or during the different religious ceremonies, are the actions that punctuate the Mandinka spiritual life. Man is not considered as such if he has not gone through the rite of circumcision. In traditional spirituality, everything is governed according to the spiritual laws, from birth to death, where the soul of being has been exemplary on earth joined the world of God and ancestors. Each family has its own animal totem, which is part of the respect for beings, creatures of God with the divine plot. It is according to the age classes Ton, that one learns the various aspects of the life, always according to the spiritual rules, in order to be an accomplished individual in the society.


There are 27 dialect variants of the Mandinka language classified into two main groups:
• Western Mandinka: Malinkés (Guinea, Senegal, Gambia), Pakawunkés (Sénégal), Badibunkés (Gambia) and Woyinkés (Guinea-Bissau);
• Eastern Mandinka: Malinkés (Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso), Bambara (Mali) and Khassonkés (Mali).
The Malinké people of Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso are also called Dioulas, which means “trader” in Mandinka. Malinkés are also present in Sierra Leone and Liberia, but they are few.
The Malinké people of eastern Senegal are Diakhanke. They are settled in the current territory of Senegal for several centuries. In Sénvgal, the Mandinkas are called Sossés by Wolofs and Séréres. The Jalonkés are present in Guinea. The Malinké and Bambara speak the same language, but some words differ. Their hunters are called Dozos.


The Mandinka language is one of the mandé languages spoken by more than ten million people in some fifteen West African states.

Oral literature

In Mandinka societies, much of the culture was founded, spread and transmitted through oral tradition. This resulted in an oral literature comprising many different genres. There are epics of various types, some semi-historical like the epic of Soundiata Keita. Some long stories are true romances of love like that of Lansinet and Soumba

Social organization

• Cast system made of: nobles, caste men (griots, blacksmiths, and shoemakers) and captives
• Clans defined by a surname or a common ancestor


The common Mandinka surnames are: Bagayoko, Bakayoko, Bamba, Bathily, Bayo, Berthé, Camara, Cisse, Cissokho, Condé, Coté, Coulibaly, Danfa, Dansohko, Darry, Dembélé, Diaby, Dicko, Diakhaby, Diakho, Diakité, Diaouné, Diarra, Diawara, Diomandè, Djitté, Doucouré, Doumbia, Doumbouya, Dramé, Fadiga, Fatty, Fofana, Gakou, Gassama, Gnabaly, Guirassy, Ira, Kaba, Kamissoko, Kanté, Kebe, Keita, Koita, Konaté, Koné, Konté, Koté, Magassa, Mandiang, Mané, Marga, Minted, Meité, Ouattara, Sakho, Samaté, Sané, Sangare, Sano, Sanogo, Samassa, Sawane, Sy-Savane, Sidibe, Sima, Sissoko, Souane, Souare, Soumah, Soumaré, Sylla, Timite, Toure, Traoré, Youla, Yattara, Yra … (there are still more than thirty!!!)
We find these surnames in all the communities formed by the Mandinka whether they are French, English or Portuguese. The writing of surnames will however change according to the country: for example, the name Cissé is written as it is in the French-speaking world, but in Gambia (English-speaking), it is written Ceesay or Sesay. The same goes for many other surnames, like Diaby (Jabbi in The Gambia), Souané (Suwanneh)
Some communities are gradually deforming family names, and as a result, certain surnames are thus simplified or pronounced in another way: Diakité, Sanogo or Bakayoko thus become Diaité (or Jaiteh), Sano (Sanoe), and Bayo (Baryoh). This simplified form is used in particular by the Mandinkas of Senegal, Guinea and Gambia.
Some other less common surnames are nevertheless carried by descendants of chiefs: Aïdara in Ivory Coast in particular (Malinkés) and in Senegal; the name Aïdara is of Moorish origin. The marabout classes, called Maninka Mori and Mandé Mori (“Marabout of Mandé”), generally bear the following names: Kaba, Toure, Cisse, Dramé, Dabo, Diané, Berété (equivalent of Souané in Senegal), Sakho, Sylla. They are all from Soninke. The Griots, called Dyeli, often bear the names: Cissokho, Kouyate, Diabate, Kamissoko, Soumano. However, these surnames are often found in many castes. The Soussou Soumahoro coming to Guinea took Soumah to keep the family link with Soumahoro Kanté their ancestors.
Individuals of the Nyamakhala caste (artisans), especially blacksmiths, bear the names: Kanté, Diankha, Fané.The noble Horo, carry the majority of the names: Aïdara, Doumbia, Fakoly, Kaba, Condé, Cissé, Keïta, Koita, Konaté, Diarra


The sanankouya or sounangouya is a system of cousinhood, a form of “alliance” which played the role of “pact of non-aggression” between the social groups of the Empire of Mali under Soundiata Keïta. All the Mandinka clans were involved in this alliance, which originated from the Nile Valley and extended to all the kingdoms of the Mali Empire under the rule of Soundiata Keita. The real purpose of this pact was to avoid clashes, conflicts, wars and also to calm internal tensions.
Sanankouya is widely known as “joking kinship”, forcing the various clans to assist each other, help each other, respect each other, but also allow them to condemn and tease each other. These alliances exist, for example, between the Traoré and Diarra clans, between the Keita and the Souané, or between the Keita and the Coulibaly. Sanankouya also applies between two members of different ethnic groups. The Mandinkas and the Wolofs maintain this social bond, the same is true with the Peuls. The prohibition of the sanankouya was to shed blood or be violent to each other.