The Songhai People

An Introduction

Since the mid-1400's, the Songhai People have been known as great and fearless warriors. During the medieval period, they used their extensive organizational skills to conquer enemies and develop the largest and most powerful West African kingdom in that time.

Today, the largest majority of the three to five million Songhai live along the Niger River from Niamey, Niger to Timbuktu, Mali, spilling over into Burkina Faso. During the dry season, many men migrate into the larger West African cities in search of work, returning to the farm with the rains. They subsist as millet and sorghum farmers at the edge of the great Sahara Desert, surviving in one of the harshest climates in the world. They also fish, cultivate gardens, and raise small livestock. Being descendants of magic kings, sorcerers, and great leaders, they are a proud people. Patience, hard work, hospitality, courage, and the ability to listen are character traits that are highly valued by the Songhai.

Though the majority professes to follow Islam, animistic beliefs and practices are also followed. They respect the power of ancestors and fear the spirit world. Religion, culture, and social customs have united to produce a strong barrier against Christianity. The Songhai People live in the Last Frontieras one of the 2,161 people groups of the world who have the least access to the Gospel; there are very few Christians among the Songhai.
Joining other Great Commission Christians, Southern Baptist Missionaries began work among the Songhai in January 2000. Our goal is to seek the Songhai for our Savior and tell them about Jesus. Ministry focus is church planting and discipleship through the use of the "Jesus" film, Chronological Bible Storying, literacy training, Theological education, and human needs projects.

A Brief Profile


Since the mid-1400s, the Songhai have been known as great and fearless warriors. A multi-talented people, they used their extensive organizational skills to conquer their neighbors and develop a government for one of the three great medieval West African empires. Ultimately, the ancestral lands grew to encompass over 60 miles from each bank of the upper bend of the Niger River in what is today eastern Mali and western Niger.


The Songhai are 99.5% Muslim. Even though Islam introduced new elements to the Songhai culture, it left the underlying framework of custom and tradition virtually untouched. Islam is superficially important but spirit possession, magic, sorcery, and witchcraft remain the vital components of Songhai belief.


Current Lifestyle
Songhai people primarily exist through agriculture. Men grow millet and sorghum in sandy fields and cultivate rice along the banks of the Niger River. Women tend gardens producing okra, tomatoes, onions, garlic and beans. They survive in one of the harshest climates in the world with heat indexes that reach 150 and little rainfall. The Songhai settlements usually consist of round, mud or thatched dwellings with straw roofs. All of the Songhai men within the village have a common male ancestor. Although the Islamic law allows a man to have up to four wives, most of the Songhai men have only one.


Long established beliefs in the spirit world, coupled with Islam, have planted a strong barrier against Christianity among the Songhai. Of approximately three million Songhai, it is believed that only about .2% may be Christian. The great majority of the Songhai people have never heard the Gospel Message.




Where in the World are the Songhai People?

The greatest majority of Songhai People make their home along the Niger River, from Timbuktu, Mali to Niamey, Niger. As the river makes its big bend southward, Songhai homelands also reach into Burkina Faso. Even though some Songhai can be found living and working in the large West African cities of Lagos, Nigeria, Lomé, Togo, Cotounou, Benin, Accra, Ghana, and Abidjan, Ivory Coast, they all identify "home" as a place along the Niger River, where extended family still lives and works lands past down from generation to generation.

Songhai Timeline 
learn about the Songhai's history in a timeline format from 476 AD to the present!   

Songhai Recipes 
try your hand at cooking a few Songhai meals by choosing from a variety of authentic recipes!

Songhai Proverbs
think Americans are the only ones with proverbs? find out the Songhai equivalent of "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush"

Songhai Worldview
from political views to economic & family structure worldview, learn how the Songhai interprets their world & the world around them