Afrikan Legal Heritage Before Colonization

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Manden Kalikan and Kurukan Fuga; West Afrikan Legal Heritage Before Colonization 

This is the Manden charter from 1222, as the Mansa (emperor or King of kings) of Mande (Mali) and Simbo (master hunter) Sundiata Keita enacted it. As you may have noticed, the themes are very contemporary, showing how those progressive values aren’t as new in Afrika as they may be in other areas.

It also begs the question: what if the Europeans considered what we had to bring to the table instead of dismissing us as savages and ransacking our lands and people? I’m not even discussing their values, readiness or maturity level at the time, but since I am able to approximate the value of some of what we lost through the Maafa, it gives an interesting perspective as to the opportunity the world, especially the western world, lost because of their predatory ways.

And last but not least, it brings to focus what we Afrikans came up with on our own. It shows that there is no need for the Afrikan to follow the European’s development path, for he can create his own glorious path. The Manden charter is among those landmarks to be considered when we are planning the development of Afrikan societies. Our own ideas, our own values, our own conceptions should guide us, not those of people foreign to our situation and environment. I am not saying their ideas are bad; they are good for them, as much as ours are good for us. We need to create our own path in order to really assume our independence.

Below is the reconstruction of the Kurukan Fuga, the constitution of the Mali Empire, as written by Siriman Kouyaté. It has 44 edicts and treats of moral issues not normally ascribed to the period by historians since it was first edicted in 1236.

Social Organization

  • Article 1: The Great Mande Society is divided into sixteen clans of quiver carriers, five clans of marabouts, four groups of “nyamakalas” and one group of slaves. Each one has a specific activity and role.
  • Article 2: The “nyamakalas” must devote themselves to tell the truth to the chiefs, to be their counsellors and to defend by the speech the established rulers and the order upon the whole territory.
  • Article 3: The five clans of marabouts are our teachers and our educators in Islam. Everyone has to hold them in respect and consideration.
  • Article 4: The society is divided into age groups. Those born during a period of three years in succession belong to the same age-group. The members of the intermediary class between young and old people, should be invited to take part in the making of important decisions concerning the society.
  • Article 5: Everybody has a right to life and to the preservation of physical integrity. Accordingly, any attempt to deprive one’s fellow being of life is punished with death.
  • Article 6: To win the battle of prosperity, the general system of supervision has been established to fight against laziness and idleness.
  • Article 7: The sanankunya (joking relationship) and the tanamannyonya (blood pact) have been established among the Mandinka. Consequently any contention that occurs among these groups should not degenerate the respect for one another being the rule. Between brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, between grandparents and grandchildren, tolerance should be the principle.
  • Article 8: The Keïta family is nominated reigning family upon the empire.
  • Article 9: Children’s education behooves the entire society. The paternal authority in consequence falls to everyone.
  • Article 10: We should offer condolences mutually.
  • Article 11: When your wife or your child runs away, stop running after them in the neighbour’s house.
  • Article 12: The succession being patrilineal, never relinquish power to a son when one of his father’s brothers is still alive. Never relinquish power to a minor just because he has goods.
  • Article 13: Never offend the Nyaras (the talented).
  • Article 14: Never offend women, our mothers.
  • Article 15: Never beat a married woman before her husband has tried to correct the problem.
  • Article 16: Women, apart from their everyday occupations, should be associated with all our managements.
  • Article 17: Lies that have lived for 40 years should be considered like truths.
  • Article 18: We should respect the law of primogeniture.
  • Article 19: Any man has two parents-in-law: We have to hold them in respect and consideration.
  • Article 20: Do not ill treat the slaves. We are the master of the slave but not the bag he carries.
  • Article 21: Do not follow up with your constant attentions the wives of the chief, of the neighbour, of the marabout, of the priest, of the friend and of the partner.
  • Article 22: Vanity is the sign of weakness and humility the sign of greatness.
  • Article 23: Never betray one another. Respect your word of honour.
  • Article 24: In Manden, do not maltreat the foreigners.
  • Article 25: The ambassador does not risk anything in Manden.
  • Article 26: The bull confided to your care should not lead the cattle-pen.
  • Article 27: A girl can be given in marriage as soon as she is pubescent without age determination.
  • Article 28: A young man can marry at age 20.
  • Article 29: The dowry is fixed at 3 cows: one for the girl, two for the father and mother.
  • Article 30: In Mande, divorce is tolerated for one of the following reasons: the impotence of the husband, the madness of one of the spouses, the husband’s incapability of assuming the obligations due to the marriage. The divorce should occur out of the village. (The French version published in 1998 does not include this article, but splits article 34 into two, numbering the intervening articles differently).
  • Article 31: We should help those who are in need.

Of Goods

  • Article 32: There are five ways to acquire property: buying, donation, exchange, work and inheriting. Any other form without convincing testimony is doubtful.
  • Article 33: Any object found without a known owner becomes common property only after four years.
  • Article 34: The fourth heifer born is the property of the guardian of the heifer. One egg out of four is the property of the guardian of the laying hen.
  • Article 35: One bovine should be exchanged for four sheep or four goats.
  • Article 36: To satisfy one’s hunger is not robbery if you don’t take away anything in your bag or your pocket.

Preservation of Nature

  • Article 37: Fakombè is nominated chief of hunters.
  • Article 38: Before setting fire to the bush, don’t look down at the ground, raise your head in the direction of the top of the trees to see whether they bear fruits or flowers.
  • Article 39: Domestic animals should be tied during cultivation and freed after the harvest. The dog, the cat, the duck and the poultry are not bound by the measure.

Final Disposals

  • Article 40: Respect kinship, marriage and the neighbourhood.
  • Article 41: You can kill the enemy, but not humiliate him.
  • Article 42: In big assemblies, be satisfied with your lawful representatives.
  • Article 43: Balla Fassèkè Kouyaté is nominated chief of ceremonies and main mediator in Manden. He is allowed to joke with all groups, in priority with the royal family.
  • Article 44: All those who will transgress these rules will be punished. Everyone is bound to make effective their implementation.

Available on Wikipedia.

It may look too advanced for Medieval Afrika to racist individuals, but if you understand the history of the universe, you’ll probably be familiar with much more greater things.

Manden Kalikan and Kurukan Fuga

The hunters declare:

All life is equal. It is true that one life appears into existence before another,

But a life is nor older nor more respectable than another life.

No life is worth more than another.

 

The hunters declare:

All life being equal, all wrong caused to another life asks for reparation.

Therefore, no one shall harm his neighbour without reason,

No one shall wrong another,

No one shall torment his fellow.

 

The hunters declare:

All must look after one another,

All must venerate their genitors,

All must educate their children;

All must provide for his family.

 

The hunters declare:

All must look after his fathers’ land,

For if any land should be deserted by men,

It would know decline and desolation.

 

The hunters declare:

Hunger is not good,

Neither is slavery.

There is no worst calamity in this world.

As long as we will have the quiver and the bow,

Hunger will not claim any life in Mande.

War will not destroy villages to capture slaves.

This means no one shall put the bit in his fellow’s mouth to go sell him;

No one shall be beaten or moreover killed in Mande for being the child of a slave.

 

The hunters declare:

As of this day, the essence of slavery has died in between the walls of Mande.

Razzias are banished from the Mande,

And torments born out of those horrors will vanish as of this day.

What a tribulation is the torment,

Especially when the oppressed has no resort.

The slave is never considered, anywhere in the world.

 

The hunters declare:

The human as an individual made of flesh and bones,

Of marrow and nerves, of skin covered of hair,

Nourishes his self of food and beverages.

But the spirit lives off three things:

To see what it wants to see,

To say what it wants to say,

And to do what it wants to do.

If the human spirit should lack any one of them,

It will suffer, and surely die out.

 

Consequently, the hunters declare:

All now dispose of their selves,

All have freedom of action,

All own the fruits of their labour.

This is the oath of the Manden

Addressed to the ears of the whole world.

 

~Taken from “La Gloire du Mali” by Youssouf Tata Cissé,

  Translated by I Lex.

I Lex is a young Ras hailing from West Afrika and living in Ottawa, Canada, studying translation and linguistics because he “knows that the key to overstanding the trap lies in language”.

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