1. a member of a group of peoples living along the Niger River in the area of Timbuktu and Gao in Mali and in adjacent areas of Niger and Burkina Faso.2. a West African empire dominated by the Songhai that flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries.3. the Nilo-Saharan language of the Songhai.
* * *Ethnolinguistic group chiefly inhabiting the area of the great bend in the Niger River in Mali, centred on the site of the old Songhai empire.Numbering some 1.5 million, the Songhai speak a Nilo-Saharan language. Songhai society traditionally was highly structured, comprising a nobility, free commoners, artisans, griots (bards and chroniclers), and (formerly) slaves. They cultivate cereals in the rainy season (June to November) and also engage in cattle raising and fishing. The Songhai have traditionally prospered from caravan trade. Many young Songhai leave home for the coast, especially Ghana.
* * *▪ peoplealso spelled Songhay or Sonrhaiethnolinguistic group having more than three million members who inhabit the area of the great bend in the Niger River in Mali, extending from Lake Debo through Niger to the mouth of the Sokoto River in Nigeria. Some nomadic Songhai groups live in Mali, Niger, and southeastern Algeria. The Songhai are composed of many related groups, the most important of which are the Zarma, with more than two million speakers. It is widely assumed that their languages form a branch of the Nilo-Saharan language family (Nilo-Saharan languages).Songhai society traditionally was highly structured, comprising a king and nobility, free commoners, artisans, griots (bards and chroniclers), and slaves. Marriage could be polygynous, cross cousins (cross-cousin) being preferred partners. Descent and succession are patrilineal. Cultivation, largely of cereals, is practiced intensively only during the rainy season, from June to November. Cattle are raised on a small scale, and fishing is of some importance. As a result of their advantageous location at the crossroads of western and central Africa, the Songhai have traditionally prospered from caravan trade. Many young Songhai have left home for the coast, especially Ghana.The Songhai formed one of the great empires of Western Africa (western Africa, history of). See also Songhai empire.
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