A Slave Who Would be King: Oral Tradition and Archaeology of the Recent Past in a Portion of the Upper Senegal River Basin

  • Author: Jeffrey H. Altschul, Ibrahima Thiaw, Gerald Wait, Richard Ciolek-Torrello and Michael Heilen
  • Topic: Metallurgical studies
  • Country: Senegal
  • Related Congress: 13th Congress, Dakar

The Sabodala region lies in the hills of eastern Senegal. Sparsely populated for most of the Neolithic, the region witnessed an influx of people primarily from the east and north late in prehistory, which has remained in place today. The immigration into an area of marginal agricultural productivity seems to be a response to social and political regional dynamics focused around slaving and artisanal gold mining. The situation provided opportunities for mercenaries to usurp power. One such person, Tobiri Sidibe, is remembered in the oral tradition as a slave who became king of a small polity. Recent archaeological investigations discovered a site which some local residents associate with Sidibe. Combining oral traditions with the archaeological evidence provides insight into the structure of such West African polities as well as demonstrating the effect that oral traditions have on the way current residents view their past.

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