Africa Guide

Mandinka People


The Mandinka are an ethnic group that live in West Africa, primarily Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Conakry and Guinea-Bissau, but some also live in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Cote d'Ivoire. Their culture is rich in tradition, music, and spiritual ritual. Many Mandinka are rural subsistence farmers who rely on peanuts, rice, millets, and some goats for their livelihood. Because the Mandinka rely on their crops for food, little profit is made from them. This causes many men to take part time work in small businesses. However, even with a part time job, the average annual income is only $130. The oldest male is the head of the family and marriages are commonly arranged. Small mud houses with thatch or tin roofs make up their villages which are organized on the basis of the clan groups.

During the 1800’s, Islam was introduced to the Mandinka people. Today the Mandinka still practice Islam but have infused much of their own culture into the religion.

The Mandinka have a rich oral history that is passed down through praise singers or griots. This passing down of oral history through music has made music one of the most distinctive traits of the Mandinka. They have long been known for their drumming and also for their unique musical instrument, the kora. The kora is a twenty-one string harp-like instrument made out of a gourd covered with cow skin. The strings are made of fishing line. It is played to accompany a groitÕs singing or simply on its own.

Information kindly provided by: Kathy Gfeller

The Mandinka are especially famous for their jalis or griots, traditional historians, praise singers and master musicians. Among the instruments they play to accompany their epics and songs is the 21-string kora.

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