“The origin of the name Guinea is the subject of a long-standing debate. According to a widely accepted version, the English term Guinea comes from the Portuguese Guine, a word believed to have emerged in the mid 15th century to refer to the lands inhabited by the black African peoples below the Senegal River known by the generic term Guineus, as opposed to the Azengues or Moors, the lighter skinned Zenaga Berbers found north of the region.”

“Another version contends that the Portuguese borrowed Guineus from the Beber term Ghinawen or Aginaw or Akal n-Iguinawen, which means “black” or “land of the blacks.” Yet another account, first found in the works of Leo Africanus (1526), suggest that Guinea is derived from Jenne or Djenne, the name of the historic commercial and administrative city on the Upper Niger River. A final possibility is that it may have come from the Soso word “ginee” for “woman.”

“Guinea’s population is composed of a variety of ethnic groups. Just as in most of Africa, the present-day boundaries of Guinea were determined by colonial power with little regard to the ethnic or linguistic roots of the populations. These boundaries often divide ethnic and linguistic groups. Within the country, the four major geographic regions largely correspond to four major ethnolinguistic groups.”

“In Lower Guinea, Soso, a Manding language closely related to the Dialonke language of Middle Guinea, has largely replaced that of the Landuma, Baga, Nalu, and other West Atlantic languages once widely spoken in the coastal areas. In the Futa Jallon of Middle Guinea, Pular, the language of the Fulani people is dominant, although minor indigenous ethnic groups like the Badyaranke, Basari and Koniagui continue to maintain some traditional ways. Maninkakan, the language of the Maninka or Mandenka, is spoken in Upper Guinea and is widely used in Middle Guinea.”


“An empire that had origins along the banks of the Niger River at Gao near the present day Malian city of the same name. It first existed as a state from the 9th through the 15th centuries. Songhay became a de facto vassal state of the Mali Empire in the early 14th century. From 1335, when Sonni (meaning “savior”) Ali Kolon became king, there were 20 Sonni kings.”

“By far the most important was the next to the last, Sonni Ali Ber, who ruled from 1456 to 1492. He transformed Songhay from a small riverine state to an empire that included parts of the Mali Empire. Eleven Askiyas ruled Songhay from Askiya Mohammed’s accession to power in 1492 until the Moroccans invaded Songhay in 1591. The empire reached its greatest extent under Askiya Daoud (1549-1583) and at that time had an influence on affairs on present-day Guinea.”

Soninke (Sarakole).

“The ethnic group that constituted the basic population of the ancient empire of Ghana and to which many devout Maninka-speaking Mulsim scholarly lineages in Guinea trace their ancestry. In Upper Guinea, the term applied primarily to non-Muslim Maninka people.”

Source: Historical Dictionary of Guinea By Mohamed Saliou Camara, Thomas O’Toole, Janice E. Baker

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