Kaabu Empire (aka N’Gabu / Gabu)
The Kaabu Empire (also spelt N’Gabu / Gabu) started as a westward extension of the Manding Empire. Its rulers were ordained into office by the king of Mali (Manding) but as Mali declined during the 15th century the Kaabu became autonomous. Among the western Mandinka who inhabit Senegambia, Kaabu was second only to Manding in importance and its ruling dynasty, who bore the title of Nyanchos, were better known, more respected and more jealous of their heritage than any other of the Western Mandinka dynasties.
At the high point of Manding the Kora musical instrument was introduced as well as the perfection of older instruments such as the Balafon, Kontingo and the Bolombata which are still used today by Senegambian griots, important masquerade dances like the Kankurang, the Maano and the Tintirinya are all said to have originated in Kaabu.
The main area of Kaabu was situated in the vicinity of present-day Guinea-Bissau and the land which lies north of the Casamance River. It extended from the Gambia River in the north to the borders of Futa Jallon in the Republic of Guinea in the south. The Mandinka ruled areas of Niokolokoba, Jimara, Kantora, Tenda and Tumana where all part of the Kaabu kingdom.
The empire was established during the reign of Mansa Sunjatta Keita as a result of westward migrations from Manding by the Manding war general Tirmakhan Traoré (also spelt Tiramakan, Tiramong or Tiramaghan). Oral tradition has it that Tiramong Traoré came from the "West" in order to exact retaliation against the Burba Jolof for having stolen horses belonging to Mansa Sujatta and had insulted the king to boot. Tirmakhan Traoré is said to have considered war as a kind of 'sport' and was always ready to do battle "anytime and any place". He defeated the Jolof and sent Burba's decapitated head back to his king in Manding and proceeded to head southwards over the Gambia River as far at the Damantang Kingdom in modern day Casamance. When he arrived in the Kassa region he found Mandinka who were already settled their since the 10th century in search of land or to establish new trade routes.
The general is thought to have made his residence in Damantang where he later married one of the daughters of the prominent Mandinka family known as the Sanes. In alliance with the Sanes they either expelled or subjugated the indigenous tribes and established Mandinka supremacy in the area. He was asked to come back to Manding by Sujatta but died on his way there in the Upper River Division of The Gambia. The ruling classes of the empire were the Nyanchos and they claimed paternal ancestry through Tirmakhan as well as supernatural maternal ancestry.
In addition to the ruling Nyanchos family there were also the Sanyangs and Sonkos who were given the title Koringo and ruled below the Nyanchos. They ruled the states that made up Kaabu.
Kaabu was encircled by a number of Fula kingdoms and states with the main ones being Bundu, Futa Toro, Masina and Futa Jallon. They mostly clustered in the upper Casamance, Jimara and Firdu until by the middle of the 19th century they formed the majority ethnic group. Despite this fact the Nyanchos were still the ruling class and the Fula in the area felt oppressed. Their prime cattle stock and horses were liable to confiscation at anytime without any compensation. In the early 19th century Futa Jallon had started raiding regularly into the very centre of Kaabu. In the 1860s the armies of Futa Jallon defeated the Kaabu army at Berekolong Fort in Sankolla. This defeat emboldened the Fula population, under Alfa Molloh Baldeh, for a major showdown against their Nyancho overlords.
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