Sonni Ali

Orfeas Katsoulis | Jul 7, 2023

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Sonny (shi) Ali Ber (died 1492) was the first ruler of the Songai Empire, the most powerful state in the history of West Africa. Ali Ber was the first emperor of the Songai Empire, and the 15th ruler of the Sonni dynasty.

The figure of this medieval statesman is controversial: Arab chroniclers indicate that Ali Ber was a cruel tyrant and sadist, a persecutor of Muslims, while in the memory of the peoples of West Africa he remained a legendary all-powerful and all-knowing ruler with magical magical powers.

Ali Ber was born in rather difficult times for West Africa: the hegemony of Mali was crumbling and the new center had not yet emerged. But there was no shortage of pretenders to seize power: from the south, the Mosi tribes seized Timbuktu, and in 1435 it was taken by the Tuareg ruler Akil.

The mother of Shi Ali was an adherent of animism and came from the traditional Sokoto tribe; many historians believe that Ali Ber himself preferred animism to Islam. The birth name Ali was later transformed into Shi Ali Ber, which literally means "Ali the Great of the Shi (Sonni) Dynasty. "Shi Ali's attitude toward Islam in general reflects well the precariousness of that faith in Western Sudan in those days, that is, hundreds of years after the first black sovereigns converted to Islam. Some scholars have interpreted the intensification of animism during the Ali Ber era as evidence of a general crisis: in those troubled times people tended to seek support in ancient beliefs and gods. In any case, disregarding Islam, Shi'a Ali enjoyed the undivided adoration of his subjects, whether out of fear of his tyranny or admiration for his military successes. His subjects called him "dali," that is, the most highly esteemed. For orthodox Muslims this was blasphemy, for they believed such a respectful expression could only be used in relation to Allah. The nickname Ber also expresses reverence - it means "The Great One.

The historical chronicle "Tarih al-Fattash" reports that the successor of Suleiman Dam, the conqueror of Mema, was "the oppressor, the liar, the damned overbearing shirk. The historical chronicle "Tarikh al-Fattash" informs that the successor of Suleiman Dam, the conqueror of Mema, was "the oppressor, the liar, the cursed overbearing Shi Ali. He was the last of the Shi on the kingdom, the one whose abominable path his slaves also followed. He was victorious and did not address any land without ruining it. The army with which he was with never proved defeated: he was the victor, not the vanquished. From the land of Kanta to Sibiridugu he left no region, no city, no village, where he did not appear with his cavalry, conquering these places and attacking the inhabitants. According to the Tarikh al-Fattash, Shi Ali became king in Songai in 1464-1465 and reigned for 27 years, 4 months, and 15 days.

"He began his domination in Dir, whence, however, he at once went on a campaign against a Mosi ruler named Komdao. The real battle was fought at Kobi, after which Shi Ali pushed back the Mosi army all the way to the country of Bambara, but did not achieve a decisive victory and did not take the central city of my Arguma. The campaign involved, according to some somewhat doubtful and contradictory information, among others the ruler of Tombuktu - Tombuktu-koi Mohammed Nadi, the commander of Shi Ali Bera named Askia Mohammed (who became the next Songai king) and Askia's brother Amar (Omar) Komdiyago.

Shi Ali spent the year 1465 in Bambara. The following year he moved to Kutte near Djenne and from there to Kuna, from where, according to the chronicles, he attacked Bisma. It is impossible to determine from the chronicles how serious the battle was. Adam Conare Ba believes that the clash was with a tribal chief who had a major stake in the Bandiagara mountain region among the Dogon people. According to the chronicles, Shi Ali killed Bisma.

Ramadan 1467 Shi Ali spent in the rocky region of Tamsa. From there he is believed to have gone to war with the neighbouring Fulbe tribes. The campaign probably reached the village of Da, lying between Bandiagara and Dwentsa. There he captured and executed the village elder Moddibo Wara. After this, Shi Ali returned to Tamsu, where he spent Ramadan of the following year. In 1468-1469 the king of the Sungai moved on el Moktar, the ruler of Kikere town, and also pressed the inhabitants of Tondi.

Thus, Shi'a Ali began his reign with an active policy of conquest. The military campaigns were directed primarily to the west, to the territory which previously belonged to the circle of Mali's possessions. During the first four years of his reign Shi'a Ali extended the dominion of the Sôngai to Bambara, the lake region of Massina and the mountain regions of Bandiagara and Hombori.

Ali Ber greatly expanded the borders of the state, after a seven-year siege he captured Jenne (1468-1475) and drove the Tuaregs out of Timbuktu (1468), finally taking it by January 1469. Sonny (shi) pursued a repressive policy toward the scholars of Timbuktu, especially in the Sankore region, who were closely associated with the Tuaregs, these scholars Ali expelled in order to gain control of the city. He built a fleet to patrol the Niger River. During Sonny Ali's reign, the Songhai surpassed the Mali Empire, which later became part of the Songhai Empire.

His death at the end of 1492, is a subject of controversy among historians. According to the Tarikh al-Sudan, Ali drowned while crossing the River Niger. Oral tradition holds that he was killed by his sister's son, Muhammad Askia. Shi'a Ali was succeeded by his son Ali, Abubakar, or Sonny Baro.


  1. Sonni Ali
  2. Али Бер, Сонни (ши)
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