According to Delafosse, the main populations who took an active part in the history of western Sudan must have constituted in Mauritania and the IIod, at the distant time when these Saharan regions lent themselves to sedentary life and culture, a quite disparate whole, which the black tradition calls it by the name of Bafur. From these Bafurs the Songhai, founders of the great empire of Gao, which will be discussed below, derived by branch; and also a large population called Gangara or, by Arab authors, Wanqārah, which has as its main fractions the Bambara, the Mandingo, or Maliṅke (also called by other names), etc. In this region of the Bafur the aforementioned Semitic immigrants would have settled, who would have founded the kingdom of Ghanah (whose white origin is affirmed by the indigenous tradition), and then colonized the Masina and the Ugadu region. From the crossing of them with the aforementioned Wanqārah population (already in turn the result of a mixture of Negroes with the white aborigines) the Saracole would have risen, who then reigned over Ghanah; and elsewhere the mixture with the Serer would have given rise to the Fulbè (see above), which then dispersed in other parts of the Sudan.
Local traditions, confirmed by news from Arab writers from Timbuktu, affirm that the kingdom of Ghanah (which name, which was later extended to indicate the kingdom, is originally only the title of the kings, while the capital, also called Ghanah by Arab and European authors, it has the name of Kumbi or Kumbi-Kumbi) goes back to the 4th century AD. C., and that the first dynasties were white; power then passed to the aforementioned Saracole, with the Sisse dynasty. The kingdom of which the Arab geographer and traveler Ibn Ḥawqal (who visited it in the second half of the 10th century), and other Arab authors, in the 10th century give us concrete news. IX and X d. C., that is, at the moment of its apogee, extended its influence to the North in the middle of the Sahara, over the Berbers Ṣanhāgiah (Awdaghost was vassal of the king of Ghanah); in the south it reached beyond Senegal, in the west the Atlantic, east to the lakes west of Timbuktu. Reason for the prosperity of the kingdom, whose fame reached Cairo and Baghdād, were the gold mines of Bambuk and other places. The decline began with the rise of the Almoravids; Abu-Bakr destroyed Ghanah in 1076, and the kingdom never recovered from defeat. Finally in 1203 Sumanguru, head of another black state, that of the Sōsō, incorporated the kingdom of Ghanah into this one.
In the century X begins the conversion of Sudan to Islam, which, especially due to the Almoravids, is a very important factor in the history of the country.
Islam penetrated widely among the Toucouleur del Tekrur (which corresponds to the territory now known as Futa Toro), a people mixed with Fulbè language, composed of Saracol, Mandingo, Serer elements, and which became a powerful ally of the Almoravids (for the toucouleur kingdoms, v. below), among the Songhai, masters of the empire of Gao, and even among the Saracols who, although representatives of the pagan element, then accepted the new religion, became its best representatives in western Sudan and propagated it.
But Uolof, for example, and Mandingo did not convert, or only apparently and as long as the Almoravid power lasted; resistance to Islam is an important factor in Sudanese history, and determines, among other things, the exodus of populations which complicates the events.
The kingdom of Soso, which with Sumanguru extends its power over Ghanah, as mentioned above, soon yields to the other source kingdom in western Sudan, that of the Mandingo, or Malinke (see above: other names also designate this population), which for hundreds of years was the largest in Africa, and whose dynasty, still reigning today, dominates the village of Kangaba, on the left bank of Niger, in French Guinea. After centuries of obscure existence, the Mandingo defeated Sumanguru who had occupied their country in 1235, destroyed Ghanah in 1240, and after various events reached the maximum of their power with King Gongo Musa or Kankan Musa (1307-1322), extending their dominion over the territory now occupied by French West Africa with the colonies that are wedged there. The Mandingo ruler was related to all the major states of North Africa. The Arab traveler Ibn Baṭṭūṭah visited the country in 1352-1353 under the mansa Sulaimān.
The supremacy of the Mandingo in western Sudan was overthrown by the third of the great Sudanese empires, that of the Songhai, whose first nucleus arose as early as the century. VII d. C. on a small island in Niger and which already in 1000 had its capital in Gao. At this time the reigning dia Kossoi or Kossai became a Muslim. The influence of the Songhai kingdom gradually extended and also reached Timbuktu, whose foundation dates back to the beginning of the century. XII.
Meanwhile, during the eleventh century another black people, that of the Mossi, far from any white influence (see above), founded, within the bend of the Niger, two kingdoms, which still exist, those of Uagadugu and Yatenga, which in the sec. XIV had almost the same extension as today: the French occupation limited itself to imposing the protectorate on the two countries. Even today they jealously preserve the pagan religion, and Islam has never been able to spread among them.