Dyula - History and Cultural Relations

Traders from the middle Niger were drawn toward the southern reaches of the savanna and beyond toward the forest because of the presence of gold in Lobi and Akan gold fields and because of kola nuts in the forest. Particularly after the foundation of the trading town of Begho, in northwestern Ghana, around 1400, Manding-speaking traders began to settle amid various local populations, forming the southern edge of the network of a vast trading diaspora linking the West African forest and ultimately the coast with the Sahara and the Mediterranean. By the eighteenth century, there were Dyula communities along all the trade routes in the region, and these communities continued to assimilate fellow traders from elsewhere until the mid-twentieth century, by which time colonial rule had radically altered patterns of trade and migration. One of these towns, Kong, became an independent state as well as a major center of trade; it was a major power in the region, particularly during its apogee in the eighteenth century. Most Dyula communities, however, remained politically subservient to kings and chiefs of other ethnic and linguistic communities. In the last two decades of the nineteenth century, the region was torn by war: three empires—the state of Kenedugu, centered at Sikasso in Mali; the domain of Samory Toure, initially in Guinea to the west; and France—struggled for control. The great Dyula trading towns of Kong and Buna were razed by Samory, who suspected them of negotiating with the French. Following Samory's capture, France annexed the region. By and large, the Dyula submitted peacefully to the French, although, in the mid-twentieth century, many of them were active militants in the independence movement.

The Dyula recognize their cultural affinities with other Manding-speaking peoples, including the Bamana and the Maninka, and especially with trading groups such as the Maraka of the middle Niger. As an ethnic minority and part of a trading diaspora, the Dyula stress their cultural differences with their immediate neighbors—for example, the Senufo, the Kulango, or the Abron. Many Dyula are nevertheless fluent in other local languages and have usually had a vested interest in remaining on good terms with their neighbors and political overlords. Their neighbors, in turn, have relied on the Dyula as agents for buying and reselling locally produced goods and as a source for commodities produced elsewhere.

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