Gambia and Senegal Regions After the Fall of the Wolof Empire
Detailed 17th-century map showcasing a portion of the slave trading part of the west coast of Africa
Orientedw with East at the top, the map covers Guinea, through the Wolof Kingdom, to Sierra Leone, but the map's central focus is on the region surrounding the Gambia River.
Intriguingly, this map not only features the coastal regions but also extends inland to display the courses of significant rivers, including the Gambia River, the Rio Grande, and the Rio Portugues. The depiction of the Gambia River is particularly detailed, capturing its winding path as it meanders deep into the continent. This river, central to the region's trade and communication, became the backbone of the nation we now know as The Gambia.
The Rio Grande and Rio Portugues, important rivers in Guinea-Bissau, are also featured, showing their course as they traverse through dense terrain before meeting the Atlantic Ocean. These rivers were key to exploration, trade, and settlement during the 16th and 17th centuries.
From the 1500s to the 1700s, this region underwent profound changes, primarily due to increased European exploration and colonization. Portugal started exploring the African coast in the late 15th century, leading to other nations like the Netherlands, France, and England establishing trading posts in the area.
The depiction of these rivers on the map is historically significant. The Gambia River, for example, was central to the establishment of European trade forts and posts. It became a major route for the transport of goods and, unfortunately, was also used significantly during the transatlantic slave trade.
The Rio Grande and Rio Portugues, on the other hand, were important waterways that facilitated the exploration of the interior regions of West Africa. These rivers were critical for the trade of gold, spices, and other valuable commodities between the coastal settlements and the more inland territories.
The Wolof (aka Jolof or Djolof) Empire was a state on the coast of West Africa, located between the Senegal and Gambia rivers, which thrived from the mid-14th to mid-16th century. The empire prospered on trade thanks to the two rivers providing access to the resources of the African interior and coastal traffic, commerce which included gold, hides, ivory, and slaves, and which was often carried out with European merchants, notably the Portuguese and then the French. Following the break-up of the Wolof Empire in the 16th century CE, a smaller state persisted, the Wolof Kingdom, into the 19th century CE. The Wolof language is still widely spoken today in Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritania.
Jan Janssonius (also known as Johann or Jan Jansson or Janszoon) (1588-1664) was a renowned geographer and publisher of the seventeenth century, when the Dutch dominated map publishing in Europe. Born in Arnhem, Jan was first exposed to the trade via his father, who was also a bookseller and publisher. In 1612, Jan married the daughter of Jodocus Hondius, who was also a prominent mapmaker and seller. Jonssonius’ first maps date from 1616.
In the 1630s, Janssonius worked with his brother-in-law, Henricus Hondius. Their most successful venture was to reissue the Mercator-Hondius atlas. Jodocus Hondius had acquired the plates to the Mercator atlas, first published in 1595, and added 36 additional maps. After Hondius died in 1612, Henricus took over publication; Janssonius joined the venture in 1633. Eventually, the atlas was renamed the Atlas Novus and then the Atlas Major, by which time it had expanded to eleven volumes. Janssonius is also well known for his volume of English county maps, published in 1646.
Janssonius died in Amsterdam in 1664. His son-in-law, Johannes van Waesbergen, took over his business. Eventually, many of Janssonius’ plates were sold to Gerard Valck and Pieter Schenk, who added their names and continued to reissue the maps.