Mossi (1250-1575 AD)

A DBA Variant Army List

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The following variant list was inspired by Richard Young's DBM variant, which appears in Slingshot (July 2006) and also by the desire to add an interesting historical opponent to the West Sudanese DBA list.

The Mossi were a  highly feudal society of horse warriors who founded several kingdoms on the steppe-like high plateau of the Upper Volta river basin, becoming feared enemies of the neighboring Mali and Songhai Empires.  Today, the Mossi number approximately 2.2 million people, representing approximately one third of the current population of Burkina Faso.

The Mossi were not indigenous to the region, but migrated with their horses, assimilating the local tribes, and coalescing from clans into several kingdoms over time.  Oral tradition and ethnological research offer several points of proposed origin in central and eastern Africa, and also places their primary migration anywhere between the 11th-15th century.  One theory connects the Mossi with the African kingdoms of Dagomba, Gonja, and Mamprusi in the south.  Whatever their origin, from early accounts in Songhai, it appears that the Mossi were well-established raiders as early as 1260 AD.

The Mossi's own founding myth, handed down through the ages, goes somewhat as follows:  Forty generations ago, a king named Naba Nedega of Dagomba had a warrior daughter named Princess Nyennega, whom he would not allow to marry.  Princess Nyennega struck out on horseback riding to the north, where she met and married a local man of the Bisa (or Mande) people. Their son, named Ouedraogo (stallion), was sent to be raised by his grandfather, Naba Nedega. When he grew up, he returned to the north with cavalry and conquered his father's people. The marriage of Ouedraogo and his troops with Bisa women produced the Mossi people. A statue of Princess Nyennega in the city of Ouagadougou commemorates the story.

Within the Volta basin, the Mossi coalesced into five independent kingdoms - Tenkodogo, Yatenga, Gourma, Zandoma, and Ouagadougou—each ruled by a king or naba.  Ouagadougou emerged as the most powerful of the kingdoms, surviving to the present day as the capital city of Burkina Faso and home to the present day King, whose powers are largely ceremonial.  Mossi society was very hierarchical.   The king(s) could only be selected from selected bloodlines who traced their origins back to the original Mossi invaders and who were known as the Nakomsé (or "Right and Power to Rule").  The Nakomsé formed an equestrian military class.   The assimilated freemen, known as the Tengabisi or Tengsoba ("Children of the Earth) were governed by their own religious "Earth Priests."  This class included farmers and tradesmen, the later of which maintained their own pseudo-religious guilds.  At the bottom of the social order were slave laborers.

After their arrival, the Mossi spread across the White Volta river basin, assimilating or driving out other tribes such as the Dogon, Gurunsi, Lela, Nuna, Kurumba and Winiama.  Their territory was eventually bounded in the west by the Bandiagara highlands, which were inaccessible to horsemen, and by the wooded south where tetse flies proved a scourge to the Mossi horses.  In later years, they absorbed new migrations in the Volta basin, including the Hausa and Fulani, who became subjects of the Mossi, while maintaining a separate ethnic identity.

By 1250 AD, the Mossi were well-enough established to turn their attention northward across the Niger, where the neighboring states of Mali and Songhai were growing rich from the trans-Saharan trade routes.

The Tarikh al-Fattash records large-scale mounted Mossi raids into Songhai in the mid-13th Century, the effect of which may have contributed to the ascendancy of Mali over Songhai during the reign of Mansa Wali (1260-1277).

In 1325 AD, Mansa Musa, the great king of the Mali Empire, went on a famous pilgrimage to Mecca, spending three months in Cairo on route.   While there, he responded to tales of the Mongols (Tatars) with stories of the Mossi, which he described as a violent enemy similar to the Mongols who were "wide in the face and flat-nosed.  They are skilled in shooting arrows.  Their horses are cross-bred with spit noses.   Battles take place between us and they are formidable because of their accurate shooting.  War between us has its ups and downs..."

During the 13-14th centuries, the Mossi engaged in constant warfare with Mali and Songhai, raiding for pillage and seeking to wrest control over the trans-Shaharan trade routes. The Mossi successfully sacked the Malian capital at Timbuktu in 1330 AD and again in 1338 AD.  Later, in the 14th century, they raided Macina, an exposed Mali subject state. 

Sonni Ali of Songhai seized Timbuktu from the Tauregs in 1468 followed by the former Malian city of Jenne, but had to contend with the invasion of Baghana and Walata in 1477 by the Mossi King Naba Nassere.  The Mossi were able to hold these important trade centers until 1483.  Thereafter the Songhai were able to drive the Mossi out and push them south of the Niger, launching their own punitive raids deep into the Mossi homeland.

From 1493-1529, the Songhai king Askiya Muhammed, a devote Muslim, waged holy war against the pagan Mossi.  Later, during the reign of Askia Daoud of Songhai (1549-1583 AD), a series of major Songhai expeditions forced the Mossi to resort to scorched earth tactics.  Thereafter, the Mossi ceased fighting their powerful neighbors, bringing this DBA list to a close.  The Mossi kingdoms survived, however, along with their feudalistic society and horse warrior tradition, to reappear in 18th century accounts of battles with the Fulani and Asante.

Later Mossi horsemen with captives

Army List

Steppe, Aggression 2.  Enemies:  West Sudanese (DBA III/68).

1x 2Lh (Gen) The Naba (King) and his retainers.
4x 2Lh Mossi horsemen
7x 2Lh or
(5x 3Bw and 2x 3Ax)
Mossi horsemen on campaign or subject tribesmen (the Tengabisi or tengsoba, "Children of the Earth") defending the homeland.  Arrows are poisoned. Ax are spear/javelin-armed Dogon tribesmen.

Camps and BUAs

The modern Mossi of Burkina Faso live in round clay/mud huts with thatched roofs (see right), with some villages protected by mud walls.


The pictures above provide some clue.  For the Mossi represented in this list, I would suggest that the bulk of the army be comprised of unarmored African horsemen with bow, javelin or spear and bow or spear/javelin-armed foot available in 15mm from Tin Soldier (Colonial Abyssinian), Eureka (Abyssinian) Feudal Castings (Auxum and Kushite), and any basic Blemmye foot archers or spearmen from Tabletop, Donnington, Falcon or others.  You may also be able to press Numidians and early Berber foot from various sources into service.

Additional Material

Mossi - Tartars of Africa?, by Richard Young, Slingshot, The Official Journal of the Society of Ancients, Issue 247 (July 2006), pp. 31-32.

Wikipedia on the Mossi.

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Pictures adapted from the Art and Life in Africa Project

Essay by Chris Brantley. Comments, questions or suggested additions
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Last Updated:  21 August 2006