The ancient Jenne Jeno culture in Mali has made people rethink ideas about civilization. It was founded between 300 and 500 BCE, and lasted 1,600 years. But it had no king, no civic center, and no big temple. Yet without a single top-down government, it lasted longer than ancient Rome did.
Roderick J. McIntosh and John Reader wrote that about 30,000 people lived in Jenne Jeno. They organized a community very different from states with one governing body.
Instead of forming one urban mass, the people of Jenne Jeno organized a close network of several communities. Many locations were specialized. Some focused on agriculture, others did animal husbandry, and others fished.
People in each way of life clustered together and pooled their skills. When the rice crop failed, farmers could live on milk and meat from pastoralists, and on fish from net fishermen. People worked out systems of exchanges without a king imposing a single system from above.
These patterns are still alove in Mali. The Dogon people are farmers, and they have an old symbiotic relationship with the Bozo, who specialize in fishing. The Dogon have myths tht say that this arrangement is part of the sacred order. People in both societies believe that they descended from the same twins.
The people of Jenne Jeno wisely ruled themselves. Their concentrated population didn’t degrade the floodplain of their river, the Niger. The Khmers, who built Angkor Wat, silted up theirs. But Jenne Jeno, without a single government, cohered longer, and treated their environment better.
Many voices in dialog–this is a traditional African pattern. Wisdom is found when the community comes together, rather than in one ruler or text. This pattern was established when the Greeks were building the Parthenon. It still lives–please see the post on African music: