African rice domesticated in fourth millennium BC

The Inner Niger Delta, the one in Mali, is where African rice was domesticated - the best guess for OTL is sometime in the mid-late first millennium BC. Let's push it back three or four thousand years, possibly with the 5.9-kiloyear event as impetus. Early trial-and-error experiments with planting and harvesting lead to breeding for higher yield as the Mesoamericans did with maize. The upper Niger floods annually, so it's possible to capture the floodwaters and develop rice-paddy agriculture. Warring city-states in 2500-2000 BC, empires about 1500-1200 BC, just in time for the Termit bloomeries and the invention of ironworking.

What kind of population densities could we get in ancient *Mali? It probably wouldn't be anything like China, given how dry the surrounding countryside is, but could there at least be populations similar to New Kingdom Egypt? Also, would rice domestication kickstart the use of millet and other local crops?

Would it even be possible to speculate on what this society would be like? We know their distant OTL descendants, but they'd resemble the modern Bambara about as much as Gilgamesh does Saddam Hussein. What cultural threads might go back that far?
 
Interesting pod. The only thing I'll offer is that secondary crops like millet often follow in the footsteps. It's pretty likely.
 
Interesting pod. The only thing I'll offer is that secondary crops like millet often follow in the footsteps. It's pretty likely.
Cool. Is there also a relationship between plant and animal domestication - would early rice cultivation be likely to lead to early use of donkeys or breeding of guinea fowl into chickens?

Anyway, some idle speculation: Given that the population will be centered on one river rather than a fertile crescent and that big irrigation projects are necessary, it seems likely that once empires get started, unification will be the default. This means a hierarchical society and a palace economy, something that looks more like the Bronze Age than the early Iron Age.

On the other hand, this would be an early Iron Age culture, so barbarians would be better able to hold their own in the arms race - they wouldn't need long-distance trade networks to forge weapons. So we might see more frequent pastoralist invasions and imperial interregnums, with the barbarian invaders being assimilated to *Malian civilization but changing it in the process. Maybe this would prevent *Mali from becoming too much of a caste society - or maybe, if the Aryan invasions of India are an example, it would reinforce caste tendencies.

When the Niger empire isn't fighting the barbarians, it would trade with them for salt, hardwood and (once metalworking gets started) gold. The trade network might be roughly bounded by the lower Niger, Lake Chad, the upper Senegal and the Sahara. How long before it moves beyond that area, and what effect on the proto-Bantu?
 
For animal domestication, it's likely (though not inevitable). While agriculture isn't necessary for animal domestication, having people living sedentary lives gives more motivation to capture and keep animals for eating later, rather than killing at the hunt. Guinea fowl, African cattle (IIRC) and possibly antelope species like in leopard9's The Shade of Baobabs timeline could provide domestic animals for this civilization. I'm not sure about donkeys, though-don't they live in northeast Africa?

Regarding 'barbarian invasion', IMO in order to be successful, barbarian invasions will need to happen either at a time when the empire has fallen into chaos and cannot defend itself, when the barbarian bands become super-organized to take on the empire's armies (unlikely) or when the barbarians get mounts such as camels or horses that serve as force multipliers. Successful barbarian invasion is probably going to be rare until after they acquire mounts, at which point the empire may become a mere tribute-giving province of a larger, nomad-run polity.

The effects on the proto-Bantu depend on how much they come to rely on rice instead of yams, and what different environments these crops need. A Bantu migration that uses rice as its main crop is probably going to be pretty happy in the Congo basin where there's a lot of water, but once it moves into the more arid regions of the East African highlands we might see the migration slow down significantly from OTL's pace until new irrigation technologies are (re)discovered or the Bantu reconfigure the way of life and foods they're used to eating.
 
Cool. Is there also a relationship between plant and animal domestication - would early rice cultivation be likely to lead to early use of donkeys or breeding of guinea fowl into chickens?
It's not an exact correlation. But basically, you have a situation of auto-domestication. If human activities contribute to an increased local food supply then animals will start to hang around and be habituated to human presence. A steady wild population which is human tolerant in the area can lead to domestication if the animal turns out to have economically useful qualities.

It's most obvious with cats, dogs and pigs. Basically, humans were a breeding ground for mice - ergo cats. We produced a lot of edible garbage, ergo pigs and dogs.

I don't think it's a coincidence that after we evolved a grain/grass based agriculture, that we acquired grass/grazer based domesticates in the form of sheep, cattle, horses.

That said, we've had domestications without agriculture, most notably dogs and African cattle.

And we've had agriculture without a lot of significant animal domestications - the mesoamericans never really came up with a labour domesticate.

Microlivestocks seem to be relatively easy to domesticate - guineau pigs, turkey, chicken, hutia, geese, rabbits, etc. etc.

Anyway, some idle speculation: Given that the population will be centered on one river rather than a fertile crescent and that big irrigation projects are necessary, it seems likely that once empires get started, unification will be the default. This means a hierarchical society and a palace economy, something that looks more like the Bronze Age than the early Iron Age.
Okay, I can go along with that.

On the other hand, this would be an early Iron Age culture, so barbarians would be better able to hold their own in the arms race - they wouldn't need long-distance trade networks to forge weapons. So we might see more frequent pastoralist invasions and imperial interregnums, with the barbarian invaders being assimilated to *Malian civilization but changing it in the process. Maybe this would prevent *Mali from becoming too much of a caste society - or maybe, if the Aryan invasions of India are an example, it would reinforce caste tendencies.
My impression is that barbarian invasions seem tied to climactic shifts, rather than the relative balance of technology. Basically, Barbarians are much more mobile, but much more thinly distributed normally. So it's usually a matter of a climactic factor which gets Barbarians concentrating to a point of local numerical superiority. Then the dominos start.
 
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With all this water control, I can't help but imagine lungfish farming or something of the sort occurring: in a similar way to cats/pigs, rice paddies will attract pests, and following them will be opportunists, like the lungfish, which is also an edible food source and transportable overland, unlike other fish.

Alcohol will become a bigger part of life in West Africa. A large(r) population with both lots of standing water (in the form of rice paddies and canals) and lots of destabilization (lots of invasion, not as much time to make/maintain sewers) means the Niger will become polluted with feces, and breed a Cholera like enteric virus. The dubious safety of the water will lead to a general gravitation towards a mijiu/sake-esque alcohol.

Along with the Enteroviruses, *Mali seems more akin to the Indus River than to Egypt in the presence of pastoralist invasions and a diversity of landscapes surrounding it. As mentioned earlier, a colonization of the Congo Basin by a West African ethnic group with ties to *Mali seems likely. Same general issues with hygiene will arise as the population grows in the Congo, plus the odd zoonotic pathogen coming from our ape relatives/livestock.

Vector-borne diseases will be common in *Mali as standing water brings snails and mosquitoes. As the civilizations 'urbanize' cities will be further from paddies and have less overall death than the country. The need for water in these urban centers will still bring the vectors into the cities. Vectors in the livestock (parasites) and agricultural plants (fungal diseases) will also join the mix as well as the zoonotics and choleric disease.

As the populations grow, the zoonotics, especially crowd-borne ones will be common (think Plague of Athens, but across Western Africa), and just off the cuff estimates of the emergence of plagues in population centers, a plague could emerge as early as 1000 BCE, though certainly it's more likely to happen later, as crowd communicable diseases usually need a population of ~350,000 to 500,000 to sustain themselves. However, IOTL by 2000 BCE West Africa already saw some urbanization, and trade networks had been set up, so it's likely the population would be even higher with the introduction of rice, so *measles could be traveling around Africa as early as the 2nd millennium. Should there be significant foreign trade, this is bad news for the Egyptians. This may be somewhat better news for our *Mali friends: like the Hun's untimely dysentery outbreak before their Roman Holiday, any nomadic invaders assembling to overthrow the state will probably see greater losses to *measles than the *Malians, and for a little while ensure some stability for *Mali.

Religion would probably be rather benevolent Gods ala Egypt, as there is a relatively reliable flooding of the Niger, but there maybe more violent warlike aspects to them with the nomadic invasions and large death toll associated with vector diseases. Somewhere between Semetic mythology and the mythology of the Nilo-Saharan speaking peoples would make sense. There may be primordial tales of a paradise lost due to folkloric memory of the Green Sahara (if we're assuming 3rd Millennium peoples, its likely they were refugees from the drying Sahara in the millennia prior), with little reference to the events which inspired the Flood myth of Western tradition.

*Babalu is probably significantly more malevolent and mischievous than OTL West African plague/death deities due to the presence of epidemics. A Female at the head of the Pantheon may not be out of the question, due to the reliance on the River Niger, and likely abundance of wealth.
 
Guinea fowl, African cattle (IIRC) and possibly antelope species like in leopard9's The Shade of Baobabs timeline could provide domestic animals for this civilization. I'm not sure about donkeys, though-don't they live in northeast Africa?
You're right about the donkeys. It looks like they didn't penetrate West Africa during prehistoric times, but that there's evidence of domestic ponies that were hardy and adapted to semi-desert environments. So the *Malians might get an earlier start with those, and ITTL they'd be draft animals as well as pack animals (they were too small to ride).

Regarding 'barbarian invasion', IMO in order to be successful, barbarian invasions will need to happen either at a time when the empire has fallen into chaos and cannot defend itself, when the barbarian bands become super-organized to take on the empire's armies (unlikely) or when the barbarians get mounts such as camels or horses that serve as force multipliers.
I was imagining that the barbarian invasions would occur during times equivalent to the intermediate periods of ancient Egypt, when the empire becomes feudal or collapses temporarily into warring states. Other than that, the empire would have the numerical advantage. Riding animals would be a game-changer for a while - the first incursion by mounted nomads might be *Mali's equivalent of the Hyksos invasion - but the *Malians would improve their fortifications soon enough and would start hiring nomad mercenaries themselves.

I'd expect that the barbarians will assimilate to *Malian civilization fairly quickly, given that they'd already be influenced by *Mali through ordinary trading and raiding. (Oh, and another thing that would be traded for from the arid regions: indigo.)

The interesting thing, though, is that there are two areas of the Niger where rice can be grown, with a long stretch in between where it can't. There could be a second rice-growing empire in the lower Niger, but it wouldn't be under *Malian rule, because it would be separated by a few hundred miles of territory in which *Malian civilization can't be supported. There would be *Malian influence here, but at a considerable remove, and this second empire could be *Malian culture's funhouse mirror.

The effects on the proto-Bantu depend on how much they come to rely on rice instead of yams, and what different environments these crops need. A Bantu migration that uses rice as its main crop is probably going to be pretty happy in the Congo basin where there's a lot of water, but once it moves into the more arid regions of the East African highlands we might see the migration slow down significantly from OTL's pace until new irrigation technologies are (re)discovered or the Bantu reconfigure the way of life and foods they're used to eating.
That sounds about right. The current conventional wisdom is that the Bantu originated in the Cameroon highlands, which wouldn't be suitable for rice agriculture, but if they get an early push into Gabon and the Congo basin, they'd be in a region where rice would do well. If they get the idea from the *Malians, or more likely from a daughter culture in the lower Niger, then rice cultivation could extend down the coast all the way to *Angola.

I wonder if this would create an early cultural split between rice cultivators along the Atlantic coast and Congo basin and yam-and-banana economies in the eastern and southern regions. There might not be nearly as many common cultural threads across the Bantu-speaking peoples ITTL as IOTL. The rice cultivators might also coalesce into kingdoms early on while the yam and banana peoples stay at a pre-state level.

I don't think it's a coincidence that after we evolved a grain/grass based agriculture, that we acquired grass/grazer based domesticates in the form of sheep, cattle, horses. [...] Microlivestocks seem to be relatively easy to domesticate - guineau pigs, turkey, chicken, hutia, geese, rabbits, etc. etc.
OK, so the *Malians would probably have goats, cattle, poultry, dogs and the above-mentioned ponies by the time they get to the city-state stage. Hmmm... pouched rats as microlivestock? Sand cats playing the role of early domestic cats? Grasshopper or even termite cultivation, although it would take a lot of the latter to make a meal?

With all this water control, I can't help but imagine lungfish farming or something of the sort occurring: in a similar way to cats/pigs, rice paddies will attract pests, and following them will be opportunists, like the lungfish, which is also an edible food source and transportable overland, unlike other fish.
The Chinese farmed ducks and fish in rice paddies, didn't they? The *Malians could end up doing the same.

Alcohol will become a bigger part of life in West Africa. A large(r) population with both lots of standing water (in the form of rice paddies and canals) and lots of destabilization (lots of invasion, not as much time to make/maintain sewers) means the Niger will become polluted with feces, and breed a Cholera like enteric virus. The dubious safety of the water will lead to a general gravitation towards a mijiu/sake-esque alcohol.
Palm wine and yam beer too, and on the lower Niger (albeit not in *Mali), East African-style banana beer. Maybe there will still be yam festivals ITTL even though rice is the staple grain, because yams are the source of a favorite alcoholic drink.

To add to your notes on religion, BTW, I'd expect that the *Malians would have a rice festival, and that rice would have many ritual uses.

As the populations grow, the zoonotics, especially crowd-borne ones will be common (think Plague of Athens, but across Western Africa), and just off the cuff estimates of the emergence of plagues in population centers, a plague could emerge as early as 1000 BCE, though certainly it's more likely to happen later, as crowd communicable diseases usually need a population of ~350,000 to 500,000 to sustain themselves. However, IOTL by 2000 BCE West Africa already saw some urbanization, and trade networks had been set up, so it's likely the population would be even higher with the introduction of rice, so *measles could be traveling around Africa as early as the 2nd millennium.
I guess there would also be more opportunities to catch parasitic diseases such as sleeping sickness and river blindness, although at least these wouldn't be pandemics. The *measles would be devastating at first, less so later, although mutated forms would probably sweep through *Mali every few generations.

Religion would probably be rather benevolent Gods ala Egypt, as there is a relatively reliable flooding of the Niger, but there maybe more violent warlike aspects to them with the nomadic invasions and large death toll associated with vector diseases. Somewhere between Semetic mythology and the mythology of the Nilo-Saharan speaking peoples would make sense. There may be primordial tales of a paradise lost due to folkloric memory of the Green Sahara (if we're assuming 3rd Millennium peoples, its likely they were refugees from the drying Sahara in the millennia prior), with little reference to the events which inspired the Flood myth of Western tradition.
The Sahara as the Garden of Eden? I like that. And I think you're right about the plague deities being different from OTL.

There would also be influence from the periodic barbarian conquerors, who would syncretize their gods with the *Malian pantheon as the Hyksos did with the Egyptian.
 
This sounds like the begining's of a great timeline. Unfortuatly I'm unqualified to make such an timeline with so little knolledge of African history in general as well as having an low amount of knolledge about agriculture in general. Even though such timelines are amazing to read.
 
Palm wine and yam beer too, and on the lower Niger (albeit not in *Mali), East African-style banana beer. Maybe there will still be yam festivals ITTL even though rice is the staple grain, because yams are the source of a favorite alcoholic drink.
Fascinating thread. Unfortunately I know too little about prehistoric and ancient agriculture to contribute much. One thing I do know about, though, is alcohol ;)

Palm wine as it is produced and consumed in West Africa has a very short shelf life, even today. Unless it is distilled, it can not be stored for more than days, as the palm sap ferments on it's own (it takes about two hours to turn sap into wine with an alcohol content of 4%, according to wikipedia). This makes it a poor trading good and encourages local, decentralized production for the immediate use. The only way to store it for a longer amount of time is to distill it, which is beyond the technological abilities of any ancient civilization. Sake on the other hand needs to mature for up to a year and can be stored significantly longer than palm wine. Historically, sake production in Japan has been a fairly centralized affair under the control of the government and, later, the temples. Of course, *sake production in West Africa doesn't need to be centralized and can be as localized and small scale as brewing beer in ancient Mesopotamia or medieval europe, but it would open up the possibility of a more centralized and regulated production. Also, *sake would make a better trading good, as it has a longer shelf life and is more difficult to produce than palm wine.
 
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Palm wine as it is produced and consumed in West Africa has a very short shelf life, even today. Unless it is distilled, it can not be stored for more than days, as the palm sap ferments on it's own (it takes about two hours to turn sap into wine with an alcohol content of 4%, according to wikipedia). This makes it a poor trading good and encourages local, decentralized production for the immediate use. The only way to store it for a longer amount of time is to distill it, which is beyond the technological abilities of any ancient civilization. Sake on the other hand needs to mature for up to a year and can be stored significantly longer than palm wine.
Yes, palm wine would be what peasants make for themselves to drink at the end of the day - tap a tree a couple of hours before finishing work, and there will be something to drink with dinner. I've had palmie in Nigeria, BTW - it isn't bad, but as you said, it doesn't keep.

Historically, sake production in Japan has been a fairly centralized affair under the control of the government and, later, the temples. Of course, *sake production in West Africa doesn't need to be centralized and can be as localized and small scale as brewing beer in ancient Mesopotamia or medieval europe, but it would open up the possibility of a more centralized and regulated production. Also, *sake would make a better trading good, as it has a longer shelf life and is more difficult to produce than palm wine.
If *sake takes on ritual significance, and certainly if it's an important trade good, it might end up centralized in a way similar to Japan. Hydraulic empires usually have centralizing tendencies. On the other hand, yam beer could end up filling an intermediate niche - not centralized and often homebrewed, but with a longer shelf life and suitable for small-scale trade or gift-giving between neighbors.

On a completely different subject, I wonder if the 4.2-kiloyear event would be what stimulates the growth of larger cities. The period from 2200-2100 BC was abnormally dry across much of the world, and bad Nile floods contributed to the collapse of Old Kingdom Egypt. In *Mali, it could mean that large-scale irrigation projects become necessary to keep the rice paddies flooded, which in turn would mean that villages come under the sway of city-states that can organize such projects. This would mark a transition to a more stratified society with specialized labor, and after a few more centuries, to the rise of an imperial state.
 
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Alcohol will become a bigger part of life in West Africa. A large(r) population with both lots of standing water (in the form of rice paddies and canals) and lots of destabilization (lots of invasion, not as much time to make/maintain sewers) means the Niger will become polluted with feces, and breed a Cholera like enteric virus. The dubious safety of the water will lead to a general gravitation towards a mijiu/sake-esque alcohol.
Millet Beer too. It is also possible the elite would sponsor scientists, so to speak, who recognised the similarity of rice-beer and millet-beer and thus discovered distillation. Spreading to the West, palm wine!
 
Millet Beer too. It is also possible the elite would sponsor scientists, so to speak, who recognised the similarity of rice-beer and millet-beer and thus discovered distillation. Spreading to the West, palm wine!
Distillation would be a bit much for a civilization transitioning from the Neolithic to the Iron Age - they'd need more advanced metallurgy or glassware than what such a culture would have.

Millet beer would probably happen, though - as SpazzReflex mentioned, water-borne disease would be a constant issue, so they'd make beer out of any surplus grain they have. They might also get the ancient Egyptian idea of flavoring it with fruit, with the sugars in the fruit used as a fermenting agent. They wouldn't have mangoes at this point, but they'd have lemons and various berries, and they might be able to trade for dika.

Alcohol made from different grains could be associated with different gods, with each having its own rituals.

Anyway, I doubt I'll make a full-blown timeline out of this, but sometime in the next few days, I might sketch out some ideas and cultural notes for the fourth to first millennium BC. Suggestions are always welcome.
 
Anyway, I doubt I'll make a full-blown timeline out of this, but sometime in the next few days, I might sketch out some ideas and cultural notes for the fourth to first millennium BC. Suggestions are always welcome.
"But carbon steel had been made long before either Kelly or Bessemer. One of the oldest and most sophisticated methods was that of the Haya people. They're an African tribe in what is Tanzania today. The Hayas produced high-grade carbon steel for about 2000 years.
The Hayas made their steel in a kiln shaped like a truncated upside-down cone about five feet high. They made both the cone and the bed below it from the clay of termite mounds. Termite clay makes a fine refractory material. The Hayas filled the bed of the kiln with charred swamp reeds. They packed a mixture of charcoal and iron ore above the charred reeds. Before they loaded iron ore into the kiln, they roasted it to raise its carbon content.
The key to the Haya iron process was a high operating temperature. Eight men, seated around the base of the kiln, pumped air in with hand bellows. The air flowed through the fire in clay conduits. Then the heated air blasted into the charcoal fire itself. The result was a far hotter process than anything known in Europe before modern times."
http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi385.htm

You could incorporate some ideas from your Nok Steel timeline using the Haya as a template again.
 
Given the domesticates, agrarian economy, and geography, what happens with gender and the household in *Mali?

yours,
Sam R.
 
But carbon steel had been made long before either Kelly or Bessemer. One of the oldest and most sophisticated methods was that of the Haya people. [...] You could incorporate some ideas from your Nok Steel timeline using the Haya as a template again.
If the West Africans invent ironworking in the late second/early first millennium as they did in OTL - and I don't see why they wouldn't - carbon steel could follow in the middle first millennium.

Given the domesticates, agrarian economy, and geography, what happens with gender and the household in *Mali?
There are lots of variables here, but let me take a stab at it. The early rice-growing societies in *Mali will be making the transition from hunter-gatherers and the men will still spent a lot of time hunting, so the women will be the ones in the fields. Later, the men will be needed to fight off raiders from pastoralist tribes and other cities, and with the women needed to farm and care for children, men will be drafted to build roads and irrigation works. This will be something like the standard west-central African "women work with the hoe, men with the axe" - women will do the farming, men the fighting and building.

In the cities, things might be different. There would be female deities with female priests, so women would have a share of spirituality and magic, which might also get them a niche in specialist labor. *Mali could evolve into something like dynastic Egypt where urban and noble women were represented in the crafts and professions (especially medicine), or it could end up like Assyria where women were more secluded. I'd like to think the former, and it would be consistent with the role Bambara women had in traditional medicine and certain crafts IOTL, but it could be either - the status of women in African cultures is all over the map.
 
There are lots of variables here, but let me take a stab at it. The early rice-growing societies in *Mali will be making the transition from hunter-gatherers and the men will still spent a lot of time hunting, so the women will be the ones in the fields. Later, the men will be needed to fight off raiders from pastoralist tribes and other cities, and with the women needed to farm and care for children, men will be drafted to build roads and irrigation works. This will be something like the standard west-central African "women work with the hoe, men with the axe" - women will do the farming, men the fighting and building.

In the cities, things might be different. There would be female deities with female priests, so women would have a share of spirituality and magic, which might also get them a niche in specialist labor. *Mali could evolve into something like dynastic Egypt where urban and noble women were represented in the crafts and professions (especially medicine), or it could end up like Assyria where women were more secluded. I'd like to think the former, and it would be consistent with the role Bambara women had in traditional medicine and certain crafts IOTL, but it could be either - the status of women in African cultures is all over the map.
I agree with this outline.

However, by the point *Mali either fragments into multiple contending polities, or goes through a shattering crisis, the pressures that hydraulic class society or invading outsiders or the subjugation of outsiders or agricultural crisis will have produced a patriarchy. It might involve elite women maintaining significant power, or it might involve women being deleted from the elite. It might involve powerful women in civil society amongst the labouring classes, and/or powerful women in the household; or it might involve the destruction of women's civil and domestic power. [[STRIKE: I'd prefer the former over the latter.]] I'd prefer the society with less destruction of women's power. If the polity becomes split, then there'll be a spectrum and a locus.

But crisis will cause class society to defend itself through internal stratification and child rearing is a key relationship that lets patriarchy take root.

One key point is if the women hold the hoe, gender amongst the labouring classes will be a concealed experience from the elite as they'd extract collective dues, demand hydraulic corvees and war corvees. This "outside" space means that resistance would be most safely organised by women. Potentially giving space for the recognition of women mythic heros in the space of labouring women who beat the elite or the marauders (only to recapitulate their bastardry, locally or universally).

Like all late cultural innovations, it'd be hard to judge.

yours,
Sam R.

ERRATUM: Guess who got former and latter confused.
 
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Would an earlier domestication of millet or sorghum have a similar effect as the ones you've outlined? What is it about rice that makes it a better crop to have? Also, in several west African rice cultures, men do aid in farming. They'll clear the land and ready it for rice cultivation.
 
Would an earlier domestication of millet or sorghum have a similar effect as the ones you've outlined? What is it about rice that makes it a better crop to have? Also, in several west African rice cultures, men do aid in farming. They'll clear the land and ready it for rice cultivation.
Calories. Rice is a lot of calories for the labor you put in. While not quite the maximum calories for minimal effort of, say, potatoes or bananas due to its need for irrigation and paddy construction, rice can feed a lot of people. So an earlier domestication of rice will produce a population explosion and probably state building to go with it millenia before it occurred in West Africa IOTL. In addition to earlier West African empires, northeastern African civilizations like Egypt, Aksum and Kush may get a cultural and scientific boost through commerce with *Mali.
 
However, by the point *Mali either fragments into multiple contending polities, or goes through a shattering crisis, the pressures that hydraulic class society or invading outsiders or the subjugation of outsiders or agricultural crisis will have produced a patriarchy. It might involve elite women maintaining significant power, or it might involve women being deleted from the elite. It might involve powerful women in civil society amongst the labouring classes, and/or powerful women in the household; or it might involve the destruction of women's civil and domestic power. I'd prefer the former over the latter. If the polity becomes split, then there'll be a spectrum and a locus.
This is the kind of society that's likely to develop a warrior elite and to develop a close identity between military and political power, which would tend to exclude women. On the other hand, someone would have to govern the cities when the men are off fighting. And unlike, say, medieval Europe, this would still occur in an environment where women are guardians of part of the nation's spirituality. There might well be a class of noblewomen, priestesses and professional women (most of the latter two drawn from the first) who would have high social status. That did happen in Egypt, and dynastic Egypt was also a warrior-elite society albeit one that had longer stretches of peace than *Mali is likely to get.

One key point is if the women hold the hoe, gender amongst the labouring classes will be a concealed experience from the elite as they'd extract collective dues, demand hydraulic corvees and war corvees. This "outside" space means that resistance would be most safely organised by women. Potentially giving space for the recognition of women mythic heros in the space of labouring women who beat the elite or the marauders (only to recapitulate their bastardry, locally or universally).
This did happen in West Africa IOTL during historical times, including under colonialism, so I don't see why it wouldn't occur from time to time in *Mali. Even if women ordinarily hold a subordinate status, there might still be warrior-queen figures like Amina of Zaria, or more subversively, analogues to Lysistrata or the organizers of the Igbo Women's War.

Would an earlier domestication of millet or sorghum have a similar effect as the ones you've outlined? What is it about rice that makes it a better crop to have?
Calories. Rice is a lot of calories for the labor you put in. While not quite the maximum calories for minimal effort of, say, potatoes or bananas due to its need for irrigation and paddy construction, rice can feed a lot of people. So an earlier domestication of rice will produce a population explosion and probably state building to go with it millenia before it occurred in West Africa IOTL.
That, and rice (a) is a natural floodplain crop, and (b) allows synergy with fish and waterfowl who fertilize the rice paddies while providing a supplemental food source.

They'll be growing millet and sorghum too, mind - those might be the crop of choice in areas where water isn't as plentiful or where wild harvesting existed before the transition to agriculture.

Also, in several west African rice cultures, men do aid in farming. They'll clear the land and ready it for rice cultivation.
True, I should have been clearer on that. Even in non-rice-growing cultures, clearing land is usually men's work - it's considered closer to building than farming.

In addition to earlier West African empires, northeastern African civilizations like Egypt, Aksum and Kush may get a cultural and scientific boost through commerce with *Mali.
There's a lot of rough territory in between, and most of it isn't rice country, so it'll be a while before population densities get high enough for state formation and trade routes in the intermediate areas. The Chari-Aouk basin is the most likely place for city-states and kingdoms to form, so in time, a trade route might develop from *Mali and the other Niger-Benue states via the Chari to the upper Nile Valley. This is more or less the route I posited in Nok Steel. I doubt it would become an African Silk Road until the first millennium, but there might be sporadic contact and exchange of ideas before that.
 
With all this water control, I can't help but imagine lungfish farming or something of the sort occurring: in a similar way to cats/pigs, rice paddies will attract pests, and following them will be opportunists, like the lungfish, which is also an edible food source and transportable overland, unlike other fish.

Alcohol will become a bigger part of life in West Africa. A large(r) population with both lots of standing water (in the form of rice paddies and canals) and lots of destabilization (lots of invasion, not as much time to make/maintain sewers) means the Niger will become polluted with feces, and breed a Cholera like enteric virus. The dubious safety of the water will lead to a general gravitation towards a mijiu/sake-esque alcohol.

Along with the Enteroviruses, *Mali seems more akin to the Indus River than to Egypt in the presence of pastoralist invasions and a diversity of landscapes surrounding it. As mentioned earlier, a colonization of the Congo Basin by a West African ethnic group with ties to *Mali seems likely. Same general issues with hygiene will arise as the population grows in the Congo, plus the odd zoonotic pathogen coming from our ape relatives/livestock.

Vector-borne diseases will be common in *Mali as standing water brings snails and mosquitoes. As the civilizations 'urbanize' cities will be further from paddies and have less overall death than the country. The need for water in these urban centers will still bring the vectors into the cities. Vectors in the livestock (parasites) and agricultural plants (fungal diseases) will also join the mix as well as the zoonotics and choleric disease.

As the populations grow, the zoonotics, especially crowd-borne ones will be common (think Plague of Athens, but across Western Africa), and just off the cuff estimates of the emergence of plagues in population centers, a plague could emerge as early as 1000 BCE, though certainly it's more likely to happen later, as crowd communicable diseases usually need a population of ~350,000 to 500,000 to sustain themselves. However, IOTL by 2000 BCE West Africa already saw some urbanization, and trade networks had been set up, so it's likely the population would be even higher with the introduction of rice, so *measles could be traveling around Africa as early as the 2nd millennium. Should there be significant foreign trade, this is bad news for the Egyptians. This may be somewhat better news for our *Mali friends: like the Hun's untimely dysentery outbreak before their Roman Holiday, any nomadic invaders assembling to overthrow the state will probably see greater losses to *measles than the *Malians, and for a little while ensure some stability for *Mali.

Religion would probably be rather benevolent Gods ala Egypt, as there is a relatively reliable flooding of the Niger, but there maybe more violent warlike aspects to them with the nomadic invasions and large death toll associated with vector diseases. Somewhere between Semetic mythology and the mythology of the Nilo-Saharan speaking peoples would make sense. There may be primordial tales of a paradise lost due to folkloric memory of the Green Sahara (if we're assuming 3rd Millennium peoples, its likely they were refugees from the drying Sahara in the millennia prior), with little reference to the events which inspired the Flood myth of Western tradition.

*Babalu is probably significantly more malevolent and mischievous than OTL West African plague/death deities due to the presence of epidemics. A Female at the head of the Pantheon may not be out of the question, due to the reliance on the River Niger, and likely abundance of wealth.
Oh lord, the epidemics. Rice and millet with good irrigation, good weather and good rivers, plus the potential domestic animals.

Which gets me thinking down the line - when the *Malians go abroad, what happens? They've been bathed in a horrifying array of viral and fungal pathogens to the point where there are probably a formidable suite of resistances present in the population. On the other hand, a few millennia of packed cities near rice patties mean the bugs are going to vicious. You could have Columbian Contact likes events whenever they show up. Massive butterflies.
 
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