A former West African empire on the Niger River and the name of the people and their language, which is spoken in Mali. Tradition claims that a Berber Christian, al-Yaman, founded Songhay in the 7th century ad on Kukiya Island, below Gao. The rulers became Muslim (c.1200) and transferred the capital to Gao. In 1325 the Mali empire annexed Songhay, but in 1335 Sonni Ali Kolon, a descendant of al-Yaman made himself king. In about 1464 Sonni Ali made Songhay independent and enlarged it greatly. However, his son, Bakari, was a weakling, and with him the line of al-Yaman failed. In 1493 the new dynasty founded by Askia Muhammad I replaced him; he made Songhay the most important empire in western Africa, eclipsing Mali. In 1528 or 1529 Askia Muhammad was deposed by his son. He, and the seven other Askias who followed, were weak, cruel, and debauched, and the empire foundered. In 1591 it fell easy prey to a well disciplined and well armed force of Moroccans who defeated the Songhay army at Tondibi, near Gao. However, they could not control such a large area, and in the 17th century it broke up into a number of smaller states.