Cluster of peoples occupying parts of Mali, Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau. They speak a Mande language of the Niger-Congo family. Numbering 4.7 million, they are divided into numerous independent groups dominated by a hereditary nobility. One group, the Kangaba, has one of the world's most ancient dynasties; its rule has been virtually continuous since the 7th-century founding of the Mali empire. Most contemporary Malinke grow millet and sorghum and tend cattle. In religion they are divided among Islam and indigenous faiths.