The Mali Empire: An African Story of Gold and Greatness
Official history is not necessarily truthful history. Perhaps no place is more congruent with that than Africa. Not to their fault, most people tend to have a wildly superficial understanding of African history. Press narratives, imagery, and films have largely emphasized slavery, colonialism, poverty, conflicts, and the like. A posture that does not help repair and restore African dignity but instead perpetuates some false and discriminatory views.
There is more, a lot more, to African history than what the past few centuries hold. It is unanimously proven that Africa, specifically the Nile Valley stretch, is the birthplace of humankind and thus home to the earliest societies, kingdoms, and civilizations. But today, we are not going that far back. This article looks at the Mali Empire, its most famous ruler—Mansa (i.e., king/emperor) Musa I—and contrasts with today’s Africa.
The Mali Empire
The Mali Empire was the most prosperous and influential of the West African empires. It existed from c.1235 to c.1645 and was renowned as a leading trading hub within the broader trans-Saharan trade markets and routes. Although the empire was a producer of various agricultural commodities, it was particularly famous for its large gold production and trade. At its height, almost half of the gold that circulated in the Old Word (i.e., Africa, Europe, and Asia) came from the Mali Empire alone.
Besides flourishing as a major trading center, the empire was also known for being a learning and intellectual hub. For instance, the city of Timbuktu, today a UNESCO World Heritage site, is known as one of the most prominent scholarly cities in history, which at its height, hosted even students and scholars from the Old World. Mansa Musa peacefully annexed the city of Timbuktu to Mali Empire in c.1325, strengthening his empire’s intellectual standing in the Middle Ages. Historians estimate that the private and public libraries of Timbuktu, now referred to as the “lost” libraries of Timbuktu, had a collection of over seven hundred thousand manuscripts and books covering topics such as art, medicine, philosophy, religion, science, mathematics, astronomy.
The Mali Empire was founded in c.1235 by Sundiata Keita, prince of the kingdom of Kangaba who led a rebellion and ultimately defeated Sumanguru Kante, king of the relatively larger kingdom of Sosso. Keita’s and Kante’s kingdoms were states within the now declining Ghana Empire (not to be confused with present-day Ghana). Eventually, the Mali Empire became large and powerful enough to swallow its former overseer, the Ghana Empire, thus becoming the new empire in West Africa. Since what rises falls, the Mali Empire declined and disappeared in c.1645 under its successor, the Songhai Empire, which was itself a state within the Mali Empire.
Mansa Musa I of Mali
The way Musa of the Keita dynasty became Mansa Musa I is by a fascinating “accident.” Musa was serving as deputy (i.e., crown prince) to Mansa Abubakari II. Abubakari II was a mariner emperor with a particular interest in discovering what lay on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. As such, he s
Article from Mises Wire