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  • Mansa Musa

    Mansa Musa captured the attention of the Arab world when he left his home in the West African kingdom of Mali to make a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324. Unlike his grandfather Sundiata, Mansa Musa was a devout Muslim. A Muslim is a person who practices Islam. Islamic law requires that all faithful Muslims make a hajj, or holy visit, to the city on the Arabian Peninsula where Islam developed.

    Mansa Musa was a very rich king. He was said to have taken more than 500 people with him on the hajj, each carrying a staff of solid gold. When Mansa Musa passed through the Egyptian city of Cairo, legends say he gave away so much gold that the price of gold fell, and the economy was affected for more than twenty years. The appearance of a wealthy king from a faraway land made a deep impression on the people he encountered, causing Mali to appear on maps throughout the Middle East and Europe. For the first time, sub-Saharan Africa became well-known north of the great desert, as well.

    The kingdom of Mali eventually weakened, and the neighboring kingdom of Songhai developed into the last black empire of pre-colonial West Africa. Songhai was destroyed after a bloody war with Morocco. Morocco’s sultan wanted West African gold, so in 1590, he sent an army of 3000 men south across the Sahara Desert. The spears and lances of the Songhai warriors were no match for the cannons and muskets of the Moroccan army, but the fighting continued long after the Songhai government had been destroyed. After ten years, the Sultan lost interest and abandoned his army in Songhai. The Moroccans were either killed or absorbed into the local population. The Moroccan invasion destroyed Songhai and the trade routes that had brought prosperity to the region for hundreds of years.

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    Resources

    Download this lesson as Microsoft Word file or as an Adobe Acrobat file

    Mr. Donn has an excellent website that includes a section on African History.

    Mansa Musa
    Musa I (c. 1280 – c. 1337) was Mansa (king) of the ancient West African kingdom of Mali. (see the full map below)

    The World’s Richest Man?

    Mansa Musa was the richest person in History according to a calculation by the website Celebrity Net Worth. After adjusting for inflation, Musa was worth $400 billion. Forbes magazine estimates that the richest man in America, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, is has accumulated only a small fraction of the wealth of the ancient African king. Click here for Forbes’ estimated current of the software entrepreneur.

    Mali (map)
    The approximate borders of Ancient Mali at its greatest extent.
    Map including an image of Mansa Musa
    In this map generally attributed to Abraham Cresques (1325–87). The caption next to Mansa Musa can be translated as “Mansa Musa, who holds a scepter and a golden disc. He controlled a great portion of Africa, from Gambia and Senegal to Gao on the Niger, and had access to some of its richest gold deposits.”
    Previous: Sundiata Next: Timbuktu
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