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. Islamic law requires that all faithful Muslims make a hajj, or holy visit, to the city on the Arabian Peninsula where the faith was started.
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 Cairo, legends say he gave away so much gold that the price of it 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 Sahara Desert for the first time.
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 Moroccan soldiers were either killed or absorbed into the local population.
The Moroccan invasion destroyed Songhai, and with it the trade routes
that had brought prosperity to the region for hundreds of years.
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