Mansa Musa

The King of Mali


The rulers of the kingdom of Mali took the title Mansa, which means "emperor" in Arabic. The most famous of these rulers was Mansa Musa (Arabic for Moses). During his 25 years as ruler, he extended the boundaries of the kingdom, encouraged learning and the arts (art, architecture, and literature), and set an example as a devout Muslim.

In 1324, Mansa Musa made his hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca. This journey put Mali, Timbuktu, and Mansa Musa on the map! A map made for the Catalan Atlas of King Charles in 1375 helped spread the stories of the riches and power of this kingdom.

Mansa Musa captured the attention of the Arab world when he left his home in Mali to make a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324.  Unlike Sundiata, Mansa Musa truly was a Muslim. Islamic law requires that all faithful Muslims make a pilgrimage, or holy visit, to the city on the Arabian peninsula where the faith was started.  Mansa Musa was said to have taken more than 500 people with him, each carrying a staff of solid gold.  When Mansa Musa passed through Cairo, he gave away so much gold that the price of gold fell and the economy was effected for more than twenty years.

Mansa Musa is shown on this Spanish map of Africa.

Mansa Musa and his caravan passed through Walata and Tuat on its way across the desert to Cairo, where the good Muslim Mansa Musa gave generously to the poor and made presents to others. It is told that there was so much gold in circulation that its value fell and had not recovered even 12 years later. Mansa Musa visited the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and again was generous with his gold. He asked his new friend, the Arab poet and architect Abu-Ishaq Ibrahim-es-Saheli, and other scholars to return with him. After they returned to Mali, Mansa Musa had es-Saheli build a mosque (Islamic place of worship) at Gao, an auditorium at Niani, and a mosque as well as a palace at Timbuktu. Es- Saheli introduced the use of burnt brick (red brick) as a building material to this region. 

The appearance of a wealthy king from a far away land made a deep impression, and Mali began to appear on maps throughout the Middle East and Europe.  Sub-Saharan Africa was well known north of the Sahara Desert for the first time.Mansa Musa's pilgrimage resulted in the spread of tales of wonder and glory about the kingdom of Mali. The Sankore University of Timbuktu attracted many scholars. Trade increased. The treasury was overflowing. Curiosity about the region grew.

Mansa Musa was followed in power by less able leaders and in time another kingdom, Songhay, replaced Mali.


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