More than sixty years after the reign of Sundiata Keita, one of his descendants rose to become the King of Mali. His name was Mansa Musa, and he was a devout Muslim. Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca happened between 1324 and 1325. He brought a large entourage with him which impressed people everywhere they went. He spent a lot of gold in the cities they passed through on the way to Mecca. Because of his kingdom’s abundance of gold, Mansa Musa was known as one of the richest men who ever lived on earth. These events are recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History during that time.
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An African Adventure
Mansa Musa was born in 1280 in Niani, Mali. He was the grandnephew of the first king of the Mali Empire, Sundiata Keita. He was also the grandson and successor of Abu Bakr II who, out of curiosity, decided to explore the Atlantic Ocean. He ordered his people to build a fleet of ships and left the kingdom to the care of his cousin Musa. After bringing their provisions on board, King Abu Bakr II and his men sailed off west. They never returned, and Musa was proclaimed as the new Mansa (king) of the Mali empire in 1312.
Mansa Musa and the Journey to Mecca
When he became the 10th king of the Mali Empire, the kingdoms of Gao and Mani were under Mansa Musa’s rule. His reign was said to be the height of the Mali Empire. The Empire was rich because of the abundance of gold in the territory. Mali had a rule that all the gold mined in the empire should always be given to the king, and this was how Mansa Musa became as wealthy as he did.
He also wanted to travel, but his plan was to head east to Mecca instead of the Atlantic Ocean. After several years of planning, the king’s journey to Arabia finally started in 1324. His wife Inari Kanute, officials, soldiers, camel drivers, merchants, and slaves all joined him in the journey. From their homeland in Mali, Mansa Musa’s caravan traveled north and crossed the Sahara Desert into Egypt. The king’s caravan made a stopover in Cairo where Mansa Musa met the city’s governor.
Mansa Musa’s entourage impressed the governor of Cairo, but what really amazed him was the amount of gold the king and his people brought with them. Mansa Musa showered the Egyptian court in Cairo with gold, and the city would remember his generosity for many years. Unfortunately, the shopkeepers of the city tricked and overcharged Mansa Musa’s people whenever they shopped in their markets. The amount of gold he gave away to the people of Cairo was so large that its value went down for many years.
They continued the journey to Mecca after three months in Cairo. The journey to Arabia was full of danger and multiple mishaps. Those who were not killed by thirst or hunger in the desert died when they were attacked by bandits. They finally arrived in Mecca after many months. The group remained there for a while until Musa decided that it was time to return home. He and his companions retraced their steps in the coast of Arabia, and finally went back to Egypt. But this time, the great king had no money nor gold to give away as his treasures had run out. Sadly, he had to borrow money from Cairo’s moneylenders so that he and his people could go home.
Legacy of Mansa Musa’s Pilgrimage
Mansa Musa’s journey and his lavish spending in Cairo introduced his West African kingdom to Europe, North Africa, and West Asia. When merchants heard of his wealth, they organized caravans and traveled to make their fortunes in the Mali Empire. Egyptian and Moroccan merchants, in particular, traded more frequently in the empire. North African rulers also sent envoys to the Mali Kingdom after they heard of Mansa Musa’s incredible wealth.
Conrad, David C. Empires of Medieval West Africa: Ghana, Mali, and Songhay. New York: Facts On File, 2005.
Levtzion, Nehemia. The Cambridge History of Africa, Vol 3 from c. 1050 to c. 1600. Edited by Roland Oliver and J.D. Fage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.
Magill, Frank N., ed. The Middle Ages: Dictionary of World Biography. Vol. 2. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1998.
Tesfu, Julianna. “Musa, Mansa (1280-1337) .” The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. Accessed January 11, 2017. http://www.blackpast.org/gah/musa-mansa-1280-1337.
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