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Sundiata Keita: Mali’s Lion Prince

Sundiata Keita was born in 1217. He ruled the Mali Empire between 1235 and 1255. He is recorded on the Bible Timeline with World History between 1217 and 1260. Also known as Mali’s Lion Prince, the great warrior was the hero from the epic story of the Old Mali Empire.

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The Empires of West Africa

When the ancient Ghana Empire crumbled in the eleventh century, another empire took its place as the most powerful force in West Africa. The new empire was named Mali. It became wealthy and powerful after it took over the gold mining operations and Saharan trade from the Ghana Empire. Mali was said to be so wealthy that one of its kings owned as much as 10,000 horses. Just like other empires, it soon broke apart after it was attacked by the Berbers. The Muslim Songhai Empire rose after the disappearance of the Mali Empire.

“Extent of the Mali Empire”

Sundiata: Mali’s Lion Prince

Sundiata Keita was known as Mali’s Lion Prince because he was the empire’s first warrior and king. Modern readers know about Sundiata because he was the hero of the epic that bore his name. An Arab historian named ibn-Khaldun also wrote about him and his adventures. He was known as King Mari-Jata in ibn-Khaldun’s stories.

Sundiata was the son of Maghan Kon Fatta, chief of the Kangaba, by his wife, Sogolon Kedjou. His father was the chief of the Mandinka people (Malinke) who lived along the Sankarani River, and he had two other wives. His father’s other wives looked down on Sundiata’s mother because she was a hunchback and was ugly. Other people also mocked Sundiata because he was born crippled, but one day the young boy was healed through a miracle.

The young man became a popular hunter and a warrior. Soon, his older half-brother, Chief Dankaran Touman, became jealous of Sundiata’s popularity. Dankaran Touman made many attempts on his brother’s life, so Sundiata was forced to flee from their land.

Sundiata arrived in the kingdom of Mema (or Wagadou), and its King Tunkara offered him protection. In return, the young man served Tunkara as a warrior and later rose as an important commander of the army of Mema. Meanwhile, the King Sumanguru of the kingdom of Sosso marched his army and attacked Sundiata’s city of Kangaba. His brother, the Chief Dankaran Touman, was killed by King Sumangaru along with many members of the Kangaba royal family.

One member of their family survived. He immediately sent people to the kingdom of Mema to look for Sundiata. These men convinced Sundiata to come home and help them win against their enemy. The exiled prince agreed to go home, but he knew that he would not be able to defeat Sumanguru since many of their own warriors had died in battle. The king of Mema then gave Sundiata some of his own men to help him take back his homeland. Meanwhile, other warriors of the Mandinka also joined them as they marched near the city.

Sundiata and his troops won many battles against Sumanguru, but the king remained his great enemy for a long time. He finally found Sumanguru’s weakness and defeated him at the Battle at Kirina. The king of Sosso fled to his own country after his defeat. Sundiata and his men took back their own land.

The Mandinka chiefs had sworn their loyalty to Sundiata before, but they renewed their vow of loyalty to him after they won the war. They also agreed and proclaimed him as their new king in 1217. Each chief received a land of his own so that the kingdom became bigger. It soon became a great empire. The new king also ordered the people to build a new capital along the Sankarani River, and they called it Niani.

After the war, Sundiata repaid the king of Mema’s support with great gifts. They also became allies, and Mema became an independent kingdom within the Mali Empire. Sundiata Keita ruled until his death in 1255. He was succeeded by his only son, Uli I of Mali.

CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Niane, Djibril Tamsir., David W. Chappell, and Jim Jones. Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali. Harlow, England: Pearson Longman, 2006.
Oliver, Roland, ed. The Cambridge History of Africa C. 1050-c. 1600. Vol. 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.
Roberts, J. M., and Odd Arne Westad. The History of the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
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