Mansa Musa, King of Mali (1312-1337)
Posted By: Marwan Fateen on February 11, 2008 |
Mansa Kankan Musa
When Mansa Musa came to power, Mali already had firm control of the trade routes to the southern lands of gold and the northern lands of salt. Now Musa brought the lands of the Middle Niger under Mali's rule. He enclosed the cities of Timbuktu and Gao within his empire. He imposed his rule on trans-desert trading towns such as Walata. He pushed his armies northward as far as the important salt-producing place called Taghaza, on the northern side of the great desert. He sent them eastward beyond Gao to the borders of Hausaland. He sent them westward into Takrur.
So it came about that Musa enclosed a large part of the Western **** within a single system of law and order. He did this so successfully that the Moroccan writer Ibn Batuta, travelling through Mali about twelve years after Musa's death, found 'complete and general safety in the land'. This was a big political success, and made Mansa Musa one of the greatest statesmen in the history of Africa.
The Dyula (Wangara) traders were greatly helped by all this. Their trading companies began to travel in many parts of West Africa. These Dyula traders were men of skill and energy. But they also drew strength from being Muslims. Belonging to Islam gave them unity. They stuck together even when members of their trading companies came from different clans or territories.
Like the Mali kings before him, Musa was a Muslim. But most of his people were not Muslims, so he supported the religion of the Mandinka people as well as Islam. Different religious customs and ceremonies were allowed at his court.
Musa's pilgrimage to Mecca became famous. He began it in 1324. His magnificent journey through the Egyptian capital of Cairo was long remembered with admiration and surprise throughout Egypt and Arabia, for Musa took with him so much gold, and gave away so many golden gifts, that 'the people of Cairo earned very big sums' thanks to his visit.
So generous was Musa with his gifts, indeed, that he upset the value of goods on the Cairo market. Gold became more plentiful and therefore worth less, and so prices rose.
See Map of Mali
The North African scholar, al-Omari, who lived in Cairo a few years after Mansa Musa's visit and wrote about it, declared that of all the Muslim rulers of West Africa Musa was 'the most powerful, the richest, the most fortunate, the most feared by his enemies and the most able to do good to those around him'. Behind these words of praise we can glimpse the power and reputation that Mali drew from its control of a very wide region of trade in precious goods such as gold, salt, ivory and kola nuts.
Mali was now a power of more than local or even regional significance. Under Mansa Musa, Mali ambassadors were established in Morocco, Egypt, and elsewhere. Mali's capital was visited by North African and Egyptian scholars. On returning from pilgrimage, Musa brought back with him a number of learned men from Egypt. These settled in Mali and Timbuktu. One of them, called
as-Saheli, designed new mosques at Gao and Timbuktu, and built a palace for the emperor. The fashion of building houses in brick now began to be popular among wealthy people in the cities of the Western ****.
Niani, the capital of all this empire, has long since disappeared. Yet as late as the sixteenth century, the Moroccan traveller Leo Africanus (Hassan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan az-Zayyati) could still describe it as a place of 'six thousand hearths', and its inhabitants as 'the most civilized, intelligent and respected' of all the peoples of the Western ****.
The spread of Islam also called for new methods of rule. Mansa Musa opened courts of law for Muslims, alongside the old courts of law for those who were not Muslims.
Western Africa Before the Colonial Era, A History to 1850, by Basil Davidson, 1998, pp. 42-43
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