Musa Keita I reigned between 1280 – 1337 AD, which was about 100 years ago and he was the tenth Mansa, which translates as “sultan” (king) or “emperor”, of the wealthy West African Mali Empire. At the time of Musa’s rise to the throne, the Malian Empire consisted of territory formerly belonging to the Ghana Empire in present-day southern Mauritania and in Melle (Mali) and the immediate surrounding areas. Musa held many titles, including Emir of Melle, Lord of the Mines of Wangara, Conqueror of Ghanata, and at least a dozen others. It is said that Mansa Musa had conquered 24 cities, each with surrounding districts containing villages and estates, during his reign.
Before Musa there had been several Mansa’s who were known for their adventure, explorations and wealth. It was said the ruler before Musa Mansa had been curious about the ends of the Atlantic Ocean and set off with 200 ships on an expedition that never returned, that was the sort adventurous spirit the Malians had, and the size of the expedition shows a lot of wealth and resources.
Musa himself travelled as far as Europe gathering knowledge and sharing his enormous wealth.
Construction in Mali
Musa embarked on a large building program, raising mosques and madrasas in Timbuktu and Gao. Most notably, the ancient center of learning Sankore Madrasah (or University of Sankore) was constructed during his reign.
In Niani, Musa built the Hall of Audience, a building communicating by an interior door to the royal palace. It was “an admirable Monument”, surmounted by a dome and adorned with arabesques of striking colours. The wooden window frames of an upper storey were plated with silver foil; those of a lower storey, with gold. Like the Great Mosque, a contemporaneous and grandiose structure in Timbuktu, the Hall was built of cut stone.
During this period, there was an advanced level of urban living in the major centers of the Mali. Sergio Domian, an Italian scholar of art and architecture, wrote of this period: “Thus was laid the foundation of an urban civilization. At the height of its power, Mali had at least 400 cities, and the interior of the Niger Delta was very densely populated.
Economy and education
It is recorded that Mansa Musa traveled through the cities of Timbuktu and Gao on his way to Mecca, and made them a part of his empire when he returned around 1325. He brought architects from Andalusia, a region in Spain, and Cairo to build his grand palace in Timbuktu and the great Djinguereber Mosque that still stands today.
Timbuktu soon became a center of trade, culture, and Islam; markets brought in merchants from Hausaland, Egypt, and other African kingdoms, a university was founded in the city (as well as in the Malian cities of Djenné and Ségou), and Islam was spread through the markets and university, making Timbuktu a new area for Islamic scholarship. News of the Malian empire’s city of wealth even traveled across the Mediterranean to southern Europe, where traders from Venice, Granada, and Genoa soon added Timbuktu to their maps to trade manufactured goods for gold.
The University of Sankore in Timbuktu was restaffed under Musa’s reign with jurists, astronomers, and mathematicians.The university became a center of learning and culture, drawing Muslim scholars from around Africa and the Middle East to Timbuktu.
In 1330, the kingdom of Mossi invaded and conquered the city of Timbuktu. Gao had already been captured by Musa’s general, and Musa quickly regained Timbuktu and built a rampart and stone fort, and placed a standing army to protect the city from future invaders.
While Musa’s palace has since vanished, the university and mosque still stand in Timbuktu today.
By the end of Mansa Musa’s reign, the Sankoré University had been converted into a fully staffed University with the largest collections of books in Africa since the Library of Alexandria. The Sankoré University was capable of housing 25,000 students and had one of the largest libraries in the world with roughly 1,000,000 manuscripts. It was a hub of learning and advancement.
These historical facts are sometimes avoided in the text books, with common statements like Africa being a dark continent being a larger reference point of historical Africa, and the slave trade as a more common pivot for Africa’s past rather than the huge civilizations of Timbuktu and ancient Egypt.
I was watching a news channel and an excavation of an ancient Egyptian mummy was being highlighted, as visuals of the tomb flashed before my eyes, I could not help but notice the paintings on the walls of the tomb. The pigmentation of the humans in the paintings were dark with African like features, eyes, nose, and other parts.
I think it’s time we propagate a balanced records of the history of all races, the amazing cities of Greece, the great kingdom of Persia, the timeless civilizations of Egypt, and the wealthy cities of Mali. Every race has everything to be proud about their history; every race had periods of civilization, growth and wealth.
It’s time we all reviewed what the world currently knows as black history.