BlackFacts Educational Series - Mansa Musa


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Musa I (circa 1280 – 1337), or Mansa Musa, was the tenth Mansa (a military title meaning "conqueror" or "emperor “) of the Mali Empire, an Islamic West African state.

At the time of Musa's ascension to the throne, Mali in large part consisted of the territory of the former Ghana Empire, which Mali had conquered.

During his reign, Musa held many titles, such as "Emir of Melle", "Lord of the Mines of Wangara", and "Conqueror of Ghanata".

Musa conquered 24 cities. During Musa's reign, Mali may have been the largest producer of gold in the world, and Musa has been considered one of the wealthiest historical figures.

Musa is generally referred to as "Mansa Musa" in Western manuscripts and literature. Other names used for Musa include "Mali-Koy Kankan Musa", "Gonga Musa", and "the Lion of Mali".


Mansa Musa's grandfather was Abu-Bakr Keita, a nephew of Sundiata Keita, the founder of the Malian Empire as recorded through oral histories.

Abu-Bakr did not ascend the throne, and his son, Musa's father, Faga Laye, has no significance in the History of Mali.

Mansa Musa came to the throne through a practice of appointing a deputy when a king goes on his pilgrimage to Mecca or some other endeavour, and later naming the deputy as heir.

Musa was appointed deputy of Abubakari Keita II, the king before him, who had reportedly embarked on an expedition to explore the limits of the Atlantic Ocean, and never returned.


Musa was a devout Muslim, and his pilgrimage to Mecca, also known as Makkah, made him well known across Northern Africa and the Middle East.

To Musa, Islam was "an entry into the cultured world of the Eastern Mediterranean". He would have spent much time fostering the growth of the religion within his empire.

Musa made his pilgrimage between 1324 and 1325 spanning 2,700 miles. His procession reportedly included 60,000 men. Musa feed the entire company of men and animals.

Those animals included 80 camels which each carried 23–136 kg (50–300 pounds) of gold dust. Musa gave the gold to the poor he met along his route.

Musa not only gave to the cities he passed on the way to Mecca, including Cairo and Medina, but also traded gold for souvenirs. It was reported that he built a mosque every Friday.

Because of his nature of giving, Musa's massive spending and generous donations created a massive ten year gold recession.


During his long return journey from Mecca in 1325, Musa heard news that his army had recaptured Gao. The city was at the time an important trading center.

Musa made a detour and visited the city. When he returned to Niani, where he used to live, brought back many Arabian scholars and architects.

Musa embarked on a large building program, raising mosques and madrasas in Timbuktu and Gao. Most notably, the ancient center of learning Sankore Madrasah was constructed during his reign.

In Niani, Musa built the Hall of Audience, a building communicating by an interior door to the royal palace. During this period, there was an advanced level of urban living in the major centres of Mali.

The University of Sankore in Timbuktu was staffed under Musa's reign with jurists, astronomers, and mathematicians. The university became a center of learning and culture.

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 death date of Mansa Musa is highly debated among modern historians and the Arab scholars who recorded the history of Mali.

When compared to the reigns of his successors, son Mansa Maghan and older brother Mansa Suleyman, and Musa's recorded 25 years of rule, the calculated date of death is 1337.

Narrated by Timbuktu.

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