February 7, 2023
Mansa Musa is potentially the richest person to ever live; as ruler of Mali from 1312 to 1337, he came into power after his brother, King Abu Bakr the Second, vanished on an oceanic voyage. Abu Bakr’s kingdom was already wealthy, but Mansa Musa made it even wealthier under his reign. Mali was a hub for trade, mainly because of the abundant amount of salt and gold; the two of the most coveted and in-demand items in the time of Mansa Musa.
As a Muslim, Mansa Musa went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1334. This voyage displayed the riches of Mali to the rest of the world. With him went sixty thousand men and numerous camels carrying 300 pounds of gold. Mansa Musa’s wealth was so great that for twelve years after he passed through Egypt, the value of gold dropped due to his spending. He was loved by many who lived in Mali, but not all, in particular, Griots, Malian historians and storytellers of the time, rarely sang positively about him; in their eyes he wasted Mali’s gold in foreign lands. Instead the modern view of Mansa Musa mostly originates from the outside world. Mansa Musa met with Egyptian rulers, who saw his inconceivable displays of wealth and power. News of his riches even reached as far as Europe, where his depiction in the Catalan Atlas sold his reputation as the richest man to ever live.
After his voyage to Mecca, he focused on Mali: Mansa Musa built Mosques, schools, and all kinds of public buildings. His kingdom grew to 2,000 miles long, spanning from modern day Niger to the Atlantic. Over Mansa Musa’s entire rule, he brought 24 cities into his empire. including Timbuktu. Because of Mansa Musa’s education efforts, Timbuktu became a hub of not only trade but Islamic thought. He brought back with him descendants of Mohammed, Islamic scholars, and architect Abu Es Haq es Saheli, who went on to create the Djinguereber mosque. Mansa Musa is primarily responsible for West African education during and after his reign.
However, after Mansa Musa’s rule, the kingdom of Mali fell apart. Mansa Musa’s sons were not able to keep a kingdom as large as Mali together. Mali split, and with that, was much weaker when Europeans arrived. Like pre-Columbian Native American civilizations such as the Cahokia, it’s hard to learn the history of a place already in decline or in ruin.
The story of Mansa Musa highlights the importance of Black history, as stories from every ethnicity and from every corner of the globe are important and need to be told. History, like everything in life, must be preserved or it will be lost forever.
Mohamud, N.M. (2019, March 10). Is Mansa Musa the richest man who ever lived? BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-47379458
Mansa Musa (Musa I of Mali) | National Geographic Society. (n.d.). https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/mansa-musa-musa-i-mali/