The Ghana Empire (c. 300 until c. 1100)
The Ghana Empire was located in what is now southeastern Mauritania, western Mali, and eastern Senegal, and derived its power from the control of trans-Saharan trade, particularly gold trade. The word ghana means warrior or war chief and was the title given to the rulers of the kingdom.
When the Gold Coast in 1957 became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to regain its independence from colonial rule, it was renamed in honor of the long-gone empire from which the ancestors to the Akan people of modern-day Ghana are thought to have migrated.
The Mali Empire (c. 1230–1670)
At its peak, Mali was the largest empire in West Africa, profoundly and widely influencing the culture of the region through the spread of its language, laws and customs.
Mansa Musa (ruled from c.1312 to c.1337)
Mansa Musa, was the tenth Mansa (a military title meaning “conqueror” or “emperor”) of the Mali Empire, an Islamic West African state. He has been described as the wealthiest individual in all human history. Musa conquered 24 cities, along with their surrounding districts. During Musa’s reign, Mali may have been the largest producer of gold in the world.
Musa was a devout Muslim, and his pilgrimage to Mecca 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 spend 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, all wearing brocade and Persian silk, including 12,000 slaves,who each carried 1.8 kg (4 lb) of gold bars, and heralds dressed in silks, who bore gold staffs, organized horses, and handled bags. Musa provided all necessities for the procession, feeding the entire company of men and animals. Those animals included 80 camels which each carried 23–136 kg (50–300 lb) of gold dust. The gold dust was given 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.
Because of his nature of giving, Musa’s massive spending and generous donations created a massive ten year gold recession. In the cities of Cairo, Medina, and Mecca, the sudden influx of gold devalued the metal significantly. Prices of goods and wares became greatly inflated. This mistake became apparent to Musa and on his way back from Mecca, he borrowed all of the gold he could carry from money-lenders in Cairo at high interest. This is the only time recorded in history that one man directly controlled the price of gold in the Mediterranean.
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 the center of trade, culture, and Islam; markets brought in merchants from Egypt and other African kingdoms, a university was founded in several cities, 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.
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