Muhongerwa Mali Civilization: A Unique and Outstanding Pre-1500 African Civilization
‘I teach kings the history of their ancestors, so that the lives of the ancients might serve them as an example, for the world is old, but the future springs from the past.’ States Griot Djeli Mamadou Kouyate in “An epic of old Mali study guide” (Kouyate, 2019, p.1). The succession of kings in Mali indicates that, all the kings had the same goal of making Mali a great empire in the whole world (UNESCO,1979, P.60). Mali’s civilization left a remarkable spot in the whole world as it contributed to the development of trade, education and improved relationship among African countries, used by Mansa Musa, especially with the neighboring countries like Egypt.
Mali was the largest and wealthiest empire in west Africa and one of the most important trade centers in the world. Salt and Gold made the empire of Mali very rich, it was a safe place to do business. Merchants came from long distances to buy and sell their items for gold and salt (UNESCO,1979, P.61). Because Mali was well geographically located, having Niger river to the west and Senegal river to the east, the transportation of goods to and from different locations using boats down the rivers was easier.
Mali had great salt mines in the north, around Tegaza and Sahara Desert and Gold mines in the south (UNESCO,1979, P.61). Traders from many different places had to go through the kingdom of Mali, since all the trade routes passed through the kingdom, to get salt and gold where they paid a lot of taxes which brought revenue to the kingdom. Mali not only contributed to the development of trade in Africa but also across the whole world.
The development of Timbuktu city made this civilization more distinct. Mansa Musa built this city along the river Niger, it was one of the richest cities in the world. It was the home of two universities, 170 schools and a great library filled with books that held the wisdom of the world including translations of Greek and Roman books (UNESCO,1979, P.64). People came from all over the world, especially from Arabia and North Africa, to study at the library. Timbuktu as a learning center was at the same time a religious city, because mostly the teachings done in schools were based on Islamic religion.
According to a West African proverb: ‘Salt comes from the north, gold from the south and silver from the country of the white men, but the word of God and the treasures of wisdom are only to be found in Timbuktu (Understanding slavery initiative,2011). Also, Ibn Battuta illustrated this in his observations when he traversed the kingdom of Mali, where he wrote that, “Mali people were very zealous in their attempt to learn the holy Quran by heart” (Battuta,1353). Timbuktu had a very big impact to the world through being a center of education.
Mali had able leaders who had both vision and mission for the kingdom. The remarkable were Sundiata who fought for peace and stability for the kingdom and its people, and the famous Mansa Musa who was the richest (UNESCO,1979, P.60). Not only Mansa Musa wanted Mali to be an economic state, but also a recognized state over the whole world. He expanded Mali’s borders by conquering Timbuktu and Gao as well as developing trade routes.
Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca and visit to Cairo where he gave a lot of gold to the poor and bought many souvenirs from Cairo. This was not only a powerful way of showing gratitude and helping the poor, as stated in Islamic rules, but also showing the world that Mali was rich and powerful. In addition, this was also a great method of engaging the outside African community (UNESCO,1979, P.64). On his way back, he came with famous architects from Egypt who were going to build mosques and Mali’s royal palace for the emperor.
In short, Mali’s civilization had a very big influence on education in west Africa where the influx of trained minds, artists and artisans came from. This also contributed to the trade and made Mali a leading country in the world. The great leaders of Mali and its civilization left important marks in the African history. On the other hand, local storytellers, the griots, spoke of a different king, Mansa Musa, a foolish who wasted the imperial treasure. But later after his death, Mali started collapsing!
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