Mansa Musa, the Muslim King of Mali Illustration

Mansa Musa
The Muslim King
of Mali

 Mansa Musa and his adventures put the kingdom of Mali on the map.

When he took over as king, the empire of Mali had grown so big that Mansa Musa knew he could not hear all the concerns of all his people. One of the first things he did was to divide the empire into provinces. He put a governor in charge of each province. Each village had a mayor. Business that affected the empire was done by Mansa Musa and his advisors. The day to day problems were handled locally. Mansa Musa did not turn his back on his people. He made sure the local governments were operating fairly and effectively.

Mali was rich when Mansa Musa came to power. The army guarded the gold mines. They guarded sections of the trade routes. There were usually about 90,000 men on duty at any one time. Wealth in the form of gold poured into Mali. Traders always stopped at Mali. They knew they would be welcomed, fed, housed, and safe. Mansa Musa was generous. Trade with Mali was always good for the traders who had come so far.

Mansa Musa established religious freedom. Education was free and encouraged. He even established a university. People came from all over the world to study at this famous university. When Muslim scholars visited Mali, they were surprised at the people's clothes. They didn't look like Muslims. The women were unveiled. The clothes were colorful. But Mansa Musa was a great host and a devout Muslim. The scholars were understanding. They found their host delightful, if a bit unusual.

Mansa Musa knew his people needed him to act like a king. Every time he left his palace, he took about 300 guards and musicians and acrobats with him. It was quite a sight. The people loved it. They gathered as people would to watch a parade, which is exactly what it was. They would cry out, "Mansa Musa!"

As Mansa Musa wandered about, accompanied by his many guards and performers, he gave out presents. Some people were handed luxury goods. Others were given a small nugget of gold. The elders of every town received special gifts. No wonder the people loved him. He had so much wealth. He believed it should be shared.

Mansa Musa wanted to travel and see the holy city of Mecca. Since things were going so well at home, Mansa Musa decided now was the time to see the holy city. Muslim requires that all the faithful visit Mecca at least once. With a huge number of guards and attendants - along with camels carrying  comforts, luxury items, and bags full of gold, Mansa Musa set out across the desert towards Mecca. On the way, he shared his wealth with the people he met.

By the time he reached Cairo, in Egypt, word of his wealth had spread. People were packed along the streets waiting for his arrival. Mansa Musa was amazed at how expensive things were. They were expensive because merchants increased their normal prices. Mansa Musa did not care. Ever thought he had given away so much gold on the trip, he had bagfuls left to spend. And spend he did. Mansa Musa left so much gold behind in Cairo, Egypt that it was rumored it too 12 years for prices in Egypt to get back to normal. (This is probably an urban legend, but certainly it took a little time for things to get back to normal.

By the time he was ready to return home, he had given out so much gold that he needed to borrow some to get home. But many nobles were eager to loan the king whatever he needed. They had no doubt they would be repaid. And they were. He gave paid back everyone who had loaned him gold to get home, more gold than he had been given.

The whole journey took about a year. He traveled around 3000 miles by camel. No one attempted to take over his kingdom while he was gone. Mansa Musa was a very smart man. To reduce the likelihood of a takeover, he had brought with him the most powerful people in his kingdom. He left the army in charge. They did a great job.

His people were glad he was home, but they were also so impressed. They thought it amazing that he was willing to make such a long trip, with so many dangers, just to see a faraway holy place. His trip had other results.  After his trip to Mecca, there was almost no one in the African world who did not know the great king, Mansa Musa. Scholars poured into Timbuktu, making it the most prestigious university in the land. Trade became even more brisk. Mansa Musa truly did put Mali on the map!

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