History of Ancient Mali

Meaning of the word Mali: Mali means "hippopotamus" or "where the king resides."

Timeline: 500-1700 &endash; West Africa was home to three rich and powerful civilizations, each gaining more power than the previous. These civilizations were called Ghana, Mali and Songhay. Ghana, known as Land of Gold, was eventually conquered. The next kingdom to rise was Mali.

For 300 years, kings from the Keita clan ruled Mali, which was a small state or kingdom.

1230 &endash; A young, strong, courageous man named Sundiata, became the king of Mali. Through his great leadership with agriculture and trade, he was able to build one of the greatest empires ever known. Future kings continued to increase the power of the empire and increase its riches through gold and salt trade.

Kings: Mali was ruled by rich and powerful kings. Two of the greatest kings were Sundiata and Mansu Musa. Sundiata founded the empire of Mali. Sundiata means "hungering lion" and was called the Lion King of Mali. Mansa Musa ruled Mali in 1300 and doubled its size. Through his actions, he opened the way for Muslim merchants, scholars, and architects to come to Mali. The king ruled the entire empire and had control of the gold-salt trade.

Griots: Old French for "Keeper of Memories." This is the term for the singers, storytellers, historians, and musicians who traditionally retold Mali's history. Griots exist today in Mali. They are also called Djali's (JAH-lees) or Djeli's (JAY-lees). They often play musical instruments to accompany their histories. Most of what we know about Mali's history comes from oral accounts that were handed down from storytellers. In Mali, the griots were political advisors to the king and memorized all of the history, which they told through stories, poetry, music, and dance. Families lived in clans and most of them had a griot who told the family history. The griots were so important to the king that when one king stole another's griot it was an act of war.

More information about The Empire of Mali can be found on the Mali-Ancient Crossroads of Africa website.

Mali Main Page

Page created by: Michelle Crabill and Bruce Tiso
Curator: Brooks Widmaier
January 2003