Government of Ancient Mali

Ancient Mali was ruled by powerful kings. They wore clothing made of gold and silk thread. Gold bars were reserved for the kings. Only gold dust was used in trading. The king's griots or storytellers were the most powerful griots in the empire.

Famous leaders:

Sundiata Keita: His name means "hungering lion." He was called the Lion King. He united many people and built a strong military to protect the trade routes. Sundiata had his army clear new farmland for planting crops and introduced cotton which became an important export. He is known for taking a kingdom and building an empire. He died after ruling for approximately 25 years.

Mansa Musa: Mansa means "sultan, emperor or chief." Musa means "Moses." Mansa Musa become known as Mali's "Black Moses." He also ruled for 25 years and doubled the size of Mali. He described his kingdom as "a year's journey in length." Mansa Musa was a Muslim and Islamic law requires that all faithful Muslim's make a visit to the city of Mecca where their religion was started. This pilgrimage is called a haj. During the haj, Mansa Musa traveled 3,000 miles by camel caravan. He took many powerful people with him so that they would not take over the country in his absence. He also took a great amount of gold which he spent and gave away along the route. He had to borrow money for his return trip. Mansa Musa established the first Islamic university in Timbuktu where scholars studied Arabic, surgical procedures, science and math. During his rule, the army kept the peace and patrolled the trade routes. The empire was divided into provinces with its own governor and towns that were led by a mochrif or mayor.

Online slide show of Sundiata's life.

Online story of Sundiata's life.

Information on Sundiata, a king of ancient Mali.

Website about griots from the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.

Find out about Mansa Musa.

Mali Main Page

Page created by: Sang Im and Brooks Widmaier
Curator: Brooks Widmaier
January 2003