Mansa Mūsā, either the grandson or the grandnephew of Sundiata, the founder of his dynasty, came to the throne in to 1307. In the 17th year of his reign (1324), he set out on his famous pilgrimage to Mecca. It was this pilgrimage that awakened the world to the stupendous wealth of Mali. Cairo and Mecca received this royal personage, whose glittering procession, in the superlatives employed by Arab chroniclers, almost put Africa’s sun to shame. Traveling from his capital of Niani on the upper Niger River to Walata (Oualâta, Mauritania) and on to Tuat (now in Algeria) before making his way to Cairo, Mansa Mūsā was accompanied by an impressive caravan consisting of 60,000 men including a personal retinue of 12,000 enslaved persons, all clad in brocade and Persian silk. The emperor himself rode on horseback and was directly preceded by 500 enslaved persons, each carrying a gold-adorned staff. In addition, Mansa Mūsā had a baggage train of 80 camels, each carrying 300 pounds of gold.

Rulers of West African states had made pilgrimages to Mecca before Mansa Mūsā, but the effect of his flamboyant journey was to advertise both Mali and Mansa Mūsā well beyond the African continent and to stimulate a desire among the Muslim kingdoms of North Africa, and among many of European nations as well, to reach the source of this incredible wealth.

What effect did Mansa Musa’s Hajj have on Mecca?

 The trip to Mecca had a number of effects on the history of western Sudan. More importantly, the pilgrimage revealed Mali to Europe and the Middle East. The king had 30,000 pounds of gold with him, which indicated the enormous wealth of his empire.

Mansa Musa developed cities like Timbuktu and Gao into important cultural centers. He also brought architects from the Middle East and across Africa to design new buildings for his cities. Mansa Musa turned the kingdom of Mali into a sophisticated center of learning in the Islamic world.

Mansa Musa was said to have spent so much gold in Cairo that the value of bullion crashed by 20%. A Muslim like his royal predecessors, Mansa Musa brought back architects and scholars from his pilgrimageto Mecca who would build mosques and universities that made such cities as Timbuktu internationally famous.

The Impact of Mansa Musa Pilgrimage to Mecca on the History of Africa

Historians consider Mansa Musa’s pilgrim journey to Mecca as one of the most interesting stories in the history of Africa (Woods & Tucker, 2006). This is because Musa was a king who ruled one of the richest empires in ancient Africa. Mansa Musa trip to Mecca is also interesting because it was spectacular in terms of the number of people involved and the gifts that the king’s entourage carried. This paper provides an account of the pilgrimage journey that Mansa Musa took to Mecca in 1324, and discusses its impact in the history of Western Sudan.

There is no argument about why did Mansa Musa travel to Mecca as historians know that he was a devout Muslim, and every Muslim must carry out at least one hajj to Kaaba located in Mecca. In 1324, he started making preparations for his initial pilgrimage journey to Mecca. The distance between Mali and Mecca is approximately 3000 miles. Therefore, it took officials and servants from his empire several months to make adequate preparations for the journey. The initial step in making preparations involved the collection of animals which were to be used as sources of food as well as carry luggage. The animals included goats, cows, and camels. Items to be carried by the animals included gold, food, and clothing. More than 30,000 pounds of gold were carried among 100 camels. A large number of people were also included in the caravan that accompanied the king. It is estimated that the convoy consisted of 60,000 people of whom 12,000 were slaves (Woods & Tucker, 2006). Others included 500 maids who were identified by the king’s first wife, soldiers, storytellers, teachers, and doctors (Woods & Tucker, 2006).

Mansa Musa and his caravan assembled in the city of Niani from where they started their journey. The sounds of the royal drums signified the beginning of the journey and 500 slaves carrying gold staff led the way to Mecca. The king rode on a camel, and he carried with him the flag of the empire. They passed through the Sahara Desert towards Egypt. After eight months, Musa arrived in Cairo and visited Sultan El Malik en Nasir (Woods & Tucker, 2006). After the visit to the Sultan, Musa and his entourage headed for Mecca in Arabia. In Arabia, he attracted the attention of very many people who lined on the streets just to get a glimpse of his entourage. In Mecca, he performed a hajj after which he returned back to his empire. However, it is noted that Mansa Musa was very generous because he gave away gifts in form of money and gold whenever he made a stop during the trip to and from Mecca.

The journey to Mecca had a number of effects on the history of Western Sudan. Most significantly, the pilgrimage journey exposed Mali to Europe and the Middle East. The king had carried 30,000 pounds of gold, which signified the immense wealth in his empire. This created an impression on his acquaintances. It is believed that he was the first person to make Western Sudan known beyond the north of the African continent. He also developed new ties with the Muslims who later on visited his empire as merchants. The merchants built mosques and established schools in the empire. This created the foundation for the Muslim religion and education in Mali. The merchants also expanded the trade networks of the empire, and Mali’s main city of Timbuktu become a central point of trade in Western Sudan. Merchants from Western Sudan exchanged gold for salt from the north of the Sahara Desert and the Middle East.Mansa Musa I was the ruler of the Mali Empire in West Africa from 1312 to 1337. Controlling territories rich in gold and copper, and monopolising trade between the north and interior of the continent, Mali grew extremely wealthy. Mansa Musa was said to have spent so much gold in Cairo that the value of bullion crashed by 20%.

A Muslim like his royal predecessors, Mansa Musa brought back architects and scholars from his pilgrimage to Mecca who would build mosques and universities that made such cities as Timbuktu internationally famous. Mansa Musa’s 1324 stopover in Cairo, though, would spread Mali’s fame even further and on to Europe where tall tales of this king’s fabulous wealth in gold began to stir the interest of traders


Mansa Musa & the Empire

Mansa Kanku Musa took power in 1312 and inherited an already prosperous Mali kingdom; he would reign until 1337. Mansa was the traditional Mali title meaning ‘king’ and Musa was the grand nephew of the founder Sundiata Keita. Mansa Musa gained the throne after his predecessor, Mansa Abu Bakr II, sailed out into the Atlantic with a large fleet of ships and was never seen again. Exploration’s loss was Mali’s gain, and Mansa Musa, nominated to rule while Abu Bakr II satisfied his curiosity as to what lay over the horizon, would become one of the greatest rulers in the entire history of Africa.

With an army numbering around 100,000 men, including an armoured cavalry corps of 10,000 horses, and with the talented general Saran Mandian, Mansa Musa was able to extend and maintain Mali’s vast empire, doubling its territory and making it second in size only to that of the Mongol Empire at the time. Mali controlled lands up to the Gambia and lower Senegal in the west; in the north, tribes were subdued along the whole length of the Western Sahara border region; in the east, control spread up to Gao on the Niger River and, to the south, the Bure region and the forests of what became known as the Gold Coast came under Mali oversight. This latter region was left semi-independent because gold production had always been much higher when more autonomy was granted there. The Mali Empire would never control such large territories or natural resources under any of its subsequent rulers.To better govern this vast expanse of land containing a multitude of tribes and ethnic groups, Mansa Musa divided his empire into provinces with each one ruled by a governor (farba) appointed personally by him. The administration was further improved with greater records kept and sent to the centralised government offices at Niani. The wealth of the state increased thanks to taxes on trade, the Mali-controlled copper and gold mines, and the imposition of tribute from conquered tribes. Mansa Musa thus became extremely wealthy, perhaps even the richest person in history.

Mansa Musa in Cairo

Mansa Musa, like many other devout Mali rulers before and after, set off for a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, but when he arrived in Cairo in July of that year en route, he caused an absolute sensation. The Mali ruler’s camel caravan had crossed the Sahara and when he arrived in Egypt, even the Sultan was astounded by the wealth this West African king had brought with him. In some accounts, each of 100 camels carried 135 kilos or 300 pounds of gold dust while 500 slaves each brandished a 2.7 kilo (6 pounds) gold staff. In addition, there were hundreds of other camels loaded down with foodstuffs and textiles, horse riders waving the huge red and gold banners of the king, and an impressive human entourage of servants and officials that numbered in the tens of thousands. In an extreme gesture of largesse, Mansa Musa would give away so much gold and his entourage spend so much shopping in the markets of the city that the value of gold dinar in Cairo crashed by 20% (in relation to the silver dirham); it would take 12 years for the flooded gold market to recover.

.The king of Mali had given 50,000 gold dinars to the sultan of Egypt merely as a first-meeting gesture The sultan was rather ignoble in return and insisted that Mansa Musa kiss the ground in homage. In all other respects, though, this ruler from Africa’s mysterious interior was treated like the royalty he was, given a palace for his three-month stay, and lauded wherever he went. The Arab historian Al-Makrizi (1364-1442) gives the following description of the king of Mali:

He was a young man with a brown skin, a pleasant face and good figure…His gifts amazed the eye with their beauty and splendour.

An indication of the impression Mansa Musa had made is that news of his Cairo visit eventually reached Europe. In Spain, a mapmaker was inspired to create Europe’s first detailed map of West Africa. Created c. 1375, the map, part of the Catalan Atlas, has Mansa Musa sitting regally on a throne, wearing an impressive gold crown, and holding a golden staff in one hand and, somewhat gleefully, a huge nugget or orb of gold in the other. It was such tales of gold that would inspire later European explorers to brave disease, warlike tribes, and inhospitable terrain to find the fabled riches of Timbuktu, the golden city of the desert that nobody quite knew where to place on the map even in the 18th century.

After Cairo, Mansa Musa would travel on to Arabia where he purchased land and houses so that pilgrims from Mali who followed in his footsteps might have a place to stay. The king was inspired by the holy sites he saw there and on his return to Mali, he built a dazzling audience chamber at Niani and mosques at Gao and Timbuktu. These included the ‘great mosque’ in the latter city, also known as Djinguereber or Jingereber. The buildings were designed by the famous architect Ishak al-Tuedjin (d. 1346 and also a noted poet) from Andalusian Granada, who had been enticed from Cairo following Mansa Musa’s visit there – the inducement included 200 kilos (440 pounds) of gold, slaves, and a swathe of land along the Niger River. The mosque was completed by 1330, and al-Tuedjin lived the rest of his life in Mali. A royal palace or madugu was built in the capital city and Timbuktu, along with fortification walls to protect the latter city against raids by the Tuareg, the nomads of the southern Sahara. Due to the lack of stone in the region, Mali buildings were typically constructed using beaten earth (banco) reinforced with wood which often sticks out in beams from the exterior surfaces

Mansa Musa was also inspired by the universities he had seen on his pilgrimage, and he brought back to Mali both books and scholars. The king greatly encouraged Islamic learning, especially at Timbuktu, which, with its mosques, universities, and many Koranic schools, became not only the holiest city in the Sudan region of Western Africa but also an internationally famous centre of culture and religious study. In addition, Mansa Musa sent native religious scholars to Fez in Morocco to learn what they could and then return to Mali as teachers. With these education links there were, too, diplomatic ones with Arab states, as well as the flow of investment into Mali, as Egyptian traders and others sought access to the lucrative movement of goods across West Africa




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