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Mansa Musa – One of the Richest Men that Ever Lived…

Mansa Musa, was the tenth King of the Malian Empire from 1312-1337. His 25 – year reign was described by Levtzion, a renowned Historian, as “the golden age of Malian Empire.” His control of gold mines and key cities in the Saharan trade route afforded him the wealth needed to attract the attention of the European and Islamic world. Al-Omari, an ancient Muslim Historian, described Mansa Musa as “the most powerful, the richest, the most fortunate [and] the most feared by his enemies … in all of West Africa.” He was known for his devotion to Islam and his generosity of giving away gifts of gold while on the obligatory pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324. The entire journey took one year to complete, from 1324-1325, travelling around 3000 miles by Camels. His journey was documented by several eyewitnesses.

On Route to Mecca, he stopped in Cairo, Egypt in Rajab 724 (July 1324) and remained there for three months in a Palace provided by the Sultan of Egypt for the duration of his stay, before setting off to Mecca. He distributed presents and alms to the tribes he passed along the way travelling from Mali to Cairo and within Cairo itself. Egyptian merchants on hearing the news of his arrival raised the prices of their goods, charging five times more than the normal price, giving them large profits. He gave away so much gold and traded large amounts of gold for souvenirs that the price and value of gold in Egypt diminished considerably and would not recover for twelve years. He had also exhausted all the gold he had brought with him in Cairo through lavish presents and expensive shopping in the local markets that by the time he returned to Cairo after his pilgrimage to Mecca, he had no money left and was forced to borrow money from local Egyptian merchants at ridiculously high interest which he repaid when he returned to Mali.

People were in awe of his wealth and his extravagant and luxurious procession. In his caravan he brought sixty-thousand men dressed in fine silk and who bore gold staffs, eighty camels which varying reports claimed carried between fifty to three-hundred pounds of gold dust each, twelve-thousand servants, five-hundred of which carried gold staffs; slaves to carry the provisions, soldiers to guard the caravan, saddled horses, coloured flags and dignitaries. He also travelled with his senior wife, Inari Kunate, who brought with her five-hundred maids and he provided all necessities for the procession, feeding the entire company of men and animals.

On route, he also came in contact with many Arab Scholars and Architects who would later play important roles in developing Mali’s education system, construction and architecture tradition respectively for centuries to come.


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