Mansa Musa: The African King Who Re-defined Wealth

In the year 2018, one of the biggest blockbuster films was released. Black Panther! This particular movie’s release haphazardly ushered in a new era of black, and more significantly, African pride.

Boasting rather appropriately of a majorly black cast, the movie’s protagonist is the super-powered King of the fictional land of Wakanda, hidden somewhere in Africa. The kicker being, Wakanda sits on an abundance of the most precious mineral in the world- Vibranium. Thus, having utilized this mineral, its people are the most technologically advanced society the world is yet to see!

This in its self is well, noteworthy, eclipsing this, however, are the many pleasures enjoyed by the ruler of this seemingly perfect civilization. The king is by far, the wealthiest individual in the world owing of course, to his absolute control over among other things, the neigh invaluable vibranium.

Fictional in its entirety, still, a handful of the movie’s themes bear an uncanny familiarity to an ooh so real African King; ruler of the 14th Century Mali empire, Musa Keita 1 alias Mansa Musa 1. The film has, in a sense, paid homage to Africa’s truest form, one of infinite magnificence.

A super-powered Mansa Musa would make for quite the tale, however, at least according to history, the Mali King was not super powered-not in the conventional sense anyway. Nonetheless, he more than made up for his lack of super strength with a strategic mind, not to mention his deep sense of culture, heritage and religion but of the most renown, his astronomical wealth.

Colored photo of Mansa Musa 1

Mansa Musa’s ascent to power was of pure circumstance as the incumbent, King Abu Bakr 11 got lost at sea on an expedition across the Atlantic Ocean. It so follows that Musa 1 inherited an already robust kingdom teeming with natural resources such as salt, gold and ivory. It was as a result of Musa Keita’s brilliance and design, however, that the Kingdom expanded to legendary status. By seizing control of key trade routes across the vast Sahara, Mediterranean ports and cities along major rivers, the empire of Mali was at the time, not only the wealthiest but the most expansive African Kingdom, spanning the regions of Burkina Faso, Guinea, Chad, Gambia, Mauritania, Senegal, Niger and Nigeria.

With such a far-flung territory under his command, it seemed only natural for Mansa Musa to transform his kingdom into one that was indeed fit for a king. The city of Timbuktu was of particular interest to Mansa Musa as it had been for years a centre of learning and religion. As a staunch Muslim himself, Mansa oversaw the construction of the Djinguereber mosque further elevating the city’s repute as a religious hub.

Djinguereber Mosque, Timbuktu, Mali. Built by Mansa Musa

The mosque stands tall to this day albeit a shadow of its former self owing to decades of erosion by the elements and looting by unscrupulous individuals. The World Heritage Committee has added it to the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger. In the same breath, Musa Keita 1 established one of Africa’s first Islamic universities which in turn attracted scholars from across the Islamic world. This cemented Timbuktu as not just an educational centre, but an urban one as well, whose glamour persisted centuries after Musa Keita’s passing.

Djinguereber Mosque outside view

King Musa Keita’s influence was multidirectional, impacting the lives of many both within his realm and continents away. His immeasurable wealth perhaps, best served as the tool for his reach and command.
Detailed chronicles of his pilgrimage to Mecca for one, describe caravans stretching beyond sight all glimmering with gold, an entourage of salves donned in fine silk bearing gold staffs, tens of thousands of civilians and heralds with bags full of precious ivory and salt.

All while erecting mosques and other infrastructural fetes along the way.
While in Cairo Musa Keita 1 met with the Egyptian Sultan as his caravan, on the other hand, spent and gave away so much gold, that its overall value decreased, effectively destabilizing the Egyptian economy for more than a decade.

News of Mansa Musa’s lavishness eventually spread north, to Europe where at the time, the populous was ravaged by disease, famine and war. It was then that a man of Musa’s wealth made his mark on the world- quite literally. The publication of the 1375 C.E Catalan Altas portrays Mansa Musa on a golden throne with, of course, a nugget of gold and a golden staff on the other domineering over West Africa. Musa Keita 1’s life paints a picture of the larger Africa, one of splendour and unfathomable richness of culture, religion, resources and above all else, people. It is painted on our black skin; greatness!

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