Today I met the great Mansa Musa, riding on his camel with a great procession all around him, leading the way to the Holy City of Mecca.
Oh what wondrous things the great emperor has done! All will know of his majesty for all time.
Do you know the great Mansa Musa?
He is the ruler of the great Manden Kurufaba (known to you as the empire of Mali), West Africa’s haven of prosperity, knowledge and good health. He came to power after Abu-Bakr II and embraced the ways of Allah. Timbuktu was already a great city in Manden Kurufaba when he became king, having being founded by the Kel Tamasheq, Songhay and Arabs in the 11th century, but Mansa Musa elevated the city to great heights in all facets of life.
I met him on his way to the Holy City of Mecca. He looked splendid, adorned with his majestic robes of light-hued colours and decorated with gold trimmings. On his head, he wore a white headscarf beneath his gem-encrusted gold crown. His vast number of escorts, equally dressed in spectacular clothing and riding on camels, carried his gifts of food, spices, clothing, books and gold.
Mansa Musa wasn’t a man to keep wealth to himself.
No; he was a noble king with a heart as vast as the ocean, and along his journey to the Holy City, he gave gifts to the poor and gave favorably to the rulers of lands he crossed along the way. When he came to our village, I was one of the few girls to stand in front to see him. He stopped right in front of me to ask me my name, to which I replied “Hawa”.
He told me that not only was I beautiful, but he could see something special in me and that I had a bright future. He said that he wanted to offer me a precious gift that would greatly enrich my life and that of my family. And with that, he presented me with 3 books; one about mathematics to challenge my mind, one about philosophy to understand the world and one about poetry to see the world in colour.
He said that it was important to take my place in the world and equip myself with skills to lead. Women here in Manden Kurufaba are strong, wise and highly esteemed. They investigate the stars to script details about the universe while ensuring the good health of their families. They contribute to knowledge through writing and serve skillfully in the military to protect our borders.
My mother is one such highly esteemed woman, serving as a general in the army and as a professor at the empire’s prime centre of learning and culture, Sankoré Madrasah. She has been teaching me to fight as skillfully as she does, and has written many great journals about military strategy. My father is a highly intelligent man who has written many journals on language and literature. Our family’s pride and joy is the library that my father has built since he was a young boy, so he was overjoyed when he saw me receive my gifts from Mansa Musa.
I too was overwhelmed with joy, and I thanked the emperor while promising him that I would read every page of the books and pass on my knowledge. He gave my family and me the greatest gift anyone could ask for because books are a precious commodity in this land.
He continued along his journey after passing through our village and giving out gifts of good will to the people. Word soon spread throughout the empire of his good work.
He built a mosque every Friday along his journey and even traded gold for souvenirs and gave the precious metal as gifts to leaders because he was so wealthy. Gold dust flowed from his hands as water in a river. He gave out so much gold and valuable goods that the markets throughout Africa couldn’t contain it. The sudden influx of gold devalued the metal through all the regions that Mansa Musa traveled, and the price of goods inflated. His acts of good will threw the markets, especially the one in Cairo, into disarray.
In our village, we had so much food that every day was a feast. It was if the floodgates of Heaven had opened up and rained blessings upon the people. I was especially happy about my present of books, and every day after sword training and cooking with my mother, I would sit under the baobab tree in our yard and read my books from Mansa Musa with my father.
When Mansa Musa returned from the Holy City, he brought with him great wealth in the form of scholars from the Arab world, architects, artisans, government leaders and more insight into education. He even brought back the sons of the Gao king, Ali Kolon and Suleiman Nar, to be educated in his court after his army recaptured the city while he was on his journey back from the Holy City. He favored knowledge so much that he chose to educate those who rebelled against him.
The gold market is still in tatters after his action of good will along his journey to the Holy City. The precious metal is still devalued in Cairo, and this has spread to Medina and Mecca. To correct the markets, he decided to borrow all the gold he could carry from money-lenders at high interest in the most affected city by the price drop, Cairo. I believe that he will go down in history as the man who directly affected the price of gold throughout Africa and the distant Middle East.
Since his return from his pilgrimage, the city of Timbuktu is now greater than before. The Songhai, Wangara, Fulani, Tuareg and Arabs descend to this city for education, business and general good living. The market, located in the centre of the city, is as widespread as the ocean, filled with people and thousands of goods. It is so lively and busy that it feels like a festival. Goods that you could ever desire, from gold to spices, books and fine cloth are sold here by merchants from Hausaland, Egypt and distant lands across Africa and the Mediterranean.
Mansa Musa advanced the level of urban living and education in Timbuktu. The houses in the city are architectural masterpieces and very practical, made with bricks and mortar produced from local earth. The emperor built for himself a great palace, the Djinguereber, and he made Sankoré Madrasah to be a prominent place of learning and culture. He brought in the best scholars from across Africa and Arabia to teach, and there you learn everything from astronomy, mathematics to Arabic and philosophy. The university has the largest collection of books in all of Africa, amounting to over 700,000. It is because scholars share important knowledge by writing their own books to include in the collection, just as my mother did.
My father promised that as soon as I turn 16 in the next summer, he would enroll me at Sankoré. I am so excited about this because I will be a master of mathematics and astronomy, the two subjects that fascinate me the most. Perhaps I will discover the world that exists beyond the stars and find the exact location of the sun. I will work hard to impress the Sheihks and become a professor and adviser to the emperor.
Mansa Musa will see me again in his courts as his adviser on matters relating to science. Perhaps he will assign me the exploit of visiting the moon and providing extensive research on the world beyond the stars.
Mansa Musa has made it possible to be optimistic about the future. This is the result of his noble leadership. He has placed high importance on the health and prosperity of his people, and this is what makes him and all of Mali great.
*image from Creative Commons.