Essay, Research Paper
Mali, One of the Greatest African Civilizations
Mali s Culture and Government
After the kingdom of Ancient Ghana, the next great West African Empire to emerge was the kingdom of Ancient Mali. Ancient Mali and Ghana shared a number of different features, however they also were extremely distinct from each other in many ways as well. For example, unlike Ghana, a great deal more information and written records about the kingdom of Mali still exist. With the resources that have endured a much better understanding of Mali can be established. Like Ghana, however, most of the information that is known about Mali comes from Islamic scholars and travelers. Islamic scholars must have paid a great of attention to Mali because its rulers converted to Islam, and subsequently spread it throughout Africa. The richness of the historical record of Mali allows a history of this great civilization to be reconstituted.
Early in the history of Mali, during the reign of Al-Malik al-Nasir, Mali extended its boards west to the Atlantic Ocean. To the north, Mali occupied the upper portions of the Sahara. To the south, Mali extended down the Niger River past the city of Djenne, which is located on marshy land in the middle of the Niger River, it is referred to as an island. To the East, the kingdom stretched to a city called Takrur; this included much of the Sahara. Originally the kingdom of Mali started expanding from the top of the Niger River. Starting from the city of Timbuktu, Mali steadily conquered the lands that lay down steam. These areas included the towns of Djenne, located on series of mashes and lakes that lies close to the Niger River, and Kawkaw, thought to be the modern-day city of Gao. Controlling the Niger River and the cities that lie on its banks were important for trade and travel. The Niger River was a central artery of commerce for both west and North African trade routs. The importance of the Niger River can also be seen in the fact that Mali’s capital city, which changed many times, was often located on that river. Mali’s control of the Niger River, and these important cities, helped it to grow and prosper.
Trade and military power were important elements that held together the government of Mali. Like Ghana, Mali was organized and into a series of feudal states ruled by a king. A substantial cavalry helped enforced the rule of the king. Mali’s horsemen were armed with steel armor and weapons, which included chain mail, spears, and iron swords. The record indicates that Mali enjoyed a great number of rulers with a clear line of descent. Descent ran either through the son of the king or through the kings sister’s son or brother. It is believed that the first important king of Mali was Birmindana, however it is was most likely because he was the first to convert to Islam. The next important king of Mali was Mari-Djata, who conquered the Susu and extended Mali’s boarders. Most of the kings that follow used the surname “Mansa,” which means “Sultan.” The most notable and powerful of these kings was Mansa Musa. In addition, many of the following kings made the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. The empire was split into twelve different districts; a Sultan who ruled each district was responsible to the king. In addition there was two generals who commanded Mali’s vast armies, one in northern half of the kingdom and the other in the southern half. The ability of the king to rule effectively came from his wealth and military power.
The religion and culture of the kingdom of Ancient Mali was a mix of the newer Islamic faith and traditional African practices. As indicted above, most of the kings of Mali had converted to Islam; Birmindana was the first to convert to Islam. The expectance of Islam helped to advance the government and economics of Mali. The presence of Islam helped introduced a large and highly structured bureaucracy, which aided the spread the power of the king. Despite the prevalence of Islam many traditional African practices still remained. The king of Mali was treated as a traditional African king. For example, the king did not walk directly on the soil because it is thought that the king’s feet will burn the ground. Also, the people of Mali were not allowed to see the king perform even the most mundane tasks, such as eating or speaking.
Founded out of the ruins of Ancient Ghana, Ancient Mali expanded down the Niger River capturing several cites and sizing control of the river itself. The cities that Mali ruled over included Timbuktu, Dejenne, and Kawkaw. The capture of these cities and the Niger River allowed Mali to control tarns-Saharan trade routs along with trade to North Africa. The control of trade and large cavalry allowed Mali to build an impressive feudal empire, but the senseless spending of a king in 14th century nearly brought Mali to destruction. Despite internal clashes, and attacks from the outside, Mali survived. In addition to an impressive government and economy, Mali boasted a thriving culture that included a mix of traditional African customs and Islamic practices. Eventually, Songhai, a province of Mali would rise to become the next great power in western Africa.