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Wonders:  Empires of Mali & Ghana


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Photo: mosque The Empire of Ghana has no geographical connection with the modern African state of that name. Rather, its boundaries would have included most of modern Mali and parts of modern Senegal and Mauritania. Modern Ghana, formerly the Gold Coast during the Colonial Era, was named after this great state of African antiquity.

By the time Arab geographers began to write of West Africa in the 8th century A.D., the Empire of Ghana -- described as a "land of gold" -- was already in existence. This ancient state's origins, however, remain unclear. The Tarikh as-Sudan, a book of West African history written in Timbuktu around 1650 A.D., claims that the Empire of Ghana had 22 kings before the beginning of the Muslim era (622 A.D.), and 22 kings afterwards. If this is anything more than an exercise in symmetry, then we may expect the origins of the Empire of Ghana to extend back to the first few centuries A.D. Certainly there is good archaeological evidence for the existence of large towns within, and north of, the Inland Niger Delta by ca. 300 A.D.

During the 10th and 11th centuries A.D., Ghana's fame grew and it is described in some detail by geographers and compilers of travelers' tales at that time. In these writings, Ghana is depicted as a great military power which could put "200,000 warriors in the field, more than 40,000 being armed with bow and arrow." The king, it was said, controlled the flow of gold from the south, and the traffic of salt from the north.

In 1076 A.D., the capital of Ghana fell to the Almoravid Berber jihad , launched from Morocco. The once great Empire decomposed into a number of small feuding kingdoms. Out of this disorder would arise the greatest of West Africa's pre-Colonial Empires -- that of Mali.

Led by the great King Sunjata Keita (ruled ca. 1245-1270 A.D.), the Malinke conquered their oppressors (the Sosso) and gained control of the trans-Saharan trade routes. In the fullness of time, the Empire of Mali expanded, reaching its height under the rule of Kankan Musa (ruled ca. 1312-1327 A.D.). By that time, the Empire's territory comprised most of modern Mali and Senegal, and parts of Mauritania and Guinea. Many monumental mosques were constructed during the reign of Mansa Kankan Musa who is still remembered as a great Islamic ruler. However, Mali would not last long, driven by internal dissent and military conflicts with the Tuareg, the Empire gradually dissolved during the 15th century A.D.

By K.C MacDonald

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