The Mali Empire was an amazing empire in West Africa from 1235 to 1670. The largest empire influenced the culture, language, laws and customs of the region. The Mali Empire was founded by Sundiata Keita, also known as Sundiata or Soundiata, who was a heroic figure. After its founding, the Mali Empire would be renowned for the wealth of its rulers — specifically the nephew of Sundiata Keita, Musa Keita.
The Beginning of the Mail Empire
The Mali Empire was founded by Sundiata Keita in and around a town called Niani, which was located somewhere along the upper Niger River. Because of the decline of the Ghana Empire, during the 11th and 12th centuries, the Mali Empire started to develop trade routes that started to grow the region.
Who Was Sundiata Keita?
Born in 1217, Sundiata Keita, a warrior-prince of the Keita dynasty which was from a small kingdom of Kangaba, near the today’s Mali-Guinea border. Very little is known about Sundiata Keita early life, except for that he was one of 12 royal brothers who were heirs to the throne of Kangaba. But life wasn’t easy for Sundiata Keita as, according to stories, he was physically disabled as a child and struggled to walk. But through his determination and a little sorcery, he began to walk. Sundiata Keita was also known to be a skilful warrior, hunter and military strategist.
Sundiata Keita is believed to have once been a dugu-tigi (headman) of one of the villages of Kangaba. During his time as headman, he organized a private army and consolidated his position among his own people. He then went on to challenge the powers all over West Africa, which lead to the founding of the Mali Empire. After 2140, Sundiata Keita led no further conquests.
A Great Leader
Little is known about the actual administration of the Mali Empire during the reign of Sundiata Keita. But what is known is that he was praised for his leadership. Even though Sundiata Keita was Muslim, he managed to get the support of all the people of Mali. During his reign, he laid the foundations for its future prosperity and political unity of the Mali Empire.
Sundiata Keita died in 1255, but the cause of his death includes various stories including drowning while trying to cross the Sankarani River, and he was accidentally killed by an arrow during a ceremony. No matter how he died, Sundiata Keita paved the way for other leaders of the Mali Empire including his great-nephew and famous Malian ruler Mansa Musa who was one of the wealthiest men of his time.
Sundiata Keita Today
He legacy of Sundiata Keita continues today through the songs of griots who are West African historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet, or musician. He is praised in these songs for everything he has done for Mali.