Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Lion Prince Sundiata

In the first half of the thirteenth century, a notable king by the name Sumaoro Kante of the Ghana Empire, ruled over the populous Mandinka tribe of Mali against their wishes. The Ghana Empire or the Wagadou Empire lasted from c. 790 until 1235 of the Common Era. The Mandinka remained in a state of bondage and helplessness until a powerful prince by the name Sundiata returned from exile thus becoming the undisputed celebrated hero of the Malinke people of West Africa. Known for his courage and unmatched vigor in battle, the Lion Prince as he was called, Sundiata, remained remarkable in his pursuit of leadership even while away from home in exile. By forging judicious alliances with local rulers, Sundiata assembled a large army comprising mostly cavalry and by 1235 his sphere of influence encompassed the modern states of Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

After overthrowing the Kingdom of Ghana, Sundiata governed from his capital city Niani that featured buildings of brick and stone. His Malian kingdom controlled and taxed the trade caravans passing through West Africa. Often, caravans as many as twenty-five thousand camels heavily-loaded with miscellaneous cargo traversed the trade routes. The cities of Gao, Timbuktu, Jenne, and Niani became important trading centers populated by indigenous people and merchants in pursuit of the gold trade. Under Sundiata, Mali immensely profited from the trans-Sahara trade such that it benefited far more than Ghana did in the past. Malian rulers practiced Islam and provided security, accommodation, and luxuries to Muslim travelers from further up north. Sundiata reigned from 1230 to 1255 of the Common Era. In terms of sphere of influence, the Mali kingdom was the second largest kingdom in size in Africa (1.1 million sq km), with the Kingdom of Songhai being the first and the most extensive in land mass totaling 1.4 million square kilometers.

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