The Mali Empire existed during 1200 A.D. to 1500 A.D. and lasted for 200 years. It began as a small Malinke kingdom at the upper Niger River. It was prominent after 1235 when Sundianta a royal slave and a magician, started the Malinke resistance against southern Soninke (central part of old Ghana, West African region) this made the territory invade most places where gold was found. The location (Niami) was near the gold mine fields of Bure and Bumbuk. Camels, horses and donkeys were use for transport, although goods were also transported through the Niger River.
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This empire was established on the basis of monopolization of trade and occupied large parts of West Africa and north of the forested region. Sundiata was the one who introduced cultivation and weaving of cotton in the empire. He unified the empire by laying a foundation of a common culture. It was presumed that his supernatural powers were the causes of defeating his enemies and establishing the Mali Empire. The proximity to the river Niger and presence of fertile lands furthered the cultivation of food crops for general consumption of the people of the Mali Empire including those living in the far north of the river and oasis towns which occurred in the desert across trade routes. This enabled the Mali Empire and its conquest to alleviate drought and have a more stable food supply thus creating a stable economy which favored its existence.
Mali Empire grew and stretched from the Atlantic coast (south of the Senegal River) to Gao which was at the east of middle Niger, including the forest located southwest through savannah (grassland), lands of the Malinke to the Sahel and southern Saharan "ports" of Walata and Tadmekka, including Taghaza salt mines and cities like Timbuktu, Djenne and Gao. This contributed different cultures and people to be included in the federation of states, where the Malinke were the majority.
Small kingdoms began submission to the Mali Empire, and started offering annual contributions in form of foodstuff like rice, lances, millet and weapons such as arrows. Mali used slaves to cultivate farmlands where rice, sorghum, beans, millet, papaya, cotton, and peanuts were grown. The livestock of the Mali included cattle, goats, poultry, and sheep (Shillington, 2005 p.940). The empire was also strengthened by the taxes they collected from all goods going in and out of the empire, gold was taken to the king and the gold dust was traded with (MacDonald, Paren, Shillington, & Steele, 2003 p.283). Gold salt and cotton cloths were at times used as currency, but cowrie shells were introduced later in the trade (Fage, Gray, & Oliver, 2003 p.285).
Under the leadership of Sundiata Mali became a huge empire, where he acted as the religious and ruler of the land. He was also referred to as the guardian of the ancestors. Many kings ruling Mali were Muslims among them Mansa Musa, who was a grandson of Sundiata’s sisters. He was extraordinarily wise, and managed the empire effectively. He was the one involved in the splitting of Mali into provinces where governors, administered, and towns where morchifs/mayors were responsible. The resistance and revolts of the small kingdoms was silenced by the army and patrol of the trade routes by the army gave security.
During the 1400's the Mali Empire began to fall because of a series of weak kings and further due to the decentralization of its operations. Revolts occurred and states claimed their independence including Tuareg, Tukulor, and Wolof. Security for the trade caravans became an issue with attacks being common (Conrad, 2004 p.2). The military were also attacked by the Mossi but the Songhai Empire dominated in the East. This led to it being broken in to small chiefdoms, and hence the fall of the Mali Empire.
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