West African Kingdoms

Gold-Salt Trade
If you could choose between a pile of salt and a pile
of gold, you would probably choose the gold. After
all, you know that you can always buy a container of
salt for about forty-five cents at the local
supermarket. But what if you could not easily get salt,
and without it you could not survive? In fact,
throughout history salt has been very difficult to
obtain in many parts of the world, and people feared a
lack of salt the way we in the industrialized world
fear a shortage of fuel oil.
Once cultures began relying on grain, vegetable, or
boiled meat diets instead of mainly hunting and
eating roasted meat, adding salt to food became an
absolute necessity for maintaining life. Because the
Akan lived in the forests of West Africa, they had few
natural resources for salt and always needed to trade
for it. Gold, however, was much easier to come by.
Every Akan knew how to find tiny grains of gold
sparkling in the river beds after a rainfall. The people who lived in the desert of North Africa could easily mine salt, but
not gold. They craved the precious metal that would add so much to their personal splendor and prestige. These mutual
needs led to the establishment of long-distance trade routes that connected very different cultures.
Camel caravans from North Africa carried bars of salt as well as cloth, tobacco, and metal tools across the Sahara to
trading centers like Djenne and Timbuktu on the Niger River. Some items for which the salt was traded include gold,
ivory, slaves, skins, kola nuts, pepper, and sugar.
Who owned the Gold?
Who owned the Salt?
Why was gold valuable?
Why was salt valuable?
What geographic feature did these traders have to cross?
To stay safe they traveled in _______________, which were:
How did Gold-Salt Trade Change Africa?
Traditional West Africa
(Before Trade)
Post Gold-Salt Trade
Cultural Diffusion Brings -
Directions: Use the following paragraphs on the West African Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai to make
a timeline.
West African Kingdoms Timeline
500 CE
1000 CE
1500 CE
2000 CE
Kingdom of Ghana
Around 300 CE, a new and powerful kingdom emerged in West Africa. This kingdom was known as Ghana.
Between 300 and 1200 CE, Ghana controlled the export gold for salt from Northern Africa. They were also able
to prosper from the collection of taxes on the many merchant caravans that traveled through their territory as
they brought goods from one area to another.
Kingdom of Mali
Around 1200 CE, a small city-state controlled by Ghana was able to win its independence. This city-state was
named Mali. During the 1300s CE, Mali expanded its territory and influence. By the late 1300s CE, Mali
controlled all of the former Kingdom of Ghana as well as much of the territory around it.
This new kingdom faced many threats from both its neighbors as well as the people they had conquered. By the
mid 1500s CE, the peoples they had conquered began to rebel against their control. At the same time, attacks
from outside forces weakened the armies of Mali, causing the kingdom to split into several smaller city-states.
While in power, the Mali continued the Gold-Salt Trade that Ghana had started with the north. The most
famous King of the Mali was Mansa Musa.
Kingdom of Songhai
Around 1400 CE, a strong military leader by the name of Sunni Ali led his forces in a succession of battle
victories. Through these victories, Sunni Ali conquered much of the former Kingdoms of Ghana and Mali and
now controlled the Gold-Salt Trade. Upon his death, Sunni Ali left rule of his kingdom to his son. Sunni Ali
was Muslim, but his son was not. The people rebelled against their new non-muslim king, and instead installed
their own king, a man named Askia Muhammad.
In 1528 CE, Muhammad was overthrown by his son. Following this event, the Kingdom of Songhai entered a
period of war and decline. This war weakened the kingdom so that by 1589 CE they were unable to defend
themselves against invading armies from Morocco.
Mansa Musa
The Muslim King of Mali
Mansa Musa’s Journey
To the people in the African kingdoms, the
word "mansa" means king or leader.
Because the Empire of Mali was so big, the
king of Mali, Mansa Musa could not
possibly hear the complaint or concern of
each citizen or village.
Government: Under Mansa Musa, the
empire was broken into provinces, each
ruled by a governor. Each province was
composed of many villages. Each village
had a mayor. This allowed for controlled
but swift management of local problems,
leaving Mansa Musa and his advisors free
to handle the management of the empire.
Mali Empire
Gold for Salt: The Kingdom of Mali was
rich. The army guarded the gold mines.
They also guarded the section of the TransSahara Trade Route that passed by Mali.
Legend says there were usually 90,000
warriors on foot, 10,000 warriors on
camels, and few on Arabian horses, who worked together to kept the trade route safe for travel. Traders
always stopped at Mali. They knew they would find safety, culture, and richly rewarding trade.
Traditional African Religion: Although most village people could not read or write, they received
education and training orally. They were free to choose their religion as well as their occupation. Most
villages followed the traditional religions of Africa. The people believed in many gods, in
witchdoctors, and in magic charms. Education was encouraged and choice of religious belief was a
freedom. The people were happy.
Growth of Islam: Although Mansa Musa allowed his people religious freedom, he was a devout
Muslim. Mansa Musa worshiped one god - Allah. He was the one who actually ordered an impressive
university to be built at Timbuktu. He wanted scholars to come to Mali and they did.
The Muslim scholars who came to Mali were somewhat started at the appearance of the people who
called themselves Muslims. The climate was very hot. Rather than being heavily veiled in black
garments, the woman were unveiled and wore cool, colorful clothing. This was not the look to which
they were accustomed. But Mansa Musa was such a good host, and such a devout Muslim, that the
scholars who came to the kingdom brought with them not only learning but also understanding. Having
never left Mali, Mansa Musa really did not know that the appearance of his people was anything out of
the ordinary in the Muslim world.
Kingly Behavior: Mansa Musa did things his people expected a very rich king to do. When he left his
palace, 300 guards and his special musicians who played music wherever they went always
accompanied him. His people would gather along the road and chant: "Hail Mansa Musa, King of
Mali!" There was every evidence that the people were happy.
The people had every reason to be happy. They were very bright and creative people. They worked
hard. They played hard. They were not poor. The common people were given some luxury goods.
Goods were given to the elders and distributed as they saw fit. Mansa Musa was a great believer in
spreading wealth around.
Journey to Mecca: Since things were going so well at home, Mansa Musa decided now was the time
to see the holy city of Mecca. Muslim law requires that all the faithful visit Mecca at least once. With a
huge number of guards and attendants, along with camels carrying comforts, luxury, and bagsful of
gold nuggets, Mansa Musa set out across the desert towards Mecca. Along the way, everywhere he
went, he freely gave away gold. You can imagine the excitement he generated as he traveled from one
oasis to the next.
His caravan stopped in Cairo, in Egypt. Word of his incredible wealth spread quickly though the city.
Mansa Musa was amazed at how expensive things were. They were expensive because merchants
quickly increased their normal prices. Mansa Musa did not care. Even though he had given away so
much gold on the trip to Cairo, he had bagsful left to spend. And spend he did. Mansa Musa left so
much gold behind him in Cairo that it was rumored it took 12 years for prices in Egypt to get back to
normal. (This is probably an urban legend, but certainly it took some time for things to get back to
He distributed so much gold on his way to Mecca that he had to borrow money for his return trip home.
Everyone with money was eager to be of service to such a wealthy man. True to his nature, Mansa
Musa repaid the loans most generously.
His journey took about a year. He traveled around 3000 miles by camel. No one attempted to take over
his kingdom while he was gone. Mansa Musa was a very smart man. To reduce the likelihood of a
takeover, he had brought with him on his trip most of the powerful people in his kingdom. He left the
army in charge. They did a great job.
His people were impressed. They thought it amazing that he was willing to make such a long trip, with
so many dangers, just to see a far away holy place. His trip had other results. Scholars poured into
Timbuktu, making it the most prestigious university in the land. Trade became even more brisk.
Mansa Musa literally put Mali on the map - on European maps and Middle East maps!
Mansa Musa
The Muslim King of Mali
Directions: Fill out the “Mansa Musa” below using the
information from the reading.
King Mansa Musa of Mali named richest person of all time
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2012, 12:19 AM
King Mansa Musa wasn’t just the 1% of the 14th century — he may be the richest person of all time.
As the obscure ruler of West Africa’s Mali Empire, Musa amassed a jaw-dropping $400 billion during
his reign from 1312 to 1337, according to a new inflation-adjusted list by celebritynetworth.com.
That outranks the Rothschild family, whose European banking dynasty landed them second on the
list with $350 billion, and John D. Rockefeller, the American industrialist worth $340 billion.
The 25 billionaires and families listed have made some megabucks, with a combined worth of $4.3
As for Musa’s moolah, his “shocking wealth came from his country’s vast production of more than half
the world’s supply of salt and gold,” according to the Celebrity Net Worth survey, which converted
each billionaire’s fortunes into 2012 dollars.
Musa was a devout Muslim who spearheaded an extensive building program of palaces and
But his money was eventually lost after his death in 1337, when he was believed to be in his late 50s.
“His heirs were not able to fend off civil war and invading conquerors. Just two generations later, his
world record net worth was gone,” Celebrity Net Worth said.
Of the list’s top 25, 14 are Americans, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, whose inflation-adjusted
worth is about $136 billion.
Celebrity Net Worth's list
1. Mansa Musa I, (Ruler of Malian Empire, 1280-1331) $400 billion
2. Rothschild family (banking dynasty, 1740- ) $350 billion
3. John D. Rockefeller (industrialist, 1839-1937) $340 billion
4. Andrew Carnegie (industrialist, 1835-1919) $310 billion
5. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia (last Emperor of Russia, 1868-1918) $300 billion
6. Osman Ali Khan, Asaf Jah VII (last ruler of Hyderabad, 1886-1967) $236 billion
7. William the Conqueror (King of England, 1028-1087) $229.5 billion
8. Moammar Khadafy (former Libyan leader, 1942-2011) $200 billion
9. Henry Ford (Ford Motor Company founder, 1863-1947) $199 billion
10. Cornelius Vanderbilt (industrialist, 1794-1877) $185 billion
11. Alan Rufus (Fighting companion of William the Conqueror, 1040-1093) $178.65
12. Bill Gates (Founder of Microsoft, 1955- ) $136 billion
13. William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey (Norman nobleman, ??-1088) $146.13 billion
14. John Jacob Astor (businessman, 1864-1912) $121 billion
15. Richard Fitzalan, 10th Earl of Arundel (English nobleman, 1306-1376) £118.6 billion
16. John of Gaunt (son of Edward III, 1330-1399) £110 billion
17. Stephen Girard (shipping and banking mogul, 1750-1831) $105 billion
18. Alexander Turney Stewart (entrepreneur, 1803-1876) $90 billion
19. Henry, 1st Duke of Lancaster (English noble, 1310-1361) $85.1 billion
20. Friedrich Weyerhaeuser (timber mogul, 1834-1914) $80 billion
21. Jay Gould (railroad tycoon, 1836-1892) $71 billion
22. Carlos Slim (business magnate, 1940- ) $68 billion (TIE)
22. Stephen Van Rensselaer (land owner, 1764- 1839) $68 billion (TIE)
23. Marshall Field (Marshall Field & Company founder, 1834-1906) $66 billion
24. Sam Walton (Walmart founder, 1918-1992) $65 billion
25. Warren Buffett (investor, 1930- ) $64 billion