Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Monarch Profile: Emperor Musa I of Mali
According to Arab historians, Musa I was the great-nephew of the founder of the Malian Empire; Mari Djata I (or Sundiata Keita). He served in the position of a ‘deputy-king’ to his predecessor who was lost while trying to find the furthest reaches of the Atlantic Ocean in a flotilla of small boats. Musa I had accompanied one such expedition but returned after the boats sank in a whirlpool at which point the Emperor determined to go himself, making Musa I regent in his absence. The Emperor never returned and Musa I finally took his place as ruler of Mali. Then as now Mali was an Islamic country but which also contained numerous animistic minorities. Emperor Musa I did his best to make his empire as purely Islamic as possible, both because he was personally devout in his faith and because he viewed the Muslim civilization, particularly that centered on the eastern Mediterranean, as the greatest and most advanced in the world and wished the same for his own people. This was important since, although Musa I was one of the most fabulously wealthy monarchs in the world, his realm was not as developed as one might expect. Nonetheless, he was undisputed as the most powerful figure in all of west Africa.
Inflation was out of control and to address the problem the Emperor had to buy up all the gold in the area, borrowing at extremely high interest rates, to try to reset the system. However, although the locals might have been upset by all this economic instability, back at home, even in his absence, the empire of Mali continued to expand and strengthen. While still on pilgrimage he learned that his forces had captured Gao, itself the seat of an old and formidable trading empire, and he diverted to the city to visit two sons of the Gao king who had been taken as hostages. The boys would later be educated at his court. During his epic pilgrimage Musa I also brought back to Mali numerous Arab scholars, engineers, architects and so on to develop and embellish his realm. It was during this time that many of the most famous mosques and madrasahs of Gao and Timbuktu were built including the Sankore Madrasah as well as the Hall of Audience which was attached to his royal palace. Visitors from around the world marveled at what was being established. The Italian scholar Sergio Domian remarked, “Thus was laid the foundation of an urban civilization. At the height of its power, Mali had at least 400 cities, and the interior of the Niger Delta was very densely populated”.