Mali & Songhai

Category: Education

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Chapter 3, Mali and Songhai in Africa Textbook


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Kingdoms of Africa

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West Africa was the home of three great civilizations; Ghana, Mali and Songhay.

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Mali Land of Gold & Griots A griot of today gold earrings mudcloth

Mali and Songhai:

Mali and Songhai The Big Idea Between 1000 and 1500 the empires of Mali and Songhai developed in West Africa. Main Ideas The empire of Mali reached its height under the ruler Mansa Musa, but the empire fell to invaders in the 1400s. The Songhai built a new Islamic empire in West Africa, conquering many of the lands that were once part of Mali.

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A powerful king named Sundiata ruled this area from around 1230-1255 AD. He led the people in conquering and expanding his kingdom to be as great as Ghana had been. Perhaps the greatest king of Mali was Mansa Musa (1312-1337). He developed the gold and salt trade of Mali and his kingdom became very powerful and rich.

Sundiata: The Lion King:

Sundiata: The Lion King Prince of the Mandinka people, who were conquered by cruel Susu In 1230, he conquered the Susu people Under Sundiata, Mali prospered Died in 1255

Main Idea 1: The empire of Mali reached its height under the ruler Mansa Musa, but the empire fell to invaders in the 1400s.:

Main Idea 1: The empire of Mali reached its height under the ruler Mansa Musa, but the empire fell to invaders in the 1400s. Mali lay along the upper Niger River . The area had fertile soil and trade on the river. In the 1200s a harsh ruler conquered Mali. Sundiata was a boy at the time, but as an adult, he built up an army, won back his country’s independence, and conquered nearby kingdoms, including Ghana. Sundiata took over the salt and gold trades, worked to improve agriculture, and introduced cotton as a crop. He took power away from local leaders and adopted their title of mansa for himself. This gave him both political and religious authority in society. Sundiata died in 1255.

Mansa Musa:

Mansa Musa Mali’s most famous ruler was a Muslim named Mansa Musa who ruled from 1312 to 1337. Mali reached the height of its wealth, power, and fame in the 1300s, and Islam spread through a large part of West Africa. During his reign Mali added many important trade cities to its empire, including Timbuktu . In 1324 Mansa Musa made a pilgrimage to Mecca, spreading Mali’s fame far and wide. He supported education, stressed the importance of learning to read Arabic, and hired Muslim architects to build mosques. A mosque is a building for Muslim prayer. When Mansa Musa died, his son Maghan, a weak ruler, took the throne. Raiders invaded from the southeast and set fire to Timbuktu. In 1431 the Tuareg, nomads from the Sahara, seized Timbuktu. By 1500 only a small area of Mali remained.

Mansa Musa:

Mansa Musa Several kings ruled after Sundiata’s death Mansa Musa was grandson of Sundiata’s half brother He became the greatest king of Mali in 1312 Under Mansa Musa, Mali became a great trading center MiniFact : Mansa means Emperor or King

The Hajj:

The Hajj Mansa Musa was a devout Muslim Muslims must make a journey to Mecca called a ‘hajj’ Mansa Musa crossed Africa to reach Mecca He took a huge caravan with him in 1324 After that, everyone knew about the wealth of Mali

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In 1324 Mansa Musa made a pilgrimage ( a journey to a holy place) to Mecca, which is a holy city in Arabia, with 60,000 servants and followers and 80 camels carrying more than 4,000 pounds of gold to be distributed among the poor. Of the 12,000 servants 500 carried a staff of pure gold. This showed his power and wealth to the other people he visited.

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A Muslim church is called a Mosque This is the mosque at Djenne in Mali. It’s built of mud!

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Mansa Musa was a Muslim, meaning he followed the religion of Islam. He built many beautiful mosques or Islamic temples in western Africa.

What did Mali trade?:

What did Mali trade? Gold The dotted lines are trade routes from Mali to other parts of Africa

What else did they trade?:

What else did they trade? Salt Copper Ivory Cloth Kola Nuts Slaves Books Shells Camels, the ships of the desert, traveled in caravans bringing to Mali: MiniFact: This was before Columbus even sailed to the New World!

Why was Salt Important?:

Why was Salt Important? Mali often traded its gold for salt Salt was sometimes more valuable than gold! People’s bodies need salt to live In the desert heat, salt is lost through perspiration Salt was used to preserve food Salt was brought in large slabs (coins) MiniFact : The picture behind these words is also a slab of SALT! The man is holding a slab of salt mined recently near Timbuktu


Timbuktu A very important city in Mali Center of learning for Muslims Universities and schools Largest trading center in Mali On the Niger River Trade Food Washing Timbuktu 19 th century traders in Timbuktu

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When Mansa Musa died there were no kings as powerful as he was to follow. The great kingdom of Mali weakened. Eventually a group of people known as Berbers came into the area and other people came up from the south to claim territory that was once part of the kingdom. Although Mali fell, another advanced African kingdom took its place, the kingdom of Songhay. The Berbers still live in North Africa. This picture, taken in 1893, shows a Berber group.

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Main Idea 2: The Songhai built a new Islamic empire in West Africa, conquering many of the lands that were once part of Mali.:

Main Idea 2: The Songhai built a new Islamic empire in West Africa, conquering many of the lands that were once part of Mali. From their capital at Gao , the Songhai kingdom participated in the same trade that had made Ghana and Mali rich. Songhai had been part of the Mali Empire, but as the empire weakened in the 1400s, the people of Songhai rebelled. Songhai leaders shared Islam with the North African Berbers, so the Berbers were willing to trade with the Songhai. Sunni Ali, who became ruler of the Songhai in 1464, worked to unify, strengthen, and enlarge his empire. Sunni Ali encouraged everyone to work together. To build religious harmony, he participated in both Muslim and local religions.

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This map was created in 1375. The same trade routes were used by the merchants of the Songhay kingdom. What kinds of pictures do you see on the map and why do you think the mapmaker put them there?

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The picture above is one artist’s idea of what the great Songhay leader, Sunni Ali might have looked like. Sunni Ali saw that the kingdom of Mali was weakening and he led his soldiers to conquer the area. He began the kingdom of Songhay . He also set up a complex government to rule all the lands he had conquered.

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Sunni Ali died in 1492 CE. His son took over the rule of Songhay but he did not accept Islam as a religion. Islam was accepted as a religion by many people in northern Africa. One of Sunni Ali’s generals, named Muhammad Ture , overthrew the new king and made himself king of Songhay. Ture was a follower of Islam (Muslim) and so he made Islam the religion of his kingdom. This is a photo of a mosque, or place of worship for Muslims, in western Africa. Many mosques were built of local materials.

Askia the Great:

Askia the Great Muhammad Ture led a successful rebellion against non-Muslim king. Eventually, he became known as Askia the Great. Askia supported education and learning. Timbuktu became known for its schools, particularly the University of Sankore. Djenné was another city that became a center of learning. As Songhai’s Muslim traders gained influence in the empire, so did Islam. Askia encouraged the growth of Islamic influence. Askia set up five provinces within Songhai with loyal appointed governors. He created a professional army with specialized departments.

Songhai Falls to Morocco:

Songhai Falls to Morocco Morocco wanted control of Songhai’s salt mines. The Moroccan army attacked in 1591, carrying advanced weapons, including the arquebus. The invaders destroyed Timbuktu and Gao. Overland trade declined as port cities on the Atlantic coast became more important. Africans south of Songhai and Europeans both preferred trading at Atlantic ports to dealing with Muslim traders.

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Songhay remained a rich and strong kingdom under Muhammad Ture’s rule. It had a complex government centered in the city of Gao , and great centers of learning. But later rulers were not as powerful. In the late 1500s, Morocco invaded Songhay to take its rich trade routes. Moroccans had a new weapon, the gun, and the army of Songhay did not. This led to the fall of Songhay.

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Africa produced many great civilizations. During the time of the Middle Ages of Europe, the African kingdoms of Mali, Ghana and Songhay were places of advanced learning and great wealth. Strong leaders and vast natural resources helped these cultures rule large areas of western Africa for hundreds of years.