Historians consider Mansa Musa’s pilgrim journey to Mecca as one of the most interesting stories in the history of Africa (Woods & Tucker, 2006). This is because Musa was a king who ruled one of the richest empires in ancient Africa. The journey to Mecca is also interesting because it was spectacular in terms of the number of people involved and the gifts that the king’s entourage carried. This paper provides an account of the pilgrimage journey that Mansa Musa took to Mecca in 1324, and discusses its impact in the history of the Western Sudan.
Mansa Musa was a devout Muslim. In 1324, he started making preparations for his initial pilgrimage journey to Mecca. The distance between Mali and Mecca is approximately 3000 miles. Therefore, it took officials and servants from his empire several months to make adequate preparations for the journey. The initial step in making preparations involved the collection of animals which were to be used as sources of food as well as carry luggage. The animals included goats, cows, and camels. Items to be carried by the animals included gold, food, and clothing. More than 30,000 pounds of gold were carried among 100 camels. A large number of people were also included in the caravan that accompanied the king. It is estimated that the caravan consisted of 60,000 people of whom 12,000 were slaves (Woods & Tucker, 2006). Others included 500 maids who were identified by the king’s first wife, soldiers, story tellers, teachers, and doctors (Woods & Tucker, 2006).
Mansa Musa and his caravan assembled in the city of Niani from where they started their journey. The sounds of the royal drums signified the beginning of the journey and 500 slaves carrying gold staff led the way to Mecca. The king rode on a camel and he carried with him the flag of the empire. They passed through the Sahara Desert towards Egypt. After eight months, Musa arrived in Cairo and visited Sultan El Malik en Nasir (Woods & Tucker, 2006). After the visit to the Sultan, Musa and his entourage headed for Mecca in Arabia. In Arabia, he attracted the attention of very many people who lined on the streets just to get a glimpse of his entourage. In Mecca, he performed a hajj after which he returned back to his empire. However, it is noted that Mansa Musa was very generous because he gave away gifts in form of money and gold whenever he made a stop during the trip to and from Mecca.
The journey to Mecca had a number of effects on the history of Western Sudan. Most significantly, the pilgrimage journey exposed Mali to Europe and the Middle East. The king had carried 30,000 pounds of gold which signified the immense wealth in his empire. This created an impression on his acquaintances. It is believed that he was the first person to make Western Sudan known beyond the north of the African continent. He also developed new ties with the Muslims who later on visited his empire as merchants. The merchants built mosques and established schools in the empire. This created the foundation for the Muslim religion and education in Mali. The merchants also expanded the trade networks of the empire and Mali’s main city of Timbuktu become a central point of trade in Western Sudan. Merchants from Western Sudan exchanged gold for salt from the north of the Sahara Desert and the Middle East.