West African Empires

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The story of the African continent does not start with European explorers, but proud kingdoms in West Africa. Kings, scholars, traders—all molded the story of Africa with stunning achievements in ancient Ghana, Mali, and Songhai. Trade made these empires wealthy. They formed their own centralized political systems. Scholars flocked to centers of learning. These empires achieved much and stood powerful in their own right long before Europeans were involved. West African kingdoms were wealthy because they controlled trade systems. The first major kingdom, Ghana “controlled the land” through military power that protected traders. Its location made it the center of trade from across the Sahara. In particular, gold from southern mines was traded for salt from the north that they lacked. As a result, Ghana’s wealth grew to the point that they had “swords decorated with gold…hair mixed with gold…collars of gold and silver”. Later, the Mali empire took control of the gold-salt trade, the rewards of which were reaped through taxes. Mali became so wealthy that, when their famous king Mansa Musa made his pilgrimage to…show more content…
A Moroccan traveler met doctors, judges, priests, and other educated people while in Timbuktu, where books were “sold for more money than other merchandise”. Timbuktu remained a shining center of West African scholarly values into the sixteenth century, as recorded by Leo Africanus. He noted that here, learned men were “bountifully maintained at the king’s cost and charges” because they were so valued within the empire. Timbuktu housed many “diverse manuscripts and written books…sold for more money than any other merchandise.” Repeatedly throughout West African kingdoms, the value placed on learning was evident in the actual gold value placed on books. The huge focus on education in these kingdoms “is enough to make you wanna

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