The Mali Empire is one of the popular empires to exist in the world. Here is how strong the empire was and it European slaves
Wagadu empire, throughout most of her history, from the 5th century CE to the 12th century CE, maintained the traditional ways of the natives of the empire. Mali empire which later absorbed the Wagadu empire in the 13th century CE had elites that had embraced the sociological ideology that was coming into Africa from the Arabian peninsula through the trans-saharan trade routes.
Although the generality of the people of Mali retained their traditional religious beliefs and spirituality, especially that of the griots.
Becoming a Muslim was a matter of convenience for west African princes in Gao, Kano, Tekrur and Timbuktu, mostly from the later parts of the 7th century CE, at the peak of the trans-saharan trade which blew most west African city-states to eye-watering riches.
But with the trans-saharan trade also came foreign cultures, and with it, the young sociological ideology of Islam and a steady flow of captured and enslaved people from the Mediterranean to north Africa and then west Africa, as well as from west Africa to the Arabian peninsula.
The trade in humans by the Arabs had lasted for about 1000 years, even before the triangular, European trans-atlantic slave trade began in the 15th/16th century CE. While the European trans-atlantic slave trade wore a racial veneer, the Arabs slave trade had no racial undertones, but it rather exuded a religious drive as well as the economic gain that came with it.
To this effect, laws were written concerning enslavement by several Islamic scholars and jurists. Mahmud Bambari wrote in the 14th century CE thus; “…Anyone who’s known to be from those lands which are known to be lands of Islam should be let go and should be adjudged free… This is the ruling of the jurist from Andalusia.” These laws were taken seriously and many groups in west African embraced the belief system from the Arabian peninsula to avoid capture and enslavement.
For the kings and princes of west Africa, becoming a Muslim meant that the markets of the Mediterranean were open to them as well as possible alliances with caliphs of Arabia. This situation had stretched into the 19th century CE.
Enslaved persons from both Europe and Africa were given as homage or sold to caliphs, kings and princes from north Africa, Arabian peninsula and Mali empire. For example, during the famous raid of Lisbon in the 10th century CE, 3000 young European women were sent to the Arabian peninsula as homage to the Caliphs. This might have seemed like normal part of everyday life, and European slaves were also brought to the Mali empire from about the 13th century CE.
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The enslavement of Europeans that were brought into north Africa and the Arabian peninsula was common in medieval times, to an extent that king George I, in 1721, once lamented of how “most of his subjects were taken into slavery in north Africa” by the Arabs -(Nature knows no colourline by J.A. Rogers).
This line of slavery was so intense that most coastal towns in Europe were vacated. Not much people of the Soudan (as most of west Africa was known then) were enslaved, most of the enslaved, captured by the Varangians, Vikings etc and sold to the Arabs or Jewish merchants from Cordoba were Europeans. For example “Mulai Ismail of Merknes, Morocco had 25,000 European slaves who had participated in the building of his colossal stables.” -(The golden age of the Moor, by Ivan Van Sertima).
The Mamluk were ruling Egypt in the 13th century CE at the same time Mansa Suleiman was ruling the Mali empire after the death of Mansa Musa. Al Umari of Damascus who travelled to Africa wrote this of the Mali royalty: “The king of this realm sits in his palace on a big dais (mastaba) which they call Banbi, on a big seat made of ebony like a throne for a heavily-built sitter. Over the dais, on all sides, are elephant tusks one beside the other. He has with him his arms, which are all of gold; sword, javelin, quiver, bows and arrows.
He wears a big trousers cut out of about twenty pieces which none but he wears. About 30 slaves (Mamluk) stand behind him, Turks and others who were bought for him in Egypt. One of them carries in his hand a parasol of silk surmounted by a dome and a bird of gold in the shape of a falcon.”
Ibn Battuta, a Moroccan writer and explorer visited The Mali empire in the 14th century CE, and said himself that while at the court of ‘a wealthy man named Faga Suleiman,’ Ibn Battuta said he spoke to one of his Arab slave girls and ‘she was from Damascus.’
In the 12th century CE, the Africans and Arabs who were in southern Europe, introduced gunpowder into Europe. This know-how came in from China via the silk routes during incursion of Genghis Khan, the Mongolian, into Europe.
This gave birth to the invention of ‘firing sticks’ (forerunner to guns). Europe had developed this technology to protect ‘Europeans against Europeans’ (-John Henrik Clarke) in the barbarian tribal wars that had stretched into the middle ages.
But during the Renaissance era when Europe managed to break away from the dire conditions of the ‘dark ages’ (when most of Europe had degenerated back to primitive life after the fall of western Roman empire), nationalism began to unite European scattered tribal groups under the papacy.
In 1455 CE, pope Nicholas V wrote a papal bull, declaring all Moors, Saracens and non-christian black-skinned people to perpetual slavery.
By 1492, all Moors in Spain surrendered their castles, with Spain claiming more of the Moorish territories. The blood-letting and persecutions that followed was so much so that the new sultan of the ottoman empire had to send ships to escort fleeing Jews to settle in his conquered lands.
By this time also, Columbus had stumbled on the Americas islands while seeking a western ocean route to Asia, as the silk routes in the east were already taken over by the ottomans. The Africans in Spain were the first group to be shipped as slaves to the Americas from Spain.
Next in line was west African captured able-bodied craft men, seamen from Kru, blacksmiths, masons, planters, traders, fishermen, goldsmiths and so on, to the plantations of the Americas in order to toil and produce proceeds to develop Western Europe and America for the sake of Europeans. These ones became greater grand parents of people like Michael Jackson, Eddie Murphy, Booker T. Washington, Malcolm X, Du Bois and so on.