Black History Month In Focus: Mansa Musa, The Real Black Panther

This is part of The Shadow League’s yearly Black History Month In Focus series celebrating Black excellence in sports and culture.

Last weekend, the world entered the mythic comic book world of Wakanda, a fantastical hidden country in Africa that is ruled by a king with superhuman powers and an army of uber protective warrior women. Not since the Blade movie series has the story of a superhero of color taken on such a life of its own, and Black Panther has surpassed all expectations with its visual brilliance and amazing storyline. 

The larger triumph is the re-evaluation of the hero dynamic to include characters of color in worlds devoid of colonization and European influence. To many, this dynamic is a myth only and is impossible to be believed as a real possibility. Strip away the superhero cowl and vibranium based firepower and there is one historical figure that matches the prowess of King T’Challa, the great Mansa Musa of the Mali Empire.

Mansa Musa, one of the wealthiest people who ever lived – Jessica Smith

Check out our Patreon page: View full lesson: Mansa Musa, the 14th century African king of the Mali Empire, is said to have amassed a fortune that possibly made him one of the wealthiest people who ever lived. Jessica Smith tells the story of how Mansa Musa literally put his empire – and himself – on the map.

In 1312 Mansa Musa, the most legendary of the Malian king’s, came to the throne. Mansa, which means Emperor in Malian, was a devout Muslim who built magnificent mosques throughout his empire in order to spread the influences of Islam. During his reign, Timbuktu became one of the major cultural centers of not only Africa but of the entire Islamic world. 

It is estimated that Musa’s wealth was a staggering $400 billion in today’s value. TIME states that Mansa Musa was richer than anyone could describe. It was actually these riches that brought the worlds attention to his power, as it was his 1324 pilgrimage to Mecca that made Musa a household name.

Musa I (known more commonly as Mansa Musa) was the tenth Mansa (a Mandinka word for emperor) of the Mali Empire. He ruled the nation for nearly 25 years until his death in 1337. When Mansa Musa came to power, the Mali Empire already had firm control of the trade routes to the southern lands of gold and the northern lands of salt. Under Musa’s reign, the gold-salt trade across the Sahara came to focus ever more closely on Timbuktu. The city’s wealth, like that of many towns involved in the trans-Saharan trade route, was based largely on the trade of gold, salt, ivory, kola nuts, and slaves.

Mansa Musa

One of Afrikas wealthiest men to ever Rise out of West Afrika. This short clip is about him.

Mansa Musa expanded Mali’s influence across Africa by bringing more lands under the empire’s control, including the city of Timbuktu, and by enclosing a large portion of the western Sudan within a single system of trade and law. This was a huge political feat that made Musa one of the greatest statesmen in the history of Africa. Under Musa’s patronage, the city of Timbuktu grew in wealth and prestige, and became a meeting place of the finest poets, scholars, and artists of Africa and the Middle East. 

8 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About the Richest Man in History, Mansa Musa

Emperor Mansa Musa I, an African king from the late 13th century, is considered the richest person to ever live, with an estimated net worth of $400 billion, above the noted Sam Walton, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates combined wealth. Read More:

Like Wakanda, Mali and Timbuktu were known for their advanced knowledge and technology. During his reign, Mansa Musa urbanized the city of Timbuktu, making it the blueprint of intellect and infrastructure that its known for today. This intelligence aided in the countrys military success, which Musa sustained by recapturing the rebellious trading city of Goa. Musa even built the Djinguereber Mosque, one of the three structures making up what is believed to be one of Africas oldest learning centers.

During Musa’s reign, Timbuktu thrived as a commercial center and flourished into a hub of Islamic learning. Even after the Mali Empire lost control over the region in the fifteenth century, Timbuktu remained the major Islamic center of sub-Saharan Africa.

As the spirit of Wakanda and King T’Challa surges on, the spotlight shines brightly on the real story of Mansa Musa, the Mali Empire and the reality behind the Black Panther mystique.

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