Facts About Mali’s Culture, Geography, and History
Mali is a West African country, home to some of the most ancient African civilizations. Its unique geography, culture, and history make it an interesting country to explore. Just as its vastness and long history, there is much to know. Nonetheless, we have compiled 11 interesting facts that will help you have a better perspective of Mali.
11. Mali is the biggest country in West Africa. It is about twice the size of Texas, the second largest American state.
The size of Mali is 480,000 square miles. The capital city of Mali is Bamako. It is a landlocked country, most of it semi-arid. It is surrounded by seven other countries including Mauritania and Senegal to the West, Algeria to the north, Niger to the east, and Guinea, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso to the south.
Mali’s main economic activity is agriculture and fishing. It is Africa’s third largest producer of gold. Though Mali is rich in natural resources, unlike Texas, it is still a poor country. About half of Malians live below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day.
10. In the past, Mali was one of the richest countries, home to great emperors.
Mali was a great center of civilization, with the University of Timbuktu being one of the most famous ancient universities in Africa and the Middle East. It was a rich gold land. Gold earned its source of wealth.
Mansa Musa was the equivalent of King Solomon but in the middle ages. He was the richest man, probably in the whole world then.
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9. The spectacular Grand Mosque of Djenne in Mali is the biggest man-made clay structure in the world.
Djenne is an ancient town, which was one of the three major cities of the ancient Mali Empire. The other two cities were Timbuktu and Gao. Djenne was a transit point for slaves captured in the interior and sold at slave markets in Gao and Timbuktu. Djenne Djeno is one of the oldest towns in Africa. It is famous for its Adobe architecture. It is a designed World Heritage site by UNESCO (1988).
The first mosque in Djenne was built between 1200AD and 1330AD. Seku Amadu’s Mosque built between 1834 and 1836 followed it. Later on, Grand Mosque of Djenne was built in 1907 under the French authority. This replaced the first mosque, which had been left in ruins. This later mosque was built using sun-baked clay bricks and clay mortar.
8. Rock paintings found in the region of Gao and Timbuktu suggest that the region of Mali was inhabited even around 50,000 BC.
Gao was an important center during the Trans-Atlantic trade. It was the capital city of the Songhai Empire and the headquarters of the Islamic dynasty. Gao is established on the eastern bank of River Niger, 300 kilometers to the south-west of Timbuktu.
Timbuktu is 20 km north of River Niger. It is famed for its ancient Sankore Madrasah, an Islamic university that was established between 15th and 16th century AD. It was a center for Islamic scholars with a thriving book trade.
Some of the famous rock painting sites in Mali includes Siguifiri shelters, Kita Kourou cave paintings, Andrar des Ifogha, Mogoyabougou and Mingaré rock shelters, and Airé Soroba.
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7. The prime meridian marker is located in Gao, Mali, where one can literally stand on the edge of two hemispheres.
The Equator line, separating the Northern and Southern hemispheres, crosses through Gao. This is one of the hottest equator spots in the world. At the equator spot, you can actually have one foot in the northern hemisphere with another one in the southern hemisphere.
6. Salt was such a valuable commodity that people would trade a pound of gold for a pound of salt. Mali is famous for its salt mines.
Taoudenni was the most ancient salt mining center in Mali. It was located about 413 miles north of Timbuktu. Traders from Taoudenni would bring salt to the south in exchange for gold. Another salt mining center was Taghaza, which was about 150km north-west of Taoudenni.
Surprisingly, salt was more valuable than gold in those days.
5. Amphibians known exclusively from Mali include the Mali Screeching Frog and the Bata Marsh Toad.
Fishing is one of the main economic activities carried out in River Niger. There are about 200 fish species in Mali. Capitaine is the most popular of the fish species. There are plenty of other amphibians in Mali. The most notable amphibians are Bata marsh toad (Bufo chudeaui) and Mali screeching frog (Tomopterna milletihorsini). African slender-snouted crocodile (Mecistops cataphractus) is another notable creature.
Being a desert, there are plenty of reptiles. Snakes and tortoises are plenty. There are also unique bird species, both for the wetlands (Niger River) and the desert lands. Termites are the most common insects.
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4. The elephant fish Mormyrops oudoti is a freshwater fish only known to Mali.
The Bozo people (‘people of the bamboo huts’) are famous for fishing Mormyrops Oudoti. They inhabit the shores of River Niger in Mali. They are commonly referred to as the ‘peaceful masters of the river’ due to their mastery of fishing and gentle character.
Mormyrops Oudoti is mainly concentrated near Bamako, Mali. It is called Elephant fish due to its elongated tubular snout that looks like an elephant’s proboscis. It is a great delicacy that you would enjoy being served while on a visit to Bamako.
3. When Mansa Musa, emperor of the Malian Empire in the early 1300s, made his Mecca pilgrimage, he made Mali famous by bringing with him 12,000 slaves, 60,000 men, 80 camels that each carried between 50 and 30 pounds of gold, and building a mosque every Friday during his journey.
Mansa Musa was known throughout the Muslim world due to his vast wealth, extravagance, and generosity. He was much more like King Solomon except for his extravagance and fewer concubines.
Like the end of other powerful rulers, the death of Mansa Musa marked the decline of Malian Empire. The persistent feuds between his sons weakened the empire. This allowed the Berbers from Morocco to easily conquer it and grab its vast lands.
2. The three great empires to have risen in Mali are the Empire of Ghana, the Empire of Mali and the Songhaï Empire.
Mali Empire was the richest, largest and most powerful of the three empires. It occupied territory that was twice the size of France. It cut through Mauritania up to the Atlantic Ocean.
Berbers initially founded the empire of Ghana. However, it eventually fell under the control of the native Soninke people who established Kumbi Saleh as their capital city. However, the empire of Ghana came under attack from the Berbers in 1062 CE and its capital city captured in 1076 thus ending the reign of the Soninke (the Ghanaians).
1. Sundiata, the Lion King (also called the Lion Prince), was the founder of the Mali Empire and ruled it for 25 years, from about 1235 to 1260.
Cultivation and wearing of cotton clothes were two main civilizing enterprises brought about by King Sundiata. He also took over control of gold and salt trade.
Mansa Musa was the grandson of Sundiata’s half-brother.