The Lion Of Mali: The Hajj of Mansa Musa
By David Tchanz
Introduction: Cairo’s residents heard the noise and felt the rumblings in the ground long before the men on horseback arrived, breathlessly warning of its arrival. From miles sway the steady tromping of feet mixed in with the bray of camels straining under their loads and the buzz of men moving, talking, and encouraging the beasts, while music played to keep time, shattered the desert quiet.
Leading the host were 500 heralds, clad in Persian silk and bearing four-foot-long golden staffs glistening in the sun and nearly blinding anyone who looked at them. Next came the royal guards some bearing spears and sword, others the flags of their empire. In their midst Mansa Musa, the ruler of Mali, dressed in fine robes, rode his richly caparisoned horse in regal dignity. Trudging solemnly behind him were 80 camels, each bearing 300 pounds (140 kg) of gold – the modern equivalent of $576,000,000 – extracted from the mines of West Africa.
Behind this vanguard stretched a vast array. There were 60,000 porters, and a retinue of 12,000 of the king’s personal slaves. The king’s senior wife herself brought 500 maids. In a move to discourage any ideas of insurrection, Mansa Musa ordered the leading citizens and officials of each province journey with him and they brought their slaves and retainers. A vast array of soldiers, doctors, teachers, and griots (storytellers) also marched along. Ordinary people walked behind the caravan following it as they traveled just to see so much wealth. It was 1324 and Mansa Musa was on his way to perform Hajj. No ruler, no caliph, no man had ever journeyed to Makkah and Madinah in this style and no one ever would again.