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Mali and Songhai

The Republic of Mali is located in western Africa. It is a landlocked country, bordered by Algeria, Niger, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal, and Mauritania. There are more than 11.5 million people in Mali. About 90% of the population is Muslim. Most Malians speak the Bambara language, but the official language is French.

Mali is named after the empire of Mali, which was located in parts of modern-day Mali, Guinea, Mauritania, and Senegal. The empire was founded by the sultan Sundiata in the 13th century. Its most famous ruler, Mansa Musa, reigned from 1307 or 1312 to about 1332. He was so powerful and wealthy that when he travelled to Mecca, he took more than 60,000 attendants with him. He also brought enormous amounts of gold with him, and gave so much of it away that the price of gold fell in Egypt.

During Mansa Musa's reign, Mali conquered the large neighboring kingdom of Songhai. But the empire began to fall apart after Mansa Musa's death, and eventually Songhai regained its independence.

Under the feared ruler Sunni Ali, who ascended the throne around 1464, Songhai itself started to expand into a great empire. His son and successor, Sunni Baru, was overthrown by a rebel leader, Muhammad I Askia, who made Songhai even larger and mightier. The Askia dynasty reigned until the late 16th century, when the Songhai empire was broken up by invaders from Morocco.

After the fall of Songhai, the area that is now Mali was divided into warring kingdoms. In the late 19th century it became part of French Africa. It gained its independence in 1960.

Books About Mali and Songhai

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Book Categories: Mali, Sundiata, Mansa Musa, Songhai, Bambara, Dogon, Travel, Morocco, African Royalty, France, Children's Books

History of Mali and West Africa

Historical Dictionary of Mali by Pascal James Imperato. Draws upon recent scholarship to give greatly expanded coverage of pre-colonial Mali. Contains a detailed and up-to-date chronology of Malian history, a dozen tables, six detailed maps, and an extensive cross-referenced dictionary of people, places and events.

The Peoples of the Middle Niger: The Island of Gold by Roderick James McIntosh. Discusses the Fulani, Songhai, Tuareg, the great empires, and more.

West Africa Before the Colonial Era: A History to 1850 by Basil Davidson. A survey of West Africa's history and major empires.

West Africa: An Introduction to Its History, Civilization and Contemporary Situation by Eugene L. Mendonsa.


Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali by D. T. Niane. Sundiata was the 13th century founder of the Mali empire. This epic tale is part history and part legend.

Mansa Musa

Mansa Musa I, King of Kings: The Great Pilgrimage of an African King From Africa to Arabia, 1324-1325 by Jean-Louis Roy. The story of the young king of Mali who undertook a pilgrimage to Mecca with a retinue of 12,000 men.

Mansa Musa: The Golden King of Ancient Mali by Akbarall Thobhani.


Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Sa'Di's Ta'Rikh Al-Sudan Down to 1613 and Other Contemporary Documents edited by John O. Hunwick. Writings of a 17th century scholar on the history of Timbuktu and Jenne, and the political history of the Songhay empire from the reign of Sunni 'Ali through Moroccan conquest of Songhay in 1591 and down to 1613, when the Pashalik of Timbuktu became an autonomous ruling institution in the Middle Niger region.

Scribe, Griot, and Novelist: Narrative Interpreters of the Songhay Empire by Thomas A. Hale.

The Epic of Askia Mohammed edited by Thomas A. Hale, Nouhou Malio, Mounkaila Maiga.


The Bamana Empire by the Niger: Kingdom, Jihad and Colonization 1712-1920 by Sundiata A. Djata. An exploration of the powerful Bamana State, which emerged in 1712 and centred around the Middle Niger (in modern Mali).

The Heart of the Ngoni: Heroes of the African Kingdom of Segu by Harold Courlander, Ousmane Sako. The heroic legends of the kingdom of Segu and of the Bambara tribe, which formed important city-states along the Niger River during the 17th century. The deeds of kings and battles against invaders are among the subjects addressed.

Segu by Maryse Conde, translated by Barbara Bray. Fiction. This family saga is set in the Bambara kingdom of Segu in the 18th century.


Dogon: Africa's People of the Cliffs by Walter E.A. Vanbeek. In a remote area of Mali, the Dogon survive today as they have for thousands of years. This arresting photographic portrait allows us access to their traditional way of life.

Travel Guides

Mali: The Bradt Travel Guide by Ross Velton. Looks at every aspect of travel in Mali: planning, health and safety, where to stay and eat, ancient civilizations and culture, including the Tuareg and Dogon people; communicating in Bambara and French.

Lonely Planet West Africa by Mary Fitzpatrick and others. Covers Bein, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Ashanti, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

For Children and Young Adults

Mali: Land of Gold and Glory by Joy Masoff. Introduce elementary and middle school students to the ancient African empire of Mali. Includes photographs, timelines, maps, and legends of brave kings.

The Empire of Mali by Carol Thompson. Nonfiction for children ages 9 to 12.

The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa by Pat McKissack. For ages 9 to 12.

Ghana, Mali, Songhay by David and Patricia Armentrout. For ages 9 to 12.

Ancient West African Kingdoms: Ghana, Mali, and Songhai by Mary Quigley. For ages 9 to 12.

Kings and Queens of West Africa by Sylviane Anna Diouf. A survey of the historical regions and kingdoms of West Africa, including biographies of Mansa Musa, Emperor of Mali. For ages 9 to 12.


Sundiata: Lion King of Mali by David Wisniewski. Fictionalized biography for children ages 4 to 8.

Sunjata: Warrior King of Mali by Justine and Ron Fontes, illustrated by Sandy Carruthers. Graphic novel (comic book) about the 13th century West African king for children ages 9 to 12.

Mansa Musa

Mansa Musa by Khephra Burns, illustrated by Diane Dillon and Leo Dillon. A fictionalized account of the youth of Mansa Musa, a celebrated 14th century emperor of the kingdom of Mali. For children ages 9 to 12.

Mansa Musa by Peggy Pancella. Biography for children ages 9 to 12.


The Songhay Empire by David C. Conrad. A survey of the history and culture of the West African Songhai Empire. For children ages 9 to 12.


Dogon by Chukwuma Azuonye. History, social life, and customs. For children ages 9 to 12.

The Dogon of West Africa by Christine Cornell. For children ages 4 to 8.

More Children's Books About African Royalty

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