The Mali Empire, also historically referred to as the Manden Kurufaba, was an empire in West Africa from c.1230 to c. The empire was founded by Sundiata Keita and became renowned for the wealth of its rulers, the Manding languages were spoken in the empire. The Mali Empire was the largest in West Africa and profoundly influenced the culture of West Africa through the spread of its language, laws and customs. Rock art in the Sahara suggests that northern Mali has been inhabited since 10,000 BC, by 300 BC, large organised settlements had developed, most notable near Djenné, one of West Africas oldest cities. By the 6th century AD, the lucrative trade in gold, salt and slaves had begun. There are a few references to Mali in early written literature and this area was composed of mountains, savannah and forest providing ideal protection and resources for the population of hunters. Those not living in the mountains formed small city-states such as Toron, Ka-Ba, yet African Muslim scholars like the London-based Nigerian-British cleric, Sheikh Dr. Adelabu. During the height of Sundiatas power, the land of Manden became one of its provinces, the Manden city-state of Ka-ba served as the capital and name of this province. From at least the beginning of the 11th century, Mandinka kings known as faamas ruled Manden from Ka-ba in the name of the Ghanas, wagadous control over Manden came to a halt after internal instability lead to its decline. The Kangaba province, free of Soninké influence, splintered into twelve kingdoms with their own maghan or faama, Manden was split in half with the Dodougou territory to the northeast and the Kri territory to the southwest. The tiny kingdom of Niani was one of several in the Kri area of Manden, in approximately 1140 the Sosso kingdom of Kaniaga, a former vassal of Wagadou, began conquering the lands of its old masters. By 1180 it had even subjugated Wagadou forcing the Soninké to pay tribute, in 1203, the Sosso king Soumaoro of the Kanté clan came to power and reportedly terrorized much of Manden stealing women and goods from both Dodougou and Kri. According to Nianes version of the epic, during the rise of Kaniaga and he was the son of Nianis faama, Nare Fa. Sundiatas mother was Maghan Kon Fattas second wife, Sogolon Kédjou and she was a hunchback from the land of Do, south of Mali. The child of this received the first name of his mother. Combined in the spoken language of the Mandinka, the names formed Sondjata, Sundjata or Sundiata Keita. The anglicized version of this name, Sunjata, is also popular, in Ibn Khalduns account, Sundjata is recorded as Mari Djata with Mari meaning Amir or Prince. He also states that Djata or Jatah means lion, Prince Sundjata was prophesized to become a great conqueror
Extent of the Mali Empire (c. 1350)
Mali terracotta horseman figure from the 13th to 15th centuries
The Mali Empire, 1337
Tuaregs were and still are an integral part of the salt trade across the Sahara.