Sundiata Keita

Sundiata Keita (1210?-1260?), founder and ruler of the Mali Empire in West Africa. Sundiata was the son of Nare Maghan, the ruler of Kangaba, a small state located on a tributary of the upper Niger River. Sundiata left Kangaba, but the reason is unknown: he may have gone into voluntary exile to avoid a jealous half brother, or he may have been exiled by Sumanguru Kante, king of the Susu, who killed Sundiata's father and took over his kingdom. Sundiata responded to the requests of his people to return to Kangaba to help them regain independence. He assembled a coalition of Mandinka (also known as Mandingo or Malinke) chiefdoms and in 1235 led them to victory in the Battle of Kirina. According to popular tradition, Sundiata triumphed because he was a stronger magician than his opponent. This victory marked the beginning of the Mali Empire.

After defeating the Susu, Sundiata consolidated his authority among the Mandinka people and established a strong centralized monarchy. According to Ibn Khaldun, a 14th-century North African historian, Sundiata ruled Mali for 25 years. He expanded the state by incorporating the Ghana empire and the West African gold fields. Sundiata built his capital at Niani, which was in his home region. Mali gained economic strength by controlling the region's trade routes and gold fields. Although he was Muslim, Sundiata allowed the people to practice their own religions. When Sundiata died, his son Uli became the mansa, or king, of Mali. The Mandinka people of West Africa continue to regard Sundiata as a national hero.

Contributed By:

Richard Hunt Davis, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.

Professor of History, University of Florida. Editor of Apartheid Unravels and other books.


"Sundiata Keita," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2000 © 1997-2000 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


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