The Mali Empire (Manding: Nyeni; English: Niani), also historically referred to as the Manden Kurufaba (ماندن كوروفا) was an Islamic Mandé empire in West Africa.
The empire was founded by Sundiata Keita (circa 1230, 627–628 AH) and is renowned for the wealth of its rulers, especially Mansa Musa. Its territory spans in greater part of the western Sahel, covering the land between the Sahara Desert, grassland, savannah and coastal forests. In late 14th century it had extended to the Azawagh and partially controlled of the Niger delta.
Economical importance and History-
Economically the Mali empire is the main source of gold, copper, salt and slaves of Maghreb and Egypt. Gold is a key source of its trade and wealth. Being at the southwest end of the trans Saharan trade routes gives it a pivot position in trade, political and cultural contacts. Its control of Oualata and Audaghost gave it later an brief advantage during its imminent collapse in the 14th century.
Development, crisis and expansion
As to all Sahel states it was limited from expanding south, to the Gulf of Guinea, into the forest zone of the Ashanti and Yoruba as mounted warriors were all but useless in the forests and the horses and camels could not survive the heat and diseases of the region. However use of gunpowder and the development of new warfare techniques at the end of the 14th century enabled the Mali empire to conquer or vassalize these territories. Although Hausa resistance kept a check to further advancement to the south and east and Yoruba from fully controlling the Niger delta.
The Mali Empire is the largest in West Africa and profoundly influenced the culture of the region of the western Sahel through the spread of its language, laws, Islam and customs along lands adjacent to the Niger River, as well as other areas consisting of numerous vassal kingdoms and provinces. However in the 14th century it started to break up when its western coast vassals formed the Jolof Empire and to the east the Songhai Empire regained their independence.
Its trade and later military assistance by the Almohad Caliphate enable it to survive this dire situation successfully for some time. However the military pressure of the Songhai Empire from the east and its control of Timbuktu and Gao, followed later by Oualata and Audaghost in the late 14th century marked its end as an independent entity. The former Mali Empire was annexed as part of the Songhai.
Mansa (Mandinka for meaning "sultan" (king) or "emperor") had vast powers that included the right to dispense justice and to monopolize trade, particularly in gold. Mansa Sundiata was the first to assume the title of mansa (emperor), which as passed down through the Keita dynasty with few interruptions well into the 15th century.
The Gbara (Great Assembly) was the deliberative body of the Mali Empire. It was first formed in 1235 (632–633 AH) on the orders of Sundiata in the Mandinka constitution known as the Kouroukan Fouga.
The Mali Empire had a decentralized nature of administration. Nevertheless, the mansa managed to keep tax money and nominal control over the area without agitating his subjects into revolt. The empire was divided in provinces (tributary kingdoms) and states.
The Mandé and governing groups in the Mali Empíre were predominantly Muslim, the Mandé had a patrilineal kinship system and patriarchal society. They usually observed ritual washing and daily prayers of Islam; few wear Arab dress, and virtually no women wear a veil.
The Maliki school of though was the predominant jurisprudence (fiqh). However under influence of the Almohad the Zahirite school was making inroads since the 14th century.
Traditionally, Mali society was a hierarchical or "caste"-based, with nobility and vassals. Like most other Africans, they also hold slaves, often prisoners or captives taken in warfare, and usually from competitors of their territory. However the penetration of Islamic mores has blurred the caste division in time and what as emerged is a typical division between the hassa (the rulers) and the amma (the ruled). However the Wolof and Songhai still keep a complex caste system even though they are practising Muslims.