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Sun, 05.16.1210

Sundiata Keita, hero of the Mali empire

Sundiata Keita

This date celebrates the birth of an African King Sundiata Keita, also known as Mari Diata, in approximately 1210.

Keita was the founder and ruler of the Mali Empire in West Africa. Keita was the son of Nare Maghan, the ruler of Kangaba, a small state located on an offshoot 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 Soso, who killed Keita's father and took over his kingdom.

Keita responded to the requests of his people to return to Kangaba to help them regain their independence. He assembled a coalition of Malinke chiefdom's and in 1235 led them to victory in the Battle of Kirina. According to popular tradition, he triumphed because he was a stronger magician than his opponent. This victory marked the beginning of the Mali Empire. After defeating the Soso, Keita merged his authority among the Malinke people and established a strong centralized monarchy. Ibn Khaldun and other fourteenth century North African historians indicate that Sundiata Keita ruled Mali for 25 years.

He expanded the state by incorporating the Ghana Empire and the West African gold fields. Keitta 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, he allowed the people to practice their own religions. When Keita died, his son Uli became the Mansa, or king, of Mali. The Malinke people of West Africa continue to regard Sundiata Keita as a national hero. His death is estimated to have taken place around 1260.

Africana The Encyclopedia of the African and
African American Experience
Editors: Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Copyright 1999
ISBN 0-465-0071-1

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