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Mansa Sakura

Mansa Sakura

Died 1300?

Emperor of mali


The Slave Who Became Emperor. Unlike most rulers of the ancient West African kingdoms, Sakura did not come from royal lineage. Starting life as a slave, he was freed, possibly after arriving at the royal court, and subsequently became a government official. After the weakminded and sadistic Mansa Khalifa (ruled 1274-1275)—a degenerate member of the Keita dynasty founded by the great ruler Sundiata—was deposed and killed, the nobles made the easily controlled Abu Bakr their new ruler. On his death, possibly in 1285, Sakura seized the throne and managed to restore order to the deteriorating kingdom.

Conquest and Trade. Mansa Sakura was a powerful leader known for exploring lands and incorporating them into the kingdom of Mali. He extended the empire along the Gambia River to the sea and also encouraged trading activities. After a hiatus during the years of instability, merchants from North Africa began traveling to Mali again.

Pilgrimage. Sakura followed the example of other great rulers of Mali and made a hajj to Mecca. While on this journey, he visited Cairo. Sakura died on his way home from the pilgrimage, possibly around 1300. Some sources said he was killed at Tajura. The throne returned to the legitimate heirs of the Keita dynasty.

Maintaining the Empire. Because of this restoration, some historians have interpreted Sakura’s takeover as an attempt to ensure the survival of the Keita dynasty rather than an attempt to establish his own dynasty. Slaves in royal courts often held positions of power. In fact, a king’s power was based heavily on the loyalty of his slaves. Slaves of strong kings obeyed their ruler, but those of weak kings often seized control.

New Ideas. During Sakura’s reign, North African diplomats visited Mali, and Islamic scholars came to teach in court schools. Among the ideas they brought from North Africa were the beliefs that the Atlantic Ocean was not on the edge of the world and that new lands beyond this sea were waiting to be explored. This impetus to exploration inspired Sakura’s successor, Abubakari II, to set out on his westward journey across the Atlantic Ocean in 1311.


Nehemia Levtzion, Ancient Ghana and Mali (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).

J. Spencer Trimingham, History of Islam in West Africa (London, Glasgow & New York: Oxford University Press, 1962).

Ivan Van Sertima, They Came Before Columbus (New York: Random House, 1976).

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