Ruler of mali
Founder of an Empire. Also known as Mari-Diata, Sundiata is celebrated in West African oral tradition as the great warrior-king who established the territorial basis for the prosperous Empire of Mali. He is said to have been the twelfth and youngest son of the king of the small kingdom of Kangaba (in present-day Guinea on a tributary of the Niger River). According to legend, when the Susu king Sumanguru conquered Kangaba, he killed all the heirs to the throne except Sundiata, who was a crippled child and thought to have a doubtful future. Sundiata later made a miraculous recovery, regaining the use of his legs.
Empire Building. Sundiata became king in 1230, after staging a successful coup d’état against his uncle, and set about building an empire. He defeated Sumanguru at the Battle of Kirina in 1235, and by 1240 he had captured Kumbi Saleh, capital city of the old Empire of Ghana. He also gained control over the southern end of the trans-Saharan caravan routes and the Wangara goldfields between the upper Niger and the Senegal Rivers. Though he was a Muslim, Sundiata also practiced traditional ways and was reputed to have had enormous magical powers. Some of his military victories, including his defeat of Sumanguru, were attributed to his magic. Sundiata died in 1255, after ruling for twenty-five years.
Nehemia Levtzion, “The early states of the Western Sudan to 1500,” in The History of West Africa, edited by J. F. A. Ajayi and Michael Crowder, second edition, 2 volumes (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976,1987), I: 114-151.
D. T. Niane, Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali, translated by G. D. Pickett (London: Longmans, 1965).