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Atlantic voyage of the predecessor of Mansa Musa facts for kids

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In 1324, while staying in Cairo during his hajj, Mansa Musa, the ruler of the Mali Empire, told an Egyptian official whom he had befriended that he had come to rule when his predecessor led a fleet in an attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean and never returned. This account, recorded by the Arab historian al-Umari, has attracted considerable interest and speculation as a possible instance of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact. The voyage is popularly attributed to a Mansa Abu Bakr II, but this is considered a misconception, as no such mansa ever reigned. Rather, the voyage is inferred to have been undertaken by Mansa Muhammad ibn Qu.

A precise date for the voyage is not known, though it is interpreted as having occurred in or shortly before 1312, the year Musa is inferred to have become mansa. No clear evidence of the fate of the voyage has been found.

Musa's account

Mansa Musa stayed in Cairo for three months in 1324 while en route to Mecca for the hajj. While there, he befriended an emir named Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Amir Hajib, who was the governor of the district of Cairo Musa was staying in. Ibn Amir Hajib later recounted what he had learned of Mali from his conversations with Musa to the scholar al-Umari. In one such conversation, Ibn Amir Hajib had asked Musa how he had become king, and Musa responded:

We belong to a house which hands on the kingship by inheritance. The king who was my predecessor did not believe that it was impossible to discover the furthest limit of the Atlantic Ocean and wished vehemently to do so. So he equipped 200 ships filled with men and the same number equipped with gold, water, and provisions enough to last them for years, and said to the man deputed to lead them: "Do not return until you reach the end of it or your provisions and water give out." They departed and a long time passed before anyone came back. Then one ship returned and we asked the captain what news they brought. He said: "Yes, O Sultan, we traveled for a long time until there appeared in the open sea [as it were] a river with a powerful current. Mine was the last of those ships. The [other] ships went on ahead but when they reached that place they did not return and no more was seen of them and we do not know what became of them. As for me, I went about at once and did not enter that river." But the sultan disbelieved him. Then that sultan got ready 2,000 ships, 1,000 for himself and the men whom he took with him and 1,000 for water and provisions. He left me to deputize for him and embarked on the Atlantic Ocean with his men. That was the last we saw of him and all those who were with him, and so I became king in my own right.

Al-Umari’s record of this conversation is the only account of this voyage, as it is not mentioned by other medieval Arab historians or West African oral tradition. Nonetheless, historians accept the account as credible.

Identity of Musa's predecessor

Maghan Kon Fatta
  1. Mari Jata
  Abu Bakr
Mande Bori
2. Uli
3. Wati
4. Khalifa

Faga Leye
7. Qu
Ko or Ko Mamadi
  5. Abu Bakr
Bata Mande Bori
9. Musa
Kanku Musa
8. Muhammad
Ko Mamadi or Niani Mamadu

Genealogy of the mansas of the Mali Empire up to Musa, following Levtzion's interpretation of Ibn Khaldun. Bolded individuals reigned as mansa of the Mali Empire, with numbers indicating the order in which they ruled. The sixth mansa, Sakura, is not included as he was not related to the others. The upper, non-italicized name is the name given by Ibn Khaldun, the lower name is the name given in oral tradition.

The identity of the mansa responsible for the voyage has been subject to some confusion. Al-Umari’s record of Musa’s account does not mention mansa’s name, giving no indication of his identity other than that he was Musa’s predecessor. According to the Arab historian Ibn Khaldun, writing several decades later, Musa’s predecessor as mansa was Muhammad ibn Qu. As such, several historians have attributed the voyage to Mansa Muhammad.

Many sources call the mansa in question Abu Bakr II. However, the inclusion of a Mansa Abu Bakr II in the list of Malian rulers is a misconception that originated in a mistranslation of Ibn Khaldun’s text by the 19th-century European historian Baron de Slane. De Slane translated Ibn Khaldun as saying that the kingship passed from Muhammad to Abu Bakr, then to Musa. However, in the original Arabic text, Abu Bakr is only mentioned in his role as the progenitor of Musa's lineage, not as a ruler. The Abu Bakr in question was a brother of Sunjata, the founder of the Mali Empire, and apparently never himself ruled. Another figure named Abu Bakr did rule as mansa, but he was the predecessor of Sakura, not Musa.

Additionally, some historians have suggested without elaboration that the voyage should be attributed to Mansa Qu, who was the father and predecessor of Muhammad ibn Qu according to Ibn Khaldun.


Mansa Musa himself appears to have considered his predecessor's plan to be impractical. The main point he appears to have been trying to make to Ibn Amir Hajib is that his predecessor's failed voyage paved the way to his becoming king. Likewise, it has been speculated that the lack of information in oral tradition about the voyage reflects a view that the mansa's voyage was a shameful abdication of duty.

In modern times, the voyage has become more celebrated. The Malian historian Gaoussou Diawara has remarked that the mansa should be looked up to by modern politicians as an example of a ruler who valued science and discovery over holding onto power.

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