Lesson Plans: Grades 6-8

Lesson 4: Trekking to Timbuktu: Mansa Musa Takes a Trip (Student Version)

Created November 18, 2010


The Lesson


Timbuktu French Map

1743 French Map of Northwest Africa, depicting the areas covered in this curriculum unit.

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.

Mansa Musa, an ardent Muslim, was the first emperor of Mali to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. He certainly left a powerful impression among the people he encountered in Cairo, Mecca, and Medina, opening their eyes to the dignity of the Malian rulers as well as the great wealth of their empire. When he returned home, he brought with him a Muslim architect, al-Sahili, who introduced a new style of architecture to West Africa. The mosques built at this time would become centers of scholarship as well as worship.

You've heard about Mali's famous emperor, Mansa Musa, but you want to learn more about this fascinating figure. You've traveled by time machine to Timbuktu. It's the year 1324. You are disguised as a member of the royal court. There's a great deal of commotion today, because everyone is getting ready to accompany the emperor on his pilgrimage to Mecca. You'll go along, too. This is an invaluable opportunity to learn all about the great man first hand, with the added bonus of seeing some of the cities that lie beyond the eastern horizon.

Guiding Questions

Here are some of the questions you will seek to answer:

How did Mansa Musa travel to Mecca?

What was he like? How was he received in Cairo?

What decisions did the ruler make about his own realm during and after his pilgrimage?

In what ways was Mali changed as a result of the pilgrimage?

Learning Objectives

After investigating the life and times of Mansa Musa, you'll be able to

  • Identify Mansa Musa and discuss his pilgrimage
  • Explain how he related to leaders in the East
  • Describe decisions he made about his homeland
  • Discuss changes brought about in Mali as a result of his pilgrimage

Preparation Instructions

Before you set out for Mecca, you should check out the background information on Mali's ruler by visiting: Mansa Musa. Be sure to keep your notepad handy!

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. The Pilgrimage

The camels are all hitched up, the wagons are loaded, and the royal entourage is ready to set out for Mecca. Hop aboard one of the camels. This should be quite an adventure!

Think of how difficult it must have been to organize and direct such a huge caravan!

  • Where did the emperor get all that gold? How might the people of the Middle East have viewed the West African states before Mansa Musa's visit? How did he almost ruin the good impression he had made, and what does this say about his political savvy? How did this visit influence the way Europeans, Asians, and North Africans thought about the land of the Niger?
  • The route of his pilgrimage can be viewed at A Center for Trade available through African Studies WWW. The pick axes on the map indicate salt mines, while the gold bars mark gold mines. Why might Mansa Musa have taken a slightly more southern route home?

This is when Mali became known as “the Land of Gold.” In fact, it has been estimated that it would soon supply two thirds of the gold used for European coins and artifacts.

Mansa Musa's pilgrimage was immortalized in a map of Africa contained in the Catalan World Atlas of 1375.

Photo op!

  • Access The Catalan map. Guinea (Mansa Musa is referred to as the Lord of the Negroes of Guinea) was actually the coastal region of West Africa where many of the gold mines were located. At that time, it was also a part of Mali. In what ways is Mansa Musa presented as a European might have envisioned him? (For example, did he wear a European type of crown and sit upon a throne?)
Activity 2. Mosques, West African Style

While Mansa Musa's pilgrimage opened the eyes of Europeans and Middle Easterners to the wealth of Mali, it also convinced the ruler that he should make the cities of his realm a showplace of the Islamic world. His encounter in Mecca with Muslim architect al-Sahili would help him to do this. According to legend, Mansa Musa bribed the architect with about 200 kilograms of gold to return with him to Mali. He later commissioned him to build mosques in the port cities of Gao and Timbuktu, as well as a royal palace.

Everyone has returned from the pilgrimage. It's nice not to have to spend another day on the back of a camel! Al-Sahili, the Muslim architect, has gone to work. He's got some great ideas. The local architecture will never be the same!

  • Access Mansa Musa. Scroll to the 8th paragraph beginning “He commissioned.” Why was the mosque made of clay? Why did the walls have to be replastered annually? You're standing beside the mosque.

Take a penknife and make a hole in the plaster on the wall. It's easy, isn't it? Imagine what a couple of weeks of torrential rain can do!

  • Now go to Timbuktu: The Mythical Site and read the paragraphs about the Djingareyber and Sankore mosques. What connection does Sankore have with the Kaaba?

A very practical feature of the new style of mosques was the arrangement of wooden posts (known as toron or “horns”) that protruded from the outer walls. They were used to hold scaffolding when the walls were replastered each year.

Photo op!

  • For a close look at the wooden posts used for scaffolding, go to Mali. Click on view slideshows. Navigate to the 4th slide.

Photo op!

The Friday Mosque at Djenne, just up the river from Timbuktu, was built slightly earlier than Djingareyber, but it has been reconstructed since then. The present-day mosque is an excellent example of West African Islamic architecture.

Photo op!

  • Go to Djenne, Mali. Scroll down to the third paragraph and continue to the end of the page. Notice the “horns” on the building. What is a secondary function of these supports? More photo ops! Now go to Great Mosque of Djenne. You can view additional photos of this structure by accessing Mosque in Djenne.

Location Scouting Summary: Mansa Musa's Mali

Using the information you've gathered on the pilgrimage and "back home" in Mali, write a feature article for the website of Globe Trekkers entitled: “Mansa Musa puts Mali on the Map.”

The Basics

Time Required

2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Africa
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Anthropology
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Architecture
  • History and Social Studies
  • History and Social Studies > World > The Ancient World (3500 BCE-500 CE)
  • Art and Culture > Medium > Visual Arts
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Asia
  • Art and Culture
  • Critical thinking
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Map Skills
  • Visual analysis
  • Suzanne Art (AL)