The three rich Kingdoms
The three rich kingdoms of Ancient West Africa were Ghana, Mali, and Songhai. Between AD 300 and 1500, these three rich kingdoms rose and fell one after the other. Their downfall eventually came as a result of invasion from exploring travelers from Europe, and from each other.
The earliest kingdom, in Ancient West Africa, Ghana expanded during the good times, from the Sahara Desert to the Gulf of Guinea and from the Niger River to the Atlantic Ocean. The vast kingdom was rich in salt, gold, and culture. The kingdom thrived with a hearty caravan trade with other African areas. This trade and exposure to other cultures, led the area to have a strong Muslim presence. By the 11th century, the region could boast as being the main supplier of gold to the Mediterranean areas.
The West African kingdom could boast of having big towns, artfully designed buildings, and a complex political system. However attacks from Mali and a decline in strong leadership resulted in Ghana falling into decline and eventually being conquered around AD 1200.
Mansa Musa was the progressive and strong leader of the West African kingdom known as Mali. Mali was able to conquer the mighty Ghana because the ruler was not strong. During the 1300s Mansa Musa expanded his territory, conquered neighboring areas, and strengthened the presence of Islam. But his greatest achievement was his emphasis on knowledge. His emphasis on Islam and Islamic education and teachings prompted him to create the successful Timbuktu University. Only his death, and no successive strong leader could cause the fall of Mail. This fall occurred around the 1400s.
Songhai then conquered Mali under the strong leader Askia Muhammad. After Mansa Mali died, Mali had no strong leaders. Askia Muhammad continued the teachings and education of Timbuktu University Center. His trade was strong and his kingdom became the most powerful in the area. The kingdom remained strong until Askia Muhammad died and the Portuguese explorers noticed its vast wealth. The Portuguese with the assistance of West African chiefs, began to trade in the area and increase their slave trade and their presence. They also brought to the area a thirst for wealth, disease, and the power to overthrow the West Africans. The Europeans brought the diseases cholera, bubonic plague, diphtheria, smallpox, and typhus. They then ruthlessly took thousands and thousands of West African slaves.
The first trading fort of the Portuguese was established in the West African area near Sierra Leone in 1482. It became a major gateway for slaves with 1,800 African slaves being purchased by Europeans by 1500. While some slaves were shipped to Europe, the majority of the West African ended up working on sugar plantations in the Azores Islands, Canary Islands, and Madeira. This brutal exploitation of West Africans eventually opens the door for slave trade across the Middle Passage. While they ruled and existed, the three West African kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai were strong, rich, smart, advanced, and on top of the world.