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Sundiata Keita of Mali


Sundiata Keita was the founder of the Mali Empire in West Africa. He ruled from 1235 to 1255 CE and established the Mali Empire as the dominant power in the region.


Much of what we know about Sundiata, especially his childhood and how he came into power, comes from stories passed down orally through storytellers throughout the centuries. Although much of what we know about Sundiata is legend, he was a real king who really existed and established the Empire of Mali.

Growing Up

Sundiata was born around 1217 CE. His mother, Sogolon, was the second wife of King Maghan of Mali. Growing up, Sundiata was ridiculed as a cripple. He was weak and couldn't walk. However, King Maghan loved Sundiata and protected him. This made the king's first wife, Sassouma, jealous of Sundiata and his mother. She wanted her son, Touman, to be king someday.

When Sundiata was three, the king died. Sundiata's stepbrother, Touman, became king. Touman treated Sundiata poorly, making fun of him and picking on him constantly.

Growing Strong

When Sundiata was a child, Mali was a fairly small kingdom. While he was still a child, the Soso people captured Mali and took control. Sundiata became a captive of the Soso, living with the leader of the Soso. At the age of seven, Sundiata began to gain strength. He learned how to walk and exercised every day. In a few years, he transformed himself into a powerful warrior. He was determined to free Mali from the Soso and fled into exile.

Becoming a Leader

While in exile, Sundiata became famous as a feared warrior and hunter. After several years, he decided to return to Mali. The people of Mali were fed up with the high taxes of the Soso rulers and were ready to revolt. Sundiata gathered an army and began to fight against the Soso. He won several small victories until he finally met the king of the Soso on the battlefield. Sundiata defeated the Soso in what would later be known as the Battle of Kirina. Legend has it that Sundiata killed the Soso King, Sumanguru, with a poisoned arrow.


After defeating the Soso at the Battle of Kirina, Sundiata marched on the Soso kingdom and took total control. He established the Mali Empire, conquering much of the Empire of Ghana as well. He took control of the gold and salt trade, helping Mali to become rich and powerful. Sundiata established the city of Niani as the capital of the empire. From Niani, he ruled for 20 years keeping peace in the region and expanding his empire.


Sundiata died in 1255. There are different tales as to how he died. In one story, he died by drowning in a local river. In another, he was accidentally killed by an arrow during a celebration. His son, Mansa Wali, became king after his death.


Sundiata's legacy lived on in the Mali Empire. The empire ruled much of Western Africa for the next several hundred years. The story of the legend of Sundiata is told throughout the world today. His story also inspired the Walt Disney film "The Lion King."

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