What do travellers accounts tell us about Medieval Mali?

Not much was written down in Medieval Mali, however there are some texts we can read from people that travelled there. What do these writings reveal, and can we rely on them completely?

You can download the worksheet for today’s lesson here. If you are unable to download the worksheet, complete the tasks as outlined in the yellow boxes below.

Sultan = A Muslim ruler.
Hajj = A very important holy pilgrimage for Muslims whereby they travel to Mecca in modern day Saudi Arabia.

Watch the following video that give 10 facts on modern day Mali. Write down the three facts that you found most interesting about the country.

TASK ONE: What can we learn from Ibn Battuta?

Ibn Battuta was a traveler that visited Medieval Mali. He is one of the few people that ever wrote anything down about the civilisation.

Listen to a reading of some of his writing on Medieval Mali. This extract explains his experience when he visited the Sultan of a region in Mali.

1) Draw a picture to show what you can ‘see’ when you listen to this reading.
2) Label your picture to show the key parts of your picture.
3) What idea are you starting to get about what Medieval Mali was like?

TASK TWO: But wait, who actually was Ibn Battuta?

Well that’s a good question. Read the information below on who Ibn Battuta was and answer the following questions:

1) Where did Ibn Battuta come from?
2) Would Battuta’s religious beliefs make him hold a certain set of beliefs? Would this possibly affect the reliability of his writing?
3) Who did Battuta write his stories for? Could this affect the reliability of his writing?
4) When did Battuta write down his stories? Could this affect the reliability of his writing?

Who was Ibn Battuta?

Ibn Battuta was from Tangier in Morocco, a country in North Africa. This was a very Islamic country, and Battuta was a therefore a devout Muslim that took his religion very seriously. He was careful to follow the Islamic scripture and observe his hours of prayer carefully.

He wanted to understand the Islamic world better, and in 1325, at the age of 21 years old, he left home to explore as much as he could. He became inspired by the Islamic countries of Egypt and Persia (modern day Saudi Arabia), and completed the Hajj. After exploring the middle east, he made his way back through Africa where he would eventually arrive at Mali.

When his travels were over, the Sultan of Morocco ordered Battuta to write tales of his travels down in a book for him to read. It took him over a year to write all of his experiences down.

A sketch of Ibn Battuta on his travels throughout the Islamic world in Africa and the Middle East.

TASK THREE: So what can we actually learn from Battuta’s writing?

1) Read the writing of Ibn Battuta below. What can we learn about what Medieval Mali was like? There are lots of things, so pick out as many things as you can!

2) Which information in this source do you think is reliable? Why?
HINT: Think about your answers from Task Two to help you answer this question.

3) Which information in this source do you think might be unreliable?
HINT: Think about your answers from Task Two to help you answer this question.

SOURCE A: An extract from Ibn Battuta’s writing on what the people of Medieval Mali were like.

‘The people possess some admirable qualities. They are rarely unjust, and have a greater hatred of injustice than any other people. Their Sultan shows no mercy to anyone who is guilty of the least act of it. There is complete security in their country. Neither traveller nor inhabitant in it has anything to fear from robbers or men of violence. They are careful to observe the hours of prayer, always attend mosque on religious days and bring their children with them.​

​’Among their bad qualities are the following. There is their custom of putting dust and ashes on their heads, as a mark of respect. Another reprehensible practice among many of them is the eating of carrion (animals found dead), dogs and donkeys’.

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