Western Africa 1200–1400

West Africa was often referred to by Arab traders, as early as the tenth century, as “the land of gold” because of the remarkable wealth it offered, not just in the form of actual gold, but in the form of many different natural resources. Arab traders were eager to buy and sell in the various markets cities depicted on this map. Notice, too, the changing shape of the various African empires, especially as they were increasingly influenced by Islamic cultures and traditions throughout the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries. A good illustration of the Islamic presence in West Africa is provided by the fourteenth-century Djingareiber Mosque (3)—the Great Mosque—which was in the capital city of the Mali Empire, Timbuktu. Extensive trade routes connected areas of North and West Africa, opening the way for the movement of goods, ideas, and narrative traditions. The West African epic, Sunjata (NAWOL, Vol. C, pg 12), which recounts the founding of the Mali Empire (pictured on the map), is an example of a traditional African oral narrative into which Mande bards incorporated elements from Islamic tales.