Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
Across the Centuries

Understanding Primary Sources: A Visit to Mali

Objective: Students read Ibn Battuta's eyewitness account of a ceremony in the Empire of Mali and then prepare a report about traditional West African cultures.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
2 hours over 2 days

Building Background:
Tell students that they will be helping you to draw a timeline of events in West Africa. On the board, draw a timeline beginning in 500 B.C. and ending in A.D.1600. Begin reviewing the history of West Africa and adding historical events to your timeline. Explain that as early as 500 B.C., caravans plied the deserts of North Africa and linked early peoples, such as the Nok, to the Mediterranean basin. Review the origins of the Empire of Mali in 1235. Discuss Mali's most well-known king, Mansa Musa, who ruled from 1307 to 1332, and add these dates to your timeline. Conclude by discussing the rise of Songhai in 1435 and its defeat by Morocco in 1590. Tell students that we know about these civilizations because many early travelers such as Ibn Battuta visited and recorded important information about the daily lives and customs of these people. Inform students they will be reading one such record and then researching the cultures of West Africa.

What To Do:

1. Distribute the A Visit to Mali worksheet. Suggest that students read Ibn Battuta's eyewitness account on the worksheet and answer the questions. Ask for volunteers to discuss the royal ceremony of Mali and what Ibn Battuta's impressions may have been.

2. Encourage students to learn more about the West African people and cultures that Ibn Battuta and other foreigners encountered. Suggest students visit their local library and focus their research by looking for information about historical West African ethnic groups and their daily lives and customs. If your class has Internet access, encourage them to visit the following sites:

Musa and the Mali Empire, 1324

This Internet site provides articles on the history of Mali and its glamorous ruler Mansa Musa.

Lonely Planet - Destination Ghana

Although it presents information about present-day Ghana, this Internet site contains useful cultural information about the nation's largest ethnic group, the Ashanti. Click "Culture" to learn about the Ashanti.

3. Have students briefly discuss the results of their research. Ask them to convey how the cultures of West Africa may have been affected by Islam. In addition, ask for volunteers to discuss how Muslims such as Ibn Battuta from outside West Africa might have viewed these customs.

4. Have students choose one of the customs they uncovered in their research. Suggest they use their notes and their sources to assist them in preparing a detailed report about one aspect of West African culture. Ask students to include details about the custom prior to the coming of Islam and how it may have been changed by Islam.

5. When students have completed their reports, encourage them to present their findings to the class. If students' reports offer enough detail, suggest that volunteers explain a particular custom or ceremony to the class.

Create a list on the board combining West African customs and the names of the West African ethnic groups that practice them. Have students look for any customs or traditions shared by more than one group of people. Update the list to reflect these shared customs or traditions.


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