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A Visit to Mali

Ibn Battuta was a 14th-century Muslim traveler. Ibn Battuta spent 24 years traveling the Muslim world to meet scholars and rulers. Ibn Battuta's stories about life in the Middle Ages give us a first hand account of historical events and ceremonies such as the one below.

Read the passage below and pay close attention to Ibn Battuta's description of the public-sitting ceremony of Mali's king and religious leader, the Sultan Sulayman. Use this author's description to help you answer the questions. Discuss your answers with classmates.

Primary Source Tips
Reading eyewitness accounts can help you learn about cultures and civilizations throughout history. Sometimes you can even learn how an author feels about a certain place in time. Look for descriptive words or phrases that give you clues about the author's opinions.

"[The sultan] has a lofty pavilion, of which the door is inside his house, where he sits for most of the time. . . . There came forth from the gate of the palace about 300 slaves, some carrying in their hands bows and others having in their hands short lances and shields. . . Then two saddled and bridled horses are brought, with two rams which, they say, are effective against the evil eye. . . . Dugha, the interpreter, stands at the gate of the council-place wearing fine garments of silk brocade and other materials, and on his head a turban with fringes which they have a novel way of winding. . . . The troops, governors, young men, slaves, the Masufa, and others sit outside the council-place in a broad street where there are trees. . . . Inside the council-place beneath the arches a man is standing. Anyone who wishes to address the sultan addresses Dugha and Dugha addresses that man standing and that man standing addresses the sultan. If one of them addresses the sultan and the latter [the Sultan] replies he uncovers the clothes from his back and sprinkles dust on his head and back, like one washing himself with water. I used to marvel how their eyes did not become blinded."

1. How does this passage provide evidence of Mali's wealth? 2. West Africa was considered the edge of the Muslim World. Many scholars claim West Africa had a blend of Islamic and traditional West African customs. What customs do you think were of West African origin? 3. What do you think are Ibn Battuta's impressions of the public sitting ceremony? Do you think this ceremony was typical in the Muslim world?

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