The Collections

Mansa Musa (Black Icons Collection™)

 

Mansa Musa (c. 1280 – c. 1337 C.E.), also known as Musa Keita, Musa I, and Kankan Musa, is said to be the wealthiest person in world history. He was the Emperor or Sultan of the Mali Empire in Western Africa, ruling for around 25 years, from c. 1312 – c. 1337 C.E. Mansa Musa’s wealth in today’s money has been conservatively estimated to be at least $400 billion dollars, which would make him richer than modern business tycoons like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos.

 

The Mali Empire was founded by Mansa Musa’s granduncle, the Mandingo King Sundiata Keita (the “Lion King”) in the 13th century C.E. At its height, the Mali Empire stretched for over 2,000 miles, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Sahara Desert, rainforest, and savannah regions of Western Africa. It was one of the largest empires in the medieval world and West Africa, and the wealthiest in all of Africa. The Mali Empire lasted for hundreds of years and included parts of the modern-day Western African countries of Burkina Faso, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, the Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania, and Mali.

 

Mansa Musa made most of his money from mining and controlling the trade in gold, copper, iron, salt, ivory, among other natural resources and commodities, as well as agricultural production and cattle commerce. The Mali Empire was the medieval “Old” World’s largest producer of gold, and Mansa Musa owned and supplied roughly half of the gold that circulated during those times. The empire’s gold was traded to North Africa and Europe, where it was used to mint European and Middle Eastern gold coins.

 

At the height of Musa’s reign, the Mali Empire boasted over 400 urban centers, including the prosperous, cultured, and learned cities of Timbuktu, Gao, Djenné, and the capital city of Niani. The empire nurtured local talent and attracted foreign leaders, diplomats, architects, investors, traders, students, scholars, scientists, religious adherents, artists, artisans, tourists, and others from across Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Musa constructed great centers of learning in his empire, including the famed Sankoré University, with dormitories that could accommodate up to 25,000 students who had access to one of the world’s largest libraries, with some one million books and manuscripts.

 

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As a devout Muslim, Mansa Musa embarked on a legendary 4,000-mile-long Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia, between 1324 and 1325 C.E., accompanied by his wife Inari Kunate. Musa’s procession went across the Sahara Desert, through Cairo in Egypt, and on to the holy site, taking over a year (one-way) to complete. It included some  60,000 elaborately-adorned and finely-dressed people, as well as a caravan of hundreds of camels, horses, mules, and elephants that transported his entourage, food, supplies, and his extremely large stash of hundreds to thousands of pounds of pure gold bars and gold dust. Throughout this long journey, Musa gave away lots of gold to poor people, charities, and city officials. He made deals with merchants, bought books, luxury items, and souvenirs, and invested in real estate. Musa dropped so much gold cash that it caused a long recession in Egypt and the wider region over the next 12 years, devaluing the worth of the precious metal, and inflating the cost of goods. Because of Musa’s impressive Hajj to Mecca, Timbuktu became world famous as Africa’s “El Dorado,” a city of gold, lavish-living, spirituality, and learning. The Mali Empire also cemented its status as one of the greatest in world history in terms of its wealth, power, commerce, culture, education, and religion.

Katawud Black Money™ Gold Coin​ (Gold Coin Collection™)

AThe Katawud Black Money™ Gold Coin graphic features a central image of a Black Star beside a Black man and a Black woman positioned back-to-back. Gold is widely recognized as the ultimate form of currency and gold coins have been used for millennia as tangible, stable money in a variety of world cultures. Like the Sankofa bird symbol in West Africa, as well as the ancient Roman deity Janus, the figures on the Katawud Black Money™ Gold Coin graphic are looking backward and forward, representing the duality, connections, and importance of both history and the future.

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Harriet Tubman Gold Coin (Gold Coin Collection™)

Born into slavery in Dorchester County, Maryland around 1820, Harriet Tubman (AKA “Moses”) escaped to freedom in Philadelphia. As a determined abolitionist and conductor on the Underground Railroad, she returned to the South on secret missions where she liberated hundreds of enslaved people and brought them to freedom in the North. Tubman was also a nurse and advocate for women’s right to vote. During the American Civil War, Tubman was an armed scout and spy for the Union Army. Tubman was the first woman in the Civil War to lead an armed raid, which liberated over 700 enslaved people. She spent the last years of her life in Auburn, New York.

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