Sundiata Keita ‘The Lion of Mali,’ Is More Than Just a Legend


Although many legends have been passed down over time about the ruler known as Sundiata Kieta, there is much to learn about the real-life of the individual who partially inspired the likes of The Lion King.

Sundiata Keita was born around the year 1210 (although the exact date is unknown). He was the son of the chief of the Kangaba people of West Africa. For quite some time throughout his early childhood, Sundiata was disabled and unable to walk like many other children in the chiefdom. However, according to Black Past, by “sheer willpower,” the young boy was able to gain mobility.

A determined streak makes sense for the future ruler and founder of the Mali Empire. Sundiata was one of twelve brothers murdered sometime during the 13th century by Sumanguru ruler of Kaniaga (which neighbors Kangaba). However, the ruler took pity on him due to his disability. 

Sundiata, who is believed to have been a headman (also known as adugu-tigi) of a village in Kangaba, would later challenge and defeat Sumanguru in that Battle of Kirina with the help of a private army.

This win allowed him to preside over and conquer various places such as Kaniaga and Kumbi (a capital found in ancient Ghana).

In the year 1235, Sundiata founded the Mali empire.

The empire was a flourishing federation where Sundiata ruled from the capital, a village known as Niani, with the help of trusted individuals, including warlords and chieftains who ruled individual provinces.

The smoothness of Sundiata’s system enabled the Mali Empire to become incredibly successful. Making it “the largest and most prosperous state in West Africa with much of its wealth coming from the long-distance salt and gold trade with North Africa across the Sahara,” according to Black Past.

Despite the multiple tales about the ruler of the Mali Empire, such as killing Sumanguru with a poisoned arrow or being a magician, the actual life of Sundiata Keita “The Lion of Mali “is not only quite rich but an essential part of history.

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