Spared because he was a cripple, this is how Mali’s Sundiata killed Susu Kingdom’s Sumanguru

Michael Eli Dokosi December 19, 2019
A drawing of Sundiata Keita (

The interior of Africa forged civilizations and empires. The notables include Ghana, Tekrur, Mali and Songhai empires.

The Ghana Empire tasted glory first getting to its peak by A.D. 1060. It was made up of deferent people such as the Soninke, the Susu, the Serer, the Berber and the Tuculor each with its own distinctive culture and language. With the Ghana kings failing to wield the nation states into one political and cultural unit, these conquered states were anxious to regain their freedom. It reasoned that it was Ghana’s military might which kept the empire going but once weak, it was overrun.

The Ghana empire broke up first due to the rise of Islam and then the emergence of two strong new kingdoms to the south, first the Susu Kingdom and then the Mali Empire, according to Prof. Albert Adu Boahen in his ‘Topics in West African History’ book first published in 1966.

One of the vassal-states of Ghana, Kaniaga regained its independence in about 1076. By 1200, it had developed into the strong Susu or Soso kingdom and in 1203; its king called Sumanguru Kante conquered Ghana and reduced it to a tributary state.

The Susu Empire itself had a brief spell of life as in 1235; Sumanguru was killed by the ruler of another rising empire, Mali.

During the 11th and 12th centuries, the small Mandingo principality grew steadily, powerful and influential so much so that by the beginning of the thirteenth century Sumanguru turned his attention to it after it had subdued ancient Ghana and in 1224, conquered and annexed it.

Sundjata Keita
Illustration of Sundjata Keita via

Oral tradition holds that Sumanguru was a ruthless person owing to the fact that he had 11 of the 12 sons of the Mali king murdered only sparing the life of the last one because he was a cripple.

That cripple was Mari Jata who later became known as Sundiata Keita. He later recovered the use of his legs and became so popular at court as a soldier and hunter that the king, who was reigning at the time exiled him from the state. In 1234, however, Sundiata returned home and seized the throne and during his long reign from 1234 to 1255, he turned the small Mandingo principality and vassal state of the Susu king into the powerful and rich empire of Mali.

There is no doubt about Sundiata’s courage and ability but the political conditions of the time also played well into his hands. Sumanguru Kante had shown himself to be a grasping king, who imposed heavy taxation on the people and one report said he deprived the Mandingo of “their most beautiful women as well as their food and gold.”

The people were so oppressed that they looked for a deliverer and in his secret hide-out after he had been driven out of Kangaba, Sundiata decided to exploit the political situation raising a strong standing army and in 1234 triumphantly entered Jeriba, the capital of Kangaba and seized the throne.

With that victory, the king of Bobo in modern Burkina Faso, for instance, added a contingent of 1,500 archers to Sundiata’s army. Sundiata then marched against Sumanguru and at the famous battle of Kirini in 1235 Sumanguru was defeated and killed.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: December 19, 2019


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