Or so says some historians.
Although it is now widely accepted that Columbus did not discover the Americas when he landed in the Caribbean in 1492, as there were Native Americans watching him from the continents’ shores, a more contested history of explorers who went to America continues to rear its head and cause fierce debates in many circles.
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According to a number of sources, Abubakari II, Mansa (King) of the Mali Empire in the 14th century, led Malian sailors to the Americas, specifically present-day Brazil, almost 200 years before Columbus arrived. Abubakari II ruled what was arguably the richest and largest empire on earth – covering nearly all of West Africa.
BBC writing on ‘The Saga of Abubakari II…he left with 2000 boats’ by Malian scholar, Gaoussou Diawara, notes:
Abubakari wanted to find out whether the Atlantic Ocean – like the great River Niger that swept through Mali – had another ‘bank’. He had traveled extensively throughout and outside of the African continent, already owning most of the continent. His predecessor and uncle, Soundjata Keita, had already founded the Mali empire and conquered a good stretch of the Sahara Desert and the great forests along the West African coast”.
African-Guyanese historian Ivan Van Sertima, writing on the testimony of Emperor Kanku Musa recorded by the Arab Ibn Amir Hajib and transcribed by Al Omari in the 14th century in Egypt during the pilgrimage of Musa, and on the description of the empire of Mali made by Ibn Battuta in the 14th century, explained:
Lured by exploration, Abubakari II called engineers of the Lake Chad who were known to build ships like their Egyptian ancestors and studied all the ships on the rivers Djoliba (Niger) and Senegal to help him launch a massive fleet across the ocean.
He also hired a large and diverse crew of sailors, traders, builders, artists, warriors, and learned men, and supplied them with enough rations to last two years. The fleet then went across the great western ocean, relying on a unique system of drum communication.
When only one ship returned with a lone captain, telling the king “that after several days on the sea, the ships were sucked up by a sort of river with a powerful flow on the ocean and all the ships disappeared at the horizon”, Abubakari decided to sent off on the journey himself.
Abubakari II handed his throne to his brother, Kankou Moussa, and set off on an expedition into the unknown in 1311.
“The emperor gave up all power and gold to pursue knowledge and discovery,” historians say.
His brother, Kankou Moussa, popularly known as Mansa Musa, would become the richest man in all of history.
Some historians say nothing was heard from or of Abubakari II after and for this reason, some posit that Malians did not sail to the Americas during this time.
But others say Abubakari II’s expedition is what helped Mansa Musa become as rich as he is. One site says on Abubakari II’s arrival in Brazil:
“He decides instead that he will journey across the ocean to rule this new land he calls “Boure Bambouk”, after the richest goldfields of Mali.
The third year in the fledgling colony of Boure Bambouk, the first under the direction of Abubakari II, sees its highs and lows. Abubakari establishes the first diplomatic contacts with the curious Tupi tribes of the region, encouraging trade with them. Through this trade, the colonists of Boure Bambouk are first acquainted with New World crops, including corn, beans, peanuts, tobacco, cotton, and tropical fruits. Such agricultural commodities will allow the colony to become self-sustaining. Likewise, Old World livestock, such as cattle, sheep, and guinea fowl, are first introduced to the Tupi, as are cereal grains like rice, millet, and sorghum.
In 1314, Abubakari sends a boat back to Mali to petition his brother for more support. Mansa Musa is impressed by the new crops presented to him, and garners more settlers and aid to send to Boure Bambouk. Thus begins a back-and-forth exchange of Bamboukian goods in return for Malian assistance. Agriculture of corn, beans, peanuts, peppers, and cotton will set off a population explosion in Mali, that will provide future settlers from across the sea.”
Although not all historians agree that there was evidence of Abubakari II’s journey and landing in the Americas, many do agree that there may have been Black African presence in the Americas way before Columbus.
Tiemoko Konate, head of the project tracing Abubakari II’s journeys told BBC, that Columbus, himself, said he found black traders already present in the Americas. Moreover, chemical analyses of gold tips that Columbus found on spears in America show that the gold probably came from West Africa.
Some say that beyond Columbus, evidence of African contributions to American civilization includes “importing the art of pyramid building, political systems and religious practices as well as mathematics, writing and a sophisticated calendar”.
Van Sertima cites the Aztec divinity Quetzalcoatl who is sometimes represented in Mexico as a Black man with a beard, dressed in white, who arrived 6 cycles after the last man who came from the foreign lands.
Others also say the presence of stones heads with ‘African features’ of the ancient Olmec Civilization in South America, prior to the Aztecs and Mayans, is even more proof.
With mounting evidence to suggest of African presence in the Americas before Columbus, it may be fair to say that Africa’s relationship with the Americas did not start with slavery. But with sailors, explorers, and kings.