Social Studies - 2019-20

3.4 - West African Empire of Mali

The student will describe the oral tradition (storytelling), government (kings), and economic development (trade) of the early West African empire of Mali.

Adopted: 2015


  • So that I know history is a record of mankind’s past that includes how people lived and the important events that occured
  • So that I know history began long, long ago
  • So that one way history was recorded was through storytelling
  • So that oral accounts and traditions were important to ancient cultures as a way to maintain their customs and history
  • So that In order to obtain things they wanted but didn’t have, people and societies trade
  • So that monarchies (kings and queens, pharaohs, emperors, etc.) were the major types of government structures long ago


Most of what we know about Mali’s history comes from oral accounts that were handed down by Mali storytellers.

Mali was ruled by rich and powerful kings.

Early Mali was a wealthy trading empire before Columbus sailed to America.


Africa was the home of several great empires. One of the most prosperous was the early West African empire of Mali.

Many storytellers in Mali passed on stories and traditions from one generation to the next.

The kings of Mali were rich and powerful men who controlled trade in West Africa. Mali became one of the largest and wealthiest empires in the region and was an important trade center.

Mali lay across the trade routes between the sources of salt in the Sahara Desert and the gold mines of West Africa. For the people of the desert, salt was a valuable natural resource. People used salt for health reasons and for preserving foods. Miners found gold in Western Africa. Therefore, salt was traded for gold.

Timbuktu was an important city in Mali. It had a famous university with a large library containing Greek and Roman books.


Updated: May 21, 2019