The history of Mansa Musa or Kanku Musa is little known among Western historians.
The one who is considered the richest man who ever lived was Emperor of Mali when that name corresponded to a prodigious empire that stretched throughout the Sahel, from Nigeria to the Senegalese coast.
His legend, based on the extraordinary wealth of his empire, placed him in the Catalan atlas or world map of the Cresques, a 14th century book that includes the entire world
by the Europeans of the time and that today is kept in the French National Library.
He inherited the throne because his predecessor left for America with a fleet of traditional boats that left the Senegal coast and never returned.
He breathed life, culture and art into towns such as Gao or Timbuktu, dragging philosophers, academics and scientists from all over the world to its universities and corners, dazzled by the splendor of the empire.
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Sun of the Soil: The Story of Mansa Musa
(El sol de la Tierra: la historia de Mansa Musa,
in Spanish) is one of the few documentary pieces that starts from the figure of this African sovereign of that same century, the XIV, linking it - in this case - with the immersion of the Malian artist Abdou Ouologuem in his legend. As a result of his collaboration, the writer and producer Ladan Osman and the director and journalist Joe Penney, could be seen online on YouTube thanks to the Smithsonian Museum of African Art. Osman and Penney had a dialogue with the Pier Penic museum educator, targeting high school and high school students. The presentation was part of the exhibition program
Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange Across Medieval Saharan Africa.
The dialogue is still open online, but the documentary continues its journey through festivals and meetings and was removed from the recording of the event.
Project born in 2014, this documentary of just 26 minutes arose in the context of a photographic exhibition that took place between that year and 2018. The photographic project illustrated the arrival of Musa to modern-day Bamako, using the rails that connect the Malian capital with Dakar and seated on a throne carried by four young men covered in gold, after fulfilling the duty of the pilgrimage to Mecca. This was precisely the feat that shocked the people of his time, from Africa to the Mediterranean, and that has earned him immortality. "He built dozens of mosques along the way and spent so much gold in Cairo that the price of the metal plummeted for the next twenty years," Penney notes.
He built dozens of mosques along the way and spent so much gold in Cairo that the price of the metal plummeted for the next twenty years.
The documentary does not stop at resuscitating the past splendor of its empire: it reminds us that a large part of the African cultural and documentary heritage is not on the continent nor is it accessible to Africans themselves.
It does so through testimonies such as that of the historian, poet and philosopher Ismaël Diadié Haïdara, responsible for the conservation of the Kati Fund, the most important Andalusian documentary legacy outside of Spain.
He is accompanied by academics such as Catherine Coquery-Vidrovich, Michael Gomez or Christina Sharpe and also Abdel Kader Haïdara, another guardian of Malian handwritten history.
Precisely the fact that Mansa Musa privileged written culture over oral culture, antagonizing the
(troubadours) of the time, who acted as historians and notaries of reality, is used as one of the possible causes of the emperor's absence of our knowledge.
Also the impact of trafficking and colonialism, which erased, distorted or kidnapped the histories of lavish civilizations.
Finally, neocolonialism and the current situation in Mali contribute to the ignorance and resignation, for many a failed state, on its knees and intervened, in addition to full resources, but impoverished.
The documentary reminds us that a large part of the African cultural and documentary heritage is not on the continent nor is it accessible to Africans themselves.
Ladan is a poet and writer. It is the first time that he lets himself be embarked on a film project, like his accomplice, with training as a journalist. Both were curious about the silence that surrounds Mansa Musa and wanted to investigate how power worked, what the world was like, how Mali contributed to the wealth of the Middle East and Europe at the time when the emperor amazed his contemporaries. "It had a central role in the story and we wanted to point it out and draw attention to this," adds Penney, recalling - for example - that the Florentine gold that financed wars and immortal works of art was actually Malian.
"As someone who tells stories, I know very well that there is something behind the omissions and what you remove from the speech, the lack of honesty in the narrative," says Osman.
She advocates the search for lost stories to build a future for black communities and even speculation and active thinking about the narratives they allow us to access.
Penney agrees with her: "the important thing was to see where history was erased, where it was buried, and what is necessary to bring it back to life."