Abubakari II: The Voyager King
Mansa Abubakari II was a 14th century West African ruler and explorer who led a fleet of ships across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas, predating Christopher Columbus' voyage by more than a century. Abubakari was the eighth Mansa, or king, of the Mali Empire, which at the time of his reign was the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful empire not only in West Africa but in the history of the world.
The great Mali Empire was established by Mansa Sundiata (translated “the lion king”) Keita in the 13th century and expanded its territory, influence, and culture over the course of the next four centuries. Mali included the city of Timbuktu, which was one of the most important centers of knowledge of all time. It was also a religious hub, home of the expansion of the Islamic faith.
After Abubakari II came into power, he became concerned with more than the growth of the Mali empire on the African continent. He became curious and intrigued with the prospect of discovery beyond the western shores of Africa beyond the Atlantic Ocean. Abubakari gathered shipbuilders and watermen from all over his empire and commissioned the building of different boat designs so that if one failed, another might succeed. After having 200 ships constructed, fully equipped, and filled with enough gold, water, and food to last for two years, in about 1310 Abubakari had them set sail for the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. He is said to have told his commanders not to return until they had reached the other side of the ocean or when they exhausted their food and water.
It is believed that 1 ship returned with a scouting report of abundant land and civilization discovered and a request for more supplies. With that news, Abubakari excitedly decided that he would make the journey back to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean with the ship, but this time he would take a fleet of 2000 ships filled with people and immense supplies and command this fleet himself. He conferred power on his younger brother Musa in or about 1311 and set out with his fleet down the Senegal River and headed west in the Atlantic. He never returned to Mali, and it is believed that he and his fleet reached the Americas, possibly landing on the coast of present-day Brazil or Venezuela. Some historians also suggest that he may have reached the Caribbean Islands or even the Gulf of Mexico. There is even evidence indicating that in 1312 Abubaki landed on the coast of Brazil in the place known today as Recife, the capital of the state of Pernambuco – a derivation of the name for the rich gold fields that accounted for much of the wealth of the Mali Empire, Boure Bambouk.
Abubakari II's voyage is indeed a significant achievement in the history of exploration. Not only does it predate Christopher Columbus' voyage by more than a century, but it also highlights the advanced maritime technology and navigational skills of West African societies during the medieval period.
Despite the lack of written historical data made available in the western world, the best sources of information on Abubakari II are Griots, the original historians in Africa, and they have held onto and preserved the truth of Abubakari’s expedition that landed him and the Mali people on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. We are reminded that the history of exploration and discovery is not limited to European explorers and that African explorers made significant contributions to the field concurrent with and preceding Europeans.
Abubakari’s expedition clearly shows that the relationship between West Africa and America did not begin with slavery initiated by European colonizers. The relationship was established by Muslim sailors, explorers and kings on missions of friendship and peace.
Arrrgh Mighty Kingdom Builder
- Printouts of the Arrrgh Mighty Kingdom Builder Map (attached)
- Markers or pens
- Arrrgh Mighty Observation Journal (optional)
What can you spy with your explorer eye? There are ships to be named and lands to be claimed! Let’s go!
- Have the children write in the name of their kingdom.
- Have the children write in the name of their lands.
- Have the children write in the name of their pirate ships.
- Have the children write in the name of their castle.
- Have the children explore and create a magical adventure in their new kingdom.
- Optional: Have the children write out or draw their own adventures in their Arrrgh Might Observation Journal.
This activity is a fun way for kids to experience a little bit of what it must have been like to explore and build kingdoms worldwide, like the great Mansa Abubakari II who was one of the most important explorers of his time and beyond.