Teaching Timbuktu

Teaching Teachers                 Teaching the Community

March 12, 2015: As part of our ongoing TEACHING TIMBUKTU project, one of our Mali teachers Macky TALL was active once again with Third Grade students studying the Empire of Mali for the Virginia SOL.  This requires students to learn about :

*  the geography of the medieval West African Mali Empire, based on trade along the River Niger, Africa’s third greatest water source; and about the trade that made Mali rich: especially gold from the south was traded for salt from the Sahara desert. Salt was so important for preserving food and health, and salt literally was “worth its own weight in gold.”

*  They also have to know about the history of the Lion King, Sunjata Keita who founded his Mali empire in the year 1235; about his grand-nephew Mansa Musa who built the great mosque of Timbuktu in the year 1326 on his return from the pilgrimage to Mecca; and about the decline of Timbuktu and Mali when the last Sonrai dynasty was defeated in the battle of Tondibi in 1591 by invading Moroccan forces who had firearms (the formidable “blunderbuss”) that were previously unknown in Africa. This decline was also due to the expansion of sea trade after 1492, which could carry more gold, ivory, nuts and timber –  and more cheaply – that the cross-Saharan trade on camels.

* the peacefulness of Malian Islam, which is reflective, poetic and has nothing to do with terrorism !  The Islamic University of Timbuktu was world famous in the 15th century for peace studies, theology and humanism – in those days Timbuktu had 25,000 students.

* and students need to know about the griots :  historians, diplomats and praise singers, the poets and musicians who largely ran the Mali Empire.


The students of Miss Katz’s class in Mary Munford School  were very knowledgeable already. Macky TALL, our domestic White West African, was impressed with their knowledge and enthusiasm. In addition to knowing about griots, these students have now heard the music of Toumani DIABATE and Ali Farka TOURE.  They also discovered that, before Ali Farka died, these two musicians played together won a Grammy for their amazingly beautiful CD IN THE HEART OF THE MOON.

(That is a “Must Buy” for all 3rd Grade parents and for all Friends of Mali.)

Oh yes! And everyone got to taste AKRA, made by Chef Mamusu at Africainne on Main (at 2nd Street) the delicious, deep-fried Malian bean-flour ancestor of the American ‘hush-puppy’ – for so much of Southern American food and music and culture came from the lands of the glorious Mali Empire, brought to Richmond by our strong and resilient African ancestors who came on slave ships and whose strength and muscles built America as we know it today.