Sundiata Keita

founder of the Mali Empire
Born: c. 1210
Birthplace: Kangaba State (in present-day Mali) West Africa

An ethnic Malinké (also known as Mandinka), Mari Diata was the son of Nare Maghan, ruler of the small state of Kangaba in present-day Mali, West Africa. When Mari was a young man, Sumanguru Kante, king of the nearby Soso Empire, killed Nare and annexed Kangaba. From around 1230 to 1234, Mari Diata united the chiefs of various Malinké clans. He led them to war and defeated the Soso around 1235. This marked the decline of the Soso Empire. Mari Diata then took the name “Sundiata” meaning “lion prince.” “Keita” is the name of his dynasty. With his capital at Niani, Sundiata consolidated his power over the Malinké and forged the Mali Empire. The empire grew rich from the gold mines of what is today Ghana and through control of the lucrative trade routes linking West Africa's Atlantic coast with the Arab trading posts in the Sahara.

Died: c. 1260