Abubakari II was a Malian emperor who ruled in the 14th century. He discovered America nearly 200 years before Christopher Columbus.
According to a book that was launched in December 2000 and even more recent historical evidence corroborated by some of the most renowned African Griots, Abubakari II was by far the most powerful ruler on earth.
But Abubakari gave up power to his younger brother to pursue knowledge and to further enrich the superb history and culture of Mali.
A grandson of a daughter of the great ruler Sundiata (who reigned 1230-1255), the founder of the Keita dynasty, Mansa (emperor) Abubakari became ruler of Mali in 1300. His younger brother was Kankan Musa, who later became the famous Mansa Musa.
Abubakari II ruled what was arguably the richest and largest empire on earth – covering nearly all of West Africa. He sought to increase the power and influence of Mali even further.
However, he did not seek to do it in combat alone. Mansa Abubakari, like his ancient Egyptian ancestors before him, sought something more grandiose.
While his brother was interested in extending the borders of the empire to the east, toward today’s Cairo, to recapture the essence of the old African civilization of Kemet, Mansa Abubakari instead focused on westward expansion by exploring the waters to the west of his empire.
Unlike most medieval Europeans, African geographers such as Abu Zakari, al-Masandi, Baba Idirisa, and Albufeda had concluded that the Atlantic Ocean was not the western edge of the world, and their ideas may have come to Abubakari through scholarship at the great Malian university in Timbuktu.
According to a respected Malian scholar, Gaoussou Diawara in his book, ‘The Saga of Abubakari II… he left with 2000 boats,’ giving up all power and gold to pursue knowledge and discovery.
Abubakari’s ambition was to explore whether the Atlantic Ocean – like the great River Niger that swept through Mali – had another bank.
In 1311, he handed the throne over to his younger brother, Kankou Moussa, and set off on an expedition into the unknown.
His predecessor and uncle, Soundjata Keita, had already founded the Mali Empire and conquered a good stretch of the Sahara Desert and the great forests along the West African coast.
Gaoussou Diawara’s book focuses on a research project that was carried out in Mali tracing Abubakari’s journeys.
“We are not saying that Abubakari II was the first ever to cross the ocean,” says Tiemoko Konate, who heads the project.
“There is evidence that Africans way before him did – the ancient Egyptians were the first, even the Vikings lay claim to America long before Columbus, as well as the Chinese,” he said.
The researchers claim that Abubakari’s fleet of pirogues, loaded with men and women, livestock, food and drinking water, departed from what is the coast of present-day Gambia and headed for the America’s in search of knowledge that would make Mali even stronger.
Mansa Abubakari’s expedition was Africa’s most recent attempt to export her culture and traditions outside of Africa and to enrich herself and the rest of the world. Abubakari wanted to become the first diplomat of Mali to some of the remotest places on earth.
To Mansa Abubakari, expanding eastward to reclaim Kemet was not enough. He strongly believed that if Mali were going to be truly great, she had to explore and conquer the excesses of distance and the impossible.
Today, researchers in Timbuktu are gathering evidence that in 1312 Abubakari II landed on the coast of Brazil in the place known today as Recife.
“Its other name is Purnanbuco, which we believe is an aberration of the Mande name for the rich gold fields that accounted for much of the wealth of the Mali Empire, Boure Bambouk.”
Another researcher, Khadidjah Djire says they have found written accounts of Abubakari’s expedition in Egypt, in a book written by Al Omari in the 14th century.
“Our aim is to bring out hidden parts of history”, she says.
Mr Konate says they are also examining reports by Columbus himself, who said he found black traders already present in the Americas.
They also cite chemical analyses of the gold tips that Columbus found on spears in the Americas, which show that the gold came from West Africa.
But the scholars say the best sources of information on Abubakari II are Griots – the original historians in Africa.
Mr Diawara says the paradox of Abubakari II, is that the Griots themselves imposed a seal of silence on the story since Abubakari never returned himself.
But, Mr Diawara says the Griots in West Africa such as Sadio Diabate, are slowly starting to divulge the secrets on Abubakari II and his expedition.
Abubakari’s history in Mali has an important moral lesson for leaders of today’s nation states in West Africa, which were once part of the vast Mali Empire.
A cursory look at what’s going on in all the remnants of the Mali Empire – in Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea show an attitude that is not in tandem with that of Mansa Abubakari II.
“Politicians are bathing their countries in blood, setting them on fire just so that they can cling to power,” says Mr Diawara.
“They should take an example from Abubakari II. He was a far more powerful man than any of them. And he was willing to give it all up in the name of science and discovery.”
“That should be a lesson for everyone in Africa today,” concludes Mr Diawara.
For knowledge is far more lasting than power!