All About Mansa Abu Bakr

Who discovered the Americas? Who was the first to voyage across the Atlantic?

Most would answer Christopher Columbus, but it could have possibly been Mansa Abu Bakr II, a Malian emperor who may have crossed the ocean to the Americas in the 14th century. If true, this makes it 200 years before Columbus!

Though Mansa Musa is more famous than his relative, Mansa Abu Bakr, Abu Bakr II, has an interesting story. The older brother (or uncle according to other sources) of Mansa Musa, Mansa Abu Bakr II, was the ruler of the Mali Empire during the 14th century when the Mali Empire had reached its pinnacle.

His life is not as well documented as Mansa Musa, and the only known written account about him is in the work of historian al-Umari. This account comes from Mansa Musa’s conversation with al-Umari, documenting his rise to power.

Mansa Musa explains that his brother, Abu Bakr believed that it was possible to reach the end of the Atlantic Ocean. He was obsessed with setting off and discovering what could be found across the ocean. He planned a massive expedition, equipped with 200 ships filled with provisions, water and gold, enough to last them for years. The expedition set off into the Atlantic Ocean.

Many years passed before only one ship returned. The captain of the ship explained to Mansa Abu Bakr that all the other ships were lost in a river with a powerful current.

Mansa Abu Bakr then got 2,000 ships ready, half the ships to carry men and the other half for provisions. This time Abu Bakr decided to head the expedition himself, and left Mansa Musa in charge, and embarked on his journey in the Atlantic Ocean.

This account is only found in the written tradition of al-Umari. However, if this is considered to be reliable, it opens the question of whether Mansa Abu Bakr reached the Americas. There are pieces of evidence which do suggest this. Names of places on old maps are said to have been named after Malians. There is also the argument that metal goods from West Africa were found in the Americas by Christopher Columbus. If this is true, this supports the argument that Mansa Abu Bakr may have very well crossed the Atlantic.

Though the story of Abu Bakr’s voyage has little evidence, and can not be completely verified, it certainly is a fantastic and extraordinary story.


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