10 Great Pre-colonial African Kings You Should Know About

Dillon Alibeer
A depiction of Sonni Ali by artist Leo Dillonfor Anheuser-Busch's Legends of The Crown series

Many of us call the black men in our lives kings as a term of endearment, respect and encouragement, but with no extensive connection or education of black royalty here in the Western world, those words seem nothing more than platitudes. Usually, the only view of black royalty comes from over 4000 years ago in Ancient Egypt & Nubia.

As we celebrate the kings in our families, we’d like to introduce you to 10 real life Great Pre-colonial Black African Kings we should all know more about and identify with.

King Endubis
Endubis or Endybis, King of Axum ca 270-300 AD

Endubis 270ce. -300ce Axum (Ethiopia) Axum was a powerful North East African Empire which rose to power after the decline of Ancient Egypt and Nubia. Axum is credited with conquering and bringing the ultimate end of the Kingdom of ancient Meroe (Nubia). Axum controlled the horn of Africa to across the Red Sea into the Arabian plateau. Endubis was the first king of Ancient Africa to mint coinage, and following Endubis, all Axumite (Ethiopian) Emperors  minted their own coinage: gold, silver and bronze pieces with their faces and motto.

Mansa Musa
A photograph of Mansa Musa on a map of North Africa circa 1375. (Getty Images)

Musa Keita I (Mansa Musa which translates as, “Kings of Kings” or “Emperor” of Ancient Mali) Keita 1 was the 10th Musa of the Mansa Dynasty. Under his rule, Mali became one of  the  wealthiest countries in the world. From their gold and salt production, agriculture and imperialistic nature and dynamic trade location, the kingdom flourished. Forbes named him the richest man of all time. Musa Kieta I Is famed with enriching the great trading city of Timbuktu, establishing the library and Islamic Universities. His legendary pilgrimage to Mecca with over 60,000 attendants and lavish outpouring of gold to the poor across Sahel region, Egypt and the Middle East was chronicled by many and is suspected as what drew the attention of the Spanish crown and initial attraction of Europeans to West Africa. Made famous by the Spanish map, which shows him holding a golden orb, Mansa Musa is also credited with initiating extensive building projects in Mali from palaces, Mosques and urban developments.

Sundiata book
A depiction of Sundiata from David Wisniewski’s book: Sundiata: Lion King of Mali

Sundiata Keita Founder of the Ancient Mali Empire (The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal) 1210 – 1255. The Mali Empire took control after the Almorvarids Berber Kings of Morocco destroyed the Ghana Empire.

Sundiata Kieta is the renowned hero Prince of the Mandinka people. This prince’s rise to fame is chronicled in the poem The Epic of Sundiata traditionally told by “Griots.” The poem tells of Sundiata’s fabled origins and details his pre-ordained rise to kingship, the formation of the Malian Empire and his imperial conquests starting out with a victorious battle at Kirina on the Niger River.

Afterward, he marched on, conquering all territories in modern day Senegal, the Gambia and Guinea Bissau. The dynastic line he originated became one of the wealthiest and most powerful ancient West African empires.

Amenhotep3 head
A depiction of Sundiata from David Wisniewski’s book: Sundiata: Lion King of Mali

Amenhotep III (Egypt) 18th Dynasty 1388-1351 BC. Father of the famed “heretic Pharaoh,” Akhenaten, and grandfather to the famous King Tut, Amenhotep III was one of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs and the most successful of the 18th Dynasty. During his reign, Egypt enjoyed wealth, peace and stability. There were several exquisite building projects and monuments he commissioned as well as the first man-made lake outside his palace in Malkata for his wife, the Great Queen Tiye. During his reign, Egypt had exceptional influence in foreign policy and diplomacy, which he handled along with his wife, Queen Tiye. Proof of this lies in the renowned Amarna letters coming from Assyria, Babylon, Mittani and Hatti. When Amenhotep III died, he left behind a country that was at the very height of its power and influence, commanding immense respect in the international world.

Nubian Statue of Taharqa
Nubian Statue of Taharqa

Taharqa (Egypt & Nubia) 25th Dynasty Reign 690 – 664 BCE. Taharqa was the one of the Great Napatan Nubian kings/Pharoahs. After his father, Piye, successfully conquered Egypt in battle, Taharqa united the two kingdoms to form the largest African empire at the time. His empire spanned from the 5th Nile Cataract in Nubia, throughout all of Egypt, up into the Middle East in Palestine. Taharqa is credited with bringing new peace and stability to Egypt, resuming building projects and arts in Egypt and Nubia, which were lost for centuries, at the time. Biblical scholars believe he is referenced in the Bible book of Kings 19:9 and Isaiah 37:9 as the great King of Kush who waged war against Sennacherib, King of Assyria. There are several monuments to Taharqa, and recently, in January of 2015, a great tomb sanctuary to the Egyptian God Osiris was unearthed in Upper Egypt. Its construction was traced back to the 25th Dynasty, possibly during Taharqa’s reign.

Enza Axum
Ezana on the face on an ancient Axum coin

Ezana Axum (Ethiopia) 333 – c. 356. Ezana is celebrated as the First Ethiopian King to embrace Christianity and convert his entire kingdom. He helped establish the Ethiopic Church. He is also credited with bringing the powerful rival kingdom of Meroe (Nubia) to an end. Under his rule, the Axumite kingdom flourished. Under his reign, several unique structures and obelisks were erected. International trade was also increased. His coinage has been unearthed in locations like India and Greece.

Benin statue
A Benin Bronze head for display at a shrine to the Obas, a tradition under Ewuare (Images by Sailko)

Oba Ewuare (also Ewuare the Great) Benin Empire (Edo, Nigeria) 1440 -1473. Oba Ewuare is known as the first king of the Benin Empire, the reformer of Benin City and one of the first warrior kings of West Africa. It’s chronicled that during his reign, he conquered and absorbed at least 201 surrounding towns and villages. Together, Ewuare and his son and successor, Oba Ozolua, were responsible for establishing a viable foreign trade in Benin, building substantial palaces and creating several strategic policies, one of which removed the conquered town’s chieftains from absolute power but allowed them power in a congressional committee. He also created a patrimonial bureaucracy in which freemen served as military and administrative chiefs. Outside of war and politics, Ewuare is described as a charismatic leader. He established several cultural traditions, communal events and festivals. Under Ewuare, the tradition of Beninese arts flourished.

Sonni Ali
A depiction of Sonni Ali by artist Leo Dillonfor Anheuser-Busch’s Legends of The Crown

Sonni Ali Songhai Empire-15th -16th century (Senegal, Nigeria, The Gambia, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Guinea) With Sonni at the helm, The Songhai Empire became the largest Muslim West African Empire of all time. Sonni was a brilliant military mind and led the largest imperialist mission in West Africa. His forces were amphibious, attacking and patrolling by land and water, down the Niger River. During his reign, the Songhai Empire reached its pinnacle, surpassing the Great Mali Empire, absorbing its territories and the famed city Timbuktu. Islam spread throughout both rural and urban centers during his rule.

Oduduwa
Head statue of Oduduwa in the British Museum (Ukabia)

Oba OduduwaOyo Empire (Yorubaland, Nigeria) N/A 700-AD? Oduduwa is considered the progenitor of the Yorubaland and Yoruba Dynasty. He is a national folk-hero and considered a primordial God in Yoruba culture. There is much debate on where Oduduwa originally came from or when exactly he founded the Yorubaland and language; however, he and his clan descended on the lower region of Nigeria and defeated several existing settlements to establish Yorubaland. Legend has it that he had 16 sons and daughters, and before he died, he sent each one to the centers of his conquered territories to rule autonomously, where they founded the kingdoms of Ila OrangunOwuKetuSabe, Popo and OyoOranmiyan thus established the Yoruba dynastic family line.

Osei Tutu
Osei Tutu depicted by artist Alfred Smith for Anheuser-Busch’s Legends of The Crown

Osei Kofi Tutu 1660 – 1717 Ashanti Kingdom (Ghana) The Ashanti was a highly political, wealthy, and powerful West African Kingdom. The Ashanti was one of the first Sub-Saharan militaries to adopt firearms into their arsenal. Their source of wealth came from the large salt and gold deposits mined in their region, which they traded within the continental African states’ trade routes.

The Ashanti were an organized and disciplined Akan people. The Akan was the ethnic/linguistic grouping of people who spoke Akan or Twi. There were several Akan States. In 1701 Osei Kofi Tutu, chief of the small Akan city-state of Kumasi, helped form the Ashanti Empire by unifying other Akan groups under the Golden Stool (Ashanti Seat of Power). He influenced the other Akan to overthrow the dominating Akan group, the Denkyera, as well as conquer several other neighboring states. As the Ashanti, the unified Akan people absorbed several Akan territories and expanded the Ashanti wealth, power and influence. The Golden Stool would remain the seat of power for the Ashanti until the British Imperial Government demanded the sovereignty of the Ashanti be turned over to Britain as its “protectorate.” This resulted in the “War of the Golden Stool.”
Source: thegrio.com

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