Christopher Columbus was great, but the discovery of the Americas belongs to Mansa Abu Bakr of Mali ?

The old poem that most American school
children recognize begins “In 1492, Columbus
sailed the ocean blue…” Indeed, in the year
1492, Christopher Columbus (whose real name
in Italian was Cristoforo Colombo) sailed
across the Atlantic in the name of the Spanish
crown and landed in the Caribbean part of
North America. For hundreds of years, it has
simply been accepted that Columbus was the
first explorer to valiantly sail across the sea
and “discover” the Americas. However, this
theory no longer stands up to modern
It goes without saying that the first people to
truly discover America were the ancestors of
the Native Americans, who probably crossed
into North America through Russia and Alaska
about 12,000 years ago. Discussion of the
“discovery” of the Americas by Europeans,
Africans, or Asians is an insult to the history of
it’s indigenous peoples. That said, the first
daring souls to cross the Atlantic ocean by
boat are important to know, and the theory of
Columbus does no justice to their story.
While the common knowledge about Columbus
is that he lived in a time where everyone
assumed the world was flat, this is clearly not
the case. Ancient Greek scholars such as
Aristotle and Pythagoras suggested that the
earth was in fact, round. It was during the
Muslim Golden Ages (c. 750-1100s) that
advanced scholarship into the shape and size
of the earth began. Contrary to what most
people may believe, in those years, it was
common understanding that the earth was not
flat. The debate, instead, was about exactly
how large the earth was. In the early 800s, the
Abbasid Caliph al-Ma’mun assembled the
brightest minds of the day (including al-
Khawarizmi ) in Baghdad who calculated the
earth’s circumference and were off by only 4%
of it’s actual size.
Knowing that the earth was round, and
knowing its size to a very good degree of
accuracy (without the modern technology we
have today), some intrepid Muslims must have
attempted to go around the world, hundreds of
years before Columbus. The proof of these
voyages is in front of us, in black and white.
Muslim Spain
The great Muslim historian and geographer,
Abu al-Hasan al-Masudi wrote in 956 of a
voyage in 889 from al-Andalus (Muslim Spain).
The voyage sailed for months westward. They
eventually found a large landmass across the
ocean where they traded with the natives, and
then returned to Europe. Al-Masudi records
this land across the ocean in his famous map
and refers to it as “the unknown land”.
Two more voyages from Muslim Spain to the
Americas are recorded in history. One was in
999 and was led by Ibn Farrukh, from
Granada. The other is recorded by the genius
mind of the geographer al-Idrisi, who worked
in the multi-cultural and religiously tolerant
Sicily of King Roger II in the 1100s. He wrote
of a group of Muslims who sailed west from
Lisbon for 31 days and landed on an island in
the Caribbean. They were taken prisoner by
the Native Americans on that island for a few
days. Eventually, they were freed when a
translator who lived among the natives that
spoke Arabic arranged for their release. They
eventually sailed back to al-Andalus and told
their tale. The important part of this account is
the existence of an Arabic speaker among the
natives, indicating that there must have been
more unrecorded contact between the Arab
world and the Americas.
West Africa
There is another part of the Muslim world that
had contact with the Americas before
Columbus. In West Africa in the 1300s, a
powerful and incredibly wealthy empire called
Mali existed. The most famous leader of this
empire was Mansa (king) Musa. The most
memorable event of his reign was his epic hajj
journey in 1324
. The caravan of over 60,000 people made an
impression everywhere they went, including
Egypt, where Mansa Musa told the story of
how he came to power. His brother, Abu Bakr
was the Mansa before he was. During his reign,
Abu Bakr sent a fleet of 400 ships to explore
the Atlantic Ocean. Only 1 ship returned, but
reported that they found a land across the
ocean. Mansa Abu Bakr then outfitted a fleet
of 2000 ships, which he sailed with personally,
that sailed west into the ocean. They were
never heard from again.
While there is no record in Mali of the result
of that voyage, there is evidence of their
arrival in the Americas. There are numerous
archaeological sites in North and South
America that attest to that Malian presence.
Early Spanish explorers and pirates recorded
abandoned cities in Brazil that had inscriptions
identical to the language of the Mandinka (the
people of Mali). More inscriptions in the
Mandinka language were found in the United
States as well. Near the Mississippi River, many
inscriptions exist that recorded their
exploration of the Americas. In Arizona, an
inscription was found that reads “The elephants
are sick and angry. At present there are many
sick elephants”. This inscription also includes a
rough sketch of an elephant. Elephants are not
native to the Americas. They were brought by
the Mandinka to the Americas, and the
inscriptions are proof of Mansa Abu Bakr’s
successful journey over 100 years before
Columbus (see.. Mansa Abubakari II, 181 years
before Columbus ).
The Ottoman Empire
In 1929, an amazing discovery was made in
Istanbul, Turkey. A map drawn in the year
1513 by the Ottoman cartographer, Piri Reis
was found. Reis wrote that his map was based
on earlier sources, including ancient Greek and
Arabic maps, including maps by Christopher
Columbus, who had sailed only 21 years
earlier. What is remarkable about this map is
the level of detail of the map, which forced
historians to re-evaluate the Columbus theory
of exploration.
The map clearly shows the eastern coast of
South America, which is in the correct position
with regards to Africa. The coast of Brazil is
shown in incredible detail, with many rivers
accurately placed on the map. Although Reis
used Columbus’s maps as a source, Columbus
never went to South America, so Reis must
have gotten that from earlier Muslim maps
that he used as sources. Furthermore, Reis’s
map includes the Andes Mountains, which were
not even explored by Europeans until the
1520s, a full decade after the drawing of Reis’s
Piri Reis based his map on earlier sources,
which clearly had a very good understanding
of the Americas and had explored the area well
before the first Europeans. The map is perhaps
the strongest physical evidence of Muslim
exploration of the Americas before Columbus
What Did Columbus Say?
With all of this evidence of Muslim exploration
before Columbus’s voyage in 1492, is it
possible that Columbus himself knew he was
not the first? It’s more than likely to be the
case. Columbus sailed from Spain in the same
year the last Muslim dynasty of Iberia was
destroyed in the Reconquista. Many of the
people of Iberia were still Muslims, and carried
with them the knowledge of the Muslim Golden
Ages. Numerous people on Columbus’s voyage
were Moriscos, Muslims who were forced to
convert to Catholicism or die. Columbus could
have heard from Spain’s Muslims of the New
World and was thus inspired to go exploring.
Once he got to the Americas, Columbus
records numerous examples of Muslims
already present. He commented on the gold
that the natives had, which was made the same
way, in the same alloy, as the Muslims of West
Africa did. Furthermore, Columbus records
that the native word in that area for gold
is guanin , which is very similar to the
Mandinka word for gold, ghanin , which
probably comes from the Arabic word for
wealth, ghina’.
In 1498, Columbus recorded seeing a ship
loaded with goods, heading towards America,
filled with Africans who were probably on their
way to trade with Native Americans. Columbus
also records in his journal that Native
Americans told him of black Africans who came
regularly to trade with them.
Even Columbus knew that he was not the first
to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
Clearly, the theory that Columbus discovered
America is nothing but an old tale that has not
stood the test of time. There is no doubt that
the Columbian Era was a pivotal time in world
history that changed the way of life in the
Americas and Europe forever. However, he was
not the first to make the crossing to the
Americas. Evidence exists from the Arabs, West
Africans, and Ottomans of Muslim voyages to
the Americas well before Columbus and
Christian Europe. For whatever reason, the
textbooks continue to extoll the voyage of
Columbus and the courage of his crew, the
“first” to make it across the Atlantic. This idea
clearly needs to be re-examined in light of
evidence from earlier Muslim explorations, to
bring their contributions to the general public.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s