The Redemption of Mansa Musa
These pictures from October 2014 and April 2016 document the fictional return of the 13th-14th century Malian king Mansa Musa to the modern-day Malian capital, Bamako. The richest man in the history of the world, Mansa Musa has completed the fifth pillar of Islam by making a legendary caravan pilgrimage across the Sahara Desert to Mecca. During his journey, he built dozens of mosques, and spent so much gold in Cairo the price of the metal dropped for the next twenty years.
Mansa Musa arrives in modern Bamako along a railway built by the French during colonial times, carried by four men on a golden throne. He finds a Mali radically changed from when he left. His luxurious palace has turned into a bazaar for second-hand appliances and handbags from Europe. A few dozen admirers and well wishers greet him on his arrival, but most in Bamako remain indifferent. Considered by many to have wasted the gold of his country by giving it away to foreigners out of vanity while leaving Mali to deteriorate, a lot of his subjects no longer consider him their leader and choose to simply ignore him.
Musa’s task is to use his power to confront the ghosts who haunt Mali today. On Koulouba, the hill upon which the French colonizers built their administrative headquarters and which serves today as the site of Mali’s presidential palace, Mansa Musa meets ghosts of his once glorious empire’s former colonial masters. The memory of the Malian kingdom is stronger and more powerful than that of its more recent colonial history, but it has been removed from day to day life.