Informit article: Leo Africanus and the Songhay dynasty of the Askiyas: Plundering northern Mali, past and present

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At the time of his birth, Leo Africanus was named al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Zayyati. His parents were Arab Muslims from Granada, Spain, who migrated to Fez after the Christian Reconquista; that is, after European Christians recaptured much of the Iberian Peninsula from Arab Muslim control. Leo Africanus was born some time between 1489 and 1493. At the age of seventeen he went on a commercial and diplomatic mission to the land of the Songhay people, in what is today northern Mali. Leo Africanus may or may not have made a second mission a few years later. In 1518 he was kidnapped by Christians from Sicily and presented to Pope Leo X, who was seeking information about Africa. Shortly thereafter he converted to Christianity and was baptized Johannis Leo de Medicis, a name he later changed to Leo Africanus. His Description of Africa, written in 1526 and published in Italian in 1550, was written at the Pope’s behest, and was later translated into French, Latin and English. The brief portion of the text describing the Songhay lands provided Europe with its first glimpse of Sahelian society. It also permanently established the legend of Timbuktu in the European imagination.

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