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Richard Watts

Jean-Jacques Dessalines was born to Congolese parents on a plantation in Saint-Domingue (as Haiti was known prior to independence). He was given the name of the plantation owner, Duclos, before adopting the name of the freed black landowner, Dessalines, who purchased his services as a slave. Unlike his future comrade-in-arms, François Dominique Toussaint Louverture, Dessalines was treated harshly as a slave and joined the ranks of maroons (runaway slaves) at a young age. In 1792 he became a partisan of the slave uprising led by Boukman, a slave of Jamaican origin, and impressed his compatriots with his courage. Yet Dessalines committed acts of cruelty that frightened some in the rebellion. His capacity for violence would contribute in equal measure to his precipitous rise and fall.

Following the abolition of slavery in Saint-Domingue in 1793 Toussaint Louverture allied himself with the French Dessalines joined him eventually becoming Toussaint ...



A grandson or grandnephew of the warrior king Sundiata Keita, who first established Mali as a major empire in the thirteenth century, Musa extended it still further and ruled it at the height of its extent and power. The pivotal event in Musa’s reign was his famous pilgrimage to Mecca (1324–1325). It involved a retinue of thousands, including 500 slaves bearing golden staffs and 100 camels, each loaded with 300 pounds of gold; and such lavish spending in Cairo, Egypt, that the price of gold plummeted and took a dozen years to recover. On his return Musa brought with him numerous Muslim scholars and artisans. With their help, he attempted a systematic conversion to Islam of the sub-Saharan population, built splendid mosques, introducing Asian architecture, and spread Islamic law and civilization. During Musa’s reign (1312–1337) Tombouctou became the unquestioned cultural center and commercial ...