Man's understanding of past civilizations has been passed down in the form of oral traditions. Oral traditions are stories that covered topics from all aspects of life and even includes how that civilization came about. Sundiata is a historical text about the kingdom of Mali written by a griot. Sundiata describes religion, speaks of trade, shows how it was a part of everyday life, and many other things, which will also be mentioned.
Ghana was the first empire to be founded in West Africa around the sixth century c.e. Ghana was a well-civilized state which traded with many other countries, exchanging things they had for things that they needed. Traveling by caravans was their way of trading. One of the main things that Ghana traded for was gold, which was their prized possession. Ghana was torn apart around the end of the eleventh century by many attacks from North African people who were gold hungry. Through this destruction, an even greater empire arose, the Mali Empire. Like Ghana, Mali was a very wealthy empire, which specialized in exporting and producing gold. The Goucher states, "It has been estimated that during the time of the Mali Empire, West Africa produced and supplied almost two thirds of the world's gold" (232). .
Trade was a very important aspect of life in the days of the Mali Empire. Throughout Sundiata, there are many examples of trade and that the west African states were part of a much larger trade network. As Sundiata is moved from kingdom to kingdom, he travels with different bands of travelers from which he learns a great deal. The Sonike were donkey caravaners who did not speak Mandingo, which was the language of Sundiata and his people, but they understood it. The Sonike came to Naini every dry season and were known as great traders. After Sundiata's leave from Wagadou, he was lead to Mema by a different group of traders. These merchants traveled by camel.