Africa Destiny: Civilization, Trade and Integration in Africa: Lessons from the Past

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Africa Destiny: From the Gold Age to the Nickel Age and the Paper Foreign Debt

Gold dinar, Spain, Almoravides. Yusuf ben Tasfin (1087-1106), struck at Segilmesa (Sijilmasa) in 480 AH (1087 A D).

Coin - 1 Shilling, Zambia, 1964

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The gold dinar, Spain, Almoravides, Yusuf ben Tasfin (1087-1106), struck at Segilmesa (Sijilmasa) in 480 AH (1087 AD) is a coin that was struck when Yusuf ibn Tashfin became the amir of the Almoravids. The volume of production increased and coins were struck with his name. 

Some other Almoravid dinars include: 

  • 4.14g, Sijilmasa 493: Very fine to extremely fine
  • 4.12g, Sijilmasa 494: About extremely fine
  • 4.08g, Aghmat 490: Extremely fine

Some Almoravid dinars from Spain were minted in: 1087–1106, 1106–07, 1130–1. 

Other Almoravid dinars include: 

  • Gold dinar, ‘Ali ibn Yusuf ibn Tashfin, Ishbiliya (Seville, Spain) mint, AH 519: 4.06g
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Morocco-African-Trade-458x325.jpg

Compilation of various articles and different reports with an analysis by Said El Mansour Cherkaoui

Lessons from the Past for 2020 and Beyond

2020 is passing through while Africa had a regional trade integration establishing routes and infrastructure through the Sahara connecting cities and posts as well as oasis as the hubs and centers of well organized trade and exchange markets that also played a role of stock and exchange markets setting the pricing and trading value of the transferred goods and commodities while becoming the institutional factors in unifying territories under the banner of Islam coming from the North along trade regional integration of the South-Saharan tribes, lands and dynasties with their equivalent of North Saharan Africa.

The African Sahara the Bridge of Islam in Africa

Cultural connections and commercial transactions were conducted in parallel of sharing the same religious believes and channeled even the sectarian path of Sufism and practices of an Islam adapted to local practices and rooted in the Berber-Amazigh Heritage. 

Maraboutism became the vehicle of connecting Zawiyas [Sects, Lodges and Fraternities in Islamic ways] and created schools of thoughts and academic centers which in turn became the foundations of dynasties enacting reforms and ideological changes while preserving the trans-Saharan trade as the mean of integration between distant lands but close in terms of religious thoughts and practices through the spread of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa.    New forms of African Integration emerged based on commodities and sharing the same religious practices based on Islam that were both developed through the use of caravan and trans-Saharan commercial relations that can serve as past reference in integrating countries who have developed between themselves cultural and religious similarities as well as commun social identification.

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Trade, beginning around 300 CE was conducted by caravans of camels. According to Ibn Battuta, the explorer who accompanied one of the caravans, the average size per caravan was 1,000 camels; some caravans were as large as 12,000.[3][4] The caravans would be guided by highly paid Berbers who knew the desert and could ensure safe passage from their fellow desert nomads. The survival of a caravan was precarious and would rely on careful coordination. Runners would be sent ahead to oases so that water could be shipped out to the caravan when it was still several days away, as the caravans could not easily carry enough with them to make the full journey. In the middle of the 14th century Ibn Battuta crossed the desert from Sijilmasa via the salt mines at Taghaza to the oasis of Oualata. A guide was sent ahead and water was brought on a journey of four days from Oualata to meet the caravan.[5]

As Adu Boahen has explained, the trans-Saharan caravan trade began to take place on a regular basis during the fourth century, as an expanded version of the pre-existing intra- and interregional trade among peoples of the forest, savanna, Sahel, and Sahara. While Ghana was an integral part of the early trans-Saharan trade, neither it nor any other Western Sudan state was built by, or specifically for, the trans-Saharan trade.

Carved Ivory Box with Silver (Al Andalus, Cordoba City or Medinate Al Zahar – 961-965)

Thanks to close ties with the Berber tribes of western North Africa, the caliphs of 10th-century Córdoba, in Spain, minted gold coins, wove silks with gold thread, illuminated manuscripts with gold leaf, and made historically significant ivory artworks.

Fundamentally important to the success of the Empire of Ghana between the eighth and twelfth centuries, this trading system reached its peak during the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries, during the heydays of the Mali and Songhai Empires.

Trade Routes.

There were seven primary north-south routes, six principal forest routes, and two west-east routes. During the 500-1590 period, routes rose and declined in importance depending on the empire in power and the amount of security it could maintain for traders and trade routes.

North-South Routes

  • To obtain gold from the Bambuk goldfields—particularly during the ascendency of Ghana and the competing state of Takrur—traders from Fez and Marrakesh in Morocco traveled what is sometimes called the Audaghost Trail through Sijilmasa and Wadan to Azukki or Audaghost and from there to Kumbi Saleh in Ghana, or to Takrur.
  • For gold from the Bure fields, especially when the Empire of Mali was at its height, merchants traveled from Fez through Sijilmasa, Taghaza (or Tuat) and Tichitt-Walata, to Timbuktu and Djenné. Another route to gold from the Bure fields led from Algiers through Wargla,
  • In Salah, and Arawan to Timbuktu. For gold from the Lobi-Pourra fields traders left Qayrawan in Tunisia and traveled through Wargla, In Salah, Tadmekka, and Timbuktu to Gao, a route particularly active during the Songhai Empire.
  • From Tripoli, caravans traveled through Ghadames, Ghat, and Takedda or Agades to the Hausa cities of Katsina or Kano.
  • Another route began in Tripoli and passed through Fezzan, Bilma, and Kanem to the Bornu city of Bauchi. Finally, from Cyrenaicain or Aujila in eastern Libya a route led through Wadai to Bornu.
  • Not counting Cairo, Egypt, there were five major starting or ending points for the trade in the north (from which some gold and other products were regularly transported into the Mediterranean and Europe): Marrakesh, Fez, Algiers, Qayrawan, and Tripoli.
  • There were also five major rendezvous stations where merchants gathered money, camels, drivers, guides, water, provisions, and trade goods for the journey south: Sijilmasa, In Salah, Wargla, Ghadames, and Aujila.

Overview of Pan African Trade and the Moroccan Sahara

Morocco’s trade with sub-Saharan countries and kingdoms is a millennial affair and was the work of the Amazigh who found common ground with their family and cultural prolongations beyond the borders of what is now Mali, Chad, Senegal and even on the borders of the Ashanti and Hausa Kingdoms and Fulani, Peuls, Bambara and among the tribes of Burkina Faso and Aruba in Nigeria. These links were woven on linguistic bases which in certain distant regions were sometimes similar or having similar origins.

“Around the fifth century, thanks to the availability of the camel, Berber-speaking people began crossing the Sahara Desert. From the eighth century onward, annual trade caravans followed routes later described by Arabic authors with minute attention to detail.

The Almoravid dynasty (al-Murabitun, ca. 1062–1150), a newly emerged Islamic power in North Africa, ethnically more Berber than Arab, conquered Morocco and founded Marrakesh as its capital in 1062. Led by Yusuf ibn Tashfin, the Almoravids entered al-Andalus (Islamic Spain) after the fall of Toledo in 1085 in response to the Ta’ifa leaders’ pleas for help in repelling the Christian armies of northern Spain. They assumed control of al-Andalus in 1090, while maintaining their primary seat of government in Marrakesh. In this way, the Almoravids came to rule parts of the Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, and Spain and controlled important ports as well as trans-Saharan trade.

The spread of Islam throughout the African continent was neither simultaneous nor uniform, but followed a gradual and adaptive path. However, the only written documents at our disposal for the period under consideration derive from Arab sources (see, for instance, accounts by geographers al-Bakri and Ibn Battuta).

Gold, sought from the western and central Sudan, was the main commodity of the trans-Saharan trade. Arab merchants operating in southern Moroccan towns such as Rissani-Sijilmasa bought gold from the Berbers, and financed more caravans.

These commercial transactions encouraged further conversion of the Berbers to Islam. Increased demand for gold in the North Islamic states, which sought the raw metal for minting, prompted scholarly attention to Mali and Ghana, the latter referred to as the “Land of Gold.” For instance, geographer al-Bakri described the eleventh-century court at Kumbi Saleh, where he saw gold-embroidered caps, golden saddles, shields and swords mounted with gold, and dogs’ collars adorned with gold and silver. The Soninke managed to keep the source of their gold (the Bambuk mines, most notably) secret from Muslim traders. Yet gold production and trade were important activities that undoubtedly mobilized hundreds of thousands of African people. Leaders of the ancient kingdom of Ghana accumulated wealth by keeping the core of pure metal, leaving the unworked native gold to be marketed by their people. ”

Source: Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000.

The advent of Islam through the use of Arabic and Koranic writings reinforced this trend. Indeed, from the middle of the 10th century and during the erasure of the Berber-Arab hybrid dynasty of the Idrissids, the great tribes or Berber peoples such as the Sanhadja, Houaras, Zénètes, Masmoudas, Kutama, Awarba, Berghouata, Zouaouas , each of which had its own territorial and decisional subdivisions, began to imitate the Arabs’ way of founding dynasties on the basis of the Caliphate. For this, the Amazigh began to conquer new territories and established new urban centers as crossroads for transactions and trade at local, regional and trans-Saharan. 

Ring excavated at Sijilmasa, Morocco, 9th/10th century. Gold, diameter 1.9 cm. Fondation nationale des musées du Royaume du Maroc, Rabat, 2006-1. Photograph by Abdallah Fili and Hafsa El Hassani.

“The states of Rissani – Sijilmassa in the south and Nekor in the north are continuing and gaining momentum during this period. The Almoravide Almoahad Dynasties ruled the entire Morocco that include Mauritania, and North Africa while the Saadiens extended their control of the entire northern countries bordering the Sahara



During the medieval period, major trade routes crossing the Sahara Desert linked cities and towns that functioned as trade centers.

The trade was evidently flourishing before the Arab conquest, but it is with the arrival of Arab traders and Islam that this trade became based in new Islamic centers of commerce that were built in the mid-eighth century.

There were essentially two routes or systems of routes crossing the Sahara by the mid-eighth century. The most important coimected the Maghrib to Ghana, where Muslim merchants sought gold, slaves, ivory, and ostrich feathers. The westernmost route went directly to Audaghust, and a more eastern route went to Ghana by way of the salt mines of Teghaza, halfway across the desert. Both routes converged at Sijilmasa in the Tafilelt Oasis in southeastern Morocco. A second system of routes crossed the central Sahara coimecting Ifriqiya (Tunisia) and Tripoli to the kingdom of Kanem. A subordinate route, running west from the Fezzan to Tadmekka and Gao and east to Egypt, where it entered the Fatimid city of al-Qahira (Cairo), intersected the north-south road at Zawila. Both of these hubs, Sijilmasa and Zawila, were established as new Islamic cities in the middle of the eighth century.

Zawila, Islam Kharedjite and Trans-African Trade

Tradition dates routes going through the central Sahara at least as far back as those in the west. The kingdom of Fezzan goes back to antiquity; it is the Phasania referred to by the Roman author Pliny. Herodotus recounts the Garamantes driving horse-drawn chariots from this region against the “Ethiopians” as far south, perhaps, as Kanem.

Islam was vital in the beginning of both Sijilmasa and Zawila. The Kharijite Berbers in both hub cities not only traded with Sub-Saharan Africa but also brought their version of Islam with them. Kharijism was predominant among Muslims in the trade centers south of the Sahara until at least the late eleventh century. A shared ideology on both sides of the desert undoubtedly made the arduous journey across the Sahara less daunting.

The city of Zawila was founded in the late seventh or early eighth centuries. It first appears in Arab sources when the Ibadi Kharijite Berbers of Zawila were defeated by the Abbasids in 761-762. Yet the city remained a center for the Ibadi sect for a long time. By the start of the tenth century, Zawila was still an important Ibadi town, now in the hands of the Berber dynasty of the Bani Khattab. That dynasty controlled Zawila until the last of its rulers was killed in 1190 by a Mamluk commander of the late Ayyubid regime in Egypt.

If gold was the driving commodity in the Sijilmasa trade system, in Zawila it was slaves. Authors of the late twelfth century describe Zawila as a city of modest size but with numerous, flourishing bazaars, specializing in the slave trade. Recent scholarship con-hrms that the Fezzan region was the largest avenue for slave traffic into the Maghrib and Egypt through the nineteenth century.

Currency struck by these two regimes, alternately in greatest quantities when they controlled the routes passing through Sijilmasa. The increasing need for gold by them and other Muslim regimes beginning to strike dinars (gold coins) in the tenth century made the Sijilmasa trade system the dominant one from this time on.

The north-south route from the Fezzan to Kamen/ Bornu continued to flourish beyond the decline of Zawila. The kingdom of Kanem maintained relations with the Hafsid dynasty of Tunis into the sixteenth century. The mlers of Bornu did likewise with the Ottoman province of Tripoli into the nineteenth century.

Sijilmasa the Cross-city of the Trans-Saharan Trade

Merinid, Gold Dinar, Sijilmasa.
Merinid, Abu Yahya Abu Bakr (AH 642-656 / 1244-1258 AD), Gold Dinar, Sijilmasa, 4.36g.

Before Sijilmasa became an urban center it served as a seasonal gathering place for Berbers at least as early as 500. It became a city when Sufriya Kharijite Muslims settled there after their failed revolt against the central authority of Islam.

For the first 200 years Sijilmasa was an independent city-state under the control of the Berber Bani Midrar. Its position at the head of the trade routes crossing the Sahara placed it in an ideal position to control the flow of West African gold into the Muslim world.

Control of the city-state became the object of intense competition between the Fatimids of Ifriqiya and the Umayyads of Cordoba, who alternately controlled Sijilmasa in the tenth century, either directly or through client Berber communities. This competition is vividly reflected in the gold

Pattern of Trade

By the eleventh century a typical caravan included one thousand camels. It might, for example, set out from Sijilmasa loaded with salt from Taghaza, foodstuffs, cloth, perfumes, and other goods from the Maghrib. Its next stop was Wadan, an oasis in the present-day nation of Mauritania, where some of the goods were sold and new items purchased; then the caravan went to Walata or Tichitt on the southern edge of the Sahara, and finally it went on to Timbuktu. From there the salt and other products would likely be taken by canoe to Niani or Djenné, where the salt was broken into smaller pieces and carried into the forest areas via the slave porters and donkeys of the Dyula-Wangara.

For the next 250 years, under the Almoravids, Almohads, and Merinids, the city flourished as a provincial capital within a much larger empire and a broad economic network from the Ebro River (Spain) to the Niger. In 1393, the Merinid sultans lost control of Sijilmasa in a civil war. The period following the civil war is the least known in Sijilmasa’s history. The sixteenth-century Arab writer Leo Africanus describes the city in decline, and it was neglected by the Moroccan Saadian dynasty. In the seventeenth century the Alaouite dynasty refortified the garrison of Sijilmasa and extended its rule over Morocco.

These itinerant merchants traded the salt and other items from the north for forest gold, kola nuts, animal hides, and other products and then returned to Djenné, Niani, and Timbuktu. The number of camels on a return journey to Sijilmasa was typically less than half the number that arrived in Timbuktu because gold and other forest products were less bulky and much lighter in weight than the blocks of salt.

The other crucial commodity was salt. The rise to predominance of the route through Teghaza coincided with the advance of the Almoravids (from modern Mauritania) who conquered Sijilmasa in 1054-1055. Until then, much of the salt exported to the Sudan came from Awlil, on the Atlantic coast, within the sphere of the Bani Gudala. When that tribe revolted against the Almoravids, the salt route that they controlled became more isolated from the network in the central Sahara under Almoravid protection. That network traded gold in the north for manufactured goods and food products which they exchanged for salt in the desert, which they in turn traded in the south for more gold.

Exchange of Religion, Power and Goods between Africans

Blocks of Salt on the Back of the Camels Traveling toward North Africa

Southward the routes connected with the Niger River, a major byway to Africa’s forest region. Northward they connected to the vast trade networks of the Mediterranean Sea, traveling inland across Europe, while eastward they met the Levantine routes and ultimately the Silk Roads of Central and East Asia:

From Sefrou to Timbuktu the Crossroad of Trade, Islam and Judaism

  • There were two routes from Timbuktu or Gao to Egypt. One went through Takedda, Agades, Bilma, and Tibesti to Cairo.
  • The other ran through Takedda, Ghat, Fezzan, and Aujila to Cairo.
  • Also called the Gao or Mecca Road, this second route was the preferred route and was also used by West African Muslims on pilgrimages to Mecca.
  • From Timbuktu to Sefrou, north of the imperial city of Fez in Morocco.

“The city [of Sefrou] became in the twelfth century a center of thriving commerce where the producers of the regions of northern Morocco and those of Tafilalet met to exchange crops, handicrafts and hides. It was, also, the starting point of the famed sub-Saharan caravan trade whereby Morocco exchanged salt and hides against the gold of the black African Ashanti mines, a commerce that is known, today, as the «unfair trade.» This trade, for centuries, was financed by Jews keeping small «banking shops» known as Hwanet tale’ in the medina of Sefrou and its caravans that traveled for 44 days to Timbuktu, in today’s Mali, led by Jewish guides respected for their leadership, fairness, patience, courage and sense of leadership. They were known as azettat (because they carried long sticks bearing the azetta, woven cloth of each Amazigh tribe traversed in peace (aman,) which in down-to-earth language means pre-paid free passage tithe.”  Source

African Judaic and Trans-Saharan Trade

From the twelfth century onward, significant numbers of Judaic residing in Morocco helped to finance and expand the trans-Saharan trade. They migrated from southern Morocco, especially Wadi Dara, into the Sahel.

The Judaics who lived in parallel with this evolution and saw their origin and their practice of Amazigh languages ​​were also the drivers of such changes which allowed them to settle in these cities and become vectors of all the craft activity. and commercial necessitated by this urban explosion and these new regional conquests.

Subsequently, “since the twelfth century, a large number of Judaics living in Morocco had helped finance and develop the trans-Saharan trade.They emigrated from southern Morocco, especially from Wadi Draa to settle in the Sahel In the fifteenth century, Jews made up about half of the population of Sijilmassa in southern Morocco, the crossroads of trans-Saharan trade to Ghana and the rest of western Sudan.

Having become well known and renowned as serious merchants, loyal and discreet financiers, master goldsmiths and artist-jewelers unparalleled for creations in gold and silver, the Moors Judaic have invested in long-distance trade all along the main routes from Sijilmasa, Timbuktu to Walata and Taghaza.

By the fifteenth century, Judaics made up roughly half the population of Sijilmasa in southeastern Morocco, the central city for the trans-Saharan trade going to Ghana and the rest of the Western Sudan. Becoming well known as merchants, financiers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths, they invested in long-distance trade along the principal routes from Sijilmasa to Walata through Taghaza. In addition to organizing caravans, they operated sections of the continuous traders’ market in Sijilmasa, and they exported goods to Europe, Egypt, and other areas. Jewish goldsmiths and silversmiths also resided in Walata and Audaghost, and the oral traditions of Mauritania credit them with introducing goldsmithing in the Sahel and savanna. Gold from the Sahel was regularly exported north in twisted threads and coils that were fashioned by Jewish goldsmiths or smiths they had taught.

Parallel to the very organization of the adjacent caravans, the Moors Judaics operated directly from sections of the same market of Sijilmassa, while exporting products to Europe, Egypt, and other nations. There were also Judaic goldsmiths who also resided in Walata and Audaghost. The oral traditions of Mauritania credit the Judaics for the introduction of goldsmithery in the Sahel and in the savannah.

Gold from the Sahel has been regularly exported to the north in braid shapes and twisted coils that have been shaped using techniques taught by goldsmiths or Judaic blacksmiths. “

“The legacy of medieval trans-Saharan exchange has largely been omitted from Western historical narratives and art histories, and certainly from the way that Africa is presented in art museums,” curator Kathleen Bickford Berzock said in a statement. “’Caravans of Gold’ has been conceived to shine a light on Africa’s pivotal role in world history through the tangible materials that remain.”

Southern Routes

  • From the end points of the camel caravan routes, trade goods were carried farther south to the forest regions by donkeys, human porters, or canoes.
  • One route from Kumbi Saleh went through Diara, down the Senegal and Faleme Rivers to the Bambuk goldfields.
  • Another led from Kumbi Saleh to Kangaba, down the Niger to the Bure goldfields.
  • From Djenn´e one could travel through Bobo, Dyulasso, Kong, and Begho to Kumasi (in the modern nation of Ghana).
  • From Kano a road led through Zaria and Old Oyo to Benin.
  • Another road went from Katsina through Kano and Bauci to Wukari.

West-East Routes

An illustration of Mansa Musa (r. 1312–37)  holding a gold coin featured prominently. The ruler displayed his wealth to the world outside his kingdom when he made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, accompanied by a caravan of slaves and soldiers wearing silk and camels and horses carrying gold. On his way to Mecca, Mansa Musa distributed gold to the needy. His generous act though had the unintended fallout of causing hyperinflation across the region through which he traveled. If he was alive today, his net worth would equal an estimated $400 billion.  

Atlas of Maritime Charts (The Catalan Atlas) [detail of Mansa Musa], Abraham Cresque (1325–1387), 1375, Mallorca. Parchment mounted on six wood panels, illuminated. Bibliothèque nationale de France. Mansa Musa, the 14th century emperor of Mali, made a pilgrimage to Mecca and Egypt.

This section of the portolan chart produced in Majorca by Mecia de Viladestes in 1413 shows the trans-Saharan caravan routes from the North African coast southwards to the Kingdom of Mali and includes part of West Africa. The River Niger is visible at the bottom of the chart close to the city of Timbuktu, shown here in Catalan as “Tenbuch”.

Timbuktu was an important strategic city that lay across these trans-Saharan trade routes between the salt mines of the north and the gold mines of the south, and those of the slave trade. The blue-robed figure with the gold crown near Timbuktu is Kankou Mousa, King of Mali. Catalonia was a trading partner of North Africa and the Arab and Jewish scholars of the important Majorcan cartographic school in Palma produced nautical and overland charts of great precision considering the technical means available at the time.

West African King Mansa Musa had more wealth than the Forbes’ five richest billionaires combined

Read more at this link: Is Mansa Musa the richest man who ever lived?

Timbuktu not so distant, was also enhanced by the investment of Moussa Mansa who developed Mosques, Libraries and Schools in Timbuktu that became one shining cities in Africa with its own knowledge power and as obliged transit and rest station for the trans-Saharan trade linking tropical Africa to North Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.

Timbuktu (a historical and still-inhabited city in Mali ) in 1450 AD had a population of 100.000, double of the-then population of London, and was one of the greatest centers of Islamic scholarship. Sadly, today, Mali has one of the lowest literacy rates in Africa.

Trade, State Building and Social Changes

The establishment of regular trade routes stimulated the development of various monetary systems in the Western Sudan, which used cowrie shells (from the Maldive Islands), strips of cotton cloth, minted gold dinars from North Africa, standard weights of gold dust, kola nuts, glass beads, and salt as currency. Trade also created a need among the indigenous kafu to control the centers of strategic productivity.

During the peak of the inter-African trade, Mali went even further north, capturing Taghaza for its salt mines and incorporating Bure, in the Niani region, for direct access to its gold. Songhai seized Takedda in the desert, mainly for its salt and copper, so the Songhai ruler ship could maintain direct control of salt and gold production at opposite ends of its territories.

For example, the Empire of Ghana extended its territory as far north as Audaghost in an attempt to secure direct access to salt production, while it simultaneously maintained direct linkages to the Bambuk goldfields across the Senegal River.

Trans-Saharan trade also provided strong motivation for the formation of large Sudanic states and empires to protect traders and trade routes, which in turn brought in the necessary wealth to conduct wars of population and territorial expansion, to acquire horses and superior iron weaponry, to send thousands of soldiers into battle, and to outfit and maintain garrisons of soldiers in conquered provinces. The need for places where business could be transacted promoted increased urbanization in the Sudanic and Sahelian areas, from villages to walled cities and commercial centers with populations in excess of one hundred thousand residents.

The rise of trade strongly promoted the specialization of clans and the establishment of clan “monopolies” in particular crafts, crucially important in iron smelting and smithing. Finally, the trans-Saharan trade brought the Sudanic states and their access to gold to the attention of the world outside the insular West African region.

Trade Commodities

Salt, gold, and slaves were the essential commodities throughout the 500-1590 period. Cloth also became an important trade good. A viable cloth-production industry began around the eleventh century in Djenné, Takrur, Timbuktu, and Gao and lasted well into the eighteenth century. By the thirteenth century, Timbuktu was reported to have more than twenty-six tailor shops with approximately one hundred apprentices in training at each one. The first cloth was made for local and intra-regional consumption only, but production gradually became large enough and skilled enough to create textiles for regular export.

The Western Sudan also imported European and Moroccan cloth and clothing, especially from the eleventh century onward. These textiles were generally for the elite—including resident foreign merchants, rulers, and highly placed administrative staff—rather than the local population. Modern archaeological excavations in the region have uncovered remains of silk clothing, presumably from commercial contacts with China or the Mongol Empire through the Maghrib.

By the fifteenth century, the Portuguese were bringing in large quantities of cloth to pay for the slaves and gold. Copper from southern Morocco and the Byzantine Empire was also imported to the Sahel and the Western Sudan, as were silver, tin, lead, perfumes, bracelets, books, stone and coral beads, glass jewelry, and drinking implements. In addition to gold, slaves, and cloth, the Western Sudan exported animal hides, civet musk, spices, ambergris, kola nuts, and shea butter (used for cooking oil, lamp lighting, and soap manufacture).

Kola nuts became one of the primary sources of income for Mali and Songhai. Dyula-Wangara traders carried them from their forest source to the savanna and Sahel in pouches of wet leaves to keep them fresh. They did not become an important product of international trade until the nineteenth century, but they were widely traded in the Western Sudan from the twelfth century onward. Known by several different names—“the nut,” “bitter fruit,” “carob of the Sudan,” and goro—kola nuts became important enough to be given as special presents by one ruler to another and to his honored guests. Kola nuts were frequently used in rituals, ceremonies, and celebrations. They were chewed to relieve thirst in desert caravans, and they were such a popular stimulant that their use by West Africans sometimes approximated addiction.

Pattern of Trade

The Dyula-Wangara Trading Network

Only a small group of people in each state participated in long distance trade in the Western Sudan. The bulk of the population was fishermen, herdsmen, agriculturalists, and hunter-soldiers. One group that was essential to the trade process was the itinerant Mande-speaking traders known as the Dyula or the Wangara, who from at least the eighth century operated trade routes along the upper Niger River from Timbuktu and across the Senegal. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, they traveled into the

Akan forests, as gold trade shifted from the upper Gambia and Casamance area of Bambuk to Bure. After the arrival of Europeans along the coast of West Africa, their routes took them southward from Niani to Worodugu along the Côte d’ivoire and the Gambia Valley to the western Atlantic coast, to the Portuguese fortress at Elmina and other European trading posts; they also traveled eastward into Hausaland. In fact, they attempted to dominate the role of commercial middleman throughout the region, linking Guinea, the northeast, and the northwest along the Djenné-Be’o-Bonduku route, establishing routes across the Gambia and Casamance Rivers, and connecting Bondu, Kedougou, Futa Djallon, Niokholo, and Dantilia.

Leo Africanus, who visited the Songhai Empire in 1513-1515, described these itinerant merchants selling their wares throughout West Africa, and German explorer Heinrich Earth found them living and trading among the Hausa at Katsina in the nineteenth century. The Portuguese reported that Dyula-Wangara trading activities between the coast and the Sahel were so important that Europeans who hoped to have successful commercial ventures in the region should accommodate their plans to the habits of those indigenous traders or risk unnecessary disruptions in the flow of trade goods.

Insular Clan

The Dyula-Wangara have been described as a rather insular, endogamous clan of occupational merchants who characteristically married within their own group and traveled as whole families along established commercial routes. Their small to large donkey caravans carried books, slaves, cotton cloth, iron bars, kola nuts, gold, salt, perfumes, beads, cowries, and copper, among other items. They apparently enjoyed a special status in a broad area of West Africa and were allowed to travel even through war zones without fear of harm from either side of the combatants. The Dyula-Wangara were recognizable by several other names in West Africa, including Marka among the Bambara, Yarse among the Mossi-Dagomba between Djenné and the Ashanti region, and Malinke-Mori in Guinea and the Ivory Coast region. By the seventeenth century, they were also called Kong, Bobo-Dyulasso, Buna, Bonduku, Black Volta Gonja, Diakhanke, and “Mary Bucks” (marabouts) after towns and settlements they founded with those names.

The Destiny of the Trans-Saharan Trade was Sealed by the Invasion of Africa by the European Colonial States

A publication on this turn of events and the rise of British monopoly taking control and leading African External Trade can be found in the following work: Sani Abubakar Babajo: “THE BRITISH AND THE TRANS-SAHARAN TRADE”: THE COLONIAL STATE POLICIES IN UNDERMINING THE TRANS-SAHARAN TRADE IN HAUSA LAND (NORTHERN NIGERIA), 1890S-1920S»

The research examines the impact of British policies in undermining the trans-Saharan trade. The paper reassesses the position of the Northern Nigerian economy in relation to the new economic order introduced by the British. Issues discussed include the re-orientation in relation to the merchants; the basic concepts of colonial economy as defined by the British in Northern Nigeria. In addition, the paper highlights the colonial economy as distorted, characterized by the over growth of certain sectors needed by the colonial state i.e., foreign trade, while sectors connected with the indigenous markets i.e., cottage based production, local, regional or the trans-Saharan trade were neglected. In a nut shell, those activities (like the trans-Saharan trade) which could compete with colonial commerce or production were discouraged and prohibited directly or indirectly. In this respect, the trans-Saharan trade between Central Sudan and North Africa was stagnated during the colonial days and apparently, it was the same with trade within the West African sub-region. The distinctive feature in this context of an imperial economic system is that the colonial state had, within limits, created the formal framework for development in Northern Nigeria. This was what happened in the relationship between the mercantile class, the peasantry and the large expatriate firms who were backed by the colonial state and gained monopoly position to trade in raw materials and achieving their goals.

Exhibition on the Art-crafts and Memories of Trans-Saharan Caravan Trade

Treasures of the Medieval Period

“Caravans of Gold” presents more than 250 artworks and fragments spanning types, styles and religious practices, representing more than five centuries and a vast geographic expanse. The works, both European and African, convey a story of the global networks and multi-directional trade at play in the medieval world. 

To tell this little-known history, The Block Museum has secured rare and important loans from partner institutions in Mali, Morocco and Nigeria. Many of these objects have never traveled outside of their home countries. Some are among the greatest treasures of the medieval period in West Africa, including several rare manuscripts from libraries in Timbuktu. 

The loans from Nigeria include iconic artworks — such as a near life-size copper seated figure from Tada and a rope-entwined vessel from Igbo Ukwu — that stand alongside the greatest works of art from any region or culture. 

“Archaeologists’ site reports are full of enticing descriptions of material fragments uncovered in towns around the Sahara that were once thriving centers of trade; fragments of lusterware, glass vessels, glass beads, cast copperwork, iron work, terracotta and, occasionally, even goldwork have all been found at these sites,” said exhibition curator Kathleen Bickford Berzock, The Block Museum of Art’s associate director of curatorial affairs. “By placing these fragments alongside more familiar medieval works of art, ‘Caravans of Gold’ conjures an all but forgotten time and place. 

“With the exhibition, we are inviting audiences to throw out their perceptions of medieval knights and castles and journey with us to a medieval world with Africa at its center,” Berzock said.

Said El Mansour Cherkaoui Africa needs to wake up and stand for its rights to find its own ways and means to achieve self-sustainability and self-respect and not to fall into the traps of the disguised profiteers and subcapitalits servants of foreign interests that changing their faces and cloths but not their objectives through the offer of liberal approaches and free trade by paying with paper and receiving in exchange all the goodies, the goldies and what wealth has Africa under the lands of the tribes that watch their resources slipping away under their nose without having even the rights to smell or sneeze on the perfume of their ancestors belongings that is becoming the claims of international monopolies and oligopolies.

Some bibliographical sources:

Abitbol, Michel: Témoins et Acteurs -Les Cor cos et l’histoire du Maroc contemporain, Ben-Zvi Institute, Jerusalem, 1978 – 

Abitbol, Michel: Clivages économiques, politiques et sociaux / Michel Abitbol In Le passé d’une discorde : juifs et arabes depuis le VIIe siècle / Michel Abitbol Paris : Perrin, 1999 . – p. 202-211 ; 24 cm 629. 

Abitbol, Michel: Témoins et acteurs : les Corcos et l’histoire du Maroc contemporain / Michel Abitbol . – Jérusalem : Centre de recherche sur les Juifs d’Afrique du Nord, 1977 . – 42 p. : couv. ill. ; 24 cm 

Abitbol, Michel: Tujjar al-Sultan – Les commerçants du Roi, Paris, Maisonneuve et Larose, 1998 

Abitbol, Michel: Communautés juives des marges sahariennes du Maghreb, Jérusalem, Institut Ben-Zvi , 1982, 

Abitbol, Michel: Juifs maghrébins et commerce transaharien au Moyen-Age, dans: Communautés juives des marges sahariennes du Maghreb. Jérusalem: Centre de recherche sur les Juifs d’Afrique du Nord, cop. 1982, 229-251.

The Trans-Saharan Caravan Trade, World Eras, 2004, from World History in Context: voir ce lien:

See more at:

World Eras, 2004 from World History in Context

Adu Boahen, with J. F. Ade. Ajayi and Michae Tidy, Topics in West African History, second edition (Harlow, U.K.: Longman, 1986).

Robert O. Collins, Western African History (Princeton: Wiener, 1990).

J. Devisse, “Trade and Trade Routes in West Africa,” in Africa from the Seventh to the Eleventh Century,edited by M. El Fasi and I. Hrbek, volume 3 of General History of Africa (London: Heinemann / Berkeley: University of California Press / Paris: UNESCO, 1988), pp. 367-435.

Raymond Mauny, Tableau géographique de l ‘Ouest africain au Moyen Age, d’après les sources écrites, la tradition et I’archéologie (Dakar: IFAN, 1961).

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale, COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale.

Source Citation

“The Trans-Saharan Caravan Trade.” World Eras. Ed. Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure. Vol. 10: West African Kingdoms, 500-1590. Detroit: Gale, 2004. 179-182. World History in Context. Web. 2 Sept. 2014.

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