Salt from the Sahara desert was one of the major trade products of prehistoric West Africa where exceptionally little naturally occurring deposits of the mineral could be uncovered. Transported via camel caravans and by boat alengthy such rivers as the Niger and Senegal, salt uncovered its means to trading centres favor Koumbi Saleh, Niani, and also Timbuktu, wright here it was either passed additionally southern or exadjusted for various other products such as ivory, hides, copper, iron, and cereals. The most common exchange was salt for gold dust that came from the mines of southern West Africa. Indeed, salt was such a precious commodity that it was rather literally worth its weight in gold in some components of West Africa.

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The Salt Mines of the Sahara

The need for salt in ancient West Africa is below summarised in an extract from the UNESCO General History of Africa:


Salt is a mineral that was in good demand especially through the beginning of an agricultural mode of life. Hunters and food-gatherers most likely obtained a big amount of their salt intake from the animals they hunted and also from fresh plant food. Salt only becomes an important additive wright here fresh foodstuffs are unobtainable in vey dry areas, wright here body perspiration is also normally excessive. It becomes exceptionally preferable, but, among cultures with relatively limited diets, as was the case with arable agriculturalists. (Vol II, 384-5)

In addition, salt was always in good demand in order to better maintain dried meat and also to offer added taste to food. The savannah region south of the western Sahara desert (known as the Sudan region) and the woodlands of southerly West Africa were poor in salt. Those locations near the Atlantic coastline can obtain the mineral from evaporation pans or boiling sea water, however sea salt did not take a trip or keep well. A 3rd alternative was salt acquired from the ashes of scorched plants choose millet and palms, but aobtain these were not so wealthy in sodium chloride. Consequently, for the majority of of the Sudan area, salt had to come from the north. The inhospitable Sahara desert was the chief herbal source of rock salt, either obtained from surchallenge deposits brought about by the desiccation process such as discovered in old lake beds or extracted from fairly shenable mines wbelow the salt is naturally developed into slabs. This salt, which was a creamy-grey colour, was much remarkable to the other resources of salt from the sea or particular plants.

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When precisely salt became a trade commodity is unknown, however the exadjust of salt for cereals dates back to prebackground as soon as desert and savannah individuals each looked to acquire what they might not develop themselves. On a larger range, camel caravans were likely crossing the Sahara from at leastern the first centuries of the 1st millennium CE. These caravans would certainly be run by the Berbers who acted as middle-guys between the North Afrideserve to says and also West Africa. Salt was their major trade good however they likewise brought luxury items like glassware, fine cloth, and produced goods. In addition, via these trade items came the Islamic religious beliefs, principles in art and design, and social practices.


Whoever controlled the salt trade also regulated the gold profession, & both were the primary financial pillars of various West Afrihave the right to empires.

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Salt, both its production and also profession, would certainly conquer West Afrideserve to economic situations throughout the 2nd millennium CE, with resources and also trade centres constantly transforming hands as empires rose and fell. The salt mines of Idjil in the Sahara were a renowned resource of the precious commodity for the Ghana Realm (6-13th century CE) and also were still going strong in the 1fifth century CE. In the 10th century CE the Sanhaja Berbers, who managed the salt mines at Awlil and also Taghaza and transportation with trade cities like Audaghold, started to difficulty the Ghana Empire"s monopoly of the profession. In the 11th century CE the Awlil mines were in the hands of Takrur, but it would certainly be the Mali Empire (1240-1645 CE), with its capital at Niani, that dominated the sub-Saharan salt profession following the collapse of the Ghana Empire. However, semi-independent river "ports" favor Timbuktu began to steal trade methods from the Mali monarchs further west. The following kingdom to overcome the region and the motion of salt was the Songhai Empire (15-1sixth century CE) with its great trading funding at Gao.

Salt might have been a rarity in the savannah however at desert mining communities favor Taghaza (the main Sudan source of salt up to the 1sixth century CE) and Taoudenni, the commodity was still so abundant slabs of rock salt were supplied to build homes. Naturally, such a beneficial money-spinner as a salt mine attracted competition for ownership, as when the Morocdeserve to leader Muhammad al-Mahdi attempted to muscle in on the industry by arranging for several prominent Tuareg salt traders to be murdered at Taghaza in the mid-1sixth century CE. Quite literally, whoever before regulated the salt trade likewise managed the gold profession, and also both were the major financial pillars of the miscellaneous realms of West Africa"s history.