|Station1: The Beginning of your Journey.
You are an Arabic merchant living in Morocco, and you are preparing to make your way across northern Africa with your caravan of camels. You do very good business trading gold for silks and porcelain from China; however they will only trade for gold. You need more gold to continue your business. You know that there are kingdoms in Western Africa that have gold, and are willing to trade with you. You load up your camels and begin the journey to your first destination: the salt mines in Tagahza. Taghaza is a small village. They have no way to farm, so they rely on you for food.
Directions: The cards show the resources you have to trade. Choose your goods, and load up your caravan. Besides the exchange of goods, trade routes are also the prime location for the spread of culture, so you will be “brining” that along too!
Reading 1: The Camel
Since the Middle Ages, camel caravans have navigated north from the fabled city of Timbuktu, in present-day Mali, West Africa, in search of the gold of the Sahara desert—salt.
Traveling across the windswept sand dunes, caravans often numbering more than hundred have journeyed to the salt mines of Taudenni, 500 miles (800 kilometers) north of Timbuktu. A human necessity and source of commerce, salt has been in high demand in West Africa since the 12th century when it was first found in the sand dunes of the desert.
Its discovery gave rise to a robust commodity trade that quickly paved a near-mythical trail connecting Timbuktu with Europe, southern Africa, and Persia. With the trade of Taudenni's prized salt, came the ability to move people, information, and ideas across the Sahara desert. During the 12th and 13th centuries, Timbuktu became not only a center of great wealth but of Islamic study. Scholars from across the Islamic world, some from as far away as Persia, journeyed for months across the sands of the Sahara in order to teach and study in the mysterious oasis of Timbuktu.
Today, the great camel caravans of Timbuktu still journey for 14 days and some 500 miles (800 kilometers) to the salt mines of Taudenni.
Station 2: The Salt mines of Taghaza
You have just arrived at the salt mines along the Sahara. Salt is produced two was in the Sahara, through evaporation –water is poured into holes in the earth, it draws out the salt. The water then evaporates and the salt remains behind. The second way is through mining, which is what the town of Taghaza does. Great salt deposits are located here about three feet below the ground. Since almost no toher crops or vegetation can grow here, salt is the primary export. They must import everything else. Choose what you trade for salt. As you spend time in Taghaza, you leave some of your culture behind, be sure to leave that as well.
Reading2: The Salt for Gold Trade
The area in Africa known as the western Sudan encompasses the broad expanse of savanna that stretches between the vast Sahara Desert to the north and the tropical rain forests of the Guinea coast to the south. It is strategically located between southern gold-producing regions and the Saharan salt mines, like the Taghaza salt mine. This put the kingdoms of the western Sudan in perfect position to amass great wealth through the taxation of imports and exports.
The medieval empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai that controlled the western Sudan had no fixed geopolitical boundaries or singular ethnic or national identities. Although each empire possessed important political and economic centers, it is not certain that they had permanent capitals. Instead, the empires may have had “floating” capitals that shifted between a number of urbanized centers or traveled with their ruling monarchs. Above all, the empires of the western Sudan were unified by strong leadership, kin-based societies, and the trade routes they sought to dominate.
The importance that contact with the Islamic world held for these empires cannot be understated. While extensive trading networks undoubtedly predated Arabic involvement, the development of trans-Saharan commerce in the seventh century by Arabs and Berbers intensified and expanded the trading networks that made the empires of the western Sudan possible. The savanna region is naturally hospitable to both agriculture and livestock breeding and is ideally situated for trade. An easily traversed region separating radically different environments, each possessing resources and products badly needed by the other, it is likely that the savanna was an important trading arena long before the first camel caravans arrived from northern Africa (third to fourth century A.D.).
Although a rich diversity of goods was exchanged, all the empires of the western Sudan were primarily based upon control of the lucrative trans-Saharan trade in gold and salt. Gold, mined predominantly in southern West Africa, was much sought after by both African rulers and traders bound for northern Africa and Europe. Salt was essential in the regions south of the Sahara both as a dietary supplement and a preservative. Strategically located between southern gold-producing regions and Saharan salt mines, the kingdoms of the western Sudan were well positioned to amass great wealth through the taxation of imports and exports.
Station 3 : The Kingdom of Ghana
You caravan has finally arrived in Ghana. Before you can go through the empire, you must pay a tax in order to be allowed to trade. For each pound of salt, you must pay an ounce of gold. For each load you take out, you will be charged 1/3 of an ounce of gold. The people of Ghana lack a very important natural resource: salt. Humans’ need salt to survive, especially in the extreme heat of Africa. They are willing to trade you their gold for your salt. However, it is not just goods you will be leaving behind, some of your culture will stay here too Unfortunately for traders, Ghana would fall in 1203 due to a growing population and depletion of natural resources. You will need to find a new place to trade, however, just to the east is an emerging kingdom, Mali. Head east!
Reading 3: The Empire of Ghana
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. Gold, sought from the western and central Sudan, was the main commodity of the trans-Saharan trade. The traffic in gold was spurred by the demand for and supply of coinage. The rise of the Ghana appears to be related to the beginnings of the trans-Saharan gold trade in the fifth century.
From the seventh to the eleventh century, trans-Saharan trade linked the Mediterranean economies that demanded gold—and could supply salt—to the sub-Saharan economies, where gold was abundant. Although local supply of salt was sufficient in sub-Saharan Africa, the consumption of Saharan salt was promoted for trade purposes. In the eighth and ninth centuries, Arab merchants operating in southern Moroccan towns 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 attention to Mali and Ghana, the latter referred to as the "Land of Gold." The Soninke, of Ghana, 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.
Ghana, the earliest known empire of the western Sudan, first entered the historical consciousness of North Africa near the end of the eighth century but probably originated long before. The empire's legacy is still celebrated in the name of the Republic of Ghana; apart from this, however, modern-day and ancient Ghana share no direct historical connections. Famous to North Africans as the "Land of Gold," Ghana was said to possess sophisticated methods of administration and taxation, large armies, and a monopoly over notoriously well-concealed gold mines. Ghana's preeminence faded toward the end of the eleventh century, when its power was broken by a long struggle with the Almoravids led by Abdullah ibn Yasin. Ghana subsequently fell to the expanding Soso kingdom
Station 4: Mali
Your caravan makes its way through the impressive city of Timbuktu in Mali. It is located at the edge of the Sahara Desert. The citizens living in Timbuktu get gold from gold mines of the Bourne and Banbuk in the south and are ready to trade for you salt. Timbuktu will become a very import trading city, located at the Niger River, goods can be shipped from traders across the river to other locations in Africa. Traders from Djenne frequented Timbuktu to trade with Arab merchants. Timbuktu will become a center not only for trade, but also for learning. Arab scholars would travel with caravans, and stay in the city. The city of Mali would begin to decline after the death of MansaMusa, but have no fear, there is another African kingdom that is in need of your salt! Head over to the kingdom on Songhai
Reading 4: The Kingdom of Mali
By 1050 A.D. the southern chiefdom of the Soninke, gained control of Ghana and soon became the Mali Empire. Mali rulers did not encourage gold producers to convert to Islam, since prospecting and production of the metal traditionally depended on a number of beliefs and magical practices that were alien to Islam. They continued the trade for salt with Muslim merchants.
The most famous ruler of the Mali empire is Mansa Musa, who came to power several decades after the death of his legendary predecessor. Musa was not the first emperor of Mali to embrace Islam; however, Musa's hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) of 1324–25 drew the attention of both the Islamic world and Europeans, who were unprepared for the lavish wealth and generosity that the Malian king displayed during his stopover in Egypt. Accompanied by an enormous entourage, Musa apparently dispensed so much gold in Cairo that the precious metal's value plummeted and did not recover for several years thereafter.
By the 12th century, Timbuktu became a celebrated center of Islamic learning and a commercial establishment. Timbuktu had a university with three main departments and 180 Quranic schools. This was the golden age of Africa. Books were not only written in Timbuktu, but they were also imported and copied there. There was an advanced local book copying industry in the city. The universities and private libraries contained unparalleled scholarly works. As a Muslim, Mansa Musa was impressed with the Islamic legacy of Timbuktu. On his return from Mecca, Mansa Musa brought with him an Egyptian architect by the name of Abu Es Haq Es Saheli. He built universities and Mosques around he city. In addition, the Emperor invited Arabs scholars to Timbuktu. Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 had made Mali known worldwide. The Emperor took with him 12 tones of pure gold and a large caravan of 60,000 men on horses and camels. He had so much gold with him that when he stopped in Egypt, the Egyptian currency lost its value and as result the name of Mali and Timbuktu appeared on the 14th century world map.
The fourteenth-century traveler Ibn Battuta visited ancient Mali a few decades after Musa's death and was much impressed by the peace and lawfulness he found strictly enforced there. The Mali empire extended over an area larger than western Europe and consisted of numerous vassal kingdoms and provinces. Following Mansa Musa's death, Mali went into a long decline, shrinking to the size of its original territory by 1645.
Station 5: Songhai
Your caravan return to Timbuktu, however it is now under control of the Songhai Empire. They still want you salt! Trade some gold with them, and leave your culture behind!
Songhai was from one of Mali's former conquests, the kingdom of Gao, that the last major empire of the western Sudan emerged. Although the city of Gao had been occupied by a Songhai dynasty prior to being conquered by Mansa Musa's forces in 1325, it was not until much later that the Songhai empire emerged. It began to rise in 1464 when Sunni Ali came to power. Sunni Ali conquered much of the weakening Mali empire's territory as well as Timbuktu, famous for its Islamic universities and the pivotal trading city of Djenne. Following Sunni Ali's death, Muslim factions rebelled against his successor and installed Askia Muhammad as the first ruler of the Askia dynasty (1492–1592). Under the Askias, the Songhai -Empire reached its zenith, Timbuktu and Djenne flourished as centers of Islamic learning, and Islam was actively promoted.
Station 6: Axum and Great Zimbabwe
Two other important kingdoms in Africa were not part of the northern trade. These cities were Axum and Great Zimbabwe.
Axum was founded around 1000 BCE and lasted through AD 700’s.. It was located in modern day Ethiopia on the banks of the Red Sea. The majority of trade occurred through the Port of Adulis on the red sea. Merchants of Axum traded through the Red Sea with the Roman Empire and India.
Axum reached its height between 324 and 360 AD. The ruler, Ezana led Axum forces to conquer part of the Arabian Peninsula and the kingdom of Kush in 350. During its height Axum would develop a written language called Ge’ez. They developed Terrance farming on the step-like mountains. The pillars of Axum show the advanced architectural feats.
Axum would remain one of the few Christian kingdoms in Africa. Ezana was educated by a Christian man from Syria as a child. He established Christianity as the official religion when he came to the throne
Great Zimbabwe was located in Southern Africa between the Limpopo and Zambezi Rivers. It was founded by the Songhai people as a city, and slowly developed into a major trading kingdom. The capital of the kingdom was a great walled city-state called “Great Zimbabwe.” The city was surrounded by a 820 foot wall that stood 36 feet high. The walls were constructed from granite blocks from the rock of the surrounding hills. Great Zimbabwe was linked to the rest of Africa due to the Gold Fields of Sofala. The citizens used this gold to take part in a sub-Saharan gold trade.