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Africa in the 1400sBetween 1100 and 1600 AD, “The Golden Age” of trade in Africa, Trans-Saharan Trade was flourishing. African gold was at high demand, and people from around the world came to trade for it. The spread of Islam, throughout Africa, came with much conflict, as the larger Muslim empires would attack a city and then force them to convert. This mostly occurred in Northern Africa and the Eastern Coast. The Nomadic Almohad people invaded Spain in the 11th Century, but between 1482 and 1491, during the Spanish Reconquista, they pushed them out of Spain and back into North Africa.

Mansa Musa (1280-1337) – The tenth Mansa of the Mali Empire became very well known. The Mali Empire had conquered other African territories in North Africa, such as Ghana, Guinea, and Gambia. He was given the title of “Lord of the Mines of Wangara.” His mastery of mining and slave labor helped his expansion of gold production, making him the wealthiest man in history.

He was a devout Muslim, and pushed for full conversion throughout his Empire. His Hajj (or pilgrimage to Mecca), between 1324 and 1325, is legendary, not just in North Africa, but around the world, because of what occurred on his journey. This journey was approximately 2,700 miles and took him almost a year to complete. His entourage included 60,000 men, all wearing expensive clothing, but armed for war; 12,000 slaves, who each carried gold bars and staffs, dressed in silk; and hundreds of horses and camels, to carry enough food for their entire precession. Each camel carried 300 lbs. of gold dust. On his journey, he would give this gold away to the poor throughout Cairo and Medina, and traded some for souvenirs. This large precession made him well known among all of Africa, and the world.

On the way home, Musa discovered the effect of his generosity. He returned only months later, to find that the economies of each of these cities were destroyed. The value of gold, because of this large influx, became almost worthless, for about ten years. The price of food and other goods became extremely high. Some historians believe that on his journey back, he tried to gather as much of the gold as possible, to salvage what he had done; or was this his plan? Others believe that this pilgrimage was not religious, but to get the world’s attention and destroy Cairo’s market, being the leading gold market at the time. It was only in 1375 that his Empire was finally added to the world maps of his time.

To receive more attention from the world, he enlisted architects from Spain and Cairo to build his grand palace and mosque in Timbuktu. This city became the African center of trade, culture, and Islam. Merchants would bring their greatest trades to this market, and universities were built and staffed with Musa’s pick of Astronomers and Mathematicians. Many of these buildings, minus his palace, still stand today.

Trans-Saharan Trade Market – Imagine you were in a land that only produced one or two goods. If you wanted something different, you would need to travel and trade what you had, for what you wanted or needed. Trade in all of Africa was essential and these trade routes began thousands of years BC, until around the 17th century. While some areas had an abundance of gold, others had an abundance of other goods and materials, so tribes would travel the entire continent to find the right market to sell, trade, and buy. There were many different markets you could travel to, but none were as grand as the markets of Mali, for not only were they full of merchants from Africa, but Europe and Asia as well. They all desired different goods and were willing to trade what they had for materials: metals, such as gold and silver; food, from crops to livestock; materials, such as silk and cotton; and even humans (slaves) were high-priced goods in these markets. Slaves would be traded by the hundreds at a time. Not only were these markets to sell goods in, but also markets used for that of teaching and conversion. The Islamic religion and cultures from around the continent were traded. Languages were so different when it all began, and slowly the traders would learn other languages, aside from their native tongue, to work the market. Nothing was held back from being sold in these markets.

Something else to note, is that the Saharan Desert covered a large portion of Northern Africa. So much, that when Europeans and Asian conquerors would attack Africa, they would keep to the Northern coast, because the desert literally covered the northern half from the rest of the continent (which is why you see conquerors clinging to the areas in direct contact with the northern coast of Africa). This was not just because they desired to control the Mediterranean Sea, but also because there wasn’t much south of them, before the Sahara devoured everything. Only those brave enough and well equipped could navigate the ever changing sands of this ocean-like area. Traders would come in caravans of camels - animals that could take both the heat and lack of water. Most of the markets lay southeast of the Saharan Desert, or near the coast, where traders were able to have access. Some of the largest markets were accessible by the water, and allowed Europeans to travel there.

African Slavery – Slavery can be found in abundance, throughout all of history, in nearly every country around the world. The ethnicity or race of the slave did not matter, but instead it only mattered that you were weaker than the person taking you into servitude, but strong enough to work. Nowhere else was this in such abundance than in Africa. You were taken into slavery for these main reasons: being captured in war; to pay off your debt; military servitude; prostitution; and criminal slavery. Indentured servitude was another type of slavery, but was temporary, and as soon as you paid your debt or served your prison sentence, you were to be released. Both slaves and indentured servants were traded at these trans-Saharan markets, as individuals, or by the hundreds. Though it started in Africa, thousands of years before Europe began to play a big part, the first records were written by the Greek philosopher Herodotus, in the 5th century BC. He argued that slavery was essential for much of these civilizations to survive, and so justified the Greeks to participate. He argued that these people would be forced to create irrigation, harvest crops, and even construct great infrastructure and buildings that could not be done by locals.

One great nation, built on slavery, was that of Cairo, and all of Egypt. They had many eras of slavery with people enslaved from all over Africa. They were consistent procurers of human life and much of the country was built on their backs, including the great pyramids and other architecture throughout the country, and in the deserts. Their slaves would then have children, and they too would be placed into servitude, at an incredibly young age. Though slavery was in abundance in Africa, Romans were the first Europeans to enter the interior of Africa, and purchase slaves near the 5th century BC.

Muslim traders entered the market in the 7th century, yet Islamic law would not allow Muslims to take other pre-existing Muslims as slaves, so most of their captives would come from areas they were conquering. During the Byzantine and Ottoman wars, both Christian and Muslim forces would enslave each other, and add them to their forces, whether to fight or to serve. In the 13th century, an army - called the Mamaluks - who were slave soldiers that converted to Islam, were turned into their own army to take other non-Muslim areas, or used to attack Crusaders on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Slavery became so overwhelming in Europe that the Roman Catholic Church banned all slave trade for a short time and then reopened it, prohibiting slaves taken in Christian areas to be sold to non-Christian markets. Jewish merchants specialized in “Pagan Europeans,” and shipped them to the African markets.

As European countries entered the slave market, the price of slavery increased dramatically, because of their demand for servants of all types. For this reason, slavery in Africa increased, and those who purchased them would ship them overseas - both to their countries and even to the New World. Europeans, mostly criminals and those who owed a debt, were taken into slavery and shipped to the Americas as well. Between 1500 and 1900, the Barbary Pirates, Muslim privateers of the Mediterranean Sea, were known to have captured over a million white slaves and sold them in African markets. The number of slaves can only be estimated, as no records were kept, but these were more of estimates of the numbers that were needed to replace those slaves who would have died during their servitude. During this time, it is possible that nearly 17 million slaves were sold in the Indian Ocean, Middle East, and Northern Africa. The number on the West Coast and Cape of Africa are unknown.

Activity: Adobe Castle – Most buildings in Mali were designed and built with brick or wood, and covered with a material called Adobe (mud), to keep the interior cool and moist. Your task today is to design a building in the space below and then to go outside to build it. You may use sand, mud, or any other dirt-like substance, including wet flour, if you need to make your project inside. Draw your structure below, first, and then go to to learn how to build it:

Activity #2: Slavery Experiment (W4:D4) – Today, you will participate in a simple assignment. You will give yourself a small feeling of what being a slave felt like. You will give yourself to another student, or family member, and act as their slave for a day. For this experiment, that person may not hurt you or do anything that you would not do before this activity, much like slaves would experience, but you must serve them the entire day.

What did you feel as a slave for someone else? _______________________________________________________


Was your captor mean or nice to you, as their slave? ____________________________________________________

Did they have you do anything you did not want to do? __________________________________________________

What were some of the chores you had to do for them? __________________________________________________


Actual Slavery: We only gave you a taste of what slavery would have felt like, without the abuse and harsh conditions. Now, reflect on what actual slaves - back a few hundred years ago - would have felt.

How might they have felt, as a slave for someone else? __________________________________________________

Did they have them do anything they did not want? _____________________________________________________

What were some of the responsibilities they had to do? __________________________________________________



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