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The Gold and Salt Trade in West Africa

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1 The Gold and Salt Trade in West Africa

2 Why trade gold for salt? In our time, salt is easy to get and not very expensive, selling for about 79¢ a pound. Gold, for us, is rare and very expensive, selling currently at about $1, an ounce, which equals $16, a pound. In Africa during the 1300s, however, they had a lot of gold that they had little use for, and NO salt, which they needed badly.

3 Gold Miners in Nigeria

4 Where did the gold come from?
There were many gold mines in the area known as Wangara, which was south of Ghana in the forests. The Wangarans kept the location of their gold mines secret, and to this day no one knows exactly where they were. They knew that gold was valuable item for trade, but had little other use for it.



7 What did they need salt for?
They needed salt to replace the salts lost from their bodies in perspiration (this is why there is so much salt in Gatorade!). In the hot climate of West Africa, this was very important. They used it to preserve foods. They used it to give to their cattle. They used it to flavor their food.

8 Salt mining in the Sahara Desert

9 Where did salt come from?
In the Sahara Desert, there was a salt mine at Taghaza where they dug blocks of salt out of the ground. In Taghaza, they had so much salt that they used blocks of it for buildings! They did not produce anything else there – not even food. They had to trade their salt for everything else they needed.

10 A camel caravan from Taghaza

11 How did the trade in gold and salt happen?
Caravans would come through Taghaza and pick up salt. They would travel through Ghana, and on to Wangara. Whenever the caravans passes through Ghana, they had to pay a fee in order to go over the borders. This is how the Kingdom of Ghana made most of its money.


13 What was the system of trade?
Since the Arab traders and the Wangarans did not speak the same language, they used a system of “silent barter.”

14 How did silent barter work?
The Arab traders would come to a river in Wangara and spread out their items. Then they beat a drum to announce to the Wangarans that they had items ready to trade, and walked away from the area. Then the Wangarans would come and see what the traders left. They would put some gold dust near the items, then beat a drum and leave.


16 More on silent barter The Arab traders would come back, see how much gold dust they left, and decide if that was enough. If they left enough gold, the traders would take it and leave. If not, they would go away again and wait for the Wangarans to return and leave more gold. They would trade back and for the this way without ever meeting in person until the trade was complete.


18 What were the advantages of this system?
First, it allowed people who spoke different languages to conduct trades. Second, it let the Wangarans keep the secret of where their gold mines were located.

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