The West African Sahel and East Africa Coast.

Write a Reflection Post on Harms, Africa in Global History, Chapter 4, Cities of Gold: The West African Sahel and East Africa Coast.

respond to peers:

1. This reflection will focus on Chapter Four of Harms` book- “Africa in Global History with Sources”. At the beginning, Harms writes that the focus of this chapter will be about how East and West Africa have grown to be so culturally different from one another.

Personally, I enjoyed the description of how the Islam spread through trade routes, thanks to the description one can understand the connection between Islam and the East or West of Africa: Gold.

The Golden Dinar became the official coin of the Islam and with the increasing demand for the Dinar as a result of increasing Islam followers, laid the preconditions for the upcoming segregation between the East and West of Africa.

At first, Gold mines were identified in Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, Songhay, Zimbabwe and in many other locations in both East and West of Africa. However, it is not how much they produced that made the difference, it was how they treated the gold: the small vassal communities in West Africa used the gold to create their own Empires. In the meantime, on the East side, the gold was used to create their own little kingdoms: “Just as wealthy Swahili merchants did not seek to acquire land, Swahili kings and queens did not seek to acquire territory. Most of them lived in sumptuous palaces, but ruled over little more than their own towns.” (p. 155). Indeed, the East focused on the kingdom on a smaller scale while the West was focused on Empire building.

Another reason why the East and West were so different in how they used the gold, was their geographical location.

While the West African territories were busy building an empire, they were also busy building ways to defend it, since they were surrounded by land. However, the East side of the same continent was surrounded by sea. Those people were more interested in increasing their wealth and developing trading routes.

In conclusion, there are geographical and cultural differences between the East and West of Africa that came as a direct result of the gold trade. I enjoyed seeing the connections between the different chapters that I read so far. Also, I enjoyed expand my knowledge about the African History. 

2. Although the Sahel is a mostly barren region, its southern edge near Bambuk and Bure was rich with gold deposits. This gold from the Sahel was needed to create jewelry and other status symbols; along with minting coins for the Byzantine empire. When Muslim rulers in the 8th century required gold from the Sahel for their own currencies, the value increased to match the demand. Another increase occurred in the 13th century when many European rulers adopted the minting of gold coins.

As in modern times, the immense wealth isn’t made from trading, it’s made from taxing or controlling aspects of trade. That is how the Empires of the Sahel created most of their wealth while inhabiting a mostly barren area. Despite popular belief, the immense wealth of the Mali Empire came from their control over trade routes rather than their goldfields. The Songhay financed their empire through taxes mainly on salt, trade and agriculture. Traders traveling on the Niger river and across the Sahara had to pay when crossing through Songhay territory, but no one was more heavily taxed than the farmers of the Middle Niger Floodplain. According to the traveler Leo Africanus,the population was taxed so heavily they barely had enough to live on.

The demand for gold allowed for the creation of trade routes throughout the desert by camel caravans. Camels could survive up to ten days without water allowing traders to travel from oasis to oasis across the Sahara. Trade routes had to be carefully planned since they were reliant on reaching these scarce sources of water before you or your camel ran out. Although the journey was dangerous, the reward for traders was massive. These routes connected the Sahel and its gold producing regions to North Africa and the Mediterranean coast. Which in turn connected the Sahel to southern Europe and southwest Asia through trade routes across the Mediterranean sea. 

3. The wealth of the West African Sahel came from its gold. The issue was how to transport to the markets located in Mediterranean North Africa. The Sahara was in between the areas and it was at its driest. Camels were used to travel on a specific route from one oasis, to the next oasis across the desert because they could survive 10 days without water. Small pieces of gold were making their way from the Sahel to North Africa by the fourth century CE. Where it was used for jewelry, coins and ornamentation. The trade of gold eventually involved sailing the monsoon wind of the Indian Ocean. Many sent out to navigate the trading route were captured slaves, forced against their will. Crossing the Indian Ocean was a working of the monsoon winds, allowing seasons of directional winds to sail in. Trade along the eastern coast of Africa incorporated the purchase of ivory, tortoiseshell, rhino horns, and coconut oil along with gold and salt. Settles of Swahili that were located along the coast went through economic and social changes as trade in the area grew. This stretch of the Indian Ocean coast was now called the Swahili coast.

This chapter also focused on the history of these three empires – Ghana, Mali, and Songhay. All were largely involved in gold and control over trans-Sahara trading. These empires used an indirect ruling approach, where chiefs and vassals still had authority in their regions, but operate under and respect the empire’s king. The success of empires relied heavily on the control over trading the route, once this was at risk, you would see a decline in the Empire. For these empires, it was not necessarily about how much area you controlled, it is about what areas you controlled, and what resources and routes they could provide. Economic ties and relationships helped keep control over vassals.

Prior to the rise of the Ghana, Mali and Songhai empires, Sahel had independent chiefdoms which are villages and towns ruled by chiefs. As well as small kingdoms which are a group of chiefdoms, ruled by a king or queen. These varied in political institutions and systems. An Empire is a group of formally independent kingdoms and chiefdoms ruled by a King or Queen. To differentiate Empire kings and queens from kingdoms, the rulers of kingdoms were called Vassals kings/queens. Empires would take over kingdoms when they were weak, and once the empires weaken, kingdoms would leave. This is why there was so much change.

One point that I find is demonstrated throughout this textbook is that where there is the movement of goods or trade, there are also transported beliefs, ideas, and religion.

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