The Sil ent Tra de
| INTRODUCTION | MANSA MUSA | SONGHAY | SILENT TRADE | ISLAM | HOW TO GET TIMBUKTU | HOME |
Although it was the Tuaregs who founded Timbuktu, it was the merchants who solidly established it. El Sadi writes this description of early Timbuktu: "Travelers paused there. The population increased by the power and will of God, and the people began to build themselves fixed dwellings.
Caravans coming from the north and east on their way to the Mali kingdom delayed at the camp to renew their stores. A market soon formed; a high enclosure of matting was substituted for the barrier of dead thorns, and it became a meeting place for people traveling by canoe or camel.
Beginning about 400 AD, the kingdom of Ghana, meaning "warrior king" or "king of the gold" (not to be confused with the present-day country) controlled the trade of gold and salt along with other goods in West Africa. Until about 1350 at least two-thirds of the world's supply of gold came from this area.
This exchange of gold for salt was originally conducted in a ritual known as "the silent trade" because the trading partners did their business without seeing or speaking to each other.
There are various versions of how the silent trade was conducted. One version has it that the Arab traders first would meet with the villagers from Timbuktu who would lead them to a specific trading spot. The Arabs would then beat drums to signal opening of the market. They would pile their salt in rows, each trader identifying his piles with his own special marks. Then the traders would pull back from the trading site (up to a half-day's journey away, but certainly out of the area).
After the traders had retreated, the gold miners would arrive in their boats with gold from the Wangara area. They would heap gold beside each pile of salt. Then they would leave. Perhaps they too beat drums to signal the traders.
The traders would then come back. If satisfied with the exchange, the traders would collect the gold and leave, again beating on drums to signal that the business was concluded. If the traders were not satisfied with the amount of gold left by their salt piles, they would leave the piles untouched, and retreat once more, hoping the miners would add to the amount of gold.
Such action would continue until a bargain was struck. When the traders took the gold, the miners would then leave with the salt. It is probable that the villager middlemen received some percentage from each group for their part in the trading transaction.
| INTRODUCTION | MANSA MUSA | SONGHAY | SILENT TRADE | ISLAM | HOW TO GET TIMBUKTU | HOME
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