|Trade in Salt and Gold
In the A. D. 700s, Muslim traders traveled from North Africa
across the Sahara to West Africa in order to trade for gold. At
the time, most of the world's gold came from this area. West
Africans needed salt to preserve food in the hot climate. Muslim
traders brought salt in exchange for gold.
The Empire of Ghana
By the 700s, the empire of Ghana was powerful and its kings
were wealthy because of its location along the major trade
routes in North Africa. Ghana's kings controlled the gold-for-salt
trade and were the sole keepers of the gold. By keeping the gold
supply scarce, the demand for it was high and the value
increased. Muslim traders settled in Ghana and became advisors
to its kings. The wealth of Ghana created envy among neighbors
and led to fighting. Around the middle of the 1000s, North Africans
began to attack Ghana. By 1230, Ghana had disappeared.
The Wealth of Mali
Mali arose in about 1250 and became powerful because of
Prince Sunjata. He was a talented ruler who we up an
organized government and spread his power in Ghana and over
a wide region. He made the gold-for-salt trade even more
successful and set up the capital of Niani and the cultural center
of Timbuktu. Like earlier leaders, Sunjata accepted Islam and
supported Muslims including Mansa Musa, who worked to
convert his kingdom. After Mansa Musa's death, rulers became
weak and Mali was replaced by the Songhai Empire.
The Songhai Empire
Songhai was a small state at the head of the Niger River.
While Mansa Musa was ruling in Mali, Songhai was gaining
power. One very strong leader of the empire was Sunni Ali who
expanded the kingdom to include Mali and parts of present-day
Benin, Niger, and Nigeria. Songhai kings had assistants called
griots who kept their history alive by telling stories about
historical events and traditions. Eventually, Songhai became
too large and did not have effective weapons. The empire was
defeated by Morocco in 1591.