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camel caravan carrying big slabs of salt in the desert

African salt caravan

To have a chance to think about what these economic trades would have meant to African people, imagine you are one of these people (if you’re in a class, a group of kids can be each person). Think about what you might buy from the other people, and what you would trade them in return. Who would be further away? Who would be closer? Arrange yourselves in the room according to your geographical locations, or make a place in the room or field for each character if you are alone. Cut up pieces of paper and make tokens for the different trade goods and try to get them from one end of the room to the other.

1. You are a man from Kush. You farm a field of barley, and in your spare time you hunt for ostrich eggs and do some gold mining. You’d like some glass beads to give your mom, and some good linen for a fancy outfit for yourself too.

2. You are a teenage girl from West Africa. You watch your little brothers and sisters, and you crush palm fruit into palm oil, and you pound bark into clothes. Your dad makes iron tools. You wish you had some cotton clothes, and your dad really wants a horse.

3. You are an Egyptian trader. You live in Egypt, but you sail up and down the Nile to trade further south. You’re carrying linen, cotton, and you’re looking for gold, ivory, and ostrich eggs. You’d like some silk and pepper, too.

4. You are a South African Khoisan hunter-gatherer woman. You collect elephant tusks and animal skins and fur, feathers and ostrich eggs, along with the wild figs, palm fruit and yams you can find. You think those little glass beads are cool for necklaces, but you hardly ever see any traders.

5. You are a teenage boy from the Congo in Central Africa. You spend most of your time fishing, and helping to dry fish to eat later and to trade. Sometimes you work mining copper, too. You’d like some glass beads to impress girls with, and your dad needs salt to help dry the fish. You need medicine for your sick sister. Spices would be nice, too.

6. You are an Islamic trader, sailing around the Indian ocean and stopping at ports along the coast of East Africa and India. You’ve got a lot of glass beads and pepper, and some silk and cotton cloth. You’re looking for ivory and gold, maybe some copper, and coffee.

7. You are an African trader, living in Great Zimbabwe and traveling west to the Congo and east to the coast to trade in both directions – gold and copper, ivory and ostrich eggs to the coast, and glass beads, silk, and cotton to the Congo.

8. You are a caravan-driver, taking long camel caravans across the Sahara Desert between West Africa and North Africa. You’re carrying salt, and bringing some good horses, and looking for girls to sell as slaves, and men to work in the salt mines, and gold.

More about the African Economy

Bibliography and further reading about the African Economy:

Egyptian Economy
Islamic Empire Economy
Ancient Africa home