Where is Mauretania?
Mauretania is on the Atlantic coast of West Africa. It’s basically the western part of the Sahara desert.
Medieval West Africa
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What did Mauretania sell?
At the end of the Middle Ages, most people in Mauritania made their living either by fishing on the Atlantic coast, or by gathering and selling gum arabic – the hardened sap of the wild acacia tree, used north of the Sahara and all over the Mediterranean and West Asia for printing patterns onto cloth.
The kingdom of Mali controlled most of Mauritania, and as in Mali, most of the people who lived in Mauritania followed Islam.
Why did Europeans sail there?
Because gum arabic was worth a lot of money, Europeans were eager to control this production and trade. In 1445, Portuguese ships sent by Prince Henry arrived in Mauritania and traded for both gum arabic and people to sell into slavery. In 1580, when the Spanish took over Portugal, they also took over this trade for gum arabic and enslaved people. At this point, they were taking the enslaved people back to Europe, or making them work growing sugar in the Canary Islands or Cyprus.
The Netherlands take over, then France
Then as Spain’s power collapsed, in 1638 the Dutch took over trading with Mauritania. Only a generation later, in 1678, Louis XIV of France got control of Mauritania. France kept control of Mauritania for a long time, encouraging the production of a lot of gum arabic and taking it back to France to use for printing patterns on to cloth there.
By about 1820, people weren’t buying so many enslaved people from Mauritania anymore (as in the rest of Africa), but gum arabic just got more and more important. Even after the French Revolution and Napoleon, France continued to control Mauritania.
Mauretania gets its independence
After World War II, however, France was so weak that they couldn’t control Mauritania anymore. About 1960, Mauritania became an independent country. Most people there are still Muslims today. Their main trade was still selling gum arabic to richer countries, as it still is today. Many people in Mauretania still speak French as a second language. Arabic is Mauretania’s official and main language, but people also speak Soninke, Poular and Wolof there. France still sends soldiers to Mauretania whenever they feel there is a problem.