Lesson 2: Trekking to Timbuktu: Trade in Ancient West Africa (Teacher Version)

Trade has played an important role in the economy of West Africa since very early times. As early as 300 AD, camel caravans carried salt from mines in the Sahara Desert to trading centers along the Niger River in present-day Mali. Their mission was to exchange the salt for the gold that was mined in forests near the headwaters of the Niger. West Africa’s first kingdom, Ghana, became wealthy and powerful because it controlled the trade routes and commercial activities in its region.

The spread of Islam across North Africa in the 7th century dramatically increased trans-Saharan trade. As the market expanded, strategically sited towns became major centers of commerce, welcoming merchants from distant lands.

Guiding Questions

What were West Africa’s main products of trade?

What were the major trade routes in this region?

How did the kingdom of Ghana become very wealthy?

What is Islam, and why did it spread across Africa?

How did Muslim merchants influence the development of trade in West Africa?

Learning Objectives

List the major products and trade routes of ancient West Africa

Explain how the kingdom of Ghana became wealthy

Discuss the key concepts of Islam

Show how Islam spread from Arabia to Africa

Describe how Muslim merchants contributed to the expansion of West African trade