The earliest great kingdom of West Africa was Ghana. It was wealthy, powerful, and well respected by surrounding kingdoms. Ghana’s power came from the trading of gold, salt, and other items with its neighbor.
In 1065 Tunka Manin was the King of Ghana. So rich was his kingdom, that Tunka Manin was called lord of the gold. So powerful were his warriors that he was also called warrior king or Ghana. His kingdom then came to be known as Ghana.
Ghana was an advanced civilization located on rolling grasslands between the jungles of the Congo and the dry Sahara. The boundaries of the kingdom were not fixed because they change with the fortunes of King Tunka Manin. The people built cities, farmed the land, raised their families, and lived peacefully with their neighbors.
The Silent Trade
Tunka Manin’s mighty army and wealth were partly responsible for Ghana’s greatness. The riches earned by the trade routes he controlled contributed also. He recognized that his kingdom needed salt, and his lands were poor in this mineral. To the people of West Africa, the value of salt was almost equal to the value of gold. It was not only used to preserve food. It had to be eaten regularly to help keep moisture in the body.
Tunka Manin knew of a way to obtain salt and build up his own supplies of gold. Ghana lay between huge salt mines in the north valuable gold mines in the south. So he allowed trade on his lands between people of the south and people of the north.
Caravans of camels were a common sight in ancient Ghana. Traders from the north would travel over the desert for nearly six month to reach Kumbi (capital of Ghana). They carried huge loads of goods to trade.
When the caravans arrived, the northern traders beat a drum to alert the merchants of their approach. The silent trade would begin. This silent trade was necessary because there was no common language spoken between many of the different peoples of Africa. Most trading was done quickly and silently.
The northern traders laid their salt, fine cloths, wheat, and dried fruits on the ground. Then they moved out of sight to wait. The merchants of the south came forward and looked over the goods. Leaving their payment of gold, they stepped away also. Then the traders approached again and accepted the payment. Nodding to each other, they beat the drum to signal that the trade was complete. All of this happened without a single word being spoken.
The Capital City of Kumbi
Kumbi became a rich and colorful market center. Merchants from all over the northern and western Africa came there to barter or trade goods. King Tunka Manin made money on every trade. He set up his own tax laws. Every buyer or seller paid a tax to him on the goods they traded. Tunka Manin’s kingdom grew very wealthy.
Products other than salt or gold were also traded in the crowded markets of Kumbi. People who had been captured in wars and enslaved by their captors were sold to passing caravans. This did not trouble the people of Kumbi, or other people since this had taken place throughout the world since the beginning of time.
Most captives became servants or farm laborers. Many were not enslaved forever and could earn or buy their freedom. Others were freed by becoming members of the families to whom they were enslaved.
At its peak, ancient Ghana had a population of several million people and a territory of about 250,000 square miles.
By 1100s, however, Ghana began to decline in power. A series of droughts had hurt the farmers and their crops. There were fewer goods to trade, so less gold came into the kingdom. (Nordquist, Marty. Ancient Africa and The Atlantic Slave Trade.)
The Year of Return Ghana
2019 will mark the 400-year anniversary of the first enslaved Africans in the United States in 1619. Widely recognized as the start of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (The Maafa) where millions of our ancestors were kidnapped and brought to America as free labor thus beginning the African-American experience.
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Theresa Noni Charles, Cultural Travel Planner. Educator. Explorer.
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