“During the period of Ghana’s greatest power in the late 10th and early 11th centuries, one of the most important commercial cities under its control was Awadaghust, about 125 miles northwest of Kumbi Saleh. Abu Ubayd al Bakri (d. 1094), an Arab scholar living in Islamic Spain, described it as a large, populous town with well-built, handsome houses.”

“The buildings sat on the sandy ground below a big mountain that was completely barren of any vegetation. The bulk of the population consisted of Muslim traders from Ifriqiya (the North African region between Maghrib and Egypt.). The crops al-Bakri mentioned include wheat, sorghum, date palms, fig trees, and henna shrubs (the leaves of which produce a reddish brown dye). The vegetable gardens were watered with buckets, which was the usual method in Sahel towns and Sahara oases.”

“Awdaghust sat astride a trade route for gold shipped northward to the city of Sijilmasa in southern Morocco, where it was minted into coins. The overland caravan journey between Awdaghust and Sijilmasa took two months. The Arab geographer Ibn Hawqal visited Sijilmasa took two months. The Arab geographer Ibn Hawqal visited Sijilmasa in 951 and reported witnessing a steady volume of trade with lands below the Sahara, with “abundant profits and the constant coming and going of caravans” (quoted in Levtzion and Hopkins).”

“The main traders of Awdaghust were Berbers of the Zanata clan from the Atlas mountain region in Morocco. In the 10th century, city-dwelling Zanata traders began to dominate trans-Saharan commerce between Awdaghust in south and Sijilmasa in the north. But it was the Sanhaja nomads of the desert who really held power over the urban markets.”

“The Sanhaja are sometimes called the “the people of the veil” because the men cover their faces (not the women, as is the case in many Muslim societies). The Sanhaja avoided living in the city because they preferred living in tents and wandering the wide open spaces on their camels.”

“From out in the desert they exerted great authority over all avenues leading to the cities. The Sanhaja derived their income from the control of the trade routes. They were the guides and protectors for some caravans, but they demanded tolls from others, or simply raided and plundered them. The Sanhaja were also the real power in control of trade revenues in Awadagust. But they lost that revenue around the middle of the 11th century when the Soninke of Ghana took control of Awdaghust.”

“The Zanata traders of the city accepted their authority, which caused the Sanhaja people of the desert to lose an important source of income. The Sanhaja never eventually get their revenge on the Soninke through the Almoravids, Muslim Berber rulers from Morocco who took control of the Islamic Empire around 1085. The Almoravids’s empire eventually reached from Senegal through the Maghrib to Spain. They competed with the Soninke for control of trade and had a great impact on 11th-century Ghana.” 

Source:  Empires of Medieval West Africa: Ghana, Mali, and Songhay By David C. Conrad

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