R03f_Ch.15: West Africa and the Observations of Leo Africanus
In 1510, Leo’s uncle made the cross-Saharan trip via Sijilmasa-Taghaza to Timbuktu. Leo traveled with him and later wrote about his adventures.
… of Timbuktu
Here are many shops of artificers and merchants, and especially of such as weave linen [sic] and cotton cloth. And hither do the Barbay merchants bring cloth of Europe. All the women of this region except the maid servants go with their faces covered, and sell all necessary victuals. The inhabitants, and especially strangers living there, are exceedingly rich, insomuch that the king married both his daughters unto two rich merchants. Here are many wells containing the most sweet water; and so often as the River Niger over flowed they convey the water thereof by sluices into the town. Corn, cattle, milk, and butter this region yields in great abundance: but salt is very scarce here, for it is brought hither by land from Taghaza.
… of Jenne
In Jenne, Leo saw “a city prospering from its crops of rice, barley fish, cattle and cotton. The cotton is a major crop sold unto the merchants of Barbay for cloth of Europe, for brass vessels, for armor and such other commodities.”
Leo wrote: “It is a wonder to see what plenty of merchandise is daily brought hither, and how costly and sumptuous all things be. Horses bought in Europe for ten ducats are sold again for forty and sometimes for fifty ducats apiece. There is not any cloth of Europe so coarse, which will not here be sold for four ducats an ell and if it be anything fine they will give fifteen ducats for an ell; and an ell of the scarlet of Venice or of Turkey, valued at three or four crowns and so likewise are spurs, bridles, with other like commodities, and spices also are sold at a high rate: but of all other commodities salt is most extremely dear”.
Source: Patricia and Frederick McKissack, The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1994, pg.s 53, 105-106.
Questions to Ponder:
1. What does the author identify as qualities for each city?
2. How do the descriptions of the cities reveal similarities/ differences between them?