– Ships of the
Desert: Around 750 CE, everything changed in
northern Africa when Islamic traders began to use camels to
transports goods across the Sahara
use of camels made it possible to get from Kush to West Africa
overland, to literally get from here to there.
Camels were the
perfect answer. Camels can carry heavy loads. They can keep their
footing in sliding sand. They can go a long time without water. If treated well,
camels are patient. On flat ground,
they can run very fast. They run so fast that if you
stopped at an oasis, you might find a camel race in progress. Every
trader knew his camels were the best!
Camels soon were
nicknamed the “Ships of the Desert”.
The day the first caravan of camels headed west
into the Sahara Desert was the day that marked the opening of the
Trans-Sahara Trade Route. Caravans of camels were loaded with trade goods. They carried many
wonderful products including spices from India and iron tools and
weapons from Kush.
In no time, anywhere there was
an oasis in the desert along any of the Trans-Sahara Trade Routes, cities
and towns sprang up. New occupations were born in West Africa,
including camel dealers and caravan traders.
Route Around Africa Discovered: In
the late 1400's, Muslim traders dominated the Trans-Sahara Trade
Routes. But Portugal dominated the seas.
Prince Henry of
Portugal was fascinated by Africa, the huge continent to the
immediate south of Portugal. It was such a vast place. He had been
there during the wars with Morocco in 1415.
He had a hunch that maybe, just maybe, his wonderful sailors
could find a way around Africa by sea. It had never been done. It
might not even be possible. There might not be a river through or a
sea around Africa. The way Prince Henry looked at, though, was –
what good was it to be a prince if you could not follow your
1434, under the able guidance of Prince Henry the Navigator, several
well organized explorations left Portugal, and sailed down the west
coast of Africa in search of a short cut to India, where they knew
they would find gold, gems, spices, and silk.
was a good hunch. Prince Henry was right. There was a way round
Africa. Around 1488, Captain Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope. Ten
years later, Vasco da Gama, probably the most famous of the many
famous Portuguese explorers, rounded the Cape of Good Hope and
continued on to India.
Portugal showed the world that it was easier to sail around the
coast of Africa than travel though the desert, the cities and towns
that had sprung up along the Trans-Sahara Trade Route began to
decline in influence. Trade did not stop, but it did slow down
considerably. It was far less dangerous and far less costly to
travel by ship than by camel.