• Africa Notes



    Study Sheet-Africa


    Give important information for each topic listed below:







    Gold and Salt Trade:


    Define the following terms:

    Extended family:



    Sub-Saharan Africa:



    Rain forests:

    Silent Barter:

    Tunka Manin:


    Mansa Musa:

    Sunni Ali:

    Askia the Great:

    Oral History:





    Review the maps, quick facts, and the geography skills questions in the chapter

    Review the slide notes

    Review the climate regions of Africa: Savanna, Sahel, Desert, and Semiarid Regions

    African Art:  Know what they are used for.

    Reliquary Guardian Figure


    Kente cloth

    Male initiation mask

    Water bottle

    Review your map of Africa and be able to identify the following places on the map:

    Atlantic Ocean

    Mediterranean Sea

    Red Sea

    Atlas Mountains

    Indian Ocean


    Kalahari Desert

    Sahara Desert

    Niger River

    Nile River

    Ethiopian Highlands

    Congo River

    Lake Victoria

    Serengeti Plain

    Congo Basin


    African Art


    African art was not made to be viewed on walls in museums or displayed in glass cases.  They were made for a variety of purposes:  to be worn or carried by participants in religious ceremonies or placed on altar in shrines; to enable the living to communicate with the realm of the ancestors and to address forces of nature; and to enhance the power of the ruler.  In cultures in which writing played no role, these masks and figures expressed ideas about nature, the social order, and the spiritual realm.


    In a human figure, some parts may be exaggerated because of their importance to the purpose of the figure.  Most often it is the head that is disproportionately large, but sometimes it is the breasts or stomach.  Sometimes the figure symbolizes many things.  A woman holding  a baby, for example, may represent motherhood, but she may also represent the founding of the group, the transmission of wisdom, or authority. Similarly, a mask is often a composite, combining aspect of several animals, but not resembling any specific one.


    Art usually takes the form of sculptures of animals and humans, or functional items such as waving and pottery.


    Art permeates every aspect of life in sub-Saharan Africa, but each of the hundreds of groups has its own styles and forms.  Surely the names of the carvers who created the art pieces that you will see were known in their own communities, but because we do not know them, we identify a work in terms of the culture in which it was made.


    The Empires of West Africa

    The West Africans lived as hunter-gatherers.  The Nok discovered iron technology, which allowed Africans to produce larger food supplies, build large, permanent villages, and create powerful armies.


    West African kings used their armies to conquer villages and establish kingdoms.  The kingdom of Ghana gained control of the trans-Saharan gold and salt trade.  North African traders introduced Islam to West Africa. 


    The kingdom of Mali takes over Ghana’s trade. 

    Mansa Musa created a large empire incorporating Muslim influences. 

    He went on a pilgrimage to Mecca and put Mali “on the map”.


    Songhai built an empire larger than Mali’s.  Leaders of Songhai are unable to maintain unity within their empire.  The Sultan of Morocco uses muskets to defeat Songhai’s warriors.

    Trading Gold for Salt in West Africa

    The Soninke leaders of Ghana were able to create a powerful kingdom in West Africa by using their military strength and location—between the northern Saharan salt mines and the gold fields to the south-to control a system of silent trade.  Silent trade occurred when North Africans and Wangarans came to Ghana to trade gold and salt.  Instead of meeting and negotiating face to face, the North Africans and Wangarans who spoke different languages, used the Soninke as brokers, or middlemen, to protect the interests of both sides.  Because of their geographical position, the Soninke were able to perpetuate this system of trade and tax its participants.  As a result, the kingdom of the Ghana—and later Mali and Songhai—was able to acquire an enormous amount of wealth.


    North Africans were willing to travel to Ghana to trade their salt for gold because they valued gold as currency and West Africans valued salt, which was scarce in West Africa and is needed to replace fluids lost from the body through perspiration.  They also used salt to preserve and flavor food.  Gold, however, was plentiful in the western Sudan but had limited value to the Wangarans and the Mande, who mined it.  Tools, for example, could not be made out of the soft metal.  To the people of the western Sudan, salt and gold were considered equally valuable.  So they generally traded in equal amounts—a pound of gold for a pound of salt.

    Adapting to the Climate Regions of Sub-Saharan Africa

    Obtaining food in a Tropical Rain Forest:

    n      Small farms produce yams and cassavas

    n      Bananas, plantains, and kola nuts are collected in the forest

    n      Meat obtained by hunting monkeys, squirrels, and birds

    n      Trade provides vegetables and dried fruit


    Providing Food and Shelter in the Savanna:

    n      Farms produce millet, sorghum, and rice

    n      Livestock provide milk, meat and hides

    n      Buildings are made of mud with grass roofs


    Using the limited water sources of the Semiarid Region:

    n      Wells, rivers, streams, lakes and waterholes provide water

    n      Fields are irrigated

    n      Livestock graze where rainfall produces vegetation

    n      Fishing supplements farming


    Crossing the Desert:

    n      Travelers use camels

    n      Clothing protects people from heat and cold

    n      Food must be conserved

    n      Guides provide assistance

    n      Oases can be used for water and food