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Africa south of the Sahara became a prosperous civilization with a thriving economy and

a vibrant culture. The area could not have become this way without the economic advantages that
gold, established trade routes, and the value of education brought. The culture would not have
been the same without the importance of the religion of Islam and the use of art. The value and
availability of gold, development of trade routes, rise of learning and literacy, significance of
Islam, and importance of art shaped and economy and culture of Africa south of the Sahara
between 600 c.e. and 1600 c.e.
The economy of Africa south of the Sahara was influenced by the value and availability
of gold and the development of trade routes. Gold was the primary form of payment. Document
1 describes how Mansa Musa, king of Mali, brought gold to Cairo when he visited during his
pilgrimage to Mecca and says, “there was no person, officer of the court, or holder of any office
of the Sultanate who did not receive a sum of gold from him.” This source is both useful and
reliable because it is a primary source from an official who was actually there. Duarte Barbosa is
an agent of the Portuguese government and a writer who described what trade in East Africa was
like. In part of his description he says that the goods were paid for using gold (D7). This means
that gold was used in trans-Saharan trade. Barbosa is a useful and reliable source because he is a
primary source and involved in the government. Diogo De Alcacova was a Portuguese explorer
who described what he saw during his explorations in letters. In one letter, he said, “and no man
can take the gold out without leave from the king, under penalty of death” (D8). This shows the
value of gold and the lengths the king was willing take to protect it. The account of East Africa

by Barbosa also describes how trade worked. Barbosa said, “they came in small vessels named
zambucos for the kingdom of Kilwa, Mombasa, and Malindi” (D7). Through trade, East Africans
were able to lay claim to more resources in exchange for gold. Document 9 is a chart of coins
discovered in different East African locations. It is useful because it shows which areas traded
with certain civilizations and it shows which civilizations traded with parts of East Africa most
often and it is reliable because it shows solid statistics. Song China, the Byzantine Empire, and
some unidentified Muslim civilization partook the the most trade with East Africa. Document 10
is a map of the Swahili Coast trading locations. It is useful because it shows where trade took
place and how much of it was by land or sea. It shows that most of the trade was by sea, but most
of the land routes were in Africa south of the Sahara. An additional document that would be
helpful would be a chart that shows which merchandise came from which area. This would show
how each trade partner helped influence the economy.
The rise of learning and literature contributed to the economy of Africa south of the
Sahara. Leo Africanus is a diplomat who traveled to Timbuktu. He is useful because he gave an
account of what he saw there and he is reliable because he actually went there and witnessed
everything first hand. He talks about how educated men are valued by the king and he says,
“Various manuscripts and written books are here and are sold for more money than other
merchandise” (D2). Being educated became a way to be successful and rich. Also, books had
become valuable items for trade.

The culture of Africa south of the Sahara was shaped by the religion of Islam. Document
1 about Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage shows not only the significance of gold, but also that Islam
was such an important part of African culture that even the king made pilgrimages to Mecca.
Ubeydullah el-Bakri is a Spaniard who interviewed many travelers to Ghana. He described the
towns in Ghana and said, “One of these towns, which is inhabited by Muslims, is large and
possesses twelve mosques” (D6). This shows that mosques were very accessible and that being
able to worship was an important part of life for most people. This source is useful because it
shows what it was like in Ghana, but it is not completely reliable because al-Bakri didn’t actually
travel there himself and just relied on the accounts of others. Another useful source would be
demographic data on the amount of Muslims in Africa south of the Sahara.
The importance of art contributed a lot to the culture of Africa south of the Sahara.
Document 4 is a description by a Hausa artisan of how he makes a benin bronze sculpture. It is
both useful and reliable because it is told by an artisan describing his own craft. He says, “This
work is one to cause wonder.” Document 5 is a photo of a benin bronze head and has many
intricate patterns on it. Benin art is produced mainly to honor the king. There are sculptures that
show human-like figures. Because the sculptures are for the king, sculpture-making and art in
general was clearly a significant and valuable craft.