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Bridges Across the Sahara: Social, Economic and Cultural Impact of the Trans-Sahara Trade During the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Bridges Across the Sahara: Social, Economic and Cultural Impact of the Trans-Sahara Trade During the 19th and 20th Centuries. Edited by Ali Abdullatif Ahmida. (Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009. Pp. xv, 215. $59.99.)

This book grew out of a 2006 conference in the Jalu Oasis of Libya. It argues that the Sahara connects North and sub-Saharan Africa and that scholarship about its peoples should no longer be divided along arbitrary colonial or national lines.

The organization of the Saharan trade is taken up in two chapters. Ahmed Elyas reviews well-known Arab writers such as Muhamad al-Bakri, Abu Ibn Battuta, and Ibn Khaldun. He discusses the silent trade and various mediums of exchange, including cloth, cowries, coins, and letters of exchange. Neither the author nor editor indicate that many of these sources have been translated and discussed in an extensive secondary literature. Ghislaine Lydon describes, primarily from documentary and oral evidence, the family networks involved in the caravan trades in the Western Sahara. Women were very important, maintaining trading bases, collecting and preparing supplies, traveling with the caravans, trading, providing capital, and as widows continuing the family businesses.

Agency, traders, and slaves constitute a second theme. Drawing on his long fieldwork in the region, John P. Mason describes four key factors in the Augila Oasis: cultural interactions between indigenous Berbers and immigrant Arabs, the ethnic division of labor, complementary economic activities of the oasis and the nomadic herders bringing supplies from the outside world, and the interaction between rulers and ruled down through Italian colonial rule. Terence Walz studies four ex-slaves from the Sudan. Two joined the Comboni Mission: Bakhita Kwashe, through slavery and purchase by a priest in Cairo, who then received a religious education, and Kuku wad Adam, after serving as a merchant's assistant. Ali Jifun distinguished himself in the Egyptian army, while Bahr al-Nil Fanus managed a Coptic household in Asyut.

The colonial period is represented by two chapters. To address the Italian occupation of al-Jaghbub in 1925-1926, Fred Lawson considers it as a key point on the Wadai to Benghazi trans-Saharan route, with links to western Egypt. For the Western Sahara just before and during the First World War, Francesco Correale suggests that gun smuggling was not just an evasion of French colonial law but active local resistance assisted by German and Ottoman agents, which benefitted European arms suppliers.

Camels, once the prime desert transport, are now traded from Chad to Libya to be sold as meat. Meike Meerpohl investigates camel herding as updated with satellite phones and trucks to provide water at a key point in the Libyan desert and then to carry the camels to market.

The book will fascinate those interested in the Sahara, but poor copyediting--inconsistent spelling, random jumps in the spacing of paragraphs, and typos--mars it. Regrettably, the contributions by non-Anglophones suffer the most. The literature on the Sahara is still divided into national and linguistic segments, but only better editing will bridge the remaining divides.

George Michael La Rue

Clarion University

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Author:La Rue, George Michael
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2012
Words:504
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