Published On: Sat, Jan 19th, 2013

“From Timbuktu to here”

Fabled lands surround the exotic Sahara desert capital of Timbuktu. According to local legend, the 12th century trading post of a Bella slave woman, misses Buktu, grew into an El Dorado, a thriving city of gold trading. The city of mud buildings is sitting on top of a pyramid’s pinnacle, formed by two 1000-miles long sides, the Niger River, streaming from Guinea to Nigeria.
At the city for a thousand years caravans arrived from a grueling trek through the roasting hot Sahara. Long girdles of camels carrying large salt blocks from the mines in Taoudenni to Timbuktu city move slowly over the sand dunes. They come to trade their precious salt for gold and slaves. In 1324, Mansa Musa, the Mighty Mali Emperor of Unlimited Gold, endowed the city with its famed Sankore Mosque and University, and thus it also became a holy city of religious Qur’an studies.
The 2,600 miles long Niger river streams from the Guinea Highlands of West Africa, northeast to the massive drainage basin, the Niger Delta at Timbuktu, and then southeast to the Atlantic Ocean. The river is the artery of all life, the supply line of tradable goods for a thousand years. The Mende, Mandigo, Fulani, Kon, Kissi, Hausa and many of the 3000 tribes eagerly sold their slaves to the river traders.

In Timbuktu thousands of slaves were sold to Moroccan Tuareg traders and transported through the Sahara to the Barbary Coast, now Algiers and Tunisia. Others remained on the river and finished up in the Bight of Benin, presently Nigeria. Portuguese and other European traders established the Trans-Atlantic slave trade from about 1518, supplying Spanish colonies in South America with workers under the asiento agreements. Curacao commenced the slave trade with the West Indish Company under Governor Beck in 1658, but lost all its trans-Atlantic trading and shipping rights to England in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht. In 1733, the WIC also lost its local monopoly, thereafter, the slave trade became a local activity between the Antilles Island and the South American Spanish colonies.

Although the actual trans-Atlantic WIC slave trade lasted only for 55 years, most Negroid ethnicity of descendants on Curacao Island today, is in direct genetic line with the slaves of the Timbuktu river trade in Mali.

Today, Mali is again embroiled in a new, bitter and bloody war between Jihadists in Timbuktu, who promote Sharia law and more liberal factions in the South. Although officially slavery abolition laws were signed in all surrounding countries of Mali and Timbuktu in 2007, the demand for slaves in Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Mali and Sudan is still very strong and the trade still forms a major income for Tuareg and Bella traders. The war is in many ways far more than a Jihadist war over fundamentalist religious interpretation of a pious life style, it is a trade war and not in the least, a slave trade war.

Many Afro-Caribbeans on the island carry very strong feelings about the historic slave trade of the 17th and 18th century. I wonder how many will feel compelled to join their blood brothers in Mali and fight as volunteers in the war against this inhumane business of the Tuareg Jihadists.

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