The Tuareg caravan is one of the two last salt caravan routes in the Sahara that are still in use. Both caravans have largely been replaced by unpaved truck routes.
Each winter Tuareg caravans cross Niger’s Ténéré Desert to fetch salt from the Bilma oasis and barter millet for dates. The salt was then transported and traded in Koumbi Saleh, Niani, and Timbuktu for ivory, hides, copper, iron, cereals, and even gold dust.
Salt was a scarce but highly valued and essential mineral when the Ténéré region became drier and fresh, salt containing plant food was hard to find. Salt was needed to stay hydrated in the hot desert, to preserve dried meat and to give food more flavor.
In the past caravans assembled and travelled en masse for safety reasons. They were accompanied by a representative of the Agadez Sultanate, who negotiated safe passage and determined salt prices. Frequently over 20,000 camels took part.
Tuareg camel caravans played the primary role in trans-Saharan trade, following five principal trade routes across the Sahara from the northern Mediterranean coast of Africa to the great cities on the southern edge of the Sahara.
In the mid-20th century during French colonialism an infrastructure with railways and roads took over some of the caravan transport.
Nowadays, participants consist of families and friends who club together under the guidance of a ‘madagu’ chief or headman.
Because of drought, colonialism and political tensions, it has become difficult through times to make a living from nomadic herding. Most Tuareg today combine herding, oasis gardening, and caravan trading with arts and crafts for the tourist trade or work in towns.
the Ténéré Desert is part of the Sahara desert, surrounded by the Aïr Mountains in the west, the Hoggar Mountains in the north, the Tibesti Mountains in the east, and the basin of Lake Chad in the south.
The Sahara is the largest hot desert in the world, and the world’s third largest desert after Antarctica and the Arctic. It occupies approximately 10 percent of the African Continent.
It’s named after the plural Arabic language word for ‘desert’.
The Sahara stretches from the Red Sea in the east and the Mediterranean in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the semi-arid tropical Sahel in the south.
In the hyper-arid central part of the Sahara is rainfall minimal and sporadic, but a few thousand years ago the Sahara was significantly wetter, when a large mammal fauna resided in this area. Now only rock, sand and sparse vegetation exist over huge areas as a result of climate change and over-hunting.