are always warmly welcome -

11 January 2008

19th c. trade between Sudan and Egypt

Walz, Terence. 1978. The Trade between Egypt and Bilad as-Sudan, 1700-1820. Cairo: Institut Francais d'Archeologie Orientale.

Review of the book by Dennis D. Cordell, African Economic History, No. 9 (1980), pp. 249-253
doi:10.2307/3601433 sici?sici=0145-2258(1980)9%3C249%3ATTBEAB%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Q


Khabir 'Ali at Home in Kubayh: A Brief Biography of a dar fur Caravan Leader
by G. Michael La Rue, African Economic History, No. 13 (1984), pp. 56-83

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10 January 2008

Introduction to Kharga Oasis

[W]hen the Romans came to Egypt they increased the prosperity of the oasis by creating new wells, cultivating many crops and building a series of 'fortress settlements' for protection of the caravan routes. These Roman 'fortresses' are especially numerous in the Kharga Oasis, where the Darb el-Arba'in (the 'Forty-Day Road') which ran north to south between Asyut and the Sudan, was the most important trade route. This was later to become part of the infamous slave-trade route between North Africa and the tropical south. [...]

We do not know precisely when the desert route to Sudan developed. Camels, which were introduced after the Persian invasion, enabled ancient travellers to cover greater distances than they had done previously, but the trade caravans were not popular in the desert regions until the Mamaluke era when rising tolls made the Nile Valley routes too expensive. Two villages at the southern end of the Oasis, Maks Qibli and Maks Bahri were customs posts on either side of the Darb el-Dush, the Nile Valley route which connected with the Darb el-Arba'in. A small mudbrick watchtower at Maks Qibli, known as Tabid el-Darawish, was built by the British in 1893 to protect the trade route.

There are numerous ancient sites to see in Kharga oasis. Some are close to the road but many others will require the use of a 4x4 vehicle to visit them. The oasis is connected to the Nile Valley by two main routes, one from Armant, near Luxor to Baris, in the south of the region and the second from Asyut to Kharga City in the north. Tourists are encouraged to use the northern route, which follows the ancient Darb el-Arba'in.

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The Darb el-Arbein - The Forty Days Road

The text in the was reprinted/or plagiarised from an undated article by Lorraine Chittock
The Forty Days Road: From Shadows in the Sand - Following the Forty Days Road.

Even in the late 1800s there are records of slaves being taken into Egypt by way of numerous camel caravan routes. The most treacherous of these was the Darb el-Arbein, the ‘Forty Days Road,’ so named because of the length of time it took to travel from Dar Fur province in western Sudan to Southern Egypt; although a good rider, with a strong camel and little in the way of provisions, could make the journey in as little as eighteen days. The caravans comprised as many as 5,000 camels and in 1782 one was recorded as having 24,000 camels. Because of the size of such caravans travel times were often up to three months, as the caravan had to be divided into several groups so as not to deplete water wells and pasture along the route.
Slaves that were taken on this route sometimes went in the blistering heat of summer, as winters in the desert are cold and losses to bronchitis meant monetary losses to traders. A slave who walked from Dar Fur to Egypt in the 1830s recalled, ‘We had not food enough to eat, and sometimes we had not drink at all, and our thirst was terrible; when we stopped, almost dying for want of water, they killed a camel, and gave us blood to drink. But the camels themselves could not get on, and then they were killed, and we had their flesh for meat and their blood for water.’
At that time, trade did not flow in a northerly direction and stop. On reaching Cairo, some three-quarters of the camels were sold for meat and as pack animals, but the remainder returned south with good that were desirable in Sudan and the surrounding region; European-made paper, balsam oil, textiles, metals, beads, whalebone, scents, dyes and small amounts of military supplies.
Caravan leaders who took on the role of keeping the sometimes massive number of people and camels organized on these expeditions were given the title khabir, or ‘expert.’[...]
Upon reaching Kharga Oasis after the arduous trek through the Libyan desert, long ceremonial gowns were given to the khabirs as a token of respect. After resting for almost a week the caravan would continue on. By that time messengers had been sent north to Assiut to announce the caravan’s forthcoming arrival so that merchants might assemble to buy the goods. What was not purchased was carried past Kirdasa, within sight of the Giza pyramids, and then to Cairo, where there was a large market below the citadel for the buying and selling of slaves and items from Black Africa and Persia.
By the late 1800s, however, the British— whose interest in the region increased markedly with the opening of the Suez canal in 1869—began measures to deem the slave trade illegal (The Anglo-Egyptian Convention for the suppression of the slave trade, for example, was signed in 1877). Slowly but inevitably, the number of slaves travelling the Forty Days Road diminished.

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09 January 2008

Riding the Forty Days' Road

Written by Angela Stephens
Photographed by Lorraine Chittock

As we approach the Egyptian border, we are 20 days' ride from our starting point west of Omdurman, across the Nile from Sudan's capital, Khartoum. We're bound for the place all camel herds go from Western Sudan, the camel market in Daraw, north of Aswan, Egypt, a journey of 1250 kilometers (775 miles). From there, the camels will be loaded onto trucks and shipped to Cairo, home of the largest camel market in the Middle East. [...]

The journey from Omdurman to Daraw takes approximately 30 days, yet herders still refer to this route as Darb al-Arba'in, the Forty Days' Road. The historic Forty Days' Road connected the el-Fasher area of Sudan with Assiut in Egypt, via the Selima and Kharga Oases. This was the path followed by the great ancient camel caravans of old, a trade route dating back at least 700 years.

Unlike the historic route, the route of contemporary camel caravans hugs the Nile, sticking close to the main source of water as much as possible. In areas where they cannot travel along the Nile, herders rely on wells, so the khabir, the trail boss, must have perfect knowledge of well sites. Although herders today may begin their journey in el-Fasher, el-Obeid, el-Nahud or—most likely—in Omdurman, as we did, all still refer to any of these several routes to Egypt as Darb al-Arba'in.

The ancient caravans were like armies crossing the desert, their numbers far greater than anything seen today and their route more difficult, for, according to Sudanese historian Yusuf Fadl Hasan, they avoided the trail along the Nile for fear of robbery and official extortion. Ibn Khaldun, the 14th-century historian, recorded caravans of 12,000 camels on the Forty Days' Road. Then, too, caravans moved in both directions, as Sudan exported ivory, ebony, gold, ostrich feathers, cowry shells and slaves to Egypt, and received in return textiles, metals and firearms. Since trains and trucks now carry the vast majority of trade, it is the pack animal of the past that has become is the commodity today. Camel traffic goes in only one direction now: from the breeding grounds in Sudan to the farms and butcher shops of Egypt.
Records from Sudan's Ministry of Animal Resources show that the first official export of camels to Egypt took place in 1904, when 10 animals were sent north. Today, Sudan officially exports some 50,000 camels to Egypt annually, but the border between the two countries is long and difficult to monitor, and thus the real numbers are generally agreed to be higher. In recent years, camels have comprised as much as half of Sudan's exports to Egypt, resulting in a post at the Sudanese embassy in Cairo for an envoy specialized in camel commerce.

For their work, herders earn the equivalent of $300 per journey; as the leader, the khabir earns double that. The round trip keeps the men away from their villages for three months or more at a time. Many spend their wages in Cairo to purchase housewares, fabrics and clothing that they can sell in Sudan after they return home by ship via Suez and Port Sudan.

Today's herds usually comprise 100 camels led by five men. Sometimes a trader gathers enough camels to make up a herd of 200, like ours.

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08 January 2008

The Cistercian Way [of Pilgrimage]

Linking the Cistercian Abbeys of Wales along ancient tracks, pilgrim roads and modern long-distance footpaths
• Llantarnam to Penrhys
• Penrhys to Margam
• Margam to Neath
• Neath to Tenby
• Tenby to Whitland
• Whitland to Llanllyr
• Llanllyr to Strata Florida
• Strata Florida to Cymmer
• Cymmer to Conwy
• Conwy to Basingwerk
• Basingwerk to Valle Crucis
• Valle Crucis to Strata Marcella
• Strata Marcella to Llanllugan
• Llanllugan to Cwm-hir
• Cwm-hir to Grace Dieu
• Grace Dieu to Tintern
• Tintern to Llantarnam
• High-level alternative Cymmer to Basingwerk

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