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Worth the weight of Gold

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Excerpts from the upcoming book by Sada Malumfashi

The Queen of Gold

Many know of the great Mansa Musa’s dazzling pilgrimage to Mecca from Mali and the demonstration of wealth, but few people have heard of the beautiful and favourite wife of Mansa Musa whom he travelled with from Mali to Mecca in 1324. Inari Kunate, the queen of gold took with her five hundred maids-in-waiting during the famous journey.

In West Africa wearing gold, a scarce and valuable material, demonstrates power and prestige, taste and fashion and Inari was the custodian of such values in her creativity with fashion and jewellery. The queen at that period in time performed a major function, the reception of tributes from various kingdoms; as such the queen of Mali wielded so much political power.

The queen held court on a platform covered with silk and decorated in gold. She bejewelled herself with gold round her neck and on her forearms and her horses were covered with gold-embroidered materials. Her maids-in-waiting wore impressive outfits and had their hair braided with gold.

Timeless Treasures

At a point in time West Africa was one of the world’s greatest producers of gold.[i] A succession of great African empires rose off the back of the gold trade as salt, ivory, and slaves were just some of the commodities exchanged for the precious metal that eventually found its way into most of southern Europe’s gold coinage. For more than 1,500 years, gold determined the political economy of West Africa and determined its relations with the outside world.

This West African gold powered the global economy centred on Europe and the Indian Ocean prior to the discovery of gold in the Americas. West African gold, dug by agriculturalists, underwrote the caliphates of North Africa, Arabia, Asia and Southern Europe following the Islamic conquest. The lure of West African gold powered the voyages of exploration emanating from the Iberian peninsula. From 1500 onwards West African gold would power the world system that came to be established and which would come to encompass the whole world. Underlying all of these momentous events were millions of agriculturalists who searched for gold when the agricultural cycle provided them with the time and the space to do so. Social forms and structures associated with the people of West Africa provided a template within which gold could be dealt with. A template that remained in existence and only came to be transgressed in the twentieth century with the introduction of highly financed industrial mining enterprises. As such for at least 1,500 years, gold dug by West African agriculturalists has shaped global history.[ii]

2020: The Year of Return

With one of the largest economies and populations in Africa, Nigeria is a top contender as the largest emerging market for luxury goods in Africa, especially for gold. In Kano, the Sabon Gari market was the first place where mostly women who served as brokers, working from home with more than 2000 distinctive visitors daily from across Africa, conducted conventional business in precious stones. Other markets in Kano where gold is sold include the Rimi and Hajj camp markets cementing Kano’s position as the main gold market in Nigeria by sustaining the gold ecosystem and economy with its boom in business.

Kano had grew very rapidly in the 15th century, sending out military expeditions to the south and becoming a regional hub linking trading networks from southern Nigeria to what is now Mali and beyond. Kano is a historic city and empire that was part of an ancient trade route where merchants exchanged indigo, gold, spices, and ivory. The characteristic wealth of the region has firm links between culture and gold.

As such the 2020 Gold Durbar in Kano, in this year of return of trade in the luxury metal will continue to stimulate and advance Kano’s gold industry and the economy as we join a journey worth the weight of gold.

[i] [ii]

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