By the 1600’s it is known that caravans crossed the Sahara to Tripoli to Timbuktu. Annual caravans across the desert could be protected by thousands of armed men and carried with them paper, glass beads, textiles, and pewter. To the South, in Senegal, Nasir al-Din was launching a jihad which helped united large tracts of the Sahara to speak the Arabic derived Hasaniya language. While early European intervention set up the port town of St. Louise in Senegal and began the maritime time based gum arabic trade, these maritime concerns left the trans-Saharan routes largely unaffected at this time5.

In Morocco, the Sufi sect of Islam was creating another type of civil society that led to an increase in commerce and other trade relationships. Regarding the difficulties that traders faced, “In North Africa, individuals tried to overcome these challenges through social networks based on a common identity, such as trade diasporas, native-place organizations, kinship associations and, from the fifteenth century, sufi orders.6” These Sufi orders allowed for the dissemination of information, storage of goods, a system of credit, conflict resolution, and mutual security. Although these Sufis did not practice the Sunni based Maliki Doctrine, their own Nasiri particularisms filled largely the same role. One of the trade routes utilized by the Sufis of Morocco ran from Tamgrut to Timbuktu.

Mosque, Timbuktu, Mali, Western Africa

Later in the century, in 1689, the Sultan of Morocco, Mulay Isma’il did lead an expedition south to conquer territory down to the Senegal river. He saw the French presence in Senegal as potentially threatening to the trans-Saharan routes that kept his kingdom supplied in gum arabic. Morocco’s orientation shifted in later years towards the maritime interests of the Mediterranean Ocean as the Sultan Mulay Muhammad bin Adallah consolidated markets to run trans-Saharan goods to the European traders and the Sufi networks were pushed out of the market. Never again were the Sufi networks center of gravity for commerce in this region7.