Futa Jallon's Economy
With a multiethnic society of Jallonke, Susu, Mandinka, Fulani, Bassari, and Koniagui; with teachers, clerics, traders, free herders and farmers; and with captives brought from Senegal, Mali, and Guinea Bissau, Futa Jallon was a crossroads for various peoples who transited or settled there, voluntarily or not. It was a major producer of commodities. Matthew Winterbottom, who traveled through the kingdom in 1794, observed: "Their industry in agriculture and grazing is everywhere remarkable. They plant tobacco near their houses, and open tracts for cotton, which they fence in. They grow rice, maize, and the larger and lesser Guinea corn. The flour is not made into bread, but is used with milk, and in the composition of kous-kous." In addition, iron was mined in the mountains and gold in the rivers.
With its abundance of various products, Futa Jallon was the center of important trade routes. Walking to the Atlantic coast, caravans of merchants sold ivory, textile, beeswax, cattle, hides, gold and captives as far as Sierra Leone three hundred miles away. In the coastal urban centers, they bought iron, powder, firearms, salt, kola nuts, western cloth, paper, sugar and amber. This long-distance commerce could take two months and was sometimes dangerous: caravans were occasionally attacked, the goods stolen and the merchants and their captives sold to the European dealers. Traders also made a brisk business inland, north of Futa Jallon. They sold cattle, salt, kola nuts and captives and brought back horses, donkeys, and books.
Natchez was a frontier town, without easy access to the outside world until the arrival of the steamboat around 1815. Until then, trade was difficult. Boat traffic was one way, downriver. Upriver trade required overland travel. While relatively small, Natchez was the largest town for hundreds of miles and eventually became a center of trade for the region. The invention of the cotton gin in 1794 provided an efficient method for removing the seeds from the short staple strain of cotton that grew best in the Mississippi Territory. By 1798, cotton had become the staple crop in the area. There had been brief, unsuccessful attempts to grow other crops, such as indigo -- which produces a rich blue dye valued by, among others, the Tuareg people of Mali, near Abdul Rahman's birthplace.
In addition to serving as a commercial center, the Natchez region was deeply tied to the growing cycle of cotton. In the spring, women and children beat down the old cotton plants, with men then plowing the fields. In April, women sowed the seeds. Then, both men and women weeded and thinned the fields. The cotton harvest began in September and ran through October. During the seasonal down times, men and women were involved in tending other crops, both for the slaveholder and for their own households. They also worked on neighboring plantations or repaired roads in the area. Some people were able to earn money from their own work on the side, as Abdul Rahman did by selling produce at the local market.
- A Passage from Marschalk’s Almanac
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Futa Jallon Almamy
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Alpha Yaye, Chief of Labe
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Slaves Working on a Potato Plantation
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Mandinkas and Fulanis
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Fula Woman with Fula Man and Cattle Behind
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Slaves Picking Cotton
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A School in Jenne
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