anm document

Rapports Commerciales du Cercle de
Tombouctou (1904-1913)
ANM 1 Q 89 fonds anciens

b/w image of timbuctu in 19th
century
© 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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1904

NOTE: There is no evidence in the 1904 commercial reports that the railroad influenced commerce in the Cercle de Tombouctou. All European goods arrived by caravan.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (3rd quarter, 1905)

Some caravans came from Kayes and Mediné to Timbuktu. River transport was not yet sufficient to carry return cargoes from Timbuktu to Koulikoro.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (4th quarter, 1905)

Trade boomed when the salt caravans arrived from Taoudenni. Salt went south in exchange for Mossi cotton cloth and kola.

The 4th quarter was always the best time for commerce at Goundam because high river water made many marigots (creeks) navigable just as the harvest became available for trade.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (1st quarter, 1906)

The first quarter was the period with the least commerce. Millet from Sofara and Djenné was traded for salt, as was kola and Mossi cotton cloth. European commerce was limited to the exchange of food conserves and drinks for salt which European merchants took south to sell.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (2nd quarter, 1906)

Two European merchants purchased salt at 10 francs "la belle barre" (ten francs for a good-sized slab)


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (4th quarter, 1906)

Something happened to prevent Europeans from obtaining enough merchandise. In particular, European merchants were unable to obtain enough guinée cloth or sugar, the most sought-after goods by Africans. On the other hand, local commerce benefitted from the temporary shortage of European salt.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (1st quarter, 1907)

European commerce suffered from a shortage of salt, so they tried to buy wool and skins instead. The first salt caravan wasn't expected to arrive until mid-May, so African trade was nil.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (1st quarter, 1908)

Imports to the Cercle du Tombouctou reached 420,000 francs including 263,500 francs of Taoudenni salt. Salt sold for 16 francs/barre, so there must have been 164,468 barres imported. There was a large difference between the amounts of imports and exports that was due to the activity of Moroccan and European merchants. They bought salt in the first quarter to stockpile until later in the year when they could trade it for grain.

European trade was good. The Société Commerciale earned 80,000 francs in January alone by selling amber to Hausaland, beads to the Songhač region, and cloth to the Moors.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (2nd quarter, 1908)

The trade deficit in the Cercle de Tombouctou (490,000 vs 200,000 francs) was due to salt stockpiled for sale in September and October, plus events in Gourma that prevented Mossi traders from arriving to buy salt. These "événements du Gourma" reduced the gum trade, so Deves et Chaumont and Chichignond were only able to obtain 70 tons of gum.

The June azalaï (salt caravan) brought 23,260 barres of salt.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (3rd and 4th quarters, 1908)

These two reports describe the goods imported into the Cercle de Tombouctou and their origins. The only item to arrive from the west is guinée cloth from Kayes and Mediné. The only item exported towards the west is cattle, which go to St. Louis. (NOTE: Cattle must travel on foot, because they don't show up in the Bamako Rapports Commerciales as railroad freight)


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (1st quarter, 1909)

The price of salt dropped as low as 7 francs/barre 1909.1. Some merchant blamed it on the release of salt from overstocks accumulated since 1908. The Commandant du Cercle de Tombouctou blamed it on a shortage of coins which made francs relatively more expensive with respect to salt.

Prices for goods in the Timbuktu market:

Item Price
kola 100/1,000 francs/ton
guinée cloth 9 francs/piece
karité 10,000 francs/ton
horse 150 francs/each
cow 60 francs/each
steer 20 francs/each
grain 80 francs/ton


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (2nd quarter, 1909)

More than half of all imports consisted of salt (343,165 of 635,300 francs) and the percentage of salt increased steadily since 1902. However, due to low prices in the first quarter of 1909, salt merchants reduced the amount that they shipped to Timbuktu. Although they complained that this was due to a lack of cash to pay the Oussourou, and asked for an extension of the time they had to pay it (normally as soon as the caravan arrived and the salt was inventoried), the Commandant du Cercle de Tombouctou refused and managed to obtain all payments before the end of the 2nd quarter.

European merchants refused to reveal any of their trade statistics to the Commandant du Cercle de Tombouctou.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (3rd quarter, 1909)

Trade was down because of the shortage of salt on the market and the failure of caravans from Mediné to arrive via the Sahel region with cloth.

The French began to establish control over trade and taxes in the Cercle de Tombouctou. They began to mark (estampillage) salt bars that had been taxed in order to reduce fraud. M. Dufan, Precepteur du Oussourou, caught a Kel Antassar trader with 14 barres of salt "circulent en fraud" and levied double oussourou and double patente as penalties. Effective control over the river trade at the port of Kabara was also finally established.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (4th quarter, 1909)

The drop in trade was blamed on the Kel Araoun and Berabiche nomads who transported salt. They demanded as much as 7 barres in payment for the transport of a single bar from Taoudenni to Timbuktu, up from 3 barres for one a few years ago. Salt prices were down to 5.50 francs/barre as a result of Roumanian salt imported into Mossi country by Maurel et Prom. As a result, Timbuktu salt merchants faced ruin.

Another reason for the decline in trade at Timbuktu was that Mossi merchants no longer brought cloth to trade, but brought coins instead, because salt was relatively cheaper when purchased with coins.

As a result of all this, millet prices were low (40-50 francs/ton) and rice sold for 80 francs/ton. European merchants saw their daily receipts drop by 90% or more.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (1st quarter, 1910)

Salt prices rebounded from 4 to 10 francs per barre. The Berabiche continued to raise their fees for salt transport to as high as 11 barres for each barre transported. This threatened to put many Moroccan traders completely out of business.

Gum was still a major item of export. Deves et Chaumet, Chichignond and the Société Commerciale together exported 240 tons.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (3rd quarter, 1910)

European merchants had already received most of their supplies before the end of the 3rd quarter.

The French negotiated a treaty between Moroccan salt merchants and Berabiche salt transporters to set limits on the price of transport. It set a base rate of 5.75 barres payment for the transport of a single bar, but allowed for fluctuations between 3.75 and 7.75 barres.

Apparently, the price of transport was proportional to the amount of salt that needed to be transported, so that in years when there was a lot of salt, the Berabiche could charge higher transport costs. In 1905 when there was little salt, the Berabiche received only 1 barre for each 8 transported, but in recent years, the advantage had swung their way and they had taken it. The transport cost can also be said to include insurance, since the Berabich were responsible for replacing any salt that didn't arrive safely.

Prices at Taoudennit were calculated in salt barres. One charge (load) of millet sold for 68 barres. A charge of rice sold for 96 bars. One kilogram of sugan sold for 20 barres. One piece of guinée cloth sold for 32 barres.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (4th quarter, 1910)

Salt sold for 11-12 francs/barre. The salt caravan reached Timbuktu ahead of buyers from the south, so the market was temporarily stagnant and the price correspondingly low.

The grain market was ruined by the poor harvest of 1910. Since Timbuktu required 5 tons of grain per day, the Commandant du Cercle de Tombouctou predicted a disaster for 1911.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (1st quarter, 1911)

The Cercle de Tombouctou suffered a famine. Grain was scarce and prices were high. Millet sold for 10,000 francs/ton. Rice sold for 1,000 francs/ton. Kola sold for 50 francs/1000. A cow cost 28 francs and a horse cost 100 francs.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (2nd quarter, 1911)

Grain reached Timbuktu from Gao, but the quantities were still below normal.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (4th quarter, 1911)

A new European merchant named Kuntz opened a comptoir in Timbuktu. Chichignond planned to open a comptoir in Bamba (east of Gourma Rharous on the Niger left bank) run by an African. There were no European merchants in Goundam because the local people went directly to Timbuktu to obtain European goods.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (1st quarter, 1912)

Chichignond's comptoir opened in Bamba. A Wolof trader named Théo Diop opened a European-style boulangerie (bread bakery) in Timbuktu using flour that he'd been producing for some years.

The Commandant du Cercle de Tombouctou organized a "concours agricole" (agricultural competition) which was well-attended and provided an opportunity for nomads and sedentaires (sedentary farmers from the river valley) to sell animals.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (2nd quarter, 1912)

Commerce was slow because there was little salt available and salt prices were high. A raid by Moroccan Harkas armed with repeating rifles interrupted the salt caravan. The Commandant du Cercle de Tombouctou described at some length the French plans to encourage the salt trade as a way to bring wealth to Timbuktu, and observed that all of this was threatened by the Moroccan action.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (3rd quarter, 1912)

The Morrocan raids affected the May azalač (salt caravan), delaying it to June and reducing the number of camels from 10-12,000 to only about 2,000.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (4th quarter, 1912)

French military forces were deployed in Timbuktu to prevent further raids by Moroccans. Confidence among the salt transporters and traders was restored and commerce resumed.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (1st quarter, 1913)

Salt returned to the Timbuktu market in the first quarter of 1913. There were no exports reported for Timbuktu, but there was enough trade at Bamba to justify its own statistical table. The main exports from Bamba were salt, cows and sheep. They went as far away as Nigeria, Togo and Gold Coast. Araouan received its own report as well.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (2nd quarter, 1913)

Salt reached the Timbuktu market slowly, in trickles, largely because the camels owned by transporters were in terrible shape. The owners claimed that this was due to the previous year's raids which made it impossible to get the camels to good pasturage. The Commandant du Cercle de Tombouctou thought it was due to mistreatment by the owners and poor loading technique that allowed the salt barres to scrap the animal's flanks.

Salt cost 17.50 to 20 francs/barre, but there were few buyers for salt because most seem to have gone to Mopti, Ségou or Koulikoro for European salt.

There were three European merchants operating in Bamba. Each employed an African to operate the comptoir and buy skins, wool and ostrich feathers.

Rice sold for 350 francs/ton, and millet sold for 300 francs/ton.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (3rd quarter, 1913)

Trade picked up when Mossi and Moor traders arrived to buy salt. Rice sold for 300-500 francs/ton and millet sold for 280- 400 francs/ton.


"Rapport Commercial du Cercle de Tombouctou" (4th quarter, 1913)

Timbuktu suffered a disastrous famine. No salt reached the market and the neighboring cercles had terrible harvests.