a1 University of Birmingham
It has often been thought that desert caravans could carry only luxury goods, and that the trans-Saharan caravans had declined rapidly in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, and had virtually disappeared by the turn of the century. This paper traces the caravan trade between Tripoli and Kano for the 30 years after 1881, when the main import into Hausaland was low-value unbleached and bleached calico from Manchester. It is suggested that calicoes formed the ‘return load’ for the more valuable exports northwards, and that the ‘family firm’ could compete with the more technically efficient, but more expensive installations of the European trading companies. The survival of the caravan traders ensured that there were merchants in Kano able to take advantage of the railway to develop a new export crop.
* I am grateful to the Social Science Research Council for a grant in support of my research on the economics of West African textiles before 1900, of which this paper is a by-product.