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Eastern Libya, Wadai and the Sanūsīya: A Ṭarīqa and a Trade Route

Dennis D. Cordell
The Journal of African History
Vol. 18, No. 1 (1977), pp. 21-36
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/180415
Page Count: 16
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Eastern Libya, Wadai and the Sanūsīya: A Ṭarīqa and a Trade Route
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Abstract

The caravan route linking Benghazi and Wadai was probably the most important avenue of long-distance trade between the Mediterranean and the eastern Sudan in the late nineteenth century. It remained economically viable well after 1900, after commerce on routes further west had declined. Beginning with the Mejabra trader from Jālū who first found a direct route from Cyrenaica to Wadai in 1809 or 1810, this article traces the history of the route in the nineteenth century with special reference to the effects of Wadaian policies on trans-Saharan commerce. The important role of the Mejabra and Zuwāyā merchants from Libya is also considered. Fluctuating fortunes characterized trading activity along the route between its opening and the years after 1850. Beginning in the 1860s, however, commercial prospects improved steadily. Evidence suggests that the Sanūsīya Muslim brotherhood (ṭarīqa) was largely responsible for increased trade and prosperity along the route at this time. Because the order spanned the route's entire length, it solved many of the problems connected with long-distance commerce. It assured regular communication, relatively rapid transport, the creation of bonds of trust, a system of adjudication and arbitration, and an all-embracing structure of authority to maintain order and respect for judicial rulings. It functioned as a trading diaspora, but its members were not all of the same ethnic group. Rather, adherence to a single ṭarīqa bound merchants together and fostered the security necessary for the trade. The article concludes that the relationship between the brotherhood and commerce was symbiotic. The Sanūsīya sheltered commerce; in turn, the caravan trade brought wealth to the order and united its far-flung domains.

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