Friday, December 4, 2009

The Salt Trade

A story on the BBC about profound, and permanent, changes in the salt trade in Mali, reminded me of other aspects of this story I heard about a number of years ago that have immense implications for all humans in terms of our repository of knowledge accumulated over our species' time on earth. The BBC story reported on how the use of trucks, instead of camels, to haul salt from the mines to market (such as Timbuktu) has impacted the lives of the Tuaregs. A truck journey to-and-from the mines is a week; a camel journey is 45 days. Tuareg customs dictated that when a person had made three round trip journeys by camel to haul salt, he was ready for marriage: the trip by truck does not prove perseverance, responsibility, any accumulation of knowledge. Another story also focused on how climate change has made the journey with camels very difficult because of the lack of water at needed intervals for the camels.

The story I heard about a few years ago, concerned how the fact that the Sahara Desert was traveled by fewer and fewer people working in the salt mines, resulted in the loss of knowledge of how to read the desert. Reading the desert by the Tuaregs or Bedouin is like reading the snow by the Inuit and Eskimos. This knowledge about our environment is dying out...using a GPS device is just not the same. Having the information in text books only is not the same. While no one would wish the traditional life of a salt miner/trader on anyone, it is also a shame that we will eventually lose information on reading/understanding/living in an environment that taxes all of our creativity, acuity, and endurance.

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