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The Grassfields of Cameroon

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Metalworking

The Land
- The Great Sahara Desert
 
- The Biggest Desert
- Blown Dry
- More than Sand Dunes
- Window to the Past
- The Tuareg
  - Introduction
  - Traditional life
  - Camels
  - Salt
  - Oasis
  - Clothing
  - Women
  - Writing and song
Story
- Two ways to count to 10

Salt brings desert peoples health and wealth

Long ago, oceans covered the vast Sahara, but they dried up, leaving salt behind. Winds brought more salt crystals from living oceans, but no natural force removed salt. Sparse desert rains still evaporate too fast to wash salt away.

Because salt is essential for health, the Sahara's salt is probably the most valuable item Tuareg caravans carry south. In hot, dry regions, people and animals lose salt through sweat. Unless they eat more salt, they risk fatigue, cramps or even death.

Salt is also used to preserve and flavor food. In fact, many people who live in the Sahara and its southern border, the Sahel, use different types of salt like spices in recipes; poor quality salt is fed to animals.

Obtaining salt

In places rich with salt deposits, families teach their children the skills needed to obtain salt. First a worker pours water into large holes to dissolve the salt in the soil. As the water begins to dry, it becomes covered with a thin crust of salt crystals, like a sheet of ice. A worker breaks this crust over and over again so more water can evaporate.

When the remaining water becomes a thick, salty brine, it's packed into large molds made from palm trunks or pressed into flat cakes, then dried in the sun.

Each salt cone is carefully wrapped in palm-fiber mats before it's loaded onto a camel. A pack camel can carry about six 40-pound (18-kg) cones of salt.

Salt comes in loaves and blocks, cakes and cones

Salt is formed into various shapes, depending on its origin and its quality. Workers at one oasis may shape salt into cakes and cones. Salt at another oasis may be molded into blocks or loaves.

 

 

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