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The importance of salt to the economy of pre-colonial Ghana

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Salt was mined in both the coastal and Savannah areas of pre-colonial Ghana. It constituted one of the major economic activities of the people. There were several methods employed by the people to produce salt.

Digging holes
One of the methods used was that, the people living at the coast dug holes along the beaches for the Sea water to collect inside them. It is then allowed to evaporate. Once the water evaporates, the salts crystals are left behind to be collected and processed for domestic use or for sale.

Using bowls
Another method was to fill bowls with Sea water and allow the water to evaporate. This leaves the salt crystals in the bowl for collection.

Rock salt
They also collected salt from rocks. This method involved the collection of salt rocks and soaking them in water. The salt dissolved into the water. After that the salty water is left to evaporate, leaving the crystal salt in the container.

As a medium of exchange
Salt was important to the economy of pre-historic Ghana because it was used as a medium of exchange. Apart from the use of cowry shells as a means of exchange for goods, there was also the use of salt as a mode of payment.

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As a preservative
Salt was important as a preservative in the pre-colonial economy of Ghana. Hitherto, food could not have a long shelve life, it had to be eaten, otherwise it was going to go bad. With the discovery of salt in the preservation of food items, the shelve life of most traditional foods became longer. Salt was used, for example, to preserve fish. The fish was salted and left in the open air to dry. After this the fish could be left for a longer time without it getting rotten.

As a source of income
Salt was an essential commodity in pre-colonial Ghana. People were employed to work on the various salt mines in the country. There were those also who were the owners of the salt mines. Apart from these two, there were those who traded in the commodity, moving it from the producing areas to market centers. All these people earned incomes for the role they played. The salt industry in pre-colonial Ghana, therefore provide income for the people.

Source of employment
The traditional pre-colonial salt industry in Ghana was important because it provided a stable source of employment to the people willing and able to work in the various sectors of the pre-colonial salt industry. The salt had to be mined, it had to be transported across long distances to other parts of the country, mostly on foot, for sale. There were head-porters employed to carry bagged salt. All these categories of employees were engaged by merchants and were paid. The salt industry, therefore, gave employment to the inhabitants.

As medication
Salt was important because it was employed in the healing of certain ailments. In traditional pre-colonial Ghana, salt was used in the healing of some degrees of burns. The application of salt to affected area immediately after the burn, ensured that no blisters developed. It was also used as a disinfectant; fruits were washed in salty water to remove any germs on it. Salt water was used in the cleaning of wounds.

Effect on migration patterns
The salt industry in pre-colonial Ghana, contributed to the increased population for some communities, especially where the salt was mined. The salt industry attracted people into the trade or employment opportunities that abounded there. People moved from far and near toward the salt mining areas, thus increasing the size of the population of such areas as Ada, Keta etc.

1. Describe how salt was mined in the pre-colonial traditional Ghanaian society and show its importance.

2. a. Describe three ways by which salt was obtained in pre-colonial Ghanaian society?

    b. In which four ways was salt important to the traditional Ghanaian before the era of colonization?

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