Description of Djenné’s Market in 1825

René Caillié

Here is a description of the Market of the city of Djenné, another one of the crown jewels of the Empire of Mali, by the French explorer René Caillié. Bear in mind that René Caillié was the first westerner to return from TimbuktuMali. Also note the description of Suya by a European in 1825!


The Kola merchants stand at one end of the market, placed in two lines, each having in front of them a small basket of Kola nuts that they sell in retail,  eight or ten cowries* each : the low price came from the large quantity of these fruits found in the entire country ; but they are normally worth fifteen to twenty cowries.

La grande mosquee de Djenne (Mali - heritage du grand empire du Mali)
La grande mosquee de Djenne (Mali – heritage du grand empire du Mali)

A few Butchers were established in the market; they lay their meat like in Europe: they also put in skewers small pieces of meat that they dry with smoke, and which they sell in retail. There is in this market a lot of fresh fish and dry ; earthen pots, calabashes, mats, and salt which is sold in retail, because that which is sold wholesale stays in shops.

Timbuktu_Rene Caille House 1905-06
René Caillié’s house in Timbuktu

We see an infinite number of merchants in the streets carrying their merchandise and yelling like it is done in Europe : these are fabrics of the country, things homemade, kola nuts, honey, vegetable butter and animal, milk, firewood. This last item is rare here; women bring it from 12 to 15 miles around. Millet stubble is also sold in the market; during my stay in this city,  every night I saw negro women who had bought this fuel for 10 cowries, to cook their supper …

René Caillé, Journal d’un voyage à Tombouctou et à Jenné dans l’Afrique centrale. Tome 2, P. 199 et s. English translation by Dr. Y.,

*Cowry: small white sea shells used as trade money in Africa up until a recent times.