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Number: 3544
Continent: Africa
Region: West
Place Names: Senegal, Mali, Bambuk
Year of Origin: 1909
Language: French
Publish Origin: Paris
Units: centimeters
Size Class.: Large
Color Type: Outline Color
Images of this map are not yet available.
Cartographer: Alexandre Meunier
Publisher: Service Geographique of the Ministre des Colonies
Other Contributors:
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Notes: [PENDING PAHOR SOURCE] S??AL / MALI / GOLD MINING: COLONIE DU HAUT-SENEGAL-ET-NIGER / CARTE DU BAMBOUK ET DES REGIONS AVOISINANTES / DRESS? PAR A. MEUNIER. Extremely Rare - a colossal 6-sheet work that is the first complete and accurate map of the Bambouk Region (the borderlands of modern S??al and Mali), historically one of Western Africa?s greatest Gold Regions; meticulously complied from the best and most recent sources by Alexandre Meunier, the virtuoso ?Cabinet Cartographer? in the service of the French Minist?e des Colonies. Author: Alexandre MEUNIER (fl. 1896 - 1938) / MINIST?E DES COLONIES (FRANCE). Place and Year: [Paris: Service G?graphique des Colonies, 1909]. Technique: Code: 67648 Chromolithograph on 6 un-joined sheets, rolled (Very Good, clean and bright with wide untrimmed margins, just a couple of small closed tears in blank margins of one sheet), each sheet: 69 x 64 cm (27 x 25 inches); entire map would, if joined measure approximately 175 x 125 cm (69 x 49 inches). This gargantuan 6-sheet work is the first complete, accurate and detailed map of the historical Bambouk region, an area framed by the Fal??and Bafing Rivers, tributaries of the S??al River. The area currently is currently the borderland between the modern nations of S??al and Mali, while the territory of Mauritania bounds the north, while Guinea borders the south. While today a somewhat sleepy area, Bambouk was for centuries of tremendous value as one of Western Africa?s premier gold regions. The map was compiled in 1909 by Alexandre Meunier, a master cartographer in the employ of the French Minist?e des Colonies in Paris. Meunier lists the vast array of stellar sources he used to create this impressive work, executed to a very large scale of 1:200,000. The map shows the Fal??and Bafing Rivers and all their tributaries, as they flow from for their headwaters in Guin? Fran?ise (Guinea) up to join the S??al River. The boundary between S??al and the newly formed colony of Haut-S??al-et-Niger (which consisted of parts of modern Mali, Niger and Mauritania) is shown to run along and near the Fal?? while throughout the map carefully labels the territories of every local tribal group, as well as every village, hamlet, road and path. Also noted is the route of the incipient Dakar-Niger Railway (noting both the completed and yet unfinished parts of the line), also well as telegraph lines and stations. Areas of elevation, including the heights of the Tombaura Escarpment, which rises between the two main rivers, are marked with contour lines, with spot heights in metres, while notes throughout the map describe the nature of the vegetation and geology. The map was published by the Service G?graphique of the Minist?e des Colonies to serve three vital administrative needs during the apogee of French interest in the Bambouk region. First, the map was required to precisely demarcate the boundary between S??al and Haut-S??al-et-Niger, the latter being a new colony established only in 1904. Second, the map was intended to aid plans to dramatically build out the area?s infrastructure (railroads, telegraph lines and roads). Third and last, but certainly not least, the map was intended to inform gold exploration and mining, including serving as the blueprint for laying out concessions. A Note on Rarity The present map was apparently made in only a very limited print run for the exclusive use of senior French administrators, railway officials and the more important mining enterprises. It is today extremely rare. Amazingly, while there are surely other examples buried somewhere in French governmental archives, we can only trace a single institutional example, held at the American Geographical Society (AGS) Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Curiously, this example was loaned by the AGS to the Peace Conference at Versailles (1918-19) that followed World War I, whereupon the intercolonial boundaries in Africa were either re-confirmed or altered. Moreover, we cannot trace any sales records. An African El Dorado?: The Quest for Bambouk?s Gold The vast wealth from Bambouk?s gold fuelled the Mali Empire, a great state which controlled much the greater region from 1235 to 1670. Even after the period of Malian hegemony, gold was at the centre of the trade which the local nations maintained with Europeans along the coast. By the begging of the 18th Century, France, from their forts at Gor? and St. Louis, became fixated upon the Bambouk gold trade, even attempting to set up forts in the region in the 1720s and ?30s. However, while the French were able to trade for significant amounts of Bambouk gold with the local Malink?people, their efforts to gain direct access to the gold deposits were frustrated. Europeans suffered terribly in Bambouk due to disease, and also realized, by harsh experience, that while there was a lot of placer gold along the banks of the Fal??River and its tributaries, it was only present in low densities, ensuring that it was exceedingly labour intensive to collect. For this reason, by the Napoleonic Era, the French had to be satisfied with paying high prices for a maximum annual yield of 100 kg of Bambouk gold. Fast forward to the late 19th Century. European geologists and engineers were well aware of the inherent challenges of collecting gold from Bambouk?s rivers; however, they were adamant that, given the high purity of the nuggets, a mass gold operation could be rendered commercially viable if modern technology was bought to bear. Approaching the matter with an ?All or Nothing at All? attitude, in the 1890s, the Anglo-French La Val? d?Or de la Fal??Company was chartered in London, chaired by the Duke of Essex, seeking to raise ?100,000 in capital ? then an astounding sum. While much interest was generated, the venture fell short of its lofty goals and never reach fruition. Seeing the London model at too top-heavily, a series of smaller, but well-funded operations, employing advanced technology, were established. In part to enable the exploitation of the gold regions, France commenced construction of the Dakar-Niger Railway, which was to run from Dakar to Koulikro (Mali), although the complete route would not be finished until 1921. In 1904, France also created the new colony of Haut-S??al-et-Niger, which necessitated the precise delineation of its boundary with S??al, as shown on the present map (Haut-S??al -et-Niger would be dissolved into different colonial configurations in 1921, bowing to years of intense tribal resistance); this became what remains the boundary between the nations of S??al and Mali. By the time the present map was being compiled, the French colonial authorities had issued dozens of prospecting permits for both dredging and dry-land mining in the Bambouk region; by 1910 this had totalled 110 licences, most of which were being exploited by serious operations. The Compagnie Mini?e du Soudan Fran?is was the largest enterprise, controlling over 120,000 hectares (463 square miles) of mining concessions. By 1911, a giant mechanical gold dredge commenced operation on the Fal?? The various gold operations in the Bambouk did succeed in doubling the region?s annual gold yield to 200 kg in the first years of the 20th Century. However, this was not enough to justify the immense costs of many of the mining enterprises. Most of the operations pulled out, while a small group of the larger, more technologically advanced companies continued to mine the region, bringing a modern peak yield of gold of 320 kg per annum in 1940. In the end, all the modern technology proved that the Bambouk gold could only be viably collected by tribesmen, in a gradual or ad hoc fashion, and was not appropriate to mass commercial exploitation. While some gold still comes from the region?s rivers, today it falls far short form being an anchor of the local economy. This, once again, proves that El Dorado was always best when only in the imagination! Alexandre Meunier: The Ultimate ?Cabinet Cartographer? of Africa Alexandre Meunier was one of the most important cartographers of Africa throughout the first third of the 20th Century, even though, ironically, there is no evidence that the ever actually stepped food on that continent. He first appears as a senior cartographic draftsman at the Service G?graphique, the mapmaking and topographic reconnaissance division of the Minist?e des Colonies in Paris. His earliest known work was a railway map, Chemin de fer de Konakry au Niger (1896). Meunier made up for his lack of field experience by being an uncommonly talented ?Cabinet Cartographer?, in that he was able to analyse and edit all the latest manuscripts that arrived at the ministry, extracting only the best information from each, blending the sources to produce printed maps of unprecedented quality. Indeed, Meunier was responsible for maps of several French African colonies that remained the authoritative cartographic records of those lands for decades (the present map being a stellar case in point). Meunier was eventually promoted to become the head of the Service G?graphique. Some of Meunier?s major works included: Carte de la Guin? fran?ise (1902); Carte des ?es Comores (1903); Carte de la C?e-d'Ivoire (1904); Carte de l'Afrique occidentale fran?ise (1904), made with Emmanuel Barrelier, it is Meunier?s most famous and influential work; Carte de la C?e Fran?ise des Somalis (1908-9) Carte de l'archipel des Nouvelles-H?rides (1917); Carte de la colonie du Moyen Congo (1921); Mauritanie (1922); Afrique Equatoriale Fran?ise (1923); Colonie du Tchad (1925); Nouvelle Cal?onie (1935); and Carte de la Guadeloupe et D?endences (1938). Meunier retired from the Service in 1934 but remained active as a consultant, as well as an authority on the Paris academic scene. References: American Geographical Society Library, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee: 322-c .B35 A-[1909?] / OCLC: 123501707; Annales de g?graphie, vol. 30, nos. 21-30, p. 362. Cf. Curtin, P. (1973). ?The Lure of Bambuk Gold?, The Journal of African History, 14(4), pp. 623-631.
Last updated: May 16, 2019