Facts About the Culture, Geography, and History of Mauritania
Mauritania is one of the oldest political administrations in Africa. It is a desert land neighboring Algeria to the north, Mali to the West, Western Sahara and Atlantic Ocean to the east, and Senegal to the south.
There is so much to explore about this expansive land. Nonetheless, we have provided 12 interesting facts about this amazing civilization for you to get started.
12. The country derives its name from the ancient Berber kingdom of Mauretania, which existed from the 3rd century BC to the 7th century in the far north of modern-day Morocco and Algeria.
Mauritania is an ancient civilization having been occupied by the ancient Berbers – the aboriginals of North Africa. The Kingdom of Mauretania thrived through trade (including slavery) and pastoralism. To date, this remains the case, although slavery is not as severe as it used to be in ancient times.
11. The terrain in Mauritania is mostly barren, flat desert, with some hills in the centre of the country. Sahara Desert covers 2/3 of the country!
Mauritania has less than 1% of interior water body. That means, out of the over 1 million square kilometers of total area, its water bodies are negligible. There are occasional seasonal rivers whose volumes are not such significant to be counted.
Nonetheless, they manage to quench the thirst of over 4 million inhabitants of this expansive barren land scorched by one of the world’s hottest deserts – the Sahara Desert.
10. The official name of the country is the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.
Over 90% of Mauritanians are Muslims. This is due to the influence of Berbers who are predominantly Muslims and who sought to spread Islam across North and West Africa. This is also made easy by the fact that Arabic is the official language, which makes it less straining for people to read Koran.
9. Mauritania is rich in mineral resources, especially iron and ore.
Though being largely a barren land, Mauritania is endowed with rich natural minerals. Top among them is iron ore. Mauritania has large deposits of iron ore, which are its leading export.
The recent discovery of oil is poised to overtake iron ore as its leading export. Other minerals include gold, copper, diamond, gypsum, and phosphate, among others.
8. Nouakchott is the capital and largest city of Mauritania. It is one of the largest cities in the Sahara. The city also serves as the administrative and economic centre of Mauritania.
Nouakchott, which means ‘place of winds’ is located on the eastern part of Mauritania along the Atlantic coastline. It is home to one-third of Mauritania’s population. It counts as one of the most populous and largest cities in the southern Sahara region. Nouakchott was established as the capital city in 1960 soon after independence.
7. Kediet ej Jill at 915 meters (3,002 feet) above sea level is the highest peak in Mauritania.
Kediet ej Jill is a mountain rich in iron. Its surrounding areas form the bulk of the iron ore mined for export. It is claimed that when you climb atop the peak, the magnetic compass fails to work.
This is due to the high impact of magnetic field interference from the iron ore beneath the mountain. This effect on magnetic field allowed quick discovery of other iron ores in the surrounding areas.
6. Mauritania’s coast is essentially one long sandy beach that’s almost devoid of vegetation, but supports an astonishingly varied population of birds.
Mauritanian coastline is notorious for its barrenness. However, the marine life (more so worms and other insects) provide rich nourishment for a large population of wide species of birds. Despite its barrenness, the coastal beaches remain highly attractive to tourists – both domestic and foreign. The coastline is one of the richest in terms of fish species.
5. The most famous landmark in the capital, Port de Pêche, is a colorful and buzzing boardwalk and fishing port on the west side of Nouakchott.
Port de Pêche is a fishing port with plenty of fishermen and boats. There is a lot of fishing activity taking place with fishermen offloading their pricey catch around 4-6 pm. There are plenty of fish stalls and four-wheels to pick up fish for sale beyond the port. Here is a place where you can have a chance for a fresh catch of proteins.
4. In the Middle Ages, Mauritania was the cradle of the powerful Almoravid dynasty, which spread Islam across North Africa and later controlled Islamic Spain.
Almoravids were conquerors from Morocco. They conquered various lands in northern Africa and southern Europe including Spain. They were native Berbers in origin.
They occupied parts of Mauritania and Mali conquering various kingdoms and dynasties including the famous Ghana dynasty. They also conquered the Iberian Peninsula which includes the modern Spain.
3. In 1960, the Republic of Mauritania became independent of France.
European traders started establishing their presence along Mauritanian coast as early as 1500 AD. French forces began to take over Mauritania in 1860s making it effectively a French colony. After about 150 years of colonization, Mauritania got independence from France in 1960 under President Moktar Ould Daddah.
2. A majority of the population of Mauritania depends on agriculture and livestock for a livelihood, even though most of the nomads and many subsistence farmers were forced into the cities by recurrent droughts in the 1970s and 1980s.
Like most poor countries, Mauritanians main economic activity is agriculture. Although almost half of the population lives in urban areas, most Mauritanians depend on agricultural activities for earning their livelihoods.
Due to desert environment, agricultural productivity is quite low thus subjecting the rural agricultural communities to high levels of poverty. Arable farming is largely done in the southern parts bordering Senegal.
1. Mauritania was the last country to legally abolish slavery; it only became punishable as a criminal act in 2007.
Slavery in Mauritania is deeply embedded. It is an age-old tradition spanning over one millennium. This is why Mauritania became the last country on earth to abolish slavery – almost 200 years after it was abolished in Europe.
Thus, even though Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981, it never criminalized it until 2007. However, even with criminalization, enforcement is never adhered to. It remains one of those illegal activities that the government turns a blind eye. As recent as last year, various human rights records indicated that there are more than 90,000 slaves in Mauritania, the largest of any place in the world.
Slavery is practiced along ‘racial’ lines. The light-skinned Arab-speaking Berbers (White Moors) are the ones who enslave the black-skinned non-Arab Africans (Black Moors). The officially sanctioned caste system in place ensures that this continues to take place into modern times.
Mauritania, the 28th largest country in the world and 11th in Africa is a land that is unique in its own regard. From an ancient civilization that has lasted centuries, Mauritania still keeps footnotes of history that are worth exploring.