This chapter examines Gao's early historical significance, which is often relegated in the scholarship on early West Africa. This tendency issues from a failure to more critically assess the region's two most important thirteenth/seventeenth-century chronicles; a far more plausible rendering of Gao's importance forms when considering those chronicles in conjunction with the external sources, the archaeological record, and the epigraphic evidence. Further contesting the secondary literature is the conclusion that these very different sources are far more harmonious than has been represented. But in closely examining the sources, the very concept of bilād as-sūdān, or “land of the blacks,” must be attenuated, as it does not conform to the demographic realities of North and West Africa. The chapter then explains that Gao represents a crossroads to and through which migrated whole communities across an often artificial divide between Sahara and Savannah.
Keywords: Gao, West Africa, bilād as-sūdān, demography, migration, Sahara, Savannah