The East African coast
- The Graeco- Roman Documentary which only makes indirect references to the east African coast.
- The Swahili chronicles written by the people of the coast. E.g the Kilwa chronicle gives account of achievements of coastal rulers before the arrival of the Portuguese.
- Periplus of the Erythrean Sea; by a Greek merchant in 1st Century AD describes the people and places along the coast and the Indian Ocean Trade. (Erythrean Sea Trade).
- Geopgraphia by Claudius Ptolemy makes reference to east African coast and the trade along Somalia and Kenyan coasts.
- Christian Topography of Cosmos Indico of the 6TH Century describes the trading activities on the coast of East Africa.
- Renowned travelers like Al-Mosudi, Al Idrisi and Ibn Battuta wrote firsthand accounts about the places they visited and the people they met at the coast in the 10th Century AD.
- The existing archaeological evidence in east Africa include the remains of pottery , iron tools, beads and coins which prove the presence of international trade
Early visitors to the east African coast upto 1500
- Due to the great accessibility of the east African coast, there was widespread interaction between it and the people from the outside world. This was also aided by the monsoon winds that blew vessels / ships to the coast between November and April and took them away between may and October.
- The earliest visitors were the Egyptians, Phoenicians and Indonesians.
- Others who came later on included the Greeks, Persians, Romans, Chinese, Arabs, Syrians, Indians and the Portuguese.
- Their coming to east Africa is accounted for by the quarrels between the Seleucid rulers in Greece and the Ptolemaic Greeks in Egypt over control of the land route to the east through the Mediterranean lands.
- The rising demand for ivory made the ptolemies venture into the red sea and finally into the east African coast. Evidence of Greek existence on the coast is the Ptolemic Gold Coin found near Dar es Salam.
- In AD 45, Hippalus, a Roman sailor using monsoon wind knowledge reached the red sea and entered the Indian Ocean. The Romans were keen on breaking the Arab monopoly over trade. Evidence of trade between the Romans and the coast is in the writing of a Roman Historian Pliny (23-79AD) who points out the high coast of trade between India, Arabia and china.
- The fall of the Roman Empire in the 5thC AD affected international trading network in the Roman Empire.
- They were mainly immigrants from Shirazi on the eastern shore of the Persian Gulf. Their adventure into the east African coast happened during the reign of the Sassanid Dynasty (224-636AD), which was determined to rebuild the Persian Empire that had been destroyed by the Macedonian Greeks, through wealth amassed from international trade.
- By the 6th C , the Persians were trading in India and later china, controlling the red sea and parts of Egypt and Arabia.
- They got involved in the east African trade and even established ruling dynasties e.g. the Shirazi Dynasty) at the coast. They intermarried with the locals and introduced Islamic religion. They were later overthrown by the Arabs. The succeeded in introducing Bowls of glass, swords, beakers and pots to the coast.
- They visited the coast in the middle ages. This is evidenced in the work of the Chinese authors during the Sung Dynasty (960- 1279 AD) and Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), who referred to the east African coast as Tseng- Pat or Pseng- Po.
- There has also been evidence of Chinese coins dating to 700 AD at the coast.
- The last Chinese fleet must have reached Mogadishu in 1430AD. The Chinese brought in Silk cloth, porcelain bowls and plates in exchange for Gold\, leopard skin, Rhino Horns and tortoise shells.
- Porcelain remains have been found at the coast.
- The earliest Arab settlers to arrive were the Daybui from Daybul In north western India. They arrived along the east African coast by AD 650 for trade. The earliest Arab settlement was Qanbalu (Pemba). They later settled in manda, Kilwa. Lamu and Mombasa
- The Arabs reffered to the Africans as the Zenj (Blacks)
Factors that facilitated the coming of Arabs to the east African coast
- The Indian ocean provided the highway through which the traders traveled
- The traders had the skills of harnessing the monsoon winds (trade winds) they knew what times of the year to come to the coast and what times to go back.
- The traders had marine technology e.g. they had ship-building technology and knew how to use the compass for navigation of the ocean
- They ensured the control of the red sea was in their hands to bar the enemy from attacking them
- The ports of southern Arabia were good calling places on their journey between the east and the west.
- The deep harbours at the coast were ideal for their ships to anchor, refuel and get supplies
Reasons for the coming of the Arabs
- They wanted to trade and control the commercial activities along the east African coast.
- Some Arabs came as refugees, fleeing from religious and political persecutions in Arabia.
- They came to spread their religion, Islam.
- Some came as explorers to explore the east African coast.
- Some came to establish settlements along the east African coast
Trade between the East African coast and the outside world
Development and organization of the trade
- The earliest foreign traders must have been the Romans who traded with the Indians in the Far East. They made stopovers at the east African coast for ivory whose demand had grown tremendously.
- Muslim Arabs acted as intermediaries in the Indian Ocean trade between the Indians and the Romans. They also exported frankincense and myrrh among other things.
- Traders from Persia, Arabia and Syria brought glass beakers and bowls, swords, pots, grains, sugar, cloth and beads in exchange for palm oil, tortoise shells, ivory and slaves.
- The Greek, roman and Chinese traders brought porcelain bowls, daggers, swords, pottery, cowrie shells, glassware, beads and silk in exchange for ivory, rhinoceros horns, bee wax, tortoise shells , coconut oil and mangrove poles. Cowrie shells were obtained from Maldives islands while spices came from Spice Island.
- East Africa also exported leopard skins, gold, ostrich feathers, copal, copper and iron. Ivory was used in Asia to make bangles, bracelets, piano keys and for decorations
- The traders relied on the monsoon winds to blow their ships to and from the east African coast.
- The Indian Ocean trade was conducted through the barter system but later coins were used as a medium of exchange. During barter, the foreigners bartered their goods with gold, ivory and slaves. Seyyid said later introduced copper and silver coins.
- The middlemen in the trade included the Arabs and Swahili who organized caravans to the interior to acquire local goods which they sold to traders at the coast.
- As there was no common language spoken, trading was conducted silently, hence the name ‘silent trade’
- Capital for the trade was provided by the Arabs. Later the Indian banyans started giving credit facilities to the traders which increased the volume of trade.
- The sultan of Zanzibar provided security to the Arab traders, enabling them to penetrate the interior to acquire goods.
- The trade stimulated development of towns along the coastline. E.g Rhapta (probably located between pangani and Dar es Salam), Essina and Sarapion were the earliest towns to grow. Lamu Malindi Mombasa, pate and Brava also developed.
- The merchants settled at various places on the coast and on the islands and interacted with the locals leading to development of the Swahili culture.
Factors which promoted the Indian Ocean trade
- (a) Availability of items of trade from the east African coast and foreigner countries. For example, ivory, slaves, cotton and porcelain.
- (b) The high demand for trade items from the coast by consumers from the outside world was also a promoting factor. This was caused by the uneven distribution of resources. Foreign items were also on demand at the coat.
- (c) The existence of enterprising merchants in both the foreign lands and the east African coast led to promotion of trade links. The Akamba, Mijikenda, nyamwezi and Swahili middlemen for example played a pivoted role in the trade.
- (d)The existence of local trade among Africans which acted as a base upon which the Indian Ocean trade was developed.
- (e) The accessibility of the east African coast by sea. This enabled the foreigner traders to reach the region across the Indian Ocean.
- (f) The existence of the monsoon winds facilitated the movement of the vessels which made it possible for the traders to travel to and from the coasty.
- (g) The existence of peace and political stability at the east African coast created a conducive atmosphere for business transactions. Where there was need, the traders were given security by the sultan of Zanzibar.
- (h) The existence of natural harbours along the coast ensured safe docking of the trade vessels for fueling and off-loading.
- (i) The advancement in the ship building technology in Europe gave great advantage to the traders. This made water transport reliable and regular.
- (j) The existence o the Indian Banyans (money lenders) who gave credit facilities enabled many more people to join the trade.
Impacts of the trade on the peoples of east Africa
- (a) The trade led to intermarriage between Muslim traders with the local Bantu communities giving rise to the Swahili people with a distinct culture.
- (b) There was emergence of Kiswahili as a new language of the coastal people. The language is a mixture of Bantu and Arabic languages.
- (c) The trade led to the spread of the Islamic culture along the coastal region. Stone buildings were constructed, new dressing styles arose (women began to wear buibui while men wore kanzus), new eating habits also evolved.
- (d) The Islamic law, sharia was also introduced.
- (e) Many Africans were converted to Islam. However the religion did not spread beyond the coastal region prior to the 19th c.
- (f) New crops were introduced along the coast. For example, rice, wheat, millet, cloves, vegetables and fruits such as bananas and oranges. Cloth, cowrie shells and spices were also introduced.
- (g) Profits derived from the trade were used to develop towns like Pemba, Mombasa, Lamu, Zanzibar and Kilwa.
- (h) The trade led to the rise of a class of rich merchants exhibiting a high standard of living. African merchants who rose to prominence included chief Kivoi among the Akamba, Ngonyo of the Giriama, Mwakikonga of the Digo, Nyungu ya mawe, Mirambo and Msiri of the Nyamwezi.
- (i) There was decline of the local industries like weaving and iron working which were affected by the influx of foreign goods like cloth fro India and iron tools from Asia and Europe.
- (j) There was destruction of wildlife, especially elephant and rhinoceros due to the increased demand for ivory.
- (k) The increased demand for slaves promoted warfare among the communities as many people were captured during slave raids. It also created fear while others lost their life during the warfare.
- (l) Slave trade also disrupted African economies as able bodied men were captured leaving behind the aged, weak, and children who made little contribution. Many even died of starvation since they could not participate in food production.
- (m) African population in the hinterland greatly reduced as many were sold into slavery.
- (n) Money (currency) was introduced as a means of exchange to replace the barter system of trade.
- (o) East African coast was exposed to the outside world through trade. This paved way for European imperialism later on.
- (p) Trade routes led to the establishment of trade caravan routes which later were upgraded to roads by the colonialists.