Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Abdul Sheriff. Slaves, Spices and Ivory in Zanzibar. (London: James Currey, 1987)


The book grew out of the author's PhD thesis at SOAS, though it was developed considerably since then. The author notes that what initially started out as a 'purely economic history' was soon found by him to be inadequate in fully explaining the development of Zanzibar, though the work is definitely economically driven. After giving a brief summary of the main points of each chapter (pgs 1-4), the author puts forth the convincing argument that to attribute Zanzibar's commercial development to Sayyid Sa`id bin Sultan, as many writers before him had done, is flawed logic. There were many currents set in motion (particularly shifts in the production sector) long before Sa`id arrived, though as a powerful merchant prince, "when he jumped onto the bandwagon, he gave the wagon a powerful shove." (Of interesting note, the author refers to Marx quite a bit throughout the chapter, which might give a hint as to his ideological inclinations and perhaps even those of his analysis. That, however, remains to be seen).

Chapter 1: The Rise of a Compradorial State

Sheriff notes in the introduction that the term 'Compradorial' is a Portuguese term for 'purchaser'. In the East it referred to brokers or comission agents, and in China to substantial agencies which carried out commercial activities on behalf of foreign traders and supplied their needs, and even workers to the trading factories.

In his description of the geography of East Africa, Sheriff notes that the coastal belt is rather narrow near the north, being bounded by the nyika (dense wilderness) on the West; this precluded an import-export economy based on production in the interior and outwards trade, for communication with the interior was difficult at best. The farther south one travels, however, the wider the coastal belt grows, as does the potential for production and trade. The Swahili coast's strategic location along the longitudinal path of the monsoons, however, allowed for the development of entrepot economies along the coast; because catching winds at different times would take ships to different places, the port cities were mostly economically independent of one another (and entirely politically independent), though they were all heavily dependent on the monsoon trade.

Out of this dependence on monsoon trade developed socio-economic structures, many of which were profoundly influenced by the outside world, that made them further dependent on trade with the outside world. Though there was some degree of production, it was mainly mundane commodities (such as food grains and mangrove poles) for domestic consumption (and, interestingly, trade with the Gulf - which lasted well into the 20th century, as evidenced by Gilbert). (Interestingly, Sheriff notes that the Omanis imported slaves from Africa to work the date fields and Basra imported them to work the marshlands, though little about this is ever written in Gulf history). This international trade stimulated the growth of market towns, which provided the base for the emergence of a ruling merchant class, who were for obvious reasons dependent on the outside world (as evidenced by the large storage rooms found in the palaces).

When the Portuguese arrived in the Indian Ocean and attempted to divert trade around the Cape of Good Hope, the Swahilis were particularly vulnerable. Although they resisted Portuguese dominance as much as they could and tried to circumvent their control of trade both legally and illegaly, politically they fell to the Portuguese. It was only the Omanis who would later expel the Portuguese from East Africa (Sheriff says that the Swahilis called on the Imam of Oman to help them), though it was not so clean cut because of Oman and Portugal's shifting fortunes (particularly the Omani civil war, which diverted attention) - even the Swahilis, who did not know who the victor would be, pledged allegiance to both sides to try and preserve some autonomy (sounds familiar...). When Oman did take the Swahili Coast from Portugal, the role of the Swahili merchant classes changed considerably - they become shipper and coastal traders.

Turning his attention to developments in Oman, Sheriff notes that the with the Ya`ariba, the Omani state began to lean more towards commerce than ever before. This became far mroe acute with the rise of the al-Busa`idis (who came to power after a revolution against the Ya`ariba because the new commercial nature of the Imamate disagreed with the principles of Ibadhism), who brought in slave labor to develop the date and coconut palms as well as the aflaj; the capital was even moved from Nizwa (the traditional seat of the Imamate) to Muscat, which was better placed for trade. Thus, Omani society (or rather Muscati society) changed from being one of nobles and commoners to one of merchants and nobles. Initially, Omani activities were characterized by raiding (particularly Portuguese settlements and the Gulf) and limited trading, though the latter took one a greater share as time went on. The Busa`idis soon allied themselves with the British (who were fighting the French for influence) because of the guarantees they gave to the safety of commerce. The only real challenge to Omani hegemony in the region were the Qawasim, whom the British destroyed after they were attacked by them (despite the fact that Oman asked them to help fight the Qawasim long before that, though the British turned a deaf ear).

In Oman's subjugation of the Swahili Coast, Mombasa was the primary goal. However, because of their precarious position there (the Mazru`i governors, from the Ya`ariba days, refused to pledge allegiance to them) and because the Portugese kept fighting back for it, it was decided to move the seat of the Swahili part of the empire to Zanzibar. Slowly, the Busa`idis encroached onto Mombasa, first taking Pemba (the breadbasket of Mombasa) and then the Lamu archipelago. Fearing their demise, the Mazru`is approached the British for protection, which was granted but then removed after Bombay said that it was against their interests with the Busa`idi sultan to do so. When the Busa`idis finally took Mombasa in 1837, the Mazru`is fled and the merchant class was integrated into the commercial empire.

Chapter 2: The Transformation of the Slave Sector

The integration of East Africa into the world capitalist system from the last third of the 18th century onwards distinguished its modern history from all preceding eras. This particularly applies to the slave trade, which witnessed dramatic transformations during this period. After criticizing existing literature for being too general when it came to the slave trade (writers did not recognize that there were different phases of it), Sheriff states that two considerations need to be kept in mind: the assimilation of the E. African economy, including the slave sector, into the world capitalist system; the other is the transformations of that sector following the abolition of slavery. This, he says, forced the internalization of the slaves, putting them to labor to produce commodities for export, which prompted the transformation of the Omani commercial bourgeoiuse into a landowning class (though they persisted in commerce).

Despite overblown accounts of the number of slaves absorbed into Arabia, Sheriff maintains that the number could not have been more than 500 or so per year. Most slaves imported into Oman were there to serve in the army, though lots were agricultural slaves (see last chapter) and some served as domestic servants or concubines. A large number of slaves going into the general Gulf area were used as crew members and divers on trading and pearling boats. Other places, like the Red Sea and India, also imported slaves but in limited numbers. The demand for slaves reached a peak in the 18th century, after which it plateaued and may have even declined as the merchant classes of Oman moved to Zanzibar following the burst of the commercial bubble there (apparently it was characterized by massive, unsustainable growth during the Napoleonic Wars, though he doesn't explain this too well).

During the late 18th century, French interest in slave purchasing increased dramatically for work on their islands of Ile de France and Bourbon. They began to purchase slaves from Kilwa, where a Captain Morice recieved a favorable price. Soon, the demand rose and the price did as well, shifting the economic center of gravity to Kilwa, whose rulers were recieving a great deal of revenue and were looking for chances to declare independence (though not cut off trade ties with the Omanis, on whom they depended for merchandise from Surat). This ticked off the Omanis, who were the overlords of Kilwa, and prompted forceful action on their parts. The slave trade with the French would continue (to the dismay of Omani date producers, who wanted prices to remain low) until the Moresby treaty of 1822, which limited the export of slaves. Soon, slaves were pushed into the production sector of the Swahili coast.

While at first many different types of produce were being grown in Zanzibar, the clove soon eclipsed the rest. The first plants may have come from Pemba, but some certainly were brought from the French islands by one of the sons of the Sultan. When the popularity of cloves was realized (especially with the integration into the Atlantic economy and the visits by American ships) there was a feverish move to grow cloves, the land for which was appropriated from indigenous peasants (who had it from a land tenure system that existed at some point). Soon, clove production took the place of the production of many different things, and Zanzibar had to start importing rice, sweet potatoes, and other forms of produce that they once farmed for domestic consumption. The rise in the supply of cloves was attributed to the non-taxation policy taken by the Sultan, though soon he had to tax production to ensure that there was not so much supply that it would drive down the price.

Overproduction of cloves, however, could not be contained, especially with the expansion of plantations in French and Dutch territories. Soon the price of cloves plummeted and pulled the slave industry into a glut; slaves were depreciating in value as the years went by, especially in the face of new restrictions and the eventualy abolition of the slave trade. Many clove growers and merchants had to mortgage their lands to Indian moneylenders, to whom they turned for financing. To revive the spiralling clove economy, the Swahilis and Arabs turned to the production of sugar (not too profitable in the long run) and returned to the production of grains, mainly millet and sesame (which was exported to Arabia regularly). Orchilla weed, used for dyes, was also produced in large amounts for export. The people working these plantations were mixes of slaves and local peasants, particularly as one moved farther toward the north (where the slave prohibition did not apply for a long time and was not really enforced for even longer.

Chapter 3: Commercial Expansion and the Rise of the Merchant Class

The decline in the export of slaves transformed the Omani merchant class into a landed aristocracy, while the commercial sector rcieved a boost with the development of the ivory trade (sparked by the collapse of that trade between Mozambique and India). In this new trade, many sections of the merchant class found a new lease on life with coastal trading and trade with the interior. The class that initially captured the ivory trade with India, however, was Indian (surprise surprise - merchant networks); they then began to undermine the landed aristocracy through moneylending schemes that eventually meant that the surplus production was appropriated by them.

During the Anglo-French rivalry in the region, Oman remained neutral and was able to capitalize on its position to dominate the trade. While the Swahilis at Zanzibar were only involved in the local coastal and interior trade because of their lack of capital and ships, the Arabs dominated the foreign trade. When Arab fortunes declined with the slave and clove trade, however, the Indian merchant class began to rise, dominating the ivory trade between Zanzibar (which traded heavily with the interior) and Kutch and Surat (and to a lesser extent Gujarat). Ivory was in high demand in India because of the ceremonial uses of it, and East African ivory was considered to be of the highest quality. The trade suffered from structural deficiencies, however: the recurrence of famines in West India meant that trade fluctuated violently; more importantly, however, the British subjugation of the Indians and the undermining of Indian industry in favor of British industry meant that Indians were mostly trading in British goods. Moreover, the British were siphoning off the ivory trade with Zanzibar, relegating the Indian trade with the latter as merely an entrepot trade for London. In Zanzibar, however, the settled Indian merchants began to establish themselves and even recieved the customs posts for years to come, as long as they declared themselves subjects of the Sultan, as so large a number of foreign traders was considered a potential political threat.

With the boost in English demand for East African ivory came a few expeditions from London that tried to trade directly with Zanzibar. These failed, however, due to restrictions placed on them by both the customs master (a Hindu, so probably looking out for Banian interests) and the Sultan. The Americans soon followed suit, and the first expedition (detailed on pg 92-3) bought a large amount of ivory and copal. A few expeditions later, the Americans felt that they were at a disadvantage when it came to the Indians, and so they negotiated with Sayyid Sa`id a commercial treaty that allowed them to trade freely, except in muskets and balls, because of the recent rebellion in Mombasa (the restriction was lifted after the island was subdued in 1837). The treaties were of a rather vague nature and didn't exclude American trading on the Mrima coast (reserved for locals in the entrepot trade), though the restriction was observed anyway. Americans were at a disadvantage, however, because they didn't have a consul in Zanzibar and were thus late for most of the trading. Also, they started off by trading in specie, which wasn't very popular (though this was soon replaced by the popular merekani cloth). Soon an agent was appointed, though he complained bitterly of Jairam (the customs master) and his monopoly on the trade. Soon, other traders came in from different areas and the Sultan went out on ventures of his own that threatened the American position, though this was soon put to an end when they threatened to trade with the Mrima coast.

The intense competition for African goods, coupled with the limited supply of those goods and the high supply of foreign goods coming into Zanzibar, meant that the local merchants were profiting quite well from this. Among these were the Indians, whose austere lifestyles and agreements with the Americans for short-term credit arrangements meant that they accumulated large amounts of capital fairly quickly. This capital was used for moneylending to the foreign trading firms, but also to finance caravan expeditions into the interior by Arabs and Africans, and financing the clove industry. When the latter fell apart, Indian moneylending was key in sbverting the landowning classes, who had to mortgage their land to the loan sharks. Finally, the death of Sa`id and the division of his inheritance among all of his offspring meant that the new Sultan, Majid, had to buy off all of his brothers and sisters, for which he borrowed from the customs farmer. The farmer sed this debt to ensure that the position stayed with him and when the Sultan tried to replace him, the British Consul stepped in and made sure that no firm was to take the spot until the debt was repaid. This illustrates the dependence of the Sultan on the Indian firm, which was by the 1860s dependent on British support.

Chapter 4: The Structure of the Commercial Empire

Zanzibar's economy was made up of 2 sectors: the production sector and the transit trade. The former, which was based on production in the offshore islands of Pemba and Ujunga, depended mostly on slave labor and financing from the merchant class, which eventually subordinated the Omani landowners. Also, most cloves were exported by merchants (though sugar and coconuts were also grown). The transit trade grew out of Zanzibar's strategic position in the monsoon system, where people could reach it with 80 percent reliability (how does he get this figure?), as well as it's position opposite the Mrima Coast, known to be the richest part of the hinterland (although interestingly enough, Zanzibar was chosen out of political reasons rather than economic).

The Mrima Coast, as stated before, was off limits to foreign traders, which served a two-fold purpose: to encourage Arabs living there to penetrate into the interioir for trade and to ensure that the trade between the coast and the islands was reserved for locals only. The coast was heavily taxed, though the closer one got to the peripheries, the less they were taxed (to avoid rebellion and to encourage them to ship through Zanzibar). The customs farming system also applied in this regard, and served the purpose of not letting the governor get too attached or close to the people, which would allow for greater independence. The growth of Zanzibar's entrepot trade is reflected in the amount the customs were farmed out for, which multiplied almost eight-fold in less than 40 years.

The economy depended on strategic commodities. Zanzibar's main exports were ivory, gum copal and cloves. Ivory was in high demand by both the Americans and Indians (details are given in this chapter), while copal from the Mrima Coast (Zanzibar's was considered to be of inferior quality) was in demand in India. The cloves, which were discussed earlier, were in demand by all. Zanzibar also produced coconut products as well as sesame, which they traded with the Arabs and French, and it exported cowrie shells, which the Germans bought to transport back to East Africa. (To all this I would add Mangrove poles, which the Arabs imported heavily but are not mentioned here) The only disruption to this system was when the American Civil War occurred and the price of American cotton went up, meaning that the Americans were priced out of the market by the Indians. Their export of specie to the island helped recover temporarily, the damage had already been done.

Slaves were allowed to work their own plots for 2 days out of the week and sell their surplus at smaller markets. Although some had commente that few merchants invested their capital in infrastructure, Sheriff says this is not true, and goes on to detail the urban development of the town (pg.137-60).

Chapter 5: The Hinterland of Zanzibar ( good map of trade routes on pg. 191)

There are a number of competing hteories in explaining how the hinterland became linked to the trade system of the coastal cities: some argue that it was the result of an African initiative whereas others point to key commodities, namely slaves and ivory, as the stimuli; because these commodities had no value in the hinterland and were in demand overseas, the integration was natural (pg. 155-8). Soon this cahnged to the slave production system described earlier, though the south was still involved in slaving to a degree.

The most important point of the southern hinterland was Kilwa, from which trade routes to Mozambique developed. It is important to note here that because the monsoon system did not allow for an extended stay in Kilwa, it was dependent on the trans-shipment trade with Zanzibar for survival. Both Swahilis and Arabs were involved in the hinterland trade, as evidenced by Arabs living there (158-9). In this coastal belt large quantities of millet and sesame for export to Zanzibar and Arabia also existed ( p. 159). Kilwa soon declined, partly due to silting (pg. 161) but also because of the general decline of the French slave trade, on which it was dependent. Still, the port exported ivory, gum copal, mllet sesame, tobacco, rhino horns, and other items (p. 162-3). Some smaller ports also developed as termini of long- and short-distance caravans, namely Tungi and Lindi, the latter of which was under an independent Arab ruler not loyal to the Imam untl his death in 1834; after this, the Sultan re-imposed control over it (pg. 163-4).

The northern coast and hinterland were much more accessible to the Arab traders than the south. The Benadir ports of the south Somali coast had their own trade with the Arabs going and traded with Zanzibar ocassionally as well; their trade was mostly in ivory, hides, sesame, and orchilla weed (pg.165-6). The coast of Kenya was fragmented, with the northern Lamu providing Arab and Indian traders with ivory and other commodities and acting as an entrepot for goods coming in from interior markets of northern Kenya via the River Tana (pg. 166). Mombasa was a different case; because of its political character (the Mazru`is) at the turn of the 19th century (1790s-1820s) and its location, it was more of a threatr to Zanzibar. However, this was not the case until developments in the hinterland; because ofthe thick brush blocking access to the interior, the economy of Mombasa did not develop until the interior Mijikenda tribe expanded due to population growth and had to turn to hunting and trade. Of the traders grew a class of mercahtns who soon established strong contacts with the coastal cities and provided them with ivory (pgs 167-9). Soon, however, the hunting took its toll on the ivory supply and the Kamba (Mijikenda) had to resort to collecting dues and providing labor for the penetrating Arab and Swahili caravans. Mombasa's dependence on ports and town soon captured by the Busa`idis (pg. 170-1), however, meant that it was economically fragile; it was eventually subjugated by Sayyid Sa`id in 1837, though it was not included in the Mrima reservation because of its profitability as an independent port (pg. 171).

The hinterland trade of the Mrima Coast is described in pgs 172-83. What is of note is that there were some socio-economic transformations in the interior due to growing demands for commodities by the coastal citis as well as population growth. While Sheriff notes that there were lesseer trade routes already established in the interior for local trade in iron and salt, the Arabs are the ones who really established interioir trading routes, moving them around whenever political conditions dictated so. In this respect, the role of the interior tribes was gradually reduced to that of porters for Arab caravans. By 1873, Zanzibari traders had stretched the canvas of that island's hinterland to its furthest, penetrating as far as eastern Zaire. Some ended up overstretching themselves, however, adn came into contact with Belgians and were gradually sucked into a commercial and political domain oriented to the west.

While the boundaries had extended, the interior remained very fragmented and extensive areas had limited or no trade connections with Zanzibar. Also, because Africa w3as still in the age of human porterage, there were limitations on the quality and quantity of goods being moved and how fast they could be transported - many were to expensive to carry the whole way. Finally, the hinterland of Zanzbar was being encroached upon from all directions. As the supply of ivory depleted, the coastal trade was more and more dependent on slim lifelines. Furthermore, while the Sultan did have representatives in the hinterland, his control over them was weak at best, and thus the interior of the empire was rather fragmented politically.


A number of factors led to the decline of the Omani empire, among which were the structural weaknesses of its hinterland, the vulerability of its economy to external forces, and treaty clauses regarding extra-territorial jurisdiction, even sometimes in the case ofZanzibaris themselves (pg. 201). However, it was the British influence that really undermined the empire. Slaving treaties gave them the excuse to penetrate, and the Indian merchant class gave an excuse for it to exert influences on the empire's policies. After Sayyid Sa`ids death in 1856, the British were convinced that a partition would be necessary, long before the canning award of 1884 (pg. 201-2).

While most of the Indians in Zanzibar were indigenised and had established links with Arabs on the island, the British wanted to use them to gain leverage over the Sultan, particularly with regard to slaving issues. Bombay, however, was not interested in slaves nor was it interested in Zanzibar; in fact, when Sa`id moved the capital there in c. 1840 and the British consul was forced to follow him, Bombay asked to be relieved from all care for British interests in Zanzibar, though this later proved to be a little premature (pg. 202). The Britihs tried to establish extra-territorial jurisdiction over the Indians, who were the most prominent members of the Zanzibar merchant class, though this was difficult because they were from Kutch, which was not subject to British domestic jurisdiction (pg. 203). After a bit of a toss with the Sultan and the merchants (most of whom did not want British interference in their affairs and were pissed off about the whole anti-slavery thing), the British won the right from the Rao of Kutch to interfere in their affiars (pg. 207). Soon they interfered in all of the Indian affairs and succeeded in driving a wedge between the Indians and Arabs on the island (pg. 208).

At the time, there was growing social and economic distinction being made between Omanis in Muscat and those in Zanzibar, who were disliked by the former. Still, it was recognized that Zanzibar was where the money was and where the merchants would make money, so many went (pg. 209-10). After Sa`ids death in 1856 on his way back form Muscat, the question of succession came up. Sa`id was not interested in Muscat and for some time had been wanting to split the two territories up between his two sons (pg. 209). However, when the time came, it was clear that Majid wanted to be the ruler of Zanzibar (which he offered to pay his brother Thuwaini 40,000 MTD per year as subsidy for), though Thuwaini saw the whole empire as rightfully his, being the eldest of the three eligible brothers (the younger Turki was ruling Sohar) and being the elected ruler (he also had the support of Barghash, the nationalist brother with no claim to rule). He tried to send an expedition against Majid in Zanzibar, but the British intervened (pgs. 210-11) on the latter's behalf. After many discussions as to who should be the ruler and why (pg. 212-4) the British ruled in favor of Majid, who then had to acknowledge that his debt to them. The British position in Zanzibar was almost cemented.

On Majid's death bed, however, the British Consul was quick to appoint Barghash, whom had changed his attitude towards the British before then (pg. 218-9). No sooner than one day later, however, did Barghash repudiate any claims that he might have agreed to limiting the slave trade (pg. 219). His tone became ultra-nationalist, which the British attributed to the rise of the Muttawa`a (a movement by Omanis to try and reknit the empire which they felt the British robbed them of) (pg. 220). As soon as the consul changed, however, Barghash's tone changed considerably, which Sheriff attributes to the threats made against his sovereignty by the Muttawa`a (p. 221).

Abdul Aheriff returns to his discussion of the slave trade, where he reiterates that colonial accounts distroted the amount of slaves exported (particularly to the 'Northern Arabs') and didn't take into account the amount of slaves absorbed by East African plantations, the trade in which the British also wanted to limit (but to no avail) (pg. 223-33). It was only after the cholera epidemic of 1869-70, which wiped out one-third of Zanzibar's population, and the hurricane of 1872, which destroyed a number of plantations and dhows, that they were able to enforce this more strictly (pg. 234-5). The Consul (Kirk) pushed it onto Barghash, who rejected it again and again and even sought French protection (pg.235-7) against this. In the end, however, the British cabinet agreed to blockade the ports of Zanzibar if Barghash did not agree to stop the trade; all attempts by Barghash at compromise were rejected, and in the end he had to capitulate.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Erik Gilbert. Dhows and the Colonial Economy of Zanzibar, 1860-1970.

Chapter 1: Introduction

After a brief intro, Gilbert states that the premise of the work is that the dhow and its competition with steamers in Zanzibar is representative of the colonial era ideas of modernity and tradition. That the dhow trade was able to survive in an informal economy that was structurally identitcal to its precursor brings up a number of questions, such as: could the modenr technology introduced by colonial powers drive out indigenous technology? Were local entrepeneurs allies or enemies of the colonial project? And was colonialism really a watershed in African economic history?

In discussing Modernity and tradition, Gilbert cites the work of Chaudhuri, whom he claims to have said that the demise of the regional trade system came with the advent of steamships, as did Pearson. Rajat Ray's work also hints at this, though he gives more credit to the inability of the Arabs and Africans to compete with European business practices. Even colonial officers in Zanzibar stated that the dhow trade was slowly but surely being strangled to death. In reality, however, the steamers and dhows reached an "uncomfortable accomodation," whereby they shared the same geographic area but different commodities. The dhows were to be left alone as long as they only dealt in traditional commodities (read: not cloves) - this was even codified in regulations as to what cargo a dhow could carry. Zanziba was not cut out of the monsoon economy until its independence in 1964; the dhow remained an important force in this economy until then.

After a discussion of Zanzibar's history and culture, Gilbert states that the idea of an informal economy was particularly popular in African and Latin American studies, with the former focusing on small local businesses; large scale informal activities that transcent national boundaries are often ignored. African informal sector studies often assume that informal economies grow out of the failure of official economies, though this is not necessarily true (bcz informal economies operated during the colonial era as well). The dearth on the literature on the colonial era informal economy also leaves out the study of merchants and entrepenurial resistance to colonial encroachment and the colonial efforts to control and modernize Zanzibar's economy. The answers to these issues lies in the dhow and the liberty of maritime traffic in the Indian Ocean world.

Chapter 2: The Dhow Trade in 19th Century Zanzibar

After a brief description of Zanzibar's geography and rise as a boom town, Gilbert states that it was not until the 18th century that Zanzibar played a major role in Indian Ocean trade (though there was certainly trade before that). Once in Omani hands (17th century), Zanzibar rose as a commercial town, owing much to its strategic location within the monsoon system, which allowed sailors to reach and leave it with ease. Caravans from the interior timed their journey to meet these ships and American vessels timed their trips to be able to reach Arabia and make it back home using the monsoon. Also, the island's superior harbors and (in contrast to the mainland's poor ports) allowed it to floruish as an entrepot for ships desiring African goods. Furthermore, there was a system of graduated duties depending on where the goods were coming in from (the farther away, the less duty was imposed). Gilbert describes all of this in great detail on pgs 28-30.

Before the penetration of the Atlantic economy into Zanzibar, a number of ships called into the island, though interestingly the two major exports of the 19th and 20th centuries were not listed (cloves and mangrove poles). The coastal trade was also active, though little information is available on it during this time; most observers note the dhow trade, but do not differentiate it from the normal trade. It was only later, when British and Atlantic ships were swarming the Indian Ocean, that Zanzibar truly developed as a commercial port and that the dhow trade appeared to become more marginalized.

The Atlantic economy penetrated when American ships from Salem, MA, first came to the region to buy coffee from mocha. The sailors didn't know how to get there, so they called at a number of African ports. Soon, Zanzibar became a regular port of call, where they exchanged cloth (highly valued for Zanzibari trade with the interior) for hides, gum copal and ivory. Eventually, the Americans were followed by the French, British and Germans (the latter only wanted cowry shells, which were used as currency in West Africa). (Although Gilbert doesn't state this, the preferential trade terms offered by the Sultan of Oman to the foreign traders played a pivotal role in the economic development of Zanzibar). It was this trade, however, that first marginalized the dhow trade; because the Atlantic ships monopolized the trade with caravans from the interior, the dhows were relegated to coastal trade alone - this is the first time the dhow trade was separated from the regular trade.

There were 2 types of trade in Zanzibar: the monsoon trade and the local trade (to this I would add the interior trade, but that was also dependent on the other two), though the divsion was arbitrary, as any one ship was often involved in both trades. Both Arabs and Indians were involved in the trade. Gilbert then goes into a small discussion of different types of dhows and their origins (pg. 39-40), though he ends up saying that the term dhow was eventually used to describe all local sailing craft and is another indicator of the distinction made between traditional vessels and modern vessels. The crews were mostly Arab and East African (and mixes of the two), and Gilbert then discusses the division of labor among them (which he says was more or less flexible, which is an interesting notion in itself). Citing a traveller named Horace Putnam, Gilbert states that the dhow had technological disadvantages, including the lateen sail (which made it difficult to catch winds and manoevre the ship in turning it around) and the old navigational techniques used (which he admits were effective for the purpose they served). The major advantage, however, was the cheapness of its construction. The dhow owners were mostly Zanzibaris of Indian origin.

As for imports, all of those coming in from Arabia were for immediate consumption in Zanzibar (with the exception of some dates and handicrafts that made their way to Europe and the US and shark fin, which made its way to China) and were made up of traditional commodities. They also brought dates and coffee, usually consumed by the Arab immigrants in East Africa. Goods from India mostly included cloth, which soon began to rival that of the US, and rice. Hides came from Somalia by dhow and were then exported to Europe and the US. Ivory (East African was known to be the softest), Gum copal, cloves (which were actually produced in Zanzibar) and slaves were by far the biggest exports. Interestingly, the less important cargoes, such as dried fish and mangrove poles, were often carried in the Arab-East African trade - this, Gilbert says, was rooted in the ecological differences between the two areas (Arabia was wood-poor, but could produce a lot of dried fish). In the end, it was this trade that outlived the trade in more luxurious items with India.

By the mid-19th century, a pattern had emerged: raw materials were funneled through Zanzibar into the Atlantic world, and while the IO trade grew, its share decreased. The dhows, however, kept their feet in both worlds. When different developments changed the status of Zanzibar for Atlantic shipping, it also created a ripple in the IO trae, though this was not nearly as upsetting for dhows.

Chapter 3: The Creation of a Colonial Economy

A number of different factors pushed the dhow trade into the informal economy that it existed in during the 19th century. These were:

1) The suppression of the slave trade, which disrupted commerce in the IO region and cast a great deal of suspicion on dhow activity. Following the Moresby treaty of 1822 (which outlawed slavery) and following treaties with the Sultan, anti-slaving duties were handed to the Royal Navy, which were allowed to burn captured dhows if they were considered unseaworthy. This was exploited to the detriment of the dhow trade and resulted in a 'semi-legal piracy against dhows' (pg 62). In the minds of the colonial powers, the dhow became associated with illegal trade and was thus often harassed, even if for no reason.

2) The separation of Zanzibar's mainland territories from the island by colonial powers, which ended the lucrative entrepot trade for dhow owners. By 1888, the coastal territories of the Sultan were divided up between the Germans and the British (the former got Tanzania while the latter took Kenya). Bureaucratic restrictions on trade and cultural clashes inhibited commerce between the coast and interior. Also, the British blockade of coastal craft (which had to be inspected for slaves before leaving) inhibited trade, though to what extent it is not known.

3) The declaration of a British protectorate over Zanzibar in 1890, which translated into a bureaucratic effort to control the dhow trade (because of the suspicion). The establishment of a British administration there meant that increasing bureaucratic controls on dhows and shipping emerged, mainly out of treaties to suppress the slave trade (though later on to regulate the clove trade). Also, the British clearly preferred the steamship service, and did what they could to attract it to Zanzibar, including giving them preference in the transport of cargo. This, however, only worked in a limited fashion, as there were many routes the steamer could not service because of natural conditions.

As issues in customs duties and the like arose, it was clear that Zanzibar was moving more from being a transit economy to a cash-crop economy dealing in cloves and coconuts. The former was the more important of the two and was concentrated on the island of Pemba after a hurricane destroyed crops on the island of Unguja. Government revenues were increasingly reliant on clove duties, and the industry began to develop with recruited labor from the mainland (a practice that continued into the postcolonial period). Dhows were not included in the official shipment of the cloves, which the government preferred to ship by steamer (Gilbert says this is because of the perceptions of tradition and modernity, though it was probably much more). As he shows us in detail in pgs 80-2 and in greater detail later on, however, the steamers could not compete with the dhows in the inter-island transport of cloves and often ran at a deficit, for people preferred to ship their cloves by the cheaper dhows, which could sail into the creeks (and thus closer to the producer, thereby eliminating transport costs) and could call at the island on a more regular basis. In the long--distance trade, Gilbert says dhows were being edged out by the steamers, though not enough information is available to take a strong stance on the issue. The Arabian-East African trade, however, went on as it used to for a long time because of the absence of a steamer service between the two areas.

Chapter 4: Cloves, Dhows and Steamers.

By the 1920s, Zanzibar's economy was split into two sectors: the official, characterized by the clove trade, and the informal, which descended from the 19th century dhow economy of the island and involved both local and regional trade. The regional trade existed with no problems; the local trade was a point of conflict between the dhows and steamers, for few steamers could call into Pemba to transport cloves, thus leaving the sector open for dhows.

The first measure taken against dhows by the colonial government was legislative; in 1893 they passed the Adulteration of Produce Decree, which made it illegal to mix foreign matter with cloves or wet them to make bags heavier so to preserve the reputation of Zanzibari cloves. This was directly aimed at dhows too, for it was suspected that the transportation of cloves by dhow led to theft and adulteration. Reports over the course of the next few eyars developed this idea, proposed the development of facilities for steamers on Pemba island and attempted to cut out the Indian middlemen, which was one of the driving factors behind the shipping of cloves on steamers rather than dhows.

From a sailor's perspective, the clove trade was built around dhow transport. Because Pemba lacked internal transport and was rather hilly, it is difficult to transport anything overland. However, because the western coast was marked with creeks that penetrated far inland, a feature that allowed for easy transport by dhows (steamers could not navigate on the creeks). Thus, it was cheaper for the clove-grower to take his produce to the dhows, which were anchored much closer than the distance it would take to get to the steamer ports. Also, it was far easier to load the cargo onto a dhow than it was a steamer, for the latter often only stopped briefly and required lighters to transport the cargo onto them. Moreover, the principal port of Chake Chake was a victim of silting waters, making it difficult for steamers to call at it despite efforts to dredge it.

Shippers preferred to ship their cargo through dhows because it was cheaper and because they either owned them or they were owned by a friend, relative or co-religionist and allowed for a greater deal of trust than the impersonal steamer and often reassured the merchant that none of his cloves would be left behind during the busy season. (This is an important notion that should be elaborated upon - the role of merchant networks in preserving the dhow trade. Gilbert more or less leaves it at this, which is disappointing). Moreover, steamers could not handle the entirety of the crop during the busy season and often made irregular calls during the off season, due to other duties such as maintaining buoys and lights, carrying passengers and mail, and commandeering by the Resident. Finally, steamers were too expensive to run without a fully loaded cargo, whereas dhows could do this with relative ease because of how cheap it was to sail.

Because of the deficiencies with the older port, the authorities at Zanzibar decided to build a new, more modern port. Despite dredging, ocean-going ships still could not approach the port and had to be served by a lighter, which increased costs. In the new port, dhows had their own harbor, though it was far less modern than that of the steamers (this served a symbolic purpose of relegating dhows to the past). Some were disenchanted with the new improvements, which were costly half-measures at best, aimed to drive out a useful and economically pragmatic dhow trade, though no real protest took place (except the circulation of one pamphlet).

Other attempts to marginalize the dhow trade were the reduction of fares for steam shipping of all cargoes but cloves and the requirement that all dhows leaving Pemba call at one of the main ports for inspection before heading to Zanzibar. The latter proved futile, as there were too many dhows with too much cargo to fully inspect, meaning that most got clearance passes without any inspection.

Conflict between the government and the Indian community erupted with the new proposals aimed at the Clove Growers Association (CGA, an association of government-sponsored clove-growers). The new proposals allowed for a number of things, most important among which was the moratorium on debts (which angered the Indian community, who were the main financiers of the trade) and making the CGA the sole legal buyer of cloves (which were to be shipped by steamer). The Indian community blew up at this and boycotted the clove industry, a move that was imitated by the Indian National Congress. Because India bought 40% of all of Zanzibar's cloves, this was a big deal; a deal was eventually struck whereby Indians could participate in the trade but had to buy half of their cloves from the CGA. Soon, the government relented on the dhows, allowing them to participate in the Pemba clove transport. It was in the later years, the war period, that dhows experienced a renaissance when steamers were recalled for the war effort and the transport was left in the hands of dhows.

Chapter 5: Mangrove Poles and the Long-Distance Dhow Trade During the Colonial Era

The mangrove trade, which represented one-third of East African exports to Arabia, is perhaps the best example of the ability of merchants to escape colonial control. The mangrove, which was used in Arabia for roof- and boat-building, grew in swamps that were enormous and difficult to control. There were a large number of them, meaning that any attempt to control the trade in one swamp would drive the sailors to another swamp, thus making it difficult to encroach upon without negative consequences.

Even after the advent of oil in the Gulf states, there was a high demand for mangrove poles (even higher than before!) because no concrete roof that was not susceptible to cracking could be developed; thus, it was more effective for people to have mud or mangrove roofs. The poles were also used for other constructions, such as sheds or scaffolding as well as fuel. There was also a large local demand for the poles, meaning that most Arab sailors filled their boats twice: once for sale to the locals of the region, and once for the trip back home, where it was sold for a high profit. During WWII, Kenyan troops were housed in temporary housing made of mangrove, which led to an upsurge in demand. Interestlingly, because Arab sailors would not go and cut the trees down themselves, a large number of interior laborers came to the coast before the dhows came to do the cutting and then sell the poles to the Arabs. This created a mutually dependent system that no colonial official was in a hurry to disrupt. One or two such attempts by individuals are detailed in pgs 121-4, but they were successfully undermined by the capitalistic dhow captains who simply took their business elsewhere.

One western interest in the mangrove came from its bark, which was stripped and used to dye leather. This became a major fad and severely damaged the ecological conditions in the forests, where most mangroves were half-stripped and left to die. Because it took a while for bark-bearing trees to grow, the number of mangrove trees in teh forest declined sharply, leading to government controls on the bark-stripping industry. These controls often included prohibitions on the sale of mangroves, which slightly affected the trade in poles to Arabia. The trade only died a while after the advent of oil in the Gulf and not because of any government controls or because of steamer traffic; this trade in particular shows us the resilience of the dhows in the face of encroachments and advancements.

Conclusion (summary of last 2 chapters)

The dhow trade would not die until the 1964 revolution, which partially came about after the people had enough of the Arabs and the dhow crews, which were known as unruly and thieving when they stayed in town. The government tried to regulate their activity and even put on the annual nakhodha's ball (in order to make them feel welcome in Zanzibar), but little could be done to quell the unpopularity of the captains and crew. After the nationalist revolution (which was mostly due to similar revolutions taking place all over Africa and the Indian Ocean), Arabs were hunted and killed by the hundreds; it was no longer safe for Arab dhows to call at Zanzibar. Thus, dhows survived well into the 1960s and even then only died out because of extraneous circumstances.

Ulrike Freitag and William G. Clarence-Smith (eds.) Hadhrami Traders, Scholars and Statesmen in the Indian Ocean, 1750s-1960s.

Janet Ewald and William G. Clarence-Smith. "The Economic Role of the Hadhrami Diaspora in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, 1820s to 1930s."

The chapter begins with a brief history of the Red Sea area, focusing on such developments as the first steamship (1830), the British seizure of Aden (1839), and the opening of Suez (1869). The authors note that with increasing pilgrim traffic via steamer developed the maritime and urban economies of the region as a whole.

Hadhramis were prominent on the Arab shore as early as the 1810s - by the 1850s, they were the most prominent traders in Yemen and Jeddah; they were also prominent on the African shore, especially in Massawa. During the upsurge of economic activity between 1870 and world war 1 they began to challenge economic dominance of the Indian - after which they began to reassert themselves more on the African coast (Ethiopia and Somalia).

The Hadhramis operated a highly devleoped transport industry, from which earnings were reinvested in trade and finance or labor recruitment. Despite the advent of steamships, coastal craft was dtill used to carry goods across the sea, for fishing, and diving as well as the transfer of passengers, ballast, coal and cargo to the steamers, which had to anchor offshore because of shoals. Other Hadhramis were involved in land transport and dock work, from which they would make enough money to start their own small business. A number of Hadhramis also broke into the steam shipping industry with varying success (usually for pilgrim traffic, which was highly profitable). (This is very much like what went on in the Gulf - parallels can surely be drawn). Large numbers of Yemenis were employed on the steamers as laborers - it is from here that they illegally immigrated to places like the US.

Given their prominence in shipping, Hadhramis were often associated with the slave trade (many of their sailors were slaves from Zanzibar and many slaves were transported to work in Yemen). British actions against the slave trade brought them into conflict with the Hadhramis; when the Ottomans agreed to act against it, the community imposed a boycott on British merchant houses and rioted in some cases. In the end, however, they remained in the trade. Other goods, such as coffee, arms and other less contentious goods such as sesame and millet were also in the hands of Hadhramis. The community was also active in money-lending, real estate and agriculture in the region, though many of them simply worked as domestic workers.

Hadhramis were also involved in politics and played a particularly active role in the Egyptian conquest of the Hijaz in the 1800s. When the Sharif took control of the region in 1916, Hadhrami influence reached its peak, though this influenced waned considerably after the Saudi conquest of the region. Hadhramis were forced to either take Saudi passports or be treated as foreigners (though it should be noted that some members of the community did serve the Saudis in an advisory capacity). In East Africa, they played the roles of soldiers and army officials (particularly in Somalia and Eritrea). There were also religious specialists, though these remained mostly in Mecca.

(Although the chapter is one that only introduces the topic, it can easiliy be expanded into a whole book if necessary. Also, the parallels with the development of the Gulf are there, though they might not be so clear. There isn't much analysis here to discuss, though there's definitely a lot of room for it. Still, the chapter is informative and inspires a great deal of thought on other regions)

William G. Clarence-Smith. "Hadhrami Entrepeneurs in the Malay World, c. 1740 to c. 1940."

The author begins by discussing how the role of Indians in financing Southeast Asian trade has eclipsed that of the Hadhramis despite the latter's acknowledged significance in primary documentation. Thus, it is necessary to examine how and why Hadhramis came to play such a significant role in the Malay economy.

Despite some accusations of piracy, the Hadhramis rose to prominence in Malay trade, to the point that the EIC officials ordered that a quarter suitable for up to 2000 Arabs be established in Singapore. The community owned a number of fine European-rigged ships that sailed within and outside of the Malay world and also transported European crew members and pilgrims. After the introduction of steamer traffic, the ships continued to transport nimals and service lesser routes. Hadhramis also moved into steam shipping, but with limited success - their forays into the steam transport of pilgrims fared much better. Coastal shipping faced serious problems with the Dutch monopoly on the industry, particularly after they refused to issue sea-worthy passes to Arab ships. (This is interesting, especially when compared to Gilbert's analysis of bureaucratic obstacles that dhow trade in Zanzibar. This seems to be the trend in all of the Western Indian Ocean and could easily be expanded into a whole book or thesis on the phenomenon).

Hadhramis also involved themselves in moneylending, though they were often accused of usury practices (They did charge about 30% interest per annum on loans, with smaller financiers charging even more). They also bought rights to tax collection and even borrowed money when necessary to get a business off the ground. Their forays into real estate and media investments also brought them to the public eye, though sometimes this was not to their favor - others would resent their success or the fact that they were responsible for high rent prices as well as their control over the media. (This couldn't account for all Hadhramis - what were the others doing at this time? It would be interesting to read more about the socio-economic development within the Hadhrami community in the Malay region. Also, what were their contacts with the locals that allowed for this? It couldn't have happened without some sort of collaboration). Also, while many Hadhramis acted as shopkeepers and hawkers, a number broke into the Import-Export business as priveleged intermediaries for Japanese goods during the Japanese commercial penetration of the region. This was a major source of wealth and prestige for them (this is also a definite sign of the emergence of a highly capitalistic and modernized merchant class, bearing contrast to their ancestors and more traditional counterparts).

The community was particularly active in the trade of batik, or dyed Indonesian fabric (though their position in this industry waned after political troubles in the early 20th century), and they dominated the trade in the semi-wild horses of south-eastern Indonesia (which even the steamers couldn't ply away from them, for reasons not made clear - perhaps trading connections?). They also traded in rice, precious stones and metals, coffee (though the Dutch soon wrested this trade from their hands), spices (particularly black pepper), rubber (though this was mostly in the hands of the Chinese) and other commodities. Arab participation in agricultural production is not noteworthy, though they did briefly participate in the pearl trade.They also ran workshops for the manufacturing of batik cloths and though these grew (and Arabs branched out into other industries such as cigarettes), they were marginal in the grand scheme of things.

(Again, this is really just a decriptive overview of the topic - no real thesis to the chapter at all. Still, it provides valuable insight and parallels for the student of the trading world of the Indian Ocean. There are lingering questions: how did they compete with other groups? How about among themselves? What were the turning points in the fortuens of this community? How did they respond to steam shipping? What about their networks with other Hadhramis - how did they play into the trade? A more detailed investigation of all of these issues is certainly warranted.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Patricia Risso. Merchants and Faith: Muslim Commerce and Culture in the Indian Ocean.

Chapter 1: Introduction

The author states from the outset that the book is an attempt to explore the intersection between Islamic and Indian Ocean histories, with the idea of illustrating relationships in ideology, culture and economics. General Islamic histories themselves have done very little towards this end, and while Risso doesn't believe that Islam by itself is a good enough explanation of the success of Asian Muslim merchants, Islam did help shape events. The author intends to infuse issues in historiography - to draw from different insights rather to compare them to one another - as well as geography, including the role of the monsoons, the locations of natural harbors, islands, reefs, and accessibility to hinterland production in her study.

Chapter 2: Muslim Expansion in Asia: 7th - 12th Centuries

The author takes what is essentially a commercial-historical approach to Islam, viewing the expansion of Islam as a religio-commercial movement more than a purely religious movement. She puts forth positions argued by many scholars: Watt, who argues that ISlam was an attempt to settle a nomadic people in the Hejaz region for commercial purposes; and Crone, who argues that Islam grew out of a need for organization and cohesion in the face of growing Byzantine and Sasanid empires, each of which wanted the Arabian peninsula for different resources and strategies. As Islam grew, expansion was motivated by the desire to control trade routes and resources, which led to the expansion outside of the peninsula. Those who were conquered converted not because of a love for the religion, but rather because of the benefits it entailed; by being Muslim (and in some cases attempting to integrate themselves into the Arab culture), they had access to growing networks of traders, clients, patrons, etc.

Islam made a big commercial jump after the annexation of Sind, the terminus of river and caravan routes, by the Umayyads, who were commercially minded. Because they failed to meet the demands of a large, plural empire, however, they were overthrown by the `Abbasids, under whom Islamic commercial and maritime law developed. Thus, being a Muslim didn't necessarily have to reflect itself in religious practices and language, but also in commercial and maritime behaviour - this was imported both from ancient practices and with a social justice flavor to it. The `Abbasids also moved the capital from Damascus to Baghdad in hopes of developing the swampland into a bread basket, but failed at doing so. Their early rule was also marked by the emergence of the Shi`a as a sect of Islam and the development of schools of thought, which elaborated on the laws of the Islamic state.

In the 10th century, we see the rise of the Fatimids, a group of Isma`ilis from Syria who conquered Egypt from a mminor Islamic regime and spread into the Hejaz region and all across North Africa, competing with European powers as well as the `Abbasids, who were upset by the eventual shift of commerce from the Gulf to the Red Sea despite the difficulty in navigating the latter. The `Abbasid empire eventually fragmented, though each break-off territory prosperred commercially in its own right and thus not much was affected.

The rise of Islam as a commercial empire coincided with that of the Tang dynasty in China, one of the few which were favorable to trade (Confucianism accords a very low status to merchants). Lacking the maritime technology, the Chinese preferred to ship their goods with the Muslims and eventually, Muslim traders penetrated China (and even won over a number of converts called huis). A series of rebellions and attempts to wrest power from the Tangs significantly hampered Muslim trade with China, but did not destroy it altogether. Even the Chinese development of the junk did not preclude Muslims from engagement in trade and shipping. Other developments, such as the introduction of paper money and the need for steel in the CHinese economy also boosted trade, though it is difficult to tell exactly how Muslims benefitted.

Chapter 4: The Conduct of Asian Muslim Trade, 16th-18th c.

Int he 16th and 17th centuries, there were a growing number of empires that, while focused on the overland trade, also displayed signs of interest in maritime commerce. Among these empires were:

The Ottomans: In the late 15th c., Ottoman expansion by sea brought them into direct conflict with the Venetians, whom they beat and some of whose ports they took over. In the 16th c., the Ottomans signed a number of agreements that gave European powers, particularly the French, trading priveleges at Ottoman ports. With Sultan Selim I's takeover of North Africa and the Hejaz, not only did the sultan gain Islamic legitimacy but also were able to control the lucrative Syrian and Egyptian trade. Moreover, it was during this time that the Ottomans that Ottoman knowledge of the seas widely expanded.

The Safavids: Most of the Sfavids were not too interested in maritime commerce, focusing far more on maintaining a hold over thier territorial gains and their conflict with the Ottomans. However, during the reign of Shah `Abbas, the Persians made an appeal to the Europeans to help them dislodge the Portuguese from Hormuz, an objective reached with the help of the British. Shah `Abbas also monopolized the production and sale of silk, which was of great interest to the Europeans (and one of the reasons why they were willing to help). By developing the port of Bandar `Abbas (named after the Shah), Persian silk was able to bypass Ottoman middlemen and go right to the Europeans, thereby increasing Persian silk's share of the market at Syria's expense. After Shah `Abbas, Iran fragmented and security was weak until Nadir Shah, who attempted to build a navy but failed at doing so (Persians lacked naval experience).

The Mughals: Under Akbar, the Mughals were able to capture Gujarat (which included Cambay and the up-and-coming port of Surat) as well as Bengal, thereby improving the efficiency of getting inland products to ports. The Mughals also showed interest in sea trade when Shah Jahan and later Aurangzeb began to consolidate their hold on sea territories and ensure the safety of passage for their ships by conquering neighboring areas.

China: Chinese interest in maritime trade was saprked by competition with the Japanese during the late Ming era (1590-1620), but only really took off with the introduction of European powers at Chinese ports (Canton, Macao, Fuzhou, Taiwan and Manila) during the Qing period (late 18th-early 19th c.). Muslim mercahnts had a lower profile than they used to, being replaced by Chinese merchants, though they still enjoyed trading priveleges in Southeast Asia. During this dynasty, tea was traded more via the coast than the caravan routes, which cut off the northwest (and the Muslims) from trade. The role of Muslims in Chinese trade had diminished. (I don't know why people keep including the Chinese in the Indian Ocean trade circuit when they so obviously played such a minor role).

Around this time, population growth outpaced food production and the empires could not annex any more territory (though they did not know they had reached their limits). This resulted in a breakdown of the security situation amidst growing encroachment by the Europeans. This did not really affect Muslim trade, however, because most of the Arabs and Muslims were involved in the carrying trade, not the import/export trade. This trade developed over the years into a sohpisticated capitalist (and the author debates the merit of the term) enterprise dependent on merchant networks. It is these networks that intruigues Risso: were they Muslim in nature or was their Islamic label merely a coincidence stemming from the fact that most traders were Muslim? She argues that Muslim 'networks' did not exist in the same sense that Armenian or jewish networks existed because there was no minority status accorded to the Muslims that would make them feel as though networking was necessary. However, it does seem that they preferred to trade with their co-religionists whom they could identify with (this is particularly important for those who abide by Islamic commercial law). This is not to say, however, that Islam did not affect trade; one need only look at the Hajj and it's implications for Muslim trading networks to be convinced of this. However, within Islamic domains it was important for a ruler to be tolerant towards all religions - otherwise, he would risk an exodus of merchants.

European company agents often traded on their own for two reasons: 1) to make money to finance the long-distance trade to Europe and 2) to supplement their own meager salaries. In their business dealings, they were meticulous in record-keeping, though their accounts are often lop-sided (it is difficult to tell what effect their policies or trade had on locals). In trading, they enjoyed some advantages: because they often bought in large quantity, they were offered competitive terms. However, because they often did not buy on credit, because their goods were undesirable in general (this changes when the Brits take India and mandate the purchase of British cloth) and because the services they offered (banking and insurance) were already offered by Asians, they were at a disadvantage. Also, their ships were larger and required a larger crew as compared to the native craft, which dominated the carrying trade. Risso then leaves off with a discussion of Samuel Manesty (the infamous agent) and the loss of his goods due to French piracy (the pirate took them to the Omanis who bought the goods knowing that the captured ship was British) to illustrate inter-European rivalry, which she discusses in the next chapter.

Chapter 5: Maritime Competition, Circa 1500-1800.

The first Europeans in the Indian Ocean were the Portuguese, who came with a commercial and religious zeal (they thought that certain apostles' tombs were in South Asia and that there were Christians there) primarily directed against Muslims (whom they saw as heretics and whose hold they had to break to gain control of IO trade). Many of the Portuguese ended up settling and producing mixed offspring in South Asia. The primary practice of the Portuguese was the cartaze system (the organized violence of the seas for which they sold protection), though this did not affect trade too much. After the North Europeans arrived, they too were allowed to use arms for war or peace, but they preferred to use them against the Portuguese (as in Hormuz).

Because the North European companies were so well-structured and were able to internalize protection costs by including them in their shipping charges, they gradually were able to coax trade away from the hinterland to the coast. While the Asians had networks and familiarity with local markets, they were not able to compete with the sheer structure of the trading companies. The Dutch, who relocated themselves to the East Indies, eventually fell ou tof the picture because of poor fortunes and bad book keeping, corruption and spending practices. This left the English (after 1701 the British), who consolidated their hold on India and further reduced protection costs through the Pax Britannica system (which was applied in some form or another all along western India and the Gulf). The growing costs associated with keeping a navy, however, meant that trhey had to expand in Asian trade. They were soon able to penetrate into Chinese markets with the Opium wars and eventually broke into Muscat by threatening the exclusion of Western Indian trade if Muscat did not give in (the Sultan did give in, but eventually turned his attention to East Africa, giving the British even more of an advantage with the Gulf). They also took Singapore and Aden.

Risso discusses the role of subsidies from the British government, as well as policies in India, in helping British trade ascendancy. However, technological innovation (marked by the steamship) really helped consolidate their hold over shipping. Risso says, however, that this created a dual system of trade, whereby steamers fro mIndia to the Gulf dominated that trade while the dhows still worked other routes.

There was, however, a Muslim resistance to European encroachment. One such example were the Mappilas of Malabar, who were able to evade Portuguese (and later Dutch) attempts at controlling the pepper trade by shifting from Malabar to Gujarat and by seeking external assistance against Portuguese fleets. Another example is that of the merchants of Aceh, who successfully evaded Portuguese attempts to control the pepper tade through Melaka (which Aceh soon won out over) through cooperation with the Indian port of Masulipatnam (this created a sub-pattern of trade). Not insignificant here were the strong Muslim communities in Aceh and their links with Arabia. Finally, Risso gives the example of the Muslim Tipu Sultan of Mysore (a predominantly Hindu principality), who used maritime trade as his weapon against the British by establishing favored commercial status in the West Indian and Arabian littoral ports. The British considered him a major threat and eventually defeated him, but he is still heralded as a hero by Muslims and Indians alike. He too invoked Islam in his campaign against the British.

In her discussion of slavery, Risso says that it is difficult to analyse because of the lack of accurate information. European sources may be over-exaggerated, though one possible explanation was that because low-wage labor was common in England, slavery was seen as ineffective. For Muslims, however, the abolotion movement sparked protest because of the lucrative slave trade and because Islam had rules for the treatment of slaves that were not open to cultural interpretation; because the Qur'an sanctified slavery, no human law could eliminate it. British efforts, however successful, were construed as an attempt to interfere with Muslim life and disrupt a traditional society.

She finishes off the chapter by saying that despite all of the different viewpoints, it is clear that the territorial acquisitions of the European powers (and the exercise of political and military clout) was the biggest boost to European trade (where Steensgaard says it was the structure of the Companies). (Personally, I think it is a combination of many different factors, though territorial acquisitions definitely were strategic).


Risso finished off her book with a few pages of discussion of the field of Indian Ocean maritime history in general. In this discussion, she advocates the need for greater integration between maritime and land-based histories; while the documentation often doesn't reflect it because of different interests, there was a link between the two and there were actors who depended on the success of one for their fortunes in another. Moreover, she argues that there is a need to see European encroachment in the Indian Ocean vis a vis Muslim hegemony (which is what I thought part of the book, particularly the last chapter, was all about). Finally, we are left to ponder the question of what role Islam played in the maritime domination of the Indian Ocean (again, a central theme of the book).

While the book was dry at times and wet at others, it provides a number of useful insights, particularly with regards to merchant networks and their function. While she doesn't discuss it directly THAT much, it is clear that these networks played an important role in maintaining maritime trade. How big of a role Islam played in this is debatable; the nature of capitalism is that people want to engage in activities that will generate profit irrespective of whom it involves. That said, however, the commercial practices of Muslims and the sense of the 'nation' present in Islam undoubtedly played a major role in reinforcing existing trade networks.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Khaldoun al-Naqeeb. Society and State in the Gulf and Arab Peninsula: a Different Perspective.

I will be looking at only the first 4 chapters of this heavily theoretical work, for it is only that section which deals with the commercial activities of the Gulf with which I am concerned. The rest of it is very interesting, but contemporary in nature.

Chapter 1: Introduction: Current Writings About the Region

In this section, al-Naqeeb takes the opportunity to bash just about every discipline and type of writing that exists on the Gulf. He classifies the writings into two main types: those produced by the traditional historians, travellers, explorers, colonial officials and anthropologists/ethnographers; and those produced by journalists, economic experts and trained historians. The first type of writing (and to a great degree the second) all suffer from a romantic pre-occupation with the tribal nature of Arabian society and the romantic values of the tribe. The second is also concerned with this, but also places far too much emphasis on the development of petroleum; also, historians over-rely on archive evidence so much that all they produce is a chronicle of events rather than an analysis guided by theoretical and methodological concepts.

Chapter 2: The "Natural State" Thesis of Society in the Gulf and Arab Peninsula

As a starting point for the study, the 'natural state' refers to the "dynamic matrix of the socio-economic structure, the political forces, and the distinguishing characteristics of the social relationships prevailing in the Gulf and Peninsula" around the dawn of the 16th century (after the fall of Baghdad). In this state, the Arab Peninsula can be considered as two 'world economies': 1) that comprising Basra, Siraf, Hormuz and Muscat; 2) that incluidng Aden, Jiddah and Idhab. These cities (and he classifies a number of port cities in the Arab peninsula as either importers/exporters or entrepots) had extensive links with other coastal cities and with the hinterland via recognized trade routes, all of which tied several economic worlds together; indeed, without the existence of maritime trade, the interior situation (raiding, etc.) could not have been maintained.

The predominant form of maritime trade was what he called mudarabah, or speculative trade. It was 'speculative' because of the nature of profit-making: the merchant would pay the mudarib a fixed amount to go and do business with on the basis of sharing the profits (usually 1/3 for the mudarib and 2/3 for the merchant). The trade generally involved travelling long distances and taking many risks, which is why the mudarib gets paid. Although similar to the European practice of the Commenda, the mdarabah was different in a number of ways: 1) the mudarib was a contractual agent, not a borrower; 2) he shared in the profit without providing a share of the capital; 3) he was free to sell and re-sell according to the stipulations of his contract; 4) he had the right to liquidate his share of the profit before returning and thus could trade privately; 4) he dealt with a variety of goods that would yield large profits so to justify trade. (This is all the development of a financial institution and its direct effect on the development of long-distance trade a la Braudel and Douglass North).

One of the features of this trade was the protection costs associated with it, which followed an irregular pattern (he follows this with a short account of the evolution of protection fees, though we will return to this later). The extraction of these protection, or the inability to do so, prompted the circulation of tribal elites (the replacement of one dominant tribe with another, such as Ya`rubis with the Busa`idis or the displacement by the Sa`udis of the Banu Khalid and the Rasheedis.This was not the only form of income for Bedouins, though - they also traded with towns and participated in urban economic activities through the payment of taxes, fees and zakat.

The mudarabah trade was charaterized by sharp competition between merchants and sharp fluctuations in prices due to shifts in supply and demand (although I would personally disagree with both, especially at a later date). The mudarib had to account for this as well as protection fees and other risks, though he would not have gone on the trip were he not sure he was to make profit. Thus, the mudarabah trade depended on a rational calculation of costs and expected profits (a capitalistic spirit) and it must be assumed that the differences in prices across the Indian Ocean were large enough to allow for exploitation. Naqeeb says that the Arab Peninsula market at this time was self-regulating despite the existence of barter in it; he also says that a product of this was that cities were abounded with currency, all of which had a fixed exchange rate. Other developing financial institutions included the fastajah (the equivalent of a bill of exchange) and the bimah (insurance policy), all of which contributed to the widening of the scope of commercial realtions. This all led to the specialization of various communities in various types of trade or trade-related activities or in various geographical areas (the Karimis in the Red Sea, for example). It also all hung in a very delicate balance that could easily be upset (esp. supply and demand), all of which moved according to a 'seasonal rhythm'.

The 'seasonal rhythm' referred to is "the synchronism of economic activities with the natural rotation of seasons and regular engagement in these activities during fixed period of the year." Everyone adapted to this to maximize gain, especially the agricultural nomadic tribes. The travel season (in the fall) also coincided with the harvesting of the dates in Basra, whose price was fixed according to the results of a meeting of the big date merchants of Basra - the "Date Stock Exchange." (Think of what Braudel has said about the development of stock exchanges in Amsterdam - it's the same!) They bring their cargo back and load it onto caravans to Damascus, Cairo and Alexandria (which then met European sailing vessels). Naqeeb also talks about the importance of the pilgrimage to this natural rhythm (though it followed no natural season).

Chapter 3: Gulf and Arab Peninsula Society in "the Grand Imperial Design."

The period between the 16th century and the mid-19th century in Gulf and Peninsula history represents a turning point marking the decline of the 'natural state.' In taking a birds-eye view of developments before and during this time, Naqeeb states that these turning points can be summed up as the following:

1. The witnessing of a 2nd mercantile revolution in the 13th-17th centuries, following the failure of the first revolution in Iraq (8th-11th centuries) after the intervention of military forces. The distinguishing features are:
a) Dependence on a parallel agricultural revolution and land trade routes, all of which increased land tax;
b) the 2nd mercantile revolution was based on the development of a European demand for eastern goods and thus a monopoly of Indian Ocean sea routes.

2. The transformation of the Indian Ocean into an "Arab-Islamic Lake", which resulted in:
a) The monopoly of Arab-Islamic trade in an Indian Ocean void of any real competition;
b) The appearance of a crusading spirit in the west to break the Muslim hold on commerce.

3. Portugese eventual 'domination' of the Indian Ocean trade, which did not bring about the collapse of the 'natural state' immediately, followed by the 'imperial design' on the Gulf region by British, Dutch and French powers, the tripartite imperialist struggle of whom made it possible for the 'natural state' economy to continue and effectively resist designs.

4. The eventual collapse of the 'natural state' economy upon the crystalization of British hegemony in the region, the result of which was:
a) Britain's hegemony over the traditional commercial areas in the Indian Ocean and her subjection of the mudarabah trade to the complete control of her commercial agencies, her recognition of the right of one family to rule (in establishing protectorate treaties) and the subsequent disruption of the circulation of tribal elites.
b) Her transfer of the center of gravity from the coastal cities to the tribal hinterland (because of oil) and the fashioning of the political map as it is today.

The second commercial revolution discussed earlier focused on maximizing the level of commercial exchange with the east in general and the west between the 13th and 17th centuries through an Arab-Islamic monopoly. This is illustrated by the emergence of eight important Islamic sultanates in the Indian Ocean between the 12th and 15th centuries (see table on p. 29). This (as well as the Ottoman capture of Constantinople in 1453) spurred the Europeans into action, starting witht he crusades and followed by explorations in of the world, despite the disparity in their interests.

Among these explorers were the Portuguese (Franks or faranjah). When Albuquerque established their foothold in West India, he created the 'grand imperial design' of controlling 3 key straits to dominate trade: the Straits of Malacca, towards China; the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf; and the Strait of Aden (Bab al-Mandeb) to the Red Sea. In doing so, they would be able to collect taxes and protection omney from all passing ships, which they would harass (sort of like organized crime). Also, by emplying cannons and guns on their ships, they internalized their own protection costs. They were not able to get past the elastic networks of merchants, however, and ended up playing a small part in trade. This was because:

a) Their arrogant policies generated a great deal of local resistance;
b) The lack of Portuguese in the area made them depend on European and Indian mercenaries, which was unstable at best;
c) The Portuguese-Spanish struggle, which weakened the colonial administration;
d) The money they collected went to buy goods from their European trading counterparts, meaning they were little more than conduits for the latter's expansion.

The advent of the Dutch VOC and English EIC in the region brought about a shift in Euopean policy - merchants were now able to trade through these companies and under their protection, whereas the Portuguese only worked with shipping. Because of the non-necessity for protection costs and the netowrk of agents all around the region, the companies were able to obtain a semi-monopolistic control on prices (an institutional innovation) and thus dominate the trade (by controlling prices to their advantage). By the 18th century, England had a clear advantage over Holland in the location of its agencies and its control of India; France had by this time entered the picture too, creating a tripartite struggle for control.

This allowed the emergence of national resitance, which took the form of 3 main movements: The Zaidi occupation of Mukha, Zabid, al-Hudeida, and Aden; the emergence of Muscat as a regional force despite the Ghafiri-Hinawi struggle; and the emergence and spread of the 1st Saudi-Wahhabi movement. Other developments included: the efforts of Nadir Shah to unite Persia; the emergence of the Qawasim as naval powers; and the emergence of the commercial centers of the `Utub in Zubara, Kuwait and Bahrain. These all signified local expressions of national resistance to imperial penetration and foreign colonial presesnce - a last serious attempt (especially by the Omanis) at restoring control of the mudarabah trade in the hands of Arab merchants.

(Think: where the Portuguese failed, the English succeeded because of their ability to cooperate and facilitate local trade rather than try and control it altogether. This facilitation - and think of the Jones article - represents economic development on only one level. On another level, you have the dhow economy, which is operating in the private sector and remains constant until the 1950s... a dual economy, then? Hmmm...)

Chapter 4: The 'Pax Britannica' Era and the Decline of the 'Natural State' Economy

Between 1688 and 1839, GB succeeded in implementing the grand imperial design originated by the Portugese. They established their rule over India, expelled the Dutch from the Gulf, established a foothold in Muscat and eventually took Aden in 1839, thereby completing the cycle. Naqeeb says that in the Gulf, GB levelled charges of piracy so that it could destroy native shipping (despite their participation in piracy against the Portuguese earlier on); while he doesn't refute that piracy occurred, he does state that some (Bathurst) did indicate that piracy could have arose out of the struggle between the Europeans and locals over commerce. After the imposition of the Pax Britannica, it was allowed to search and stop vessels as well as lucrative trade (like the Slave and arms trade). This represented the fall of the 'natural state' economy and the decline of the traditional status of mudarabah; it also meant the incorporation of the Gulf into the world economy at an unequal footing whereby the merchant had to order goods through the agent for a down-payment of 1/10 of the price before arrival. During this time, British shipping companies (steamships) took over a greater percentage of world trade, resulting in the decline of traditional ports in favor of modern ones (though he notes that the mudarabah trade did not disappear completely).

In this new world capitalist system, we see an emergence of commodity specialization in response to the demands of the market (Naqeeb's description, however, seems to emphasize the importance of certain items or events in local economies rather than the export of certain products in a comparative advantage). Naqeeb cites the dependence of the Hejaz on the pilgrimage, of the Gulf on pearling, and of Yemen on the coffee trade. Jeddah's decline as an entrepot (because of the steamer) was replaced by it's dependence on increasing numbers of pilgrims coming via steamer and the price-hikes that followed; Yemeni coffee, which many depended on, was slowly edged out of the monopoly by Java coffee; and pearling, with all of the debt systems associated with it.

The collapse of the natural state also entailed the creation of dynasties by the British, bringing the circulation of tribal elites to an end. There used to be a self-regulating mechanism for checking authoritarianism, though this changed when the British started defending the Emirs from foreigners and domestic disturbances and paying them subsidies in return for favors (is this entirely true? I have trouble digesting it). FInally the inclusion of nomadic tribes into the state boundaries after they were drawn significantly changed the dynamics of the state (think of the '81 elections in Kuwait as an example) and the urban landscape.

(The significance of this work can easily be lost in the criticisms one can have of it. Al-Naqeeb's treatment of historical events is superficia and top-down, preferring to find events that find his theory than those which do not. The importance of the work, however, is in the fact that it is very theoretical where all other works on the Gulf are not; Khaldoun makes up for the lack of historical depth and evidence with a theoretical maturity reminiscent of the works of Chaudhuri and Braudel. Indeed, this is as close as anyone has gotten to an economic history of the Gulf, though it is a little too shallow in it's penetration).

Monday, October 31, 2005

Thabit Abdullah. Merchants, Mamluks and Murder: the Political Economy of Trade in Eighteenth-Century Basra.


Abdullah's study aims to explore three broad, inter-related issues: 1) the overall nature of Basra's import-export trade in the 18th century, its rise and decline, the various regional networks with which it was tied and the structural changes affecting its performance; 2) the role of wholesale merchants, their regional connections and their conenctions with Ottoman and European authorities in this structure; 3) the development of regional and indigenous factors that provided the opportunity for later incorporation into the world economy.

In his review of the literature, Abdullah notes that Basra belonged to two worlds, the Middle East and Indian Ocean, and goes on to list the different authors who can support this claim (I don't see the reason to try and prove this any more, since this has now become a fait accompli in the field). He then discusses the literature on the creation of the world-capitalist system, noting recent challenges (by M.N. Pearson, for example) to the idea that the Europeans dominated Asian trade (rather, they were just a part of it, as has been made increasingly clear by recent scholarship). Abdullah goes on to lament the lack of information on pre-19th century Iraq, blaming a lack of archival access and academic pre-dispositions with activities other than maritime trade (the same can be said about the Gulf); he does, however, laud the works of Serap Yilmaz (on Ottoman trade with India), Dina Khoury (who wrote an article on merchants in Mosul and Basra) and Hala Fattah (see notes). He says that his book essentially leaves off where Fattah's picks up.

Chapter 1: Al-Basrah al-Fayha'

The chapter gives a brief history of the waxing and waning fortunes of Basra from its foundation to 1831, a theme that will be expanded upon in later chapters. He notes that Basra had always been an epicenter of Muslim conflict, and duirng the eighth and ninth centuries it had developed into a commercial center. The deterioration of its canals, dams and fresh water supplies, however, led to a decline in its trade. Only after an occupation by Persia in 1508 was it briefly regenerated, though later conquests and weak administration by the Ottomans left it to its own devices. The Ottoman governor eventually sold his position to a local, an Afrasiyab, whose family helped restore security and trade there. In 1668, a wali-led force from Baghdad recaptured the city and put it in the hands of `Ali Pasha. His successor, Hasan Pasha, was the first to introduce mamluks (slave-guards from Georgia) to the province, and it was the latter than eventually wrested control of the province until an Ottoman re-conquest in the mid-1800s, by which time plagues and insubordination had rendered their control of the city weak.

In discussing the city's location and climate, Abdullah essentially says that this was both a blessing and a curse. The port's location at the north of the Gulf and at the mouth of the Shatt al-`Arab meant that it has access to markets in Iraq and Persia and was generally where the Middle East met the Indian Ocean (it was one of the few places that could accommodate large ships). However, it was also susceptible to blockade and was a nightmare to administer, as rebellious tribes only had to control the river routes to disrupt trade. Also, the winds in Basra mostly facilitated trade in conjunction with the monsoon winds, but the general climate of the city (hot and dry in the long summers and cold and rainy in the short winters) made it very difficult for the inhabitants, particularly when the rains flooded the rivers and the resulting stagnant water bred disease.

In his physical description of the city, he notes that the city walls were often in poor condition and that the city often stunk because of poor garbage disposal methods. More relevant to trade, however, was the existence of a number of specialized souks (a-la Braudel's fairs), the many religious shrines the city was home to (which presumably attracted a number of pilgrims and religious tourists) and the many canals (which would make transportation within the city easier). Describing the population, Abdullah notes that it shifted from time to time with the outbreaks of plague (there were 7 in the 18th century alone!), but that the numbers were generally on the rise. The city's population was diverse, but mostly Arab Sunnis (of tribal origin and mostly from Najd) and Shi'ites (from Persia and of the tribes of the Ka`b and Muntafiq). A number of Europeans (at first Dutch and British, but later mainly British) were also present. It was also home to a sizeable banyan population (for money-lending and brokerage issues, no doubt).

There were a number of administrative actors in Basra. At the top of the chain was the wali, although most matters were handled (and most power was in the hands of) the mutasallim, who was assisted by a qubtan pasha, who was the military arm of the mutasallim. The real influence, however, was in the hands of the a`yan, a group of local notables who acted as intermediaries between the tribes and the state (for the tribes often undermined state influence). To these actors must be added the shahbandar, who was in charge of customs and mediated disputes involving merchants and commercial activity (this legal institution is quite important for the development at trade in any port and should be looked at more closely). Also, there were two qadis, one of the Hanafi school (official Ottoman madhab) and one of the Shafi`i school (which the majority of Basrawis followed). Finally, one should not overlook the British resident (later also a consul, which entailed less commercial restrictions), who often assisted the Iraqis in their fights against the Ka`b and was a man who commanded a great deal of respect in Basra (Samuel Manesty, whom Abdullah and Shaikh Sultan al-Qasimi treat with a great deal of suspicion, was the Resident during part of the 18th century).

Chapter 2: The Shifting Fortunes of Trade.

Although Basra was famous for its horses (not until the 19th century, when demand rose) and its grains (see Fattah) a central export of Basra was its dates, whose fame reached as far as China by the 7th century. Basra was home to over 100 different varieties of the date; date syrups, dried dates, vinegar, oil and alcoholic beverages (date wine and `araq) were other by-products. More importantly, dates functioned as good ballast for ships, which would otherwise use stones or jars of water. With dates, a person could load his ship with profitable ballast. On a side note, the author notes that there was no port at Basra and that ships would have to unload their cargo into smaller boats (lighter) to get them to shore. (This doesn't make much sense for the merchant from an economic standpoint - wouldn't it be easier to load the cargo off at Mohammarah or Kuwait and then send them to Basra? There are too many risks and costs associated with the lighter method).

Customs duties were prohibitively high in Basra (5.5-8.5%, depending on what type of good and shipping method), save for the Europeans who only paid 3% duty according to agreements with the Ottomans. In addition to this, one must factor in 'presents' to the mutasallim (according to Abdullah, these amounted to 744 rupees for a small ship and 1,240 rupees for a large ship), tolls to any one (or more) of the tribes in the area, and an entry fee for admission into Basra. The exact amount collected is not known, for due to the tax-farming system the same amount was remitted to the Central gov't every year. In any case, the high duties encouraged merchants to offload goods at other ports (like Kuwait) and smuggle then into Basra over land (this could provide one part of a theory as to how Kuwait initially developed as a transit port - if ships were using it for its harbor before it became a port city, it is easy to see how the locals would notice the potential).

After a weak discussion of ships and sailors in which he tells us very little (he basically says that we don't know much about the 18th century, because all of it differed rapidly from the 19th century. I personally don't agree with this assessment - there is plenty of great material out there on the types of boats and of organization on a sailing ship, but I guess it doesn't bear that much relevance anyway), Abdullah moves on to a general discussion of Basra's trade patterns in the 18th century. Despite his acknowledgement that very little info is available on this, Abdullah is able to tell us that the first decade of the century did not bode well for Basra trade because of conflicts with the tribes in the area and the early Persian occupation. In the second decade, Basra's trade was boosted with the decline of Bandar `Abbas (Abdullah attributes this to the fall of the Safavids in Iran - CHECK THIS OUT). Over the rest of the century, Basra's fortunes waxed and waned (and he has a cool chart showing the amount of ships calling at Basra, though it tells us nothing about the value of the cargo or the size of the ship and thus is not that useful) with wars against the Ka`b and Persian as well as plagues. Interesting notes included the idea that the rise of the Muscat fleet revitalized trade in the Gulf (was it so much that as the fall of the Portuguese, who concentrated trade in their own hands?) and that Karim Khan invaded Basra because it was stealing all of the commerce away from Iraq, which suffered from raiding and brigands.

Chapter 3: Networks of Trade

In this chapter the author looks at Basra's networks of trade, particularly those with India (it's primary trade partner), Muscat (which dominated the Mukha coffee trade), Baghdad (through the T and E rivers), Southern Persia (through the Karun river and caravans) and Aleppo (an important caravan destination).

Trade with India was of the utmost importance to Basra. It imported many different items (see page 58) that were then shipped to Aleppo, Baghdad and Persia. The Ottomans had little that India wanted (though dates and horses were of some importance) and paid for most of their imports in specie (read Fattah for implications of this). India itself had two distinct trading regions: the west coast, which traded with the Gulf extensively, and the east, which also traded with the Gulf but not as much as the West. The timing of the ships coincided with the monsoons so to ensure that they didn't have to stay at Basra for any longer than necessary. The most important of the India-bound Indo-Arab ships from Basra were those owned by the Chalabi family, who owned two large ships at any given time in the century. Abdullah notes that Basra's commercial prosperity was strongly linked to that of India and that developments in India would inevitably affect Basra (he cites the decline of Malabar in the face of the rise of Travancore and its subsequent recovery, all of which mirrored Basra's fortunes). He also notes that the British gradually took over shipping (even the freight trade!), citing letters from Surati and Basrawi merchants, both of whom spoke of shipping their goods exclusively on British ships (this can't possibly be true for everyone, though).

In his discussion of trade with Oman, Abdullah notes that the Muscat fleet was responsible for dislodging the Portuguese from the Gulf in 1650 and that trade was somewhat revitalized after that, with connections to India, Yemen and Africa. Bitter infighting and fights with the Persians, however, sttagnated trade until the Ya`ariba were replaced by the al-Busa`idis. This marked a renaissance in trade, as strong links were established with East Africa (at the expense of the Portuguese position there), from which slaves, ivory and sugar (to this I would add cloves and, after 1820 or so, American products such as guns and silver) were imported into Basra. Aside from slaves (which apparently weren't too popular in Basra), the primary commodity of the Omanis, however, was coffee imported from Mukha, the trade of which was dominated by Muscat. Muscat would trade coffee at various ports in the Gulf and bring back dates, which they then sold in Arabia, East Africa and India. This vibrancy marked a renaissance that was only tainted by the Wahhabis (whose depredations inhibited trade) and the Qawasim, who bothered Omani shipping in the Gulf (Abdullah's discussion of the two, however, is quite limited and does no justice to the role of the two entities in trade).

The trade within the Gulf itself is less detailed - Abdullah attributes this to the fact that most of the ships involved in this trade were small and thus no records of them were taken; in most cases, goods were shipped to the large ports and dispersed from there to the smaller ones. As major developments in Gulf trade, he notes the development of Bushire by Nadir Shah following the decline of Bandar `Abbas as well as the development of the ports of Kuwait, Zubara and Bahrain by the `Utub (the latter two were more involved in the pearling industry), the development of which took trade away from Basra (particularly Kuwait, which was given an especially huge trade boost with the decline of Basra at the end of the century). To this he adds that the piracy of the Jalahima (against Bahraini shipping) and the Qawasim (which was more indiscriminate, he says). Interestingly, he notes that over the second half of the century, the regional trade had become more and more dominated by larger native ships; he attributes this to the rise of the `Utbi and Mucat fleets as well as the steady transfer of the competitive long-distance trade to the British (particularly after 1765, which marked British involvement in the protection of Basra trade).

According to Abdullah, Basra's trade with Southern Persia was "testimony to the great commercial freedom enjoyed by merchants in the area and the lack of state intervention" (pg 72). Despite conflicts between the two governments, trade continued to flourish, with caravan links (the Persians used mules instead of camels) connecting the Persian ports of Muhammarah and Bushire to the interior (for a list of traded goods, see pg. 73). The reign of Karim Khan Zand (1750-79) in Persia particularly revitalized trade, for he was interesting in developing Persian commerce (at the expense of Basra at times, as was seen in the siege); he moved the capital to Shiraz, reduced taxes, encouraged handicrafts, repaired irrigation networks and granted merchants privileges. His death marked a deterioration in Persian internal trade security and, following the rise of the Qajars (who moved the capital to Tehran and chose to develop the north, which traded with Russia, at the expense of the south), the southern ports fell into "decay and dispopulation."

The transhipment of goods from Basara to Baghdad and vice versa was done either via the Tigris or Euphrates, depending on the situation at the time (the latter was preferred because it was easier to navigate). From Baghdad, specie, copper, and goods from Anatolia were sent down, although the route down often took a while because of all of the stops and the excessive amount of dues that had to be paid (see pg 76). Disturbances by tribes on the rivers towards the end of the century, however, made the Euphrates unattractive and contributed to the decline of Basra.

In his interesting discussion of the caravan trade between Basra and Aleppo, Abdullah notes that there were 3 types of caravans: large "merchant" caravans, which transported goods and specie twice a year; anotehr, smaller version; and the "light" caravan, which transported unladen camels (sometimes up to 5,000) and made the trip once a year. The selection of the caravan leader (bashi) was important; not only did he have to figure prominently among the tribes in the area, but he also had to be a sharif, so to ensure that he won't try to make side agreements with the tribes to raid the caravans. The timing of the caravans didn't coincide with that of the ships, since the latter was subject to many different factors. The route that they traveled was parallel to the Euphrates river, though the muddy ground next to river and the many customs houses meant that they traveled in the desert (which Baghdad resented, eventually imposing a tax from Basra). Over the course of the century, Aleppo's trade declined with the rise of the Wahhabis and their depredations against caravans, the civil war in Persia (which led to less silk being exported) and the rise of Izmir and Damascus as rival centers. In addition to this, the Persian occupation of Basra encouraged the development of a Kuwait-Aleppo trade route and a Baghdad-Damascus route. By the end of the century, Basra's caravan trade had declined. (One would imagine, however, that the Hejaz route remained alive, especially after the fall of the Wahhabis and the rise of the Rasheedis, though this is past the time period discussed by Abdullah).

If anything, this chapter illustrates the resilience of the merchants (like Fattah's book) in overcoming or side-stepping obstacles placed in their way. This has proven to be a good unit of analysis or prism through which one could view Gulf trade, or trade in the Indian Ocean in general. After all, the merchant was in the end the sole engine for trade and all final decisions boiled down to the most cost-effective methods of trade which, despite having undergone some changes, was maintained throughout.

Chapter 4: The Merchants (Tujjar) and Trade

The merchant class of Basra was rather fluid in nature, with people leaving and coming according to their own personal fortunes or the environment in the city. There were a number of grades of merchants, though many records do not identify this (ask Dr. Onley about where he got his information from). Most aspiring merchants began as an apprentice of a more established one (just like the noukhidhas) and eventually would travel to trade on behalf of his master and retain a share of the profits (usually 25%). However, there were many risks associated with long distance trade, form piracy and human-influenced factors to natural factors such as storm and shipwreck. To limit these risks, Abdullah says manuals on foreign trade conditions were written by the Armenians. (Braudel talks about this, as does Douglass north in his chapter in Tracy's book. To this I would add insurance and the practice of distributing cargo over a number of ships to spread the risk, which much more of a common practice). Merchants also spread their investments over many different areas and often kept their money abroad so that they would not risk having it confiscated in Basra.

To facilitate long-distance trade, institutions such as credit and contracts emerged. By using credit, a merchant could make a large purchase without having the cash on hand and repay the seller at a later date (presumably when some of the merchandise had been sold). Although contracts and bills of exchange (in which one person could take out a loan in one city and repay it in another) were used from time to time, but generally speaking it was the merchant's reputation for honesty and being able to repay his debts that determined the line of credit. (Abdullah doesn't state this, but credit was also very important for the produce trade, for it guaranteed stability in price and supply for commodities that could not fluctuate in price because of the effects on demand). Loans and other such financial transactions were usually carried out by sarrafs, who often charged high interest rates. Strangely enough, the British (and other Europeans) did not work with credit, which put them at a commercial disadvantage.

There were a number of merchant communities in Basra of many ethnic and religious backgrounds. There are no reliable numbers on the respective sizes of the communities (perhaps because of the fluid nature of the community), but we do know that there existed Armenians, Persians, Najdis, Turks, Baghdadis, other khaleejis and Jews. Apparently there was a lot of tension between the Najdis and the Persian Shi`a because of religious differences, though there is little evidence of this. `Abdulla states that partnerships between individuals from different communities were rare, as each preferred to deal with members of their own community. Thus, the Jews were dominant in the river trade with Basra (where there was a sizeable Jewish community), the Persians in the silk trade with Persia, and the Najdis and other khaleejis in the Gulf trade with India (although others were involved in this too). Interestingly, the British preferred to deal with the Armenians, their co-religionists, than others. Abdullah gives a brief history of the Armenian community of Iraq (they came from Iran, where the Safavids treated them quite well and helped them prosper in Isfahan), adding at the end that they were particularly involved in the caravan trade with Aleppo, where many other Armenians also lived. Finally, Abdullah discusses the Chalabis, whom he uses as an example of family networks. The Chalabis had family in Surat and thus were comfortable trading there (this is why they dominated the native maritime trade with India, as stated in the last chapter) - think of the example of the Safar family, which is the same idea.

(These merchant communities and their ethnic and familial networks helped each other survive through the tough times and in the face of great obstacles. This is a very interesting notion that could be applied to my PhD thesis - the role of merchant networks in helping the dhow trade survive.)

Chapter 5: The Merchants and Power.

Because the Ottoman government was often pre-occupied with European issues, it left much of the control of the provinces to the walis; they made sure, however, not to give them too much independence, for often a wali sought to carve out the territory for himself. Indeed the walis often drummed up some sort of conflict and used it to further their independence from the Ottomans. The mutasallims did not go unaffected by this; for fear of their job security, they would often collect random taxes and other fees to ensure their own financial stability. This had a negative effect on trade, as most merchants preferred to do their business elsewhere rather than have to pay protection fees to the mutasallim and still risk property confiscation.

Oen family, the Chalabis, had developed contacts with the mutasallim over a period of time and were soon able to extract commercial favors from him. The British, who saw the Chalabis as an obstacle to their desire to dominate freight trade in Basra, were highly suspicious though nothing ever came of it. Other local notables were able to curry the mutasallim's favor and receive titles - one was given the shahbandar after giving a loan to the mutasallim and, after trying to extract too much from the local merchants, was kidnapped and expelled (this highlights the need for local support in addition to administrative support). A more detailed case, that of a Hajji Yusuf, shows how powerful a merchants can be if he plays his cards right - this guy was even able to talk down to the mutasallim. Although he did favors for the British, he was highly suspicious of their motives (this seems to be a recurring theme), think that they wanted control of Basra.

In a seemingly unrelated note, Abdullah goes on to describe the fortunes of the Jewish community. He says that despite their dhimmi status, the Jews of Basra were treated as equals - and often received favors - from administrators and local merchants, bearing strong contrast to their negative experience in Safavid Persia. It was only in the mid-19th century that they would be persecuted. The Armenians, he notes, were favored by the British, who understood that doing business was impossible without local contacts. The Armenians were cunning merchants and looked to exploit their relationship with the British in their favor - the British saw this and didn't mind.

Tensions between the Armenians and the Jews, however, flared up when a murdered Jew was found and an Armenian was accused. After the Jews began protesting in the streets for punishment of the Armenian, Samuel Manesty (the British resident and the husband of an Armenian himself) asked that the Jews be punished for their designs against the Christians. When the request was refused (and the Jews were actually rewarded for their defense of the city against the Persians), Manesty moved the factory to Kuwait.

Around the same time, we see a number of separatist revolts in Basra, whose merchants and administrators felt that it's trade could be kept alive if they didn't have to remit so much to Baghdad. The Jews were against the idea because of their trade relations with Baghdad. In any case, the revolts never came to anything because of the might of Sulaiman Pasha's army (the wali of Baghdad and Basra). All of these divisions and the worsening political and economic climate in Basra prompted many to move. There was no unified stance to support the city's recovery because of all of the different interests; people found it easier to relocate elsewhere. Eventually, Manesty was asked back to Basra and was handed over ten Jewish leaders (we don't know what happened to them).

The chapter shows the diverse interests of the merchant communities and how this prevented them from forming a cohesive front to oppose British advancement in the city. The commercial decline of Basra only served to drive a bigger wedge between the different communities, with many preferring to leave rather than risk anymore financial losses.


A note on the context: this was all happening while the world-capitalist system was shifting in favor of the Europeans, whose industrial revolution Asia could not keep up with. In that regard, the book shows how developments on the ground and within administrations had helped British encroachment onto khaleeji trade, one of the cornerstones of Indian Ocean trade. Basically, it shows us that (as C.A. Bayley says) the creation of the Europe-centered world-capitalist system was as much a product of what happened on the ground in Asia as in Europe.

A look at the bibliography shows that the author used sources in Turkey, India, and England as well as local histories. In this respect, he gives a much clearer picture than does Fattah (who only used British sources and local histories) though the latter did a better job of explaining the regional economy than he did. Also, through his use of such diverse sources, Abdullah was able to draw in events that took place in Persia, India and even Africa to Basra, explaining in detail their significance. Although the book is very Iraq-centric in its approach (duh - just look at the title!) it gives us many gems of information on regional trade in the Gulf and does a fantastic job of tying it into the Indian Ocean, both historically and conceptually. Great stuff.