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17 Characteristics of the Indian Ocean Trade

by Ranisa Alda

The Indian Ocean Trade began at around the 800 A.D. The trade was all about small trading settlements when it began. The small trading activities then took place on a bigger scale that is on one of the oceans in the world, the Indian Ocean to be exact. The trade once got declined in the 1500 when Portugal invaded and tried to use the trade for their own profit. The Indian Ocean Trade itself has been a key factor for the East and West exchanges.

The trades used to happen using dhows and sailboats, this activity made the zone which stretch from Java in the East to Mombasa and Zanzibar in the far West into a place of interaction between peoples, civilizations, and cultures. As the trade intensifies, prosperous city-states also began to flourished along the eastern coast of Africa such as Kilwa, Mombasa, Malindi, Sofala, and others. The trade has made significant impacts throughout the history and this article would discuss characteristics of the Indian Ocean Trade for us to further understand it.

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1. Trading with inland kingdoms

Usually, the city-states would do trading with inland kingdoms such as the Great Zimbabwe in order for them to obtain gold, iron, and ivory since those are the natural resources from the kingdoms.

2. African export items costed very high in Asia

The items said above are usually the main export items from African countries and can be sold for a fortune in Asia since the region is scarce from the products.

3. Asian goods also costed very high in Africa

In return, many of the East African city-states were willing to pay high in order to obtain cotton, porcelain, and silk that were sold by the Asian states since these products were rare to the African countries at the time.

4. East Africa city-states as trading centers

The East Africa city-states became ideal centers of trade since the city-states were easy to reach from Asia by ship due to the favorable wind and ocean currents. The city-states also have excellent ports and harbors located on the coast of them. The condition made the ships had no hardship to load and unload their cargo. Not only the ships, the merchants also like the East African city-states as they have lodging and entertainment, perfect for a place to rest after a long journey. The East Africa city-states were also a relatively peaceful region, compared to other regions at the time.

5. The discovery by Vasco da Gama

Although the city-states were famous among the Indian Ocean Trade, the Europeans surprisingly didn’t know about their existence at first. This was until 1498 where Vasco da Gama discovered the.

6. Destroyed by Portuguese invaders

It is very unfortunate that the city-states were destroyed by the Portuguese invaders. These information that we know today regarding the characteristics of the Indian Ocean Trade all came from archeological evidence, documents written by the people who lived at the time, also records kept by the African and Asian companies and governments who did activities in the Indian Ocean Trade.

7. Routes

The Indian Ocean Trade routes connected not only Southeast Asia and East Africa but also India and Arabia.

See also: Function of Ocean Currents

8. Winds to help the traders traveled

The traders from Arabia, Gujarat, and other coastal areas used to use the triangle-sailed dhows to harness the seasonal monsoon winds long before the Europeans found out the existence of the Indian Ocean and its trade activities.

9. The long wait for the perfect wind

However, since the ships depended on the monsoon winds, the traders then had to wait for months until the currents shifted in favor of their intended destination. This happened since currents of Indian Ocean changed seasonally. As the impact of ocean currents, the port-cities then became a second home to many of the traders.

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10. Entrance of major empires

The major empires began to joined the Indian Ocean Trade in the classical era. The empires including the Mauryan Empire from India, the Achaemenid Empire from Persia, the Roman Empire from the Mediterranean, and the Han Dynasty from China.

11. Spreading of religions

Some religious thought also spread through the Indian Ocean Trade. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism were brought by India’s merchants to the Southeast Asia. Islam would then spread in the region through the same way in 700s CE.

12. A rival for inland relative

The Indian Ocean Trade and the amount of goods moved from this trading system was a rival for its inland relative, the Silk Road.

13. Taken care equally as good as the inland relative by the Chinese dysnasties

However, although both trading systems were rival, history shows both system were used and taken care of equally by China. Dynasties in China showed strong emphasize of its trade and industry both on the maritime trade and the land-based Silk Road. The Song rulers (960-1279) even established a powerful imperial navy to control piracy that happened on the eastern end of the route.

14. Portuguese initial intention

When Portuguese found the Indian Ocean Trade in 1498, they initially wanted to join the trade since European demand for Asian luxury goods were very high. However, European products such as wool or fur clothing and iron cooking pots weren’t needed by the Asian people. In short, it can be said that the European didn’t have anything to trade and export. This situation then made the Portuguese to enter the Indian Ocean, not as traders but as pirates.

15. Another European giant to destroy the trade

The arrival of another European power which is the Dutch East India Company (VOC) at 1602 in Indian Ocean devastated the region and its trade activities even more. The Dutch did a total monopoly on lucrative spices from the region such as mace and nutmeg. This situation then got much worse with the join of British to the region which would then challenge the VOC and compete with each other to conquer the region.

16. The collapse of Indian Ocean Trade

The Indian Ocean Trade that had established for two thousand years old then got completely destroyed because of these invaders who first destroyed the city-states and later seized their goods.

17. World economy’s shift

Not only because of the European intervention, the withdrawal of China from the international affairs and the world’s economic that shifted to the West also contributed to the disappearance of the Indian Ocean Trade.

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Those are only a few characteristics of the Indian Ocean Trade. But even with just a few characteristics, we could already tell how grand the trade was. It Is very unfortunate that the trading system disappeared but the world always change dynamically so adjustments are of course needed. Although it has disappeared, the Indian Ocean Trade has made a very big step and affected the today’s trading system in many good ways.

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