Indian Ocean Trade Network Impacts on Africa, India, and China

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The Indian Ocean is one of the oldest trade routes between Africa and Asia. During the early days of Indian Ocean trade, the buying and selling of goods took place only between the Swahili people living in East Africa and Arabs from Asia. Indian Ocean trade was made easy by the monsoon winds that circulated between Asia and the Eastern coast. These winds blew north to the south and from the south back to the north in a circular fashion. These winds change direction with the change of seasons. In the ninth century an astrolabe was introduced to the Islam world by the Greeks. An astrolabe was helpful to the Arabs because it helped them find direction to the east coast and the most suitable time for making the return trip to Asia.

The Chinese also traded with the Swahili people. The Arabs did not like this because they wanted to control this trade. The Chinese mainland was too far and it took too long for Chinese ships to reach the eastern coast of Africa. It took the Arabs from Persia close to two months traveling to the eastern coast. Arabs who settled on the eastern coast and married members of the ruling class and traders also helped trade with the Arabs. Intermarrying with the local people helped them to direct trade to Arabs instead of Chinese people. The Chinese were then forced to trade only with Arab people in Asia.

The Arab people exchanged cowrie shells, cloth, and beads for gold, rhino horns and ivory. It was because of these trade dealings and intermarriages that an Arab influence including Islam came to be introduced in the area. This trade route was helpful in the creation of the Swahili language and culture that involved much blending between the local and Arab ways of life. This trade network expanded beyond the east coast into the kingdoms in the interior. Kingdoms like Zimbabwe and Mapunbugwe grew rich and powerful because of this trade route. In Mapungubwe carvings made from ivory were discovered. These ivory carvings were made for the...
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