International trade at the time of African empires

The high imperial African era (from 300 to 1500) was a golden age in the history of the Black continent. The different States maintained economic relations with the four other continents. This article will give you an overview of the intensity of these trades…

Trade with the Eastern

Berber and Arab caravaners roamed the Sahara to exchange goods between Africa and the Arab world. The Hippopotamus skin whip made on the Senegal River thus had an international reputation according to the Arabic chronicler Bekri. Gold, that was unimaginably abundant in West Africa, was exported. Salt, wheat, raisins and figs were imported as well.

Iranian bowls were found at Mwene Mutapa (Zimbabwe), faience of Iran and Iraq in the Swahili civilization (Tanzania-Kenya), Somali coins in the United Arab Emirates. The Arabs had settled all along the East African coast – that is, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique – and were intensively trading with Africans.

18th century painting illustrating the relationship between Africa and the Eastern
An Iranian delegation is received by the King of Ethiopia (Authenticated by Runoko Rashidi)

Trade with East Asia and Oceania

The trade between Africa and Asia was mainly due to the wealthy East Coast and the Mwene Mutapa empire. Across the East Coast, an opulent class of Black traders had been created as a result of these exchanges. Africans exported their products to China and India. The discovery in Australia of 1,000-year-old coins from the lavish town of Kilwa, Tanzania, and updated by the team of the Australian anthropologist Ian McIntosh, confirms that the trade also reached Oceania.

Chinese porcelain ware was found in the graves of Mwene Mutapa. Gold, tin, copper, were extracted from the empire’s soil. The products were exported through the port of Solafa in Mozambique. The specialists estimated at 30,000 tons the amount of tin extracted. The navigators at that time were mostly Arabs and Asians.

Despite the existence of a Swahili navigation and the testimony of Blacks sailing on the Indian Ocean, the wealth of East Africa – where according to a saying, ivory beds were accessed by silver ladders – did not make the adventure on the high seas necessary for Africans. Mwene Mutapa’s mining activity served as an economic lever for the entire East Coast.

In addition, coins from Vietnam and Sri Lanka were found in Somalia. These exchanges favoured the advent of diplomatic relations between the Swahili / Somali civilizations and China, which had ambassadors in the respective states.

Swahili Coins in Australia Discovered by Ian McIntosh’s Team in 2013

Trade with Europe

From the time Blacks of Maghreb ruled over southern Europe, intense trade had made possible the appearance of wealthy cities. During the Black Almoravid dynasty, gold from West Africa was used to strike coins that circulated in the European part of the empire where they were called marabotins. A particularly sophisticated customs organization allowed the Black civilization of the Imperial Morocco to increase its wealth. The cities of Spain, Marseille or Genoa were hubs of commerce with North Africa.

Maghreb’s Black dignitaries playing chess in Spain;
Source: The Golden Age of the Moor, Ivan van Sertima, page 29

One thus found a European fabric, the Montenfès, with which the Mansa Suleyman – Emperor of Mali at the time of the chronicler Ibn Battuta – dressed. Black and White Berbers and Arabs were the intermediaries of this trade.

Trade with America

Trade with America is also documented. The African-Guyanese historian Ivan Van Sertima, father of historiography on the presence of Africans in ancient America, gives us some of them after having consulted the archives of Christopher Columbus himself. The crew of the latter had seen tall Blacks in America. The Indians of Haiti had told Columbus that Blacks came in big boats to trade. The contemporary navigators of Columbus reported to him that there were ship departures from the West African coast to America.

But the most affirmative element is that Columbus had analysed in Spain a spear of Haiti, which contained exactly the same composition in metals as those of West Africa. Aside from this trade of spears, Van Sertima reports the great presence of the Mandingoes in the Central American markets.

And here, contrary to the relations with the Arab world and Asia, it is the Blacks themselves, of the empire of Mali, then of the Songhai empire, who travelled through the Atlantic Ocean.

Mansa Abubakari Keita II, Emperor of Mali, crossing the Atlantic in 1311
It is this journey that would have inaugurated the intense commercial relations between West Africa and America (Illustration by Khephra Burns)

Hotep !

By : Lisapo ya Kama © (All rights reserved. Any copying or translation of the text of this article is strictly forbbiden without the written approval of Lisapo ya Kama)

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