Introduction Long Distance Trade

Introduction Long Distance Trade

  • Before the 19th century, African societies carried out some trade among themselves.
  • This was because no society produced all it needed to survive.
  • This internal trade was always conducted on a barter system.
  • However around the 1st half of the 19th century (1840-1850), Long Distance Trade developed.
  • This involved movements of people from local to international levels all over E. Africa.

Long Distance Trade

  • It was also called pre-colonial caravan trade.
  • This was the trade that was carried between the coastal merchants and the interior tribes in E.Africa.
  •  The traders covered very long distances from the interior to the coast.
  • Long distances had to be covered in caravans of between 100-1000 men to and from the coast.
  • This always took months or even a year before they would reach the coast and back to the interior.
  • The main participants in the trade included Nyamwezi, Kamba, Yao, Chagga, Kikuyu, Baganda, Banyoro and the Luo.
  • These traded with the Arabs and Swahili people at the coast.
  • Goods from the interior included ivory, animals, Skins, Slaves, Gold, Bee wax, salt, and copper.
  • They were all exchanged for goods like beads, guns, mirrors, clothes and glass which were brought by the coastal people.

Reasons for the development of the Long distance trade

  • The trade developed because of several tribes that produced surplus goods which enabled them to offer some for sale.
  • There was also high demand for foreign goods by African societies e.g. guns and clothes which they had to get from the coast.
  • The arrival of the Portuguese at the coast in 1500 A.D also forced the Arabs to abandon the Indian Ocean trade and join the Long distance trade.
  • The opening of trade routes in the interior of East Africa enabled the traders to reach all corners of East Africa for trade.
  • Seyyid Said’s settlement in Zanzibar in 1840 also increased the demand for slaves who were needed to work on his clove plantations.
  • Availability of trade items also led to its development e.g. slaves, Ivory, Bee wax e.t.c were all available in the interior.
  • The abolition of slave trade in West Africa around 1840 forced many Europeans to resort to East Africa were slave trade had not yet been abolished.
  • Some interior tribes had the traditional love for traveling long distances for example the Nyamwezi.
  • Division of labour among the African societies encouraged the men to get involved in trade.
  • The development of Swahili as a business language made it easier for people to communicate in trade.
  • The flat nature of the land enabled traders to easily move up and down looking for trade items.
  • The coming of the Indian Banyans at the coast who financed traders and provided loans.
  • The presence of capable leaders e.g. Mirambo, Seyyid Said, Tippu – Tip and Muteesa 1 who efficiently organized the trade.
  • The introduction of cowrie shells as a form of currency also eased the transaction of business.
  • The introduction of guns also improved security along the trade routes.
  • Co-operation between interior tribes and coastal people also facilitated smooth trade.
  • Presence of already developed coastal towns which acted as the trading centers e.g. Mombasa.
  • Availability of guns helped in raiding of villages for slaves and hunting of elephants.
  • The trade was so profitable to the participants leading to its development.
  • Good and favourable climate encouraged trade throughout the year.
  • Development in transport system e.g. use of donkeys which eased movement of traders. 

Organization of the Long distance trade

  • The trade involved many interior tribes e.g. Nyamwezi, Kamba, Yao, Chagga and Baganda.
  • These traded with the coastal Arabs.
  • The trade was organized on caravan basis.
  • Each caravan would have over 1000 men armed and it included porters and medicine men.
  • Goods from the interior included, ivory, slaves, gold and Iron implements e.g. axes, pangas, hoes.
  • Those from the coast included beads, glassware, plates, cloths, and swords among others.
  • Slaves were acquired through raids on villages and ivory was got through hunting of elephants.
  • Trade was initially conducted on a barter trade system i.e. goods exchanged for goods.
  • Later on, cowrie shells were introduced but these were also later replaced by small copper coins.
  • Trade was controlled by interior chiefs who negotiated with the merchants from the coast.
  • Trade was also conducted in trading centers along the trade routes e.g. Ujiji, Tabora and Bagamoyo.
  • These trading centres also served as resting places.
  • The trade also involved taxation for revenue.
  • Traders from the coast paid taxes to the local chiefs in the interior before their caravans could be allowed passage.
  • The medium of communication was Kiswahili because it was the business language.
  • Where communication became a problem, interpreters were used.
  • The best means of transport was head porterage and the Nyamwezi provided the most skilled porters, this was because they naturally enjoyed it and they loved walking for long distances.
  • The Indian banyans were the financiers of the trade and they provided loans to the traders to go into the interior to buy goods.
  • The trade followed three main specific trade routes i.e.
  • Northern trade route; it started from Pangani and Mombasa and passed through MT Kenya and Taita hills and it went up to Lake Baringo, crossing the rift valley up to Mt. Elgon. It was controlled by the Akamba.
  • Central trade route; this was the biggest and busiest route. It was controlled by Nyamwezi and it started from Bagamoyo through Zaramo, Gogoland, and Tabora to Karagwe, Buganda, Bunyoro up to Eastern Congo.
  • Southern trade route; It was controlled by the Yao. It started from Kilwa through Malawi, Southern Tanganyika up to the Muenomotapa Kingdom in Congo.
  • There was another less significant route from Southern Sudan through Northern Uganda, Turkana land via the Kenyan highlands up to the coast. It was controlled by the Khartoumers from Sudan.