Significant Changes and Continuities in East Africa Between 600 and 1450

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Significant Changes and Continuities in East Africa Between 600 and 1450

Significant changes occurred in East Africa between 600 and 1450. Specifically, the increase of slave trade and better, more useful technologies through the Indian Ocean Trade Network. These changes are important because the growth of city-states occurred due to this network. During this period, the overall trade of the region remained relatively constant. This continuity was important because it allowed for economic and technological development to flourish in the region.

Safer travel, pacified routes, greater volume of trade, increased efficiency, better quality of goods, increase of slave trade, better, more useful technologies, new agricultural products, more integration of all people, use of banking and paper money, distance of travel, use of trade for diplomacy, and the spread of Christianity and Islam. Much more extensive use of the Indian Ocean, and overall increased trade reaching more areas, like sub-Saharan Africa and northern Europe.

Increased agricultural production shifted agriculture from self-preservation to a commercial practice in many areas, the increased production freed up labor for public works projects like the Grand Canal. Slavery grew to a much larger scale as African slave trade developed an extensive system. So many slaves were exported that there were African slave revolts in SW Asia. Bantu migrations caused development of states to organize labor in Africa. Growth of city-states along the East African Coast as Indian Ocean trade began to increase.

According to Ways of The World, these city-states, such as Mogadishu, Sofala, and Kilwa became important areas of trade and for interaction of ideas. Merchants traded gold, slaves and ivory for pottery, glassware and textiles. People began using paper money, a concept brought in by Islamic people. There was a large increase in the amount of maritime trade and long distance trade. Better navigational technology, such as the magnetic compass, provided an increase in technological advances. 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 trading systems were still, in general, the same. They were used to spread luxury goods, metals, stones, religion, diseases, philosophy, technology, agriculture, agricultural goods, use of nomads as middlemen between east and west, and the same basic routes. Improving trade networks continued to be the main source of technological development because technologies spread quickly from their origin along the silk roads and Indian Ocean to other lands.

Necessity is always a main source for innovation, so agricultural developments are common as populations increase. Agriculture remained the occupation of a majority of the world’s population, even as improvements in technology provided surpluses freeing up specialists. Slavery continued to be based on warfare and debts. Slave trade became more prominent, but slaves were not taken for their race, because they were taken by people of their own race. The post-classical peoples kept using agriculture as their main source of food and as the basis for their economies.

They altered the shape of the land to be more effective for agriculture. Urban areas still destroyed the natural ecosystems. Roads still disrupted the plains. They kept creating dikes and irrigation systems. Growth of powerful states in Africa made it possible for stronger states to prey on weaker ones for slaves, which had become a profitable good at market. Increased agricultural production explains the development of new animal power technologies like the horse collar. The watermill and the development of guilds for artisans can also be attributed to rising agricultural surplus.

As stronger states grew, it was possible to organize projects like expansion of the Grand Canal and magnificent buildings like cathedrals and mosques that were not possible in the chaos of the dark ages. Evidently, East Africa had several changes including the more extensive use of the Indian Ocean Trade Network along with the easy trade of slaves. On the other hand, there were elements of East Africa that stayed the same over the years, seen in overall technological and economic stability of the trading system.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 26 September 2016

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