Andrew MacDonald, Department of History, University of the Witwatersrand
10th June 2014
It is well-known that a long-distance trade in gold on Southern Africa’s East coast flourished from the twelfth century. For four centuries thereafter, Islamic merchants connected the polities of the Limpopo/Zambezi rivers with Arabia and India, exchanging southern African gold dust, trinkets and beads for Asian glass, ceramics, brass and cloth at fairs and along riverine trade routes (Miller, Desai and Lee-Thorpe 2000). Portuguese colonial domination initiated a long period of decline in indigenous gold trading, and by the late nineteenth century, industrialised mining under British rule had fundamentally re-orientated the South African gold economy toward North Atlantic capitalist markets. Much less well known is that a sophisticated, albeit illegal, Indian Ocean gold trade continued to link southern Africans and south Asians in the shadows of Empire.
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