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The Indian Ocean Case

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The Indian Ocean has always been a power trading region, a corridor between East Africa and China that encouraged the spread of religion, crops, languages, and people. Through the rise and fall of powerful land and sea empires, trade routes have shifted and domination has switched hands numerous times over history. While the goods traded have remained fairly constant, the actual traders and the powers behind them changed from 650 C.E. to 1750 C.E.

Spices, textiles, manufactured goods, and raw goods have remained staples on the many routes that led from the coast of Zimbabwe all the way to the ports of China. Early traders from Polynesia even traveled to Madagascar showing the breadth of such a vast region. With the rise of the Islam and the Mongol Empire, overseas trade slowed slightly because of the importance of the Silk Road as the main connection between China and Europe. However, as the Mongols declined, Indian Ocean trade became of utmost importance to the imperial kingdoms of China and the regional powers of India. Under the Ming Dynasty especially the Chinese engaged heavily in foreign trade, eager to display their wealth with giant treasure ships and junks that sailed the day from China through the important port of Malacca to the east coast of India. The ships carried silks and porcelain, goods in high demand in Europe and Arabia, as well as picking up spices and hardwoods from the Southeast Asian islands. Once in India, the majority of these goods were sent on dhows to the Arabian Peninsula, stopping at crucial ports like Aden, and continuing on to East Africa and the Swahili Coast states of Mogadishu, Kilwa, and Sofala. Sailing on the monsoons and returning laden with gold and ivory from Africa, the cycle would restart when the Chinese received these goods. Eventually with the Mughal Empire in India, coastal states like Gujurat and Calicut grew in important with manufacturing and textile production of cotton. The powers around the Indian Ocean remained in control fro some time until the arrival of the Europeans at the turn of the 16th century.

While Silk Road trade with Europe was high in volume, Europeans sought to cut out the Arab middlemen and wanted direct access to Asian goods. As the tools of navigation developed and new nation-states promoted trade and exploration, the Portuguese led the continent in the race to Asia. When Vasco da Gama reached India in 1498 by sailing around the tip of Africa, he was greeted with mocking laughter and derision a the poor goods he had to trade. The powerful merchants of Gujarat and neighboring states were used to the highest quality goods and da Gama's poor attempts were met with disdain. However, before long, the Portuguese machine took over almost all trade in the Indian Ocean, establishing ports like Goa in India and controlling strategic areas in their imperialistic manner. Around the same time, Britain also began its expansionist conquests and



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