Early Contacts with the Middle East and Far East
Contacts with the Middle East and Far East began as early as 200BC. Early foreigners to visit the
African coast were people from Asia including countries like Syria, Arabia, India, Burma,
Thailand, China, Spice Islands and Egypt from North Africa. Availability of goods such as ivory,
gold, animal skins and slaves was one of the motives which attracted the traders to visit the East
Historically, contacts between East Africa and Middle and Far East go as far back as 200 BC.
Evidence is shown through archeological excavations. These have revealed remains of pottery,
porcelain, cons, beads and tombs along the East Africa Coast which are believed to originate
from Middle and Far East. Another piece of evidence from the book “Periplus of the Ertythrean
Sea” or a Guide Book to the Indian Ocean, written in the 1st CAD by early Greek Trades, contain
details about life at the East African Coast.
Regular trading contacts began around 8th CAD. Most of the traders came from China, Indonesia,
(East Indies) and India. Later in the 10th C, traders also came from Arabia, Persia (Iran), Syria
and Egypt. Their commercial activities covered the whole of the Eastern Coast of Africa between
Mogadishu and Sofala.
The Social and Economic Motives of Contact between Africa, Middle East
and Far East.
Motive of the contact.
- Availability of goods such as ivory, gold, animal skins and slaves which had attracted the
The discovery of the power of wind and its patterns i.e. the Monsoon which helped to
drive their vessels across the Indian Ocean to East Africa (South West Monsoon, November, to
April) and back to their home lands (North East Monsoon, May to October).
Development of marine vessels technology.They could contract large dhows which
enabled them to carry huge quality of goods.
Acceptance by the local people along the coast.They expected to benefit in the trading
- Constant warfare in the Middle East especially Persia made Arabs flee to East Africa
their survival depended on trade.
The Major Commodities which were Exchanged during the Contact between
Africa, Middle East and Far East.
Commodities (export) from Eastern Africa.
GOLD form Mwanamutapa Empire was brought to the coast at Sofala. The gold traders
(foreigners) had to pay tax to the rulers of Kilwa.
- Ivory – Was brought to the coast at may points
- Slaves – Were brought to the coast at many points
- opper – Was brought to the coast from Katanga
- Cum Copal – Was found on the coastal area opposite
- Other Goods – Rhinoceros horns, tortoise shells, beeswax