Did Indian traders prove to be catalysts in Britain’s colonisation of Africa? Yes, says the author of a book on sea trade between India and Africa. Blanche Rocha D’Souza, an Indian-origin writer born in Kenya, says the thriving link between traders from western India and eastern Africa may have made the British curious about what was once called the Dark Continent. “The British were already in India. It was only when they saw Indian traders doing thriving business in east Africa, especially Zanzibar, that they decided to see what Africa was really about. Slowly, the process of colonising the continent began,” D’Souza .
She was here to read from her book, “Harnessing the Trade Winds – The Story of the Centuries-Old Trade with East Africa, Using the Monsoon Winds”, published by Zand Graphics. The book traces the business between India and Africa, which goes back thousands of years, much before European colonisers began ruling the seas. “The trade is as old as it can get. It dates back to 3,000 years before Christ. This is how rich and culturally significant the trade between India and Africa is,” D’Souza said.
She said she collected data from books sourced from the libraries in Kenya, Mumbai and Zanzibar. D’Souza, a former teacher of English and a librarian, has lived in Kenya and Karachi and has her ancestral roots in Goa. She said the cotton grown by farmers in Mohenjo-Daro during the Indus Valley Civilization was one of the goods Indian traders took with them to Africa. “Hundreds of years before Christ, cotton was grown only in one place in the world – Mohenjo-Daro.
That was what the Indian traders from what we know as the Gujarat region now used to send to the east Africa port of Zanzibar, which was then a trading hub,” she said. Indian cotton, planted on the fertile plains of the Nile river, was later known as long staple cotton and considered one of the world’s finest. In exchange for cotton, the traders brought back animal skins, rhino horns and tusks.
“After cotton, the trade of spices began,” she said. Indians, according to D’Souza, even named some of the rivers which run through Africa. “The Mara river, which flows through the Masai Mara game range, was named by Indian travellers,” she said. She said she wrote the book after she, as a librarian, realised that the Arab and European sources of information downplayed the importance of Indian trade in the Indian Ocean. “In all my research, I found that Arab and European sources of information downplayed the importance of Indian trade in the Indian Ocean which goes back at least 3,000 years before Christ,” she said.
“My book attempts to rekindle in the Indian diaspora a justifiable pride in the achievements of its forebears in east Africa, and indeed other parts of the world. In east Africa, they promoted the development of agriculture and industry and the globalisation of trade stemming from their trading activities,” D’Souza said.