The Call of the Sea (Kachchhi Traders in Muscat and Zanzibar, c. 1800-1880)

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Item Code: NAH137
Author: Chhaya Goswami
Publisher: Orient Blackswan Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2011
ISBN: 9788125042044
Pages: 260 (1 Map)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 550 gm
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Book Description

About the Book


Drawing largely on archival sources, The Call of the Sea examines the significant role played by Kachchhi traders in connecting Muscat and Zanzibar to the thriving emporiums of Bombay and Mandvi. It provides an insight into the business environment and sophisticated sea-trade network that existed in the western Indian Ocean in the nineteenth century.


The pro-trade policies of the Sultan of Muscat, Seyyid Said, and his tolerant attitude towards merchants acted as a catalyst. Cordial relations with the Arab ruling class boosted the commercial prospects of the Kachchhis at Zanzibar in their competition with traders from other nations. These entrepreneurs carried on a flourishing trade in ivory and cloves, among others. They also acted as bankers and financiers, and operated an effective credit network for Indian mercantile communities. Mandvi acquired significance as the chief port of Kachchh, while the economies of Muscat and Zanzibar benefited from waves of migration of these traders. In this context there is an illuminating case study of the dominant business house of Jairam Shivji in Zanzibar. The involvement of Kachchhi traders in the slave trade, which was once important in the east African economy, is also brought into focus.


Depicting the early potential of the Indian diaspora prevailing in a competitive foreign milieu, this study will be useful to students of history, international relations, and foreign trade, as well as those engaged in African or Gulf Studies.


About the Author


Chhaya Goswami taught history at Etphinstone College and St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, and is currently an independent researcher.




This book aims to portray in detail the spectrum of the maritime activities of risk-taking Kachchhi businessmen in the nineteenth century. In particular, it endeavours to make a comprehensive study of the triangular trading networks that developed between Kachchh, Muscat and Zanzibar. Its focus is on the significant role played by the Kachchhis in the wide and diverse Indian Ocean trade. Enterprising Kachchhi traders had been commercially active in the Persian Gulf for many centuries and they made Muscat their base for mercantile transactions. They became prominent in East Africa in the nineteenth century and contributed significantly to the commerce of that region.


Port towns were crucial in developing a triangular trading network between merchant cities, which depended on the maritime link with foreign lands. The study places Mandvi, the chief port of Kachchh, in its relationship with the port cities of Muscat and Zanzibar. A study of the Zanzibar port town shows how the Portuguese departure, and arrival of Americans, Britishers, the French and Germans opened up avenues of opportunity for Indian merchants. The research indicates that South Asian entrepreneurs were able to take advantage of changes produced by the Euro-American presence. The vicissitudes of business development in Muscat and Zanzibar suggest that Indian capitalists took an independent stand with regard to Western capitalist inroads.


The Kachchhi merchant communities, namely, the Bhatias, Khojas, Bohras and Memons, were deeply embedded within the rim of the Indian Ocean trade networks that included Arabs, East Africans and Europeans. These merchant communities responded to the call of the sea by participating extensively in foreign trade with their own ships, capital and investments. They covered a wide range in terms of their fortunes, functions and financial services. The big business houses, which carried trade of high volumes, possessed enormous resources and considerable influence with the political authorities. Equally impressive was a range of specialized commercial functions such as brokerage, banking and exchange. In commodity import and export trade, the firms dominated financing, procuring, distributing, retailing and the buying process. In a nutshell, they managed multi-dimensional trading operations. The capacity of Kachchhi traders to advance and develop the commerce of Arabia and Africa was immense, and their cooperation was indispensable for their contemporaries to conduct any form of trade. The study, thus, provides insight into the business environment and the sophisticated Indian Ocean trading network that existed in this period. Though the pattern and dynamics of their trading activities in the Indian Ocean is the primary focus of the study, space is also given to document their settlement and experiences while trading.


There are many interesting components of their trading background. Irrespective of caste and creed differences, Vepari (traders) Mahajan or a corporate body of Hindu merchants dealt with commercial matters and arbitrated disputes. Caste-based organizations, like Bhatia Mahajans, monitored socio-religious matters and at times represented the members’ professional interests. Family business, managed by the kith and kin, and the managing agency system were integral parts of their traditional trading system.

Despite the fact that the Kachchhis played a crucial role in the trading world of the Indian Ocean, little has been written about them. My work attempts to fill this void by studying the activities and economic significance of the Kachchhi mercantile communities, and it reconstructs the maritime history of Kachchh in the nineteenth century. The research endeavour has woven thread by thread a panoptic piece of work for the reader to follow the history of the Kachchhis in its socio-economic perspective. The thematic understanding of the work rests on identifying the place of merchants in the Indian global economy. Kachchhi traders used old connections and their position in the trade network to earn productive profits. In the cosmopolitan milieu of the Indian Ocean ports, merchants of diverse ethnicities and nationalities carried out their business. Indian merchants who conducted trade all through Arabia and East Africa were members of this distinguished trading system, which depicted the commercial and monetary features of the Indian mercantile diaspora.


Kachchhi money providers furnished financial services which were essential for trade and expansion. They provided monetary services to various foreign firms, the royal house and also to plantation owners, producers, artisans and caravan organizers. Their diverse financial services comprised currency exchange, money lending and investments. Money was lent and advanced in various ways by loans, advances and mortgages. European, American, Swahili and Arab merchants sought the brokerage services of the Kachchhis for the disposal of their cargoes. In brief, they had developed the web of service providers and connected the markets of Muscat and Zanzibar to the thriving emporiums of Bombay and Mandvi. Kachchhi firms combined many of these activities in order to spread risk and for diversification. Some of them preferred specialization in a profession. Bohra merchants, for instance, specialized in the hardware business. Independent traders of modest means also preferred to specialize in a particular commodity.


The study of the maritime commercial activities of Kachchh contributes to a better understanding of the strength and impact of the Kachchhi diaspora in the sphere of the Indian Ocean. Over time, these merchants were engaged not only in trade but also in many cultural exchanges with the outer world, and worked out to live with those cultural differences within and outside. The study also contributes to the various important subject areas in history writing such as ‘the place of Kachchh in the Indian overseas trade’, ‘socio-economic history of Kachchh’ and ‘business practices and ideas of the Kachchhis’. The main themes comprising the historical perspective include ‘port towns’ as centres of economic stimulus; the study of merchant settlements, and experiences and the ‘continuity’ of business enterprise. Sanjay Subrahmanyam’s ‘Foreword’ in Asian Merchants and Businessmen in the Indian Ocean and the China Sea (quoted at the beginning) fits well with the book’s theoretical relevance. The time span of c.1800-1880 is chosen to highlight the well-established and influential trading networks of Kachchhis in Muscat and Zanzibar before the colonial influence brought about a paradigm of socio-economic changes.
















Chapter 1: Kachchh: The Land and its People


Chapter 2: Kachchhis in the Trading World of Muscat


Chapter 3: Kachchhi Entrepreneurs and the Zanzibar Trade


Chapter 4: The Trading Firm of Jairam Shivji


Chapter 5: The Slave Trade and the Role of Kachchhis




Appendix 1


Appendix 2


Appendix 3


Appendix 4



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