Slave Trade Simulation
Trading slaves, a practice that has been described as inhumane, evil, or even blasphemous, left little room for sensitivity for those making the decisions of the trade. Often people wonder how such evil could continue in the world for as long as it did. “The rewards of the slave trade overwhelmed any religious inhibitions that some of the traders and other beneficiaries might have had. 1 [Islam’s Black Slaves, p. 159] I will explain the delicacies of the trade agreements of the Yao, Kilwa-based Swahili Trade Lineage, and of the Zanzibari Indian Trading Lineage. After taking control of Kilwa in the mid-1780s, Oman transferred the bulk of the slave and ivory trade there. 2 [Islam’s Black Slaves, p. 146] The Swahili Trading Lineage of Kilwa were pleased, as it leveled the playing field and enabled trade to be profitable for everyone of the area.
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If you are wondering how these slaves could have put up with such harsh conditions, keep in mind that, though the traders poorly treated slaves, the slave-owners often treated them more humanely. The ones who were not killed in the travel of the trade were lucky to be alive and thus weakened at the thought of revolt. As for the traders, many of their negotiations were so binding that they could not go back on an agreement at any cost. Trading elite were normally more concerned with upholding status as businessmen and thus, carried out any horror in the name of honor.
The politics of the slave trade were very much like those of the 21st century, in the sense that some were at the tip of the pyramid, with those who were the middle and finally its base. Yao elite kept their honor and held their position on the ground level by providing for their people through trade. Their mercantile success also determined their power locally, as they were a matrilineal society. The Swahili Trading Lineage (A. K. A. the next level of the pyramid), who acquired their slaves from the Yao, were facing pressures from the Zanzibari Indian Traders, who were controlling more and more of their territory.
These Zanzibari, who were actually Bhattians based in Oman, were looking to prove their worth with the Omani by influencing more trade in the Kilwa region, thus moving up a notch on the pyramid. The Omani (the eye of the pyramid) had recently forced the Portuguese out of power over their area, allowing for more even trade for the Swahili Trading Lineage. All were trying to hold their ground against the exerting power of the Omani while remaining in good relations with those who benefited them.
The Yao headmen, who were having trouble keeping their slaves alive prior to the trade, had to make a decision as to where 50 additional slaves to be given to the Swahili Lineage would come from. They could have chosen to attack a neighboring village, which might have had devastating consequences. Second, they could have offered up criminals of local villages. This would run them the risk of upsetting powerful families and causing half of the headmen’s lives if expected profits were not realized.
Third, they had the option of sending Yao traders to the Portuguese for the extra slaves. This would have caused prices to increase by 50%, which would have affected their probability of providing the right amount of slaves. For the Kilwa-based Swahili Trading Lineage, their main concern was conducting an effective and honorable business transaction in order to promote a marriage alliance with the Zanzibari Indian Trading Lineage. This would counter the growing authority the Zanzibari had over the Kilwas and protect their status as elites.
In order to do so, they had to fairly treat the Yao traders while ensuring a profit of at least 10 slaves and a gift for the Zanzibari of at least 10 slaves as well. Possibly the most influential of the transaction were the Zanzibari Indian traders. They set the market prices and held the fate of the Kilwa-based lineage in their hands. For the trade, wealth was just as important as power for the few who conducted the human trade. Profits were estimated to be over 60 percent, substantially higher for anyone who simultaneously traded ivory. Traders were not inclined to let go of their influence at any cost. Those who stood in the way of a successful trade were eradicated or assimilated.