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Globalization before the globe: Regulation of intercontinental trade in southern Africa, ca. CE 700-1800


28 Jan 2008 12:30
Leacock Building : 855 rue Sherbrooke Ouest Montreal Quebec Canada , H3A 2T7
Ed Wilmsen, Dept of Anthropology, University of Texas, author of "Land Full of Flies: A Political Economy of the Kalahari" (U. of Chicago Press, 1989), a critique of Richard Lee's Kalahari project from archaeological, historical and ethnographic perspectives. Abstract: In this paper, I engage a social geography in order to map the processes by which intercontinental trade was regulated in interior southern Africa during the 8th-15th centuries. This region was at that time part of an early form of "globalization" encompassing the entire Indo-Pacific province as well as the Islamic caliphates of the eastern Mediterranean. There are no written records for or from this interior region until the beginning of the 16th century, when Portuguese captured the Swahili trading entrepôts on the east coast and began to penetrate into the interior. Other forms of evidence must be adduced to illuminate the social processes active in the interior in the centuries I am considering. Material artifacts are a prime source of evidence for this task, for, I contend, they have the same ontological status as words. Drawing on the works of Locke, Marx and Engels, Simmel and Veblen I argue that, marked by distinct intentions of their makers and users, material artifacts are potentially as comprehensible as verbal documents. With these premises set forth, I turn to the scope of early Indo-Pacific commodity exchange, then to an overview of the southern African landscape, and finally to episodes of origin mythology widespread in the region. From this I specify certain minimum components of a structure of rights to possession of things, rules governing who may inherit specific things, rules governing movement of these things, rules governing who may handle them, and rules governing processes of their valuation.
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