The nyamwezi occupied central Tanzania, parts of Rwanda, Burundi and Congo Zaire. They started as cattle keepers, cultivators and fishermen.
Towards the end of the the 19th century, all the above activities activities became less important as the
Nyamwezi got involved in trade .
Perhaps their first contribution to Long distance trade was of being the first people to move to the coast in a caravan around 1830.
This event is still remembered in their traditions. They organized trade caravans to the coast carrying goods like copper, wax, iron, salt, slaves etc.
The caravans stayed at the coast trading until the next dry season
The Nyamwezi offered market for goods from the coast. They always returned from the coast with goods like guns, cloth, beads etc .
They gained the reputation of being the main suppliers of caravan porters and organizers in the 19th century. This endeared them to the coastal Zanzibaris who hired them to carry their goods, thus stimulating the trade.
They controlled the biggest and busiest route (the Central route) and travelled up to Bunyoro, Buganda, Congo -Zaire (Katanga) looking for goods.
They supplied trade items like copper, ivory, slaves and animal skins and from the coastal
Arabs they obtained clothes, beads, guns etc.
They acted as guides directing trade -in the interior. They knew almost the whole interior of East Africa, through their long distance travelling.
They carried out raids on the neighbours and sold their victims to the Ar-abs. With the introduction of the gun, the Nyamwezi slave raids increased
Tabora became their irnportant trading center from which they moved westwards to
Ujiji and northwards to Buganda.
At trading centres like Ujiji and Tabora, the Nyamwezi supplied foodstuffs, beverages and provided lodging facilities to the coastal traders who ventured into the interior.
They also acted as middlemen and supplied the coastal people with salt from Vinza, Iron from Usangi and copper from Katanga.
The Nyamwezi on top of acting as middlemen linking the coastal traders to the interior tribes
convinced other interior tribes to join the trade.
They also acted as translators and interpreters in bargaining. This was possible because some of them had learnt Kiswahili through their early contacts with the coast.
They provided security to the coastal merchants. Sayyid Said for example, signed a treaty with Chief Fundikira allowing the coastal traders free passage.
Some of the Nyarnwezi rulers became very rich because of this trade for example Mirambo and Nyungu ya Mawe, were able to build large commercial empires based on the gains trade.
In the late 19th century, the Nyamwezi were out competed by the Swahili and as a result lost their middleman position in the trade
The Decline of trade among the Nyam.wezi
Although the Nyamwezi were very active traders, towards the end of me 19th oentury they lost their prominent position in me trade. This was due to;
The Arabs penetrated the interior, set up trading posts like at Ujiji and T abora and started directly with the interior tribes. This broke the Nyamwezi monopoly in the trade.
The Ngoni invasion disrupted the trade. The Tuta group that emerged after the death of Zwangendaba disrupted trade along the Central trade route, between Ujiji and Tabora. This weakened the Nyamwezi position in the trade.
The deaths of Mirambo and Nyungu ya Mawe weakened the Nyamwezi further. Their successors lacked the ability to organize against the Arabs whose numbers were increasing steadily in interior.
The emergence of other tribes with equally good abilities to organize caravans was also an economic blow to the Nyamwezi. For example, the Yao, Kamba, Baganda, Banyoro who previously relied on the Nyarnwezi for goods, started dealing directly with Arabs.
The strained relations between the Nyamwezi and the Arabs also reduced the volume of trade. Mirambo decided to fight the Arabs, after they had refused to pay transit fees and homage to him. This made the area unsafe and therefore reduced the number of Arabs entering the area.
Some trade items became scarce. Elephants had been hunted down, slaves were also had to get. Therefore, raids had to be organized by the Arabs other than relying on the mercy of the interior chiefs.
(b) The Akamba
Originally, the Kamba practiced farming especially in the drier areas and In the west of Ukambani. Others obtained a living from hunting in the least fertile areas.
Since they occupied a dry area and as such lived a semi nomadic life. Because of the poor soils, the Kamb..a resorted to trade. By the 1330's they had started connecting to the coast.
By 1850, the Kamba had established themselves as the most active Long distance traders In the whole of what is modern Kenya.
They started by trading with their neighbours like the Nyika, who had denied them access to the coast and other tribes like the Kikuyu, Embu and Sambura.
More trading activities took place over a wide area with people like the Chagga, Shambala, Segeju Digo, Laikipia Maasai and Kikuyu.
With the development of the Long distance trade, they became very active slave traders and hunted elephants for ivory.
By the middle of the 19th century, their caravans reached the coast carrying Items like tobacco, Rhinoceros horns, ivory, honey, and wax .
They controlled the northern route running from Pangani to Taita up to western shores of lake Victoria and their major outlets were Mombasa and Pangani.
They were skilled in iron - working. Iron ore was washed from streams and skilled smiths and craftsmen made various items such as ornaments like chains, poisoned arrow heads, spears etc.
By 1850, some Kamba had opened up bases outside Akambaland, to supply goods to Zanzibar. They also supplied foodstuffs to the passing caravans.
They acted as middlemen between the coastal people and the interior tribes.
The Kamba with their middleman position on the northern route provided relevant information regarding the demands of the different parties involved in the trade:
They also provided security to trade caravans crossing the Nyika region.
The Kamba greatly benefited from the trade. Kivoi for example, built a big commercial empire between mounts Kenya and Kilimanjaro using the wealth generated from the trade.
However, in the late 19th century opposition to hunting and trading parties
grew and in the confusion Kivoi was killed near mountain Kenya
Similarly, some areas seem to have given up genuine commercial activities for banditry like Kilungu.
However, by 1870, the Kamba had lost monopoly of this trade, because people wanted to trade directly with the coastal merchants and secondly, the Arabs had started organizing caravans into the interior.
(c) The Yao
The Yao are found in Southern Tanzania and originally lived around Lake Malawi.
They got connected to the coastal traders through long distance travelling and are among the earliest participants in this trade.
The love of travel among the Yao led to increase in the volume of the trade
Originally, they were agriculturists, skilled in iron - working and made iron hoes, spear, and arrow for their own use.
However, by the 19th century the Yao started moving around exchanging iron products, food, ivory and skins with their neighbours.
They were among the first people to develop trade relations with the neighbours.
With the development of Long distance trade around the 19th century, the Yao exploited this opportunity and started exchanging these items with the Arabs for cloths, beads, glassware and guns.
As a result of the violent disruption that followed the Ngoni invasion, the Yao after being raided several times also decided to start raiding others for slaves.
As the demand for slaves increased at the coast especially at Kilwa, the Yao became chief suppliers of slaves on top of ivory and iron implements
In the early years of the 19th century, slaves were acquired by trade but later force was applied by their chiefs especially Mutaka I
Under powerful chiefs like Mpanda and Mutaka I, trade along the Southern route
remained mainly in the hands of the Yao.
After sale and disposal of slaves at the coast, porters were paid off and fresh caravans organized.
They served as middlemen connecting the interior tribes around Lake Malawi to the coastal merchants
and provided information about the demand of goods to traders.
Many of them had embraced Islam through their contacts with the coastal Arabs. This helped them in establishing good trading relations with the Muslim Arabs at the coast.
They served as porters, hired by the coastal traders. They were good at travelling long distances and had a belief that a man who knows foreign land is worth knowing .
Those who had learnt Swahili acted as interpreters and translators in bargaining, between the coastal traders and the interior tribes .
They also supplied foodstuffs and beverages to the passing caravans and provided lodging facilities.
However, with the abolition of slave trade, the Yao volume of trade decreased. Problems Faced in the Long Distance Trade
First and fore most, the distances involved in this trade were too long. Most of these journeys had to be covered on foot and goods carried on the head (head porterage).
The heavy taxes imposed on the coastal merchants by the interior chiefs also proved a problem. Mirambo, a Nyamwezi chief insisted on homage and tribute from the Arabs, when they refused he fought them, Nyungu ya Mawe also heavily taxed them, making the trade almost unprofitable.
Trade misunderstandings between the Arabs and interior chiefs always degenerated into political problems. Mwana Sele, a Nyamwezi chief who had allowed Arabs into his area later turned against and fought them for five years. Chief Fundikira conflicted with the Tabora merchants. Mirambo also fought the Arabs. This made the trade unsafe.
The high interest rates charged on the coastal merchants by the Indian Banyans who provided them with capital made the trade unprofitable.
Tropical diseases like Malaria, tsetse flies claimed many traders and the slaves, yet the latter were needed to carry goods to the coast.
Wild animals like lions used to attack the traders along the way to the coast. It was not until the guns were introduced that journeys to and from "the interior became safe
The Indian Banyans (Moneylenders) who had confined themselves at the coast, at times lost their money because the traders they had lent money were either killed in the interior or jumped payment.
With the introduction of the gun, slave raids, warfare and the hunt for elephants intensified, making the interior unsafe and thus, discouraged many new traders.
Communication was also a big problem. Only a few people in the interior knew and understood Swahili. Negotiations in business were therefore difficult.
Hostile tribes like the Maasai also made the trade difficult. They always attacked the traders who tried to operate in their area. .
The scary and impassable forests in the interior also slowed down the movements of traders.
The invasion of the Ngoni also disrupted the trade. The Tuta Ngoni disrupted trade between Ujiji and Tabora as they attacked and looted the caravan traders.
The climate of East Africa especially during the rainy season was not favourable for the trade most especially the movement of slaves.
The exhaustion of some goods in the immediate interior like elephants for ivory, forced the traders to move further into the unsafe interior.
The coming of the missionaries and the subsequent colonization of East Africa led to the collapse of the trade. The Missionaries attacked and condemned slave trade, a major component of this trade as inhuman and evil.
Effects of the Long Distance Trade
The trade had far - reaching political, economic and social effects on the peoples of East Africa, some of these were positive and others negative.
It led to the formation and expansion of states in East Africa like Buganda. Mirambo and Nyungu ya Mawe for example built powerful commercial empires because they had accessed the guns.
It led to the rise of strong statesmen like Mirambo, Kivoi, Nyungu ya Mawe, Msiri etc. It enabled them to impose their authority and influence because they had acquired the gun, which had become the source of economic and political power.
Some rulers expanded their territories in order to gain control of certain trade routes, market places and places of production e.g. Kabalega expanded southward to Katwe to control the salt deposits there.
The trade led to the prominence of the Nyarnwezi, Kamba and Yao. These exhibited high commercial skills in organizing raids and caravans to the coast. The wealth generated from the trade enabled them to enjoy a high standard of living.
Many people became rich in the interior especially the chiefs and rulers. Communities and individuals that were involved in the trade generated a lot of wealth from it that enabled them to enjoy high standards of living, for example the Nyamwezi.
The rise of some states also led to the decline of others especially those that had no access to the guns . For example, the rise of Buganda weakened her traditional rival - Bunyoro. The rise of Msiri’s empire weakened Kazernbe's empire of Lubaluba.
The Introduction of the gun, increased warfare, tribal quarrels and slave raids in the interior for example, by 1893, the Nyamwezi alone had 2000 guns.
Slave raids in the interior caused tension in villages. Homesteads were desolated, crops cut down and people displaced. This resulted in social unrest and suffering.
There was much devastation and destruction of property and crops as a result of the slave raids and the intertribal wars in the interior. _.
Captured slaves were badly treated during their transportation' to the coast. They were whipped and not given enough food. The trade had eroded protection offered by society.
The trade led to me decline of agriculture. The constant slave raids made cultivation difficult, resulting into a wide - spread hunger and famine in the interior.
To a lesser extent, the trade stimulated the growth of some crops like rice, maize, green pepper and wheat in order to feed the passing caravans. Plantations were set up in Zaire, Tabora and Zanzibar.
The Long distance caravan routes later developed into proper communication lines (roads and railway
-s). This eased European penetration into the interior.
There was heavy depopulation in the interior. Because of the massive Slave raids carried out, many villages were left bare and desolate especially in Southern Tanzania.
The introduction of the gun almost depleted wild life especially the elephant population in Unyamwezi due to the need for ivory .
The trade stimulated the growth and development of towns along the trade routes. Towns like Tabora, and Bagamoyo all grew because of trade. For example, by 1860, Tabora had developed into a serious town. Many of these towns are still there up to today.
It opened East Africa to the outside world. Many outsiders knew the East African people and commerce through this trade, hence the coming of the missionaries and later the colonialists.
It led to the colonization of East Africa. The colonialists used the caravan routes to penetrate the interior. Whites also used the pretext of stopping slave trade to colonize us.
The trade led to the decline of traditional skills and industrial structures, The iron - working, pottery and bark cloth making industries were all rendered useless and unprofitable. Their products like bark were replaced by foreign cloths and spears by guns.
It offered an alternative livelihood to the Kamba whose farming activities were affected by drought and soils.
Because of the Arab penetration into the interior, many tribes like the Nyarnwezi, Yao and Kamba lost middleman position to the Arabs who wanted to deal directly with the interior tribes. This was an economic blow to these societies.
Protection offered by society was eroded and confidence in traditional rulers lost, as they could not provide security against the Slave traders.
The trade depleted the resources of East Africa. Elephants were bunted down and young men taken. These were exchanged for simple and worthless items like mirrors and old clothes.
It led to the spread of Islam in the interior mainly through intermarriages and assimilation in the trading centers and towns inland. Some Nyarnwezi, Yao, Baganda and Karnba by 1844 had become Muslims.
Some traders moved from the interior to the coast and lost their traditional customs in favour of those they found at the coast. A clear example is of the Nyamwezi.
There was deculturisation and detribalization as people were displaced due to the persistent slave raids and wars. For example, the Bisa and Cema were displaced by the Yao.
It led to the emergency of social misfits like the Ruga - Ruga, who wreaked havoc hence causing un told suffering.
The Swahili culture and language spread in the interior. The Swahili language spread because it was used in the trade. Swahili is now 4 national language of Kenya and Tanzania.
Those who moved to towns also adopted Arabic culture (dressing, eating habits, and sitting) architecture and designs in the interior.
New commodities were introduced in the interior. These included spices, glassware, beads, bangles, clothes, pans, fire arms, glass, rice, beakers and clay products. Africans in the interior were' able to enjoy foreign goods for the first time.
The trade led to the introduction of cowrie shells and later coins in order to facilitate business transactions. This saved people from the dangers of barter trading.
There were intermarriages between the coastal traders and the interior people giving rise to the Swahili race and culture.
With the decline of Long distance trade, societies like the Yao, who had solely relied on it as a source of their livelihood, found it hard to adopt a new life.
The Decline of Long Distance Trade in East Africa
Trade in East Africa declined towards the end of the 19th century and this was due to,
The death of prominent leaders like Mirambo, Nyungu ya Mawe and Muteesa I in 1884 (they all died in the same year). These had been great trade organizers on top exposing their people to trade opportunities with the coastal traders.
Scarcity and exhaustion of some trade items made the trade collapse. For example ivory became scarce after almost all the elephants had been hunted down .
The industrial revolution made the acquisition of slaves useless since machines had replaced human labour. This meant that slaves (a major trade item) had lost market.
The coming of the Christian missionaries and their persistent anti - slave campaigns (they called it inhuman and evil) made the trade collapse.
The abolition of Slave trade (slaves were the most profitable item), left the traders with no other worth investing in.
The colonization East Africa finally ended Slave trade. One of the cardinal reasons for European occupation of East Africa was to end this trade.
The construction of the railway line made slaves useless - they were no longer needed to transport goods now that there was a faster and cheaper means of transport.
The insecurity and chaos created by the Ruga - Ruga and Maviti bandits, scared traders from into the interior.
The introduction of Legitimate trade (trade in natural products like coffee and cotton) provided an alternative to Slave trade .
The introduction and acquisition of guns by the majority of the interior tribes enabled them to
organize and defend themselves against the Slave traders.
There was stiff competition among the trading communities because they all produced the same
commodities gradually killed the trade. For example, the Nyamwezi, Kamba and Yao all produced slaves hence the lack of market.
The inter - tribal wars in the interior diverted people's attention from trade and made the interior insecure for in - coming traders.
Some societies prevented others from participating in the trade. For example, the Nyika could not allow the Akarnba to pass through their territory.
The heavy taxes imposed on the coastal merchants by the interior chiefs also proved a problem. Nyungu ya Mawe (a Nyamwezi chief) heavily taxed the Arabs making the trade almost unprofitable.
The Ngoni invasion also disrupted the trade and made it collapse. The Tuta group that emerged after the death of Zwangendaba disrupted trade along the central route (between Ujiji and Tabora).
Communication was also a big problem. Only a few people in the interior knew and understood Swahili, Negotiations in business were therefore difficult.
Hostile tribes like the Maasai also made the trade difficult. They always attacked the traders who tried to operate in their area
Tropical diseases like Malaria, tsetse flies claimed many traders and the slaves, yet the latter were needed to carry goods to the coast .
Wild animals like lions used to attack the traders along the way to the coast. It was not until the guns were introduced that journeys to and from the" interior became safe
The Indian Banyans (Moneylenders) who had confined themselves at the coast, at times lost their money because the traders they had lent money were either killed in the interior or jumped payment.
Arabs interfered in the political affairs of some states forcing chiefs to turn against them. Mwana Sele, a Nyamwezi chief who had allowed Arabs into his area later turned against them and fought them for five years. Chief Fundikira conflicted with the Tabora merchants. Mirambo also fought the Arabs. This made the trade collapse.