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The growth of trade among the Igbo before 18801

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2009

David Northrup
University of California, Los Angeles


The peoples of south-eastern Nigeria have been involved in trade for as long as there are any records. The archaeological sites at Igbo-Ukwu and other evidence reveal long distance trade in metal and beads, as well as regional trade in salt, cloth, and beads at an early date. The lower Niger River and its Delta featured prominently in this early trade, and evidence is offered to suggest a continuity in the basic modes of trade on the lower Niger from c. A.D. 1500 to the mid-nineteenth century. An attempt to sketch the basic economic institutions of the Igbo hinterland before the height of the slave trade stresses regional trading networks in salt, cloth, and metal, the use of currencies, and a nexus of religious and economic institutions and persons. It is argued that while the growth of the slave trade appears to have been handled without major changes in the overall patterns of trade along the lower Niger, in the Igbo hinterland a new marketing ‘grid’, dominated by the Arochuku traders, was created using the pre-existent regional trading networks and religious values as a base.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1972

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