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The East African Ivory Trade in the Nineteenth Century


The East African ivory trade is an ancient one: East African ivory is soft ivory and is ideal for carving, and was always in great demand. It figures prominently in the earliest reference to trading activities on the East African Coast. But the great development came in the nineteenth century when an increased demand for ivory in America and Europe coincided with the opening up of East Africa by Arab traders and European explorers. The onslaught on the ivory resources of the interior took the form of a two-way thrust—from the north by the Egyptians who penetrated into the Sudan and Equatoria, and by the Arabs from the east coast of Africa. The establishment of European protectorates and a settled administration in the 1890s ended this exploitation.

During the nineteenth century ivory over-topped all rivals in trade value— even slaves. The uses of ivory were wide and novel—it played the same part in the nineteenth century as do plastics in the mid-twentieth—but it was always a much more expensive article.

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The Journal of African History
  • ISSN: 0021-8537
  • EISSN: 1469-5138
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-african-history
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