No community in the past or now was totally self-sufficient, and money enabled individuals to communicate with other communities. In reaction to unique social and political contexts, people used various forms of currency to mobilize resources. It moved along the trade routes which decreased risks, and developed alliances and friendships.
The abundant and near-universal evidence of exotic commodities transportation across varied locations inhabited by people who were independent of one another – from hunter-gatherers to pastoralists, farmers, and city dwellers – demonstrates the importance of currency as a unifying force. It’s as if there was a universal language that everyone could understand.
For example, the effective global trade through trade routes, Americans from the Early Formative Period, which lasted from 1450 to 500 B.C., utilized obsidian, mother-of-pearl shell, iron ore, and two types of pottery as currency to trade across the Americas. Between 700 and 1450 A.D., the Maritime Silk Road commerce joined Europeans, Asians, and Africans in a worldwide trade that was both revolutionary and essential.
In 2012, a person found a 600-year-old Chinese Yongle Tongbao coin at the ancient Kenyan trade port Manda in the Indian Ocean during his own excavation efforts. Chinese coins were little copper and silver disks with a hole in the center, allowing them to be worn on a belt. Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty minted this coin.
Nearly 80 years before Vasco da Gama arrived in India from Portugal, he was interested in politics and commerce missions to the areas beyond the South China Sea and dispatched Admiral Zheng He to explore those shores.
Archaeological finds like this one demonstrate Africa’s participation in Indian Ocean commercial connections and trade routes. They also offer indications of the emergence of market economies based on cash money at this time. Local merchants and rulers of the local Swahili followed Islam and maintained external contacts with other Indian Ocean traders throughout the East African coast.
They intended to make business transactions easier, and merchants from the Near East and South Asia already had their own Rolodexes of contacts. Coinage was not only a local activity, but also a means of leaving a calling card, a signature, and a symbolic representation of ties.
Currency’s impact is dual-edged, as history has shown: it permitted the flow of goods and services, migration, and settlement among strangers. It enriched some while hastening the development of socioeconomic and other divisions.
The present relationship between China and Africa, which is much more entangled and unequal than when Admiral Zheng was alive, follows the same trends(trade routes). He originally sent coins from China as a diplomatic gesture, a symbol of camaraderie across the chasm between the two countries.
Cash currency distinguishes the rich from the poor, the developed from the developing, and the global north from the emerging global south in today’s world. Money is both personal and impersonal, and the formalization of money as a measure of society’s well-being and sustainability is now related to global inequity. Even as cash evolves in the digital era, its purposes would be familiar to our ancestors.
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