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Carving a Niche in the Oceanic World

M. Raisur Rahman

By Chhaya Goswami
Orient Blackswan, New Delhi, 2011, pp.xiv + 343, Rs. 725.00


Without seaborne activities, human existence is inconceivable. Oceans, seas, waterways, shipbuilding, banking, exploration, navigation and various other activities and sciences are just a few areas that we come to learn of through maritime history. At the core, this branch of knowledge is about entrepreneurial undertakings and seafaring communities. Intercoastal trade has facilitated exchange of commodities across the planet but equally important, if not more, have been the cultural, social and intellectual interchanges across communities otherwise divided by the oceanic immensity. One such community from India that has earned an unequalled name in this regard are the Kachchhis. The region of Kachchh in the Arabian Ocean and part of modern-day Gujarat has had a long history. Its extensive coastline and accessible ports linked it with regional trade, but more eminently with the larger Indian Ocean world. Kachchh has the distinction of being at the helm of the Indian Ocean trade, creating a network of sea-trade between eastern Africa, western India and the Red Sea. Kachchhis-the residents of this region-who made a niche for themselves in the oceanic world, are now synonymous with entrepreneurship, business acumen, and exceptional mercantile abilities. Despite being a distinctive community, the Kachchhis have largely fallen outside of academic purview except for a few works of ethnographic and anthropological concerns. Goswami's book thus addresses an important topic. The author claims to capture the maritime activities of Kachchh with the aim to contribute to a better understanding of the Kachchhi diaspora in the Indian Ocean world and how they integrated the regional economy to one of the largest economic networks of the world. The contribution of the Kachchhi entrepreneurs was not just in the sphere of trade and commerce but also in the cultural realm whereby interregional exchanges led to a fusion of cultures and the emergence of languages such as Swahili. This book however chooses to focus (and understandably so) on the trading facets of the Kachchhi traders and diaspora. By looking at Mandvi, the principal port of Kachchh, and its relationship with the port-cities of Muscat in the Arabian Peninsula and Zanzibar in East Africa, it seeks to understand port-towns as centers of economic stimulus and assesses them as sites of business enterprise. The Call of the Sea, as obvious, uses Kachchh and the Kachchhis as springboards to explore the dynamics of trade in a triangular network. The very first chapter provides a general background of the ...

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