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The study of commodities and commodity chains in the Indian Ocean World enables students and teachers to see parallels with other world regions and other commodities. This chapter identifies commodities that dominated Indian Ocean trade over time, such as ivory, gold, cowry shells, horses, timber, pearls, cloves, opium, and tea. Whether animal, vegetable, or mineral, all required human processing to transform them into valuable commodities. The most important indigenous manufactured commodities traded across the Indian Ocean included glass beads, Chinese ceramics, and Indian textiles.

Human mobility within the Indian Ocean remains one of the most distinctive characteristics of this region, from its deep history to the present. Monsoon winds were only one of many factors that made mobility possible, and people moved for many reasons, like pilgrimage (such as the hajj), trade, and settlement. The experiences of people—Africans, Arabs, Chinese, Indians, Malays, and others—on the move across the Indian Ocean show the dynamics of diaspora histories, and also provide perspective on the populations among whom they lived and the colonies and states that tried to control them.

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