From ancient times, just as caravans carried textiles overland across Eurasia, ships were busy ferrying cloth around the Indian Ocean on maritime routes. The past ten years have witnessed exciting new research into these maritime ‘textile roads,’ and the wide variety of cloths moving long distances through the ports of the Indian Ocean world. This talk will present key new findings, with a particular emphasis on eastern Africa -- from Ethiopia to Madagascar -- and its abiding desire for Indian silks and cottons above all.
The importance of the maritime ‘textile roads’ in stimulating international trade between the coastal cities of India with the nations of Europe has been well documented and appreciated. Less well known to western audiences is the long-standing trade in textiles and other items between the nations around the perimeter of the Indian ocean. There was an immense market for Indian painted chintz cotton cloths and other textiles in Indonesia, China, Japan and other east Asian countries. Still less well known is the important maritime trade in textiles in the western Indian ocean with the cities of eastern Africa.
Dr. Sarah Fee is senior curator of Global Fashion and Textiles at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, which is famous for its collections of Indian textiles. Dr. Fee has been involved with exhibitions and scholarly articles describing these exuberantly colored textiles and their cultural and economic importance. She edited Cloth that Changed the World: The Art and Fashion of Indian Chintz, and organized an exhibition with that title at the ROM in 2020. She was also an editor of “Textile Trades, Consumer Cultures, and the Material Worlds of the Indian Ocean”, and guest edited volume 48 of the Textile Museum Journal, dedicated to the ’Textile Arts of Global Africa’.
Dr. Fee will focus on the emerging story of maritime trade between eastern Africa and coastal India. After her presentation, she will take questions from the audience.