Arming the Periphery: The Arms Trade in the Indian Ocean by Emrys Chew (auth.)

By Emrys Chew (auth.)

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99 Notwithstanding the advent of steamships, traditional sailing vessels such as dhows and prahus would continue to ply the 40 Arming the Periphery routes between port-cities, complementing the caravan trade that operated further inland. Together they facilitated, by time-honoured yet innovative methods, the movement of arms consignments from the fluid frontiers of coastal areas through the porous borders of the hinterland. A nineteenth-century triangular trade in guns, slaves, and ivory would redefine the political economy of the western Indian Ocean.

88 From the 1780s, arms procurement and production on the subcontinent would rise to fever pitch. 89 Arms and ammunition had already figured prominently among the stock-intrade bartered to petty rajas for spices, but the stakes were raised when great magnates like Mahadji Scindia and the Nizam of Hyderabad were drawn into this volatile military market. In 1784, the submission of the Mughal emperor to the ‘protection’ of Mahadji Scindia, the greatest of Maratha warlords, following a brief rearguard action in defence of the heartland of Delhi, signified a watershed in the devolution of political power to the Mughal successor states.

44 In terms of military diffusion, it led to the forging of new patterns of international trade and politics; the world would experience the consequences of the adoption of the new weaponry by European armies and the ‘dumping’ of outmoded firearms in Africa and Asia, in particular the critical role played by all these weapons in establishing colonial authority and empowering indigenous resistance. In that respect, the burgeoning arms trade emerged not only from the matrix of an industrial Prometheus unbound, but also from the wings of an imperial Juggernaut.

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