The Great City of Calicut Located on the Malabar (southwestern) Coast of India was its port city of Calicut. Calicut, Kozhikode, was the capitol of a state which served as an important, if not the most important, state in the region in which it lay. Although Calicut lay on the coast, there was no place along its shore deep enough for ships to anchor. Still, as early as the fourteenth century, Calicut conducted a considerable amount of trade.
According to the primary sources of Ibn Battuta, Ma Huan, and an annonymous crew member of Vasco da Gama’ s, Calicut flourished as a center of trade because of their resources and trade systems, among other factors, making lasting impressions on these and other foreign visitors. In the account recorded in the Roteiro (Logbook), of Vasco da Gama’s anonymous crew member, various resources of Calicut were given. Calicut was a supplier and producer of several desired spices, including ginger, pepper, and the cinnamon-like spice, cassia.
By the fifteenth century, Calicut had established a system for cultivating pepper. Among spices that were brought to Calicut and traded with other countries were cloves from the island of Melqua and true cinnamon from Cillion. In addition to their natural resources, the people of Calicut created and sold silk. Once the silk was acquired from the silkworm, it was boiled, dyed, then weaved into kerchiefs. Not only was Calicut admired for their resources, but Calicut established trade regulations among foreign countries that was both respected and appreciated.
For example, Moroccan traveler-ambassador Ibn Battuta chronicled in his ribla (around 1356), book of travels, that when a ship wrecked along the Malabar Coast, all items from the ship were taken to the treasury. However, in Calicut, the owner of the wreckage was permitted to recollect his items. Merchants appreciated this, thus attracting further business. This policy was strategic of Calicut in that although they did not gain an immediate profit from the wrecked ships, long-term, trade efficiency increased, ultimately benefitting Calicut even more.
In Chinese Muslim Ma Huan’s book, The Overall Survey of the Ocean’s Shores, published in 1451, he gives a detailed description of Calicut’s trading process. Once a vessel arrived in Calicut, two chiefs were appointed to it to oversee transactions. The king of Calicut sends a chief, an accountant, and a broker to inspect the accountant books. After a date is chosen to fix prices, the price of each good brought to trade to Calicut is fixed, a description, much like a receipt, is given to both parties.
Next, the chief, the accountant, and the commander of the visiting ship all shake hands and agree to never retract or change the price fixed for the goods. Then the accountant and wealthy men bring riches to be assessed and priced. This process takes between one and three days. This description shows that because Calicut had such a high volume of trade, a system was developed and practiced to a “T” in order to maintain trade efficiency. This also assured that no one was cheated out of goods/money.
According to the accounts of the above travelers, the development of Calicut was aided in part by their natural resources and trading systems and regulations. Chief among other factors as to why Calicut was so significant is that it served as a trading route, allowing duties to be paid to the Sultan. However, during these times, the state of Calicut was in religious divide. The king and the people were Hindu, while the chiefs were Muslim. Although the two religions respected each other, this divide may have been seen as weakness among foreigners, which may have ultimately contributed to the decline of Calicut.
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