Book Review: Thomas F. McDow. Buying Time: Debt and Mobility in the Western Indian Ocean. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2018.

Musa Sadock

Abstract


Thomas F. McDow. Buying Time: Debt and Mobility in the Western Indian Ocean. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2018. Pp. xii+364, paperback ISBN: 9780821422823

The study of the connection of East African coast, the Middle East and India through the Indian Ocean has been attracting great interests from scholars for centuries. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea writings in the 1st century A.D documented the connection so did Ibn Batuta and Portuguese voyage writings in the 14th, and 15th to 17th centuries respectively.  Thomas McDow`s book, Buying Time: Debt and Mobility in the Western Indian Ocean (henceforth Buying Time), fits in this Indian Ocean scholarship.

Buying Time is a social history book on the 19th century interconnection through the Indian Ocean of the Western Indian Ocean World -Arabia, Zanzibar, East Africa coast and Central Africa (Congo).  The author argues that the people of the region used mobility, debt, credit, time, kinship and environment to temporalize their lives.[1] Temporalization simply means strategies that individuals used to cope with the challenges of their lives.  Individuals who are the centre of the work include immigrants from Oman to Zanzibar, East African coast and Congo, freed slaves who traded in ivory, sultans, Swahili elites, traders, Indians, Indo-Africans, African porters, Arab confectioners (halwa makers), and Arab princesses. The individuals in question  needed time, which in this book has many meanings including the period a debtor was given in  a given  contract to  repay his or her debt, the period  Omani Arabs bought during share auctioning  to use water for irrigation from owners of irrigation channels-aflaj, the period that  elapsed when contracts were signed in Zanzibar in the 1840s, 1860s and 1870s and when they were registered by the British in the 1880s, and the appropriate  period adopted by  politicians to negotiate, ally, or rebel against a given leader.[2]  The pre-colonial 19th century, which is the period of focus of the book, was marked by the British imperial hegemony in Zanzibar, India, and the Middle East (Oman), and the intensification of the caravan trade that was connected to the global economy with Zanzibar as its node.


[1] Thomas F. McDow. Buying Time: Debt and Mobility in the Western Indian Ocean (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2018), pp. 8-9.

[2] Ibid., p.215.


Keywords


Zanzibar, debt, mobility

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