People consider trade as one among the human activities that enhanced cultural exchange during the sixteenth century. During this period, merchants embarked on trade missions that lasted months and years on either land or sea. The fact that the commodities involved in the trade were only available in some regions forced these merchants to travel or sail to different destinations in search of those commodities that were not available in their regions.
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Cultural values such as religious beliefs, art or aesthetic values, language, and even systems of government are among the cultural values that were exchanged during these trading missions (Sanders et al, 2006, p.69). This paper examines how trading activities during the sixteenth century enhanced the exchange of these values among people of different ethnicities who were involved in trade in the different trade routes that existed in the period.
Cultural aspects exchanged through trade during the sixteenth century
Some of the world’s famous religions benefitted immensely from the trading activities in the sixteenth century. Merchants spread their religious beliefs and practices along the route of their trade. For instance, Christianity and Islam experienced a substantial boost in the sixteenth century as traders introduced the religions to new people they encountered along their trade routes.
Arab traders from Asia who were engaged in trading activities in North Africa took advantage of the opportunity accorded to them by the trading activities to spread Islam in the region. As a result, even today most of the North African states are Islam states. Christianity and Buddhism also spread immensely to some African, European, American and Asian nations where the beliefs never existed before.
Art/ aesthetic values
Art and aesthetic values were also exchanged immensely during the trading activities of the sixteenth century. The medium of exchange of artistic and aesthetic values was in either written form or oral. The commodities of trade in some aspects inspired this exchange in cases where by traders sold their artifacts to others who fancied them.
In most cases, people considered cultures as superior to others that benefited most from this cultural exchange (Van Tielhof, 2002, p.112). The most civilized cultures passed their aesthetic values to other cultures who considered them as superior.
Just like the artistic and aesthetic values, languages that people considered superior to others were considerably exchanged. As a result, they spread tremendously during the trading activities of the sixteenth century. Languages such as English spread considerably during this period for a couple of reasons.
For instance, most traders found the English language as the best-suited language for business purposes, which made even non-English speakers struggle and muster the language. Second is the fact that the Bible was experiencing more translations into the English language, which made more and more people who had converted to Christianity desire to know the language (Clark, 1999, p.58). Finally, the language was hold with a high esteem, which made people who acquired it feel superior to others who did not.
There are instances where new languages were born because of the interactions that took place through the trading activities. These languages include the Swahili language in the eastern coast of Africa, which was born because of the interaction of the African Bantu communities and the Arab traders who stationed at the coast on their way to other trade destinations or even trading with the local communities.
The language comprises of a mixture of candid Arabic words and African words. Therefore, it eased the communication between the two diverse trading partners (Pirenne, 1987, p.30). Traders had overcome the language barrier and could now negotiate with each other with a common language. Other languages include Mandarin Chinese and the Creole language.
Another cultural aspect that experienced noticeable change during the sixteenth century is the government ideologies. During this historic period, states were desperate to discover what system of government was most effect to ensure that the states did not fall (Aksel, 1941, p.103).
As traders encountered each other during the various trades, they exchanged political values. Various systems that were considered more effective such as democracy were spread appreciably during this period. The traders from the regions that people considered more politically stable were at an advantage when it came to influencing others and passing their political ideologies on to them.
Major trade routes in the sixteenth century
Irrespective of the nature of the major commodities of trade that were involved in different trade routes in the sixteenth century, it can be argued that cultural values were more exchanged than the actual commodities. Sanders et al. (2006) argues that this is because a trader could fail to reach at an agreement with another and consequently fail to close a sales deal, but in the process of their interaction, the exchange of cultural values and ideas was inevitable (p.70).
The principal trade routes of the period in which cultural exchange is considered to have taken place substantially include the following; the trans- Saharan trade, the Trans –Atlantic slave trade, the spice routes, the monsoon trade, the Baltic trade and the Silk Road.
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Trans-Atlantic slave trade
The trans- Atlantic slave trade connected the Asian continent with North and West of Africa and Europe. The major commodities of this trade were minerals mostly gold from West Africa. Other things included ceramics and food commodities. The cultural exchange that was most experienced during this trade is the exchange of religious and political values (Clark, 1999, p.70).
The Islam culture was spread to most areas covered in this trade route by the Arab merchants from the Arab world. Most of the nations adopted the Islamic culture. They practice it up until to-date. Values associated to this religious culture replaced the other values that existed before this trade. Political values and aesthetic values were also exchanged in this trade.
Trans- Saharan trade
People consider the trans- Saharan trade, which connected the Eastern coast of the American continent with the western coast of Africa and Europe, as the most infamous trade that ever took place in the history of humanity (De Vries, 1976, p.12).
The major commodity of this trade was slaves who were forcibly removed from their cultures in Africa and taken to the Americas, Europe and the Caribbean to work in plantations and homes. The slaves were introduced to new cultural values, which they integrated with theirs as they settled down in strange lands (Sanders et al., 2006, p.39).
Religious values and other values that justified the slavery to the slaves in order to accept their conditions were instilled on them. In order to avoid more friction with the slaves and as an effort to get along smoothly with the slaves, masters and slave traders had to learn some cultural aspects of the slaves. This helped dissolve the hatred that had emerged between them. Traders also had to learn the languages of other traders that they were involved with in the course of their business (Clark, 1999, p.79).
For instance, in order to achieve this, the Creole language of West Africa, which necessitated the communication among traders and with slaves developed. This language is formed of words that are drawn from both the English language and the native West African languages. Another language that emerged during the time of this trade is Pidgin English, which is also formed by incorporating both English and some native West African languages (Clark, 1999, p.37).
The Silk Road
This trade route is considered the trade route that lasted for many centuries. Some people claim that the trade route exists even today. The trade route connects Asia, mostly China with the Indian sub-continent, Europe and Africa.
The major commodities of this trade included gold and other minerals as well as ceramics and artifacts. According to Pirenne (1987), this trade route is held responsible for the growth of and spread of the Buddhist faith even before the sixteenth century (p.47). Cultural values such as aesthetic values and social ideas were exchanged during the course of this trade.
The Indian Ocean trade
This trade connected the European continent with Asia, Africa, and the Indian sub continent. The major commodities of the trade involved ivory, minerals and at times slaves. This trade achieved its apex during the sixteenth century when the Suez Canal was created (Aksel, 1941, p.34).
This trade route necessitated the spread of the Islam culture and the birth of the Swahili culture. The eastern Africa coast, which was a significant trade zone and destination in this trade, experienced a lot of cultural integration, which further resulted into, inter- marriages.
The spice routes
The spice routes mostly originated from Asia and connected the region with others such as the north of Africa and Europe. These routes include the salt routes that transverse the entire European continent and Asia (Aksel, 1941, p.56). These trade routes served as platforms for traders to exchange ideas both inside and outside the business world.
Political, social and religious values were exchanged during this trade. People consider the cultural values to have been spread the most during this particular trade are the Buddhist religious values and the Buddhist culture (Bentley et al, 2008, p. 23). Aesthetic values, as well as languages, were also profoundly exchanged because of this trade. The Mandarin Chinese language was developed to necessitate communications during the trading activities.
For effective trading, the traders involved in the different trading activities during the sixteenth century had to ensure that they understood each other as much as they could. As a result, this enhanced cultural exchange, which helped to dissolve the differences that existed between them considering that they hailed from different places and held different cultural values.
The traders believed that if they shared similar beliefs with their counterparts in trade, they will easily negotiate and close deals without any problems that their differences could have brought upon them (Van Tielhof, 2002, p.35) Trade, therefore, served as an excellent platform for cultural exchange in the sixteenth century as people exchanged these values during their interactions.
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Bentley, J., Ziegler, H., & Streets, H. (2008). Traditions and encounters: A brief global history. New York: McGraw Hill.
Clark, S. (1999). Trade and Empire. London: Zed Books.
De Vries, J, (1976). The Economy of Europe in an Age of Crisis, 1600-1750. Journal of Economics, 34(4), 12.
Pirenne, H. (1987). The Place of trade in the Cultural History of Medieval Europe. Economic History Review, 2(1), 30-89.
Sanders, T., Nelson, S., Morillo, S., & Ellenberger, N. (2006). Encounters in world history: Sources and themes from the global post volume one: to 1500. New York: McGraw Hill.
Van Tielhof, M. (2002). The ‘Mother of all Trades’: The Baltic Grain Trade from the Late Sixteenth to the Early Nineteenth Century. Leiden: Brill.