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Sulaiman the Merchant (851) &

Abu Zaid al Hassan(916) from Siraf  

Silsilat-al-Tawarikh (Chain of Histories)

Taken from : Voyage du marchand arabe Sulayman en Inde et en Chine, redige en 851, suivi de remarques par Abu Zayd Hasan (vers 916) (1922)

826 CE: date written on this bowl on an Arab / Persian ship which sank off Belitung island Indonesia. The cargo was entirely from China. The ship was of Middle Eastern construction, made of East African and Indian wood.



From Sulaiman the Merchant (851)


Import in China include: ivory, incense, ingots of copper, shells and sea turtles and the busan that we have described and which is not other than Rhino horn with which the Chinese make [the ornamented] belts.


From Abu Zaid al Hassan (961)


Is also part of the possessions of Maharaja, the maritime country of Kalah (Kra or on the east coast of the Malay Peninsula) which is located halfway between China and Arabia. The land area of Kalah is said to be 80 parasangs [square]. The city of Kalah is the market where trade is centralized in aloe, camphor, sandalwood, ivory, tin, ebony, Brazil wood, all spices and herbs and other products of which including details would be too long. It is in this port that currently vessels of Oman arrive and it is from this port that the ships depart to Oman. 


A man who came from Khorasan in Iraq had bought a lot of goods and all was shipped to China. He was extremely stingy. The eunuch whom the king had sent to Hanfu - Hanfu is the city where Arab traders go to - and the merchant from Khorasan did not agree with the part of the imported sea merchandise that the king had requested. This eunuch was one of the most important royal officials; it was he who was in charge of the treasures and riches of the King. The disagreement between the eunuch and the merchant happened about a purchase of ivory and other goods; he refused to sell if he did not raise the price offered. The eunuch ordered to remove [by force] what was best in the goods of the merchant, with disregard of [the protests of the owner].


Man of Oman used to sail to the islands that produce the coconut trees, carrying with them carpenter's and such like tools, and having felt as much wood as they want, they let it dry, then strip off the leaves, and with the bark of the tree they spin a yam, wherewith they sew the planks together, and so built a ship. Of the same wood, they cut and round away a mast; wove the leaves into sails, and the bark they make into cordage (barabat) and loading the finished ship with coconuts returned home to marked them. This business is very lucrative because all that has been collected one has been able to do it himself without anybody's help.


Note: this paragraph seems to have nothing to do with east Africa, but has some value when put together with Al Biruni's remarks about the people of the Maldives. It gives testimony of people living on the shores and the islands of the ocean moving freely around, settling semi-permanent in several places. See note on the next page.

The land of the Zang
The land of the Zanj is vast. The plants that grow there, such as dura (sorghum) which is the foundation of their diet , sugar cane and others, are all black in color.
(this you find repeated by Al-Idrisi)
The Zandj have several kings at war with each other. The kings have at their service people known as Almokhazza moun (or mubazzamun), the ones with the pierced nose. A bone has been put in their nose and on that are attached chains. At war, these people march at the head of the warriors, there is for each of them somebody who holds the chain keeping them from going to fast. Negotiators discuss between the two parties. If agreement is reached they all leave. If not, the chain is rolled around the neck of the warrior, he is left on his own, nobody leaves his place, all are killed at their spot.  The Arabs exercise a great ascendancy over them, mixed with fear. When a man of this nation sees an Arab, he prostrates himself before him. He says here a man from the land where the date tree is growing. This shows how much they appreciate the date and what their feelings are towards the Arabs.  Dates and figs were used as lures to kidnap both adults and children who adore the Arabs for providing such delicacies (this you also find repeated by Al-Idrisi).  Religious speeches (butha) are made in front of these people.(butha really means the homilies on Friday towards the orthodox caliph) You can't find anywhere so many fortune-tellers then there are with these people in this language. The holy men of this country dress themselves with panther hides or monkey skins they hold a stick in the hand and when they approach houses, the people gather immediately. The holly man sometimes stays the whole day, till the evening, standing on his legs, preaching and remembering them about God. He gives examples of those among them that are dead, and what had happened to them. From this country is exported the Zendj-panther, of which the skin, a mix of red and white, is very big.
The same sea you have around Socothora, where grows the aloes of Socotra. This island is very close to the land of the Zendj as well as to the Arabs.
Most of its people are Christians.
The pieces that are found on the coasts of this sea (of India) are thrown there by the waves. One finds the amber in the sea of India, but no one knows where it comes from. One only knows that the best Amber is the one found at Berbera and up to the ends of the land of the Zang, and also at Sihr and its surroundings. That amber has the shape of an ostrich egg and is gray. The people of that region go to find it, riding on camels during the moon-lit nights; they follow the coasts. They ride camels who are trained for that and who know how to look for amber on the coast. When the camel finds a piece of amber, it kneels down and its owner goes to collect it. One also finds pieces of amber floating on the water of a considerable weight. Sometimes those pieces are really big. When the fish called tal sees this piece, he eats it, but when the amber arrives in the stomach of the fish, he dies and floats on the water. There are people who look for that, with boats, and who know the times when the fish eats the amber. When they find a fish floating they pull him to the shore with iron harpoons put in the back of the fish, and with solid ropes. Then he is cut open and the amber taken out. The amber close to the belly of the fish is the mand and smells badly. One can find the bones of the fish in the drug stores of Baghdad and Basra. The pieces of amber who did not get the bad smell in the belly of the whale is extremely pure….