Re: INFO REQUEST: Precontact Trade in the Americas

karl h schwerin (schwerin@UNM.EDU)
Wed, 17 Jan 1996 13:29:09 -0700

On Sun, 7 Jan 1996, RICHARD ROBBINS wrote:

> Date sent: 7-JAN-1996 21:51:30
> Could anyone recommend a good source on trade networks and markets in the
> Americas around 1400? I would like to explain to students the types of
> commodities and the trade and distribution mechanisms that existed prior to
> European contact. (I'll be comparing these with other parts of the world.)
> I forget whether or not these were discussed in Polanyi's Trade and Markets
> in the Early Empires.
> Thanks!
> Richard H. Robbins Bitnet: Robbinrh@snyplava.bitnet
> Department of Anthropology Internet:
> SUNY at Plattsburgh AOL:
> Plattsburgh, N.Y. 12901
> (518) 564-4006
The Orinoco Caribs ("my tribe") traded widely up and down the Orinoco by
canoe and probably out along the Caribbean coast as well. They seem to have
specialized in annatto, arrow poisons, perhaps bows and arrows as well.
Raleigh (Sir Walter) describes one Carib market at El Cari near the end
of the 16th century. By that time the Caribs were also trading indigenous
slaves to the Europeans for cloth, axes, firearms, beads, etc. They also
continued with annatto and got into tobacco (described by Gumilla (1733)
in a brief report to the Spanish crown in which he denounced both the
Caribs and the Dutch who were trading illicitly with them, as well as
encouraging their hostility to the Spanish. When the Spanish efforts to
suppress the trade became too strong, the Caribs developed an interior
trade route that followed a number of tributaries of the Orinoco through
the Guiana uplands, portaging between headwaters and eventually ending on
the Cuyuni, which empties into the Essequibo, thus effectively bypassing
the Spanish settlements and fortification on the lower Orinoco. Trade
along that route continued well into the 19th century. Humboldt also
comments on the Caribs' renown as far-ranging traders, calling them the
"Bukharians of equinoctial America.'

Karl Schwerin SnailMail: Dept. of Anthropology
Univ. of New Mexico Albuquerque, NM 87131

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