Tropical Africa and Asia, 1200–1500
I0. Tropical Lands and Peoples
A0. The Tropical Environment
10. The tropical zone falls between the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the Tropic
of Capricorn in the south. The Afro-Asian tropics have a cycle of rainy and dry
seasons dictated by the alternating winds known as monsoons.
20. While those parts of the tropics such as coastal West Africa, west-central Africa,
and southern India get abundant rainfall, there is also an arid zone extending
across northern Africa (the Sahara) and northwest India, and another arid zone in
southwestern Africa. Altitude also affects climate, with high-altitude mountain
ranges and plateaus having cooler weather and shorter growing seasons than the
low-altitude coastal plains and river valleys. Major rivers bring water from these
mountains to other areas.
B0. Human Ecosystems
10. Human societies adopted different means of surviving in order to fit into the
different ecological zones found in the tropics. In areas such as central Africa,
the upper altitudes of the Himalayas, and some seacoasts, wild food and fish was
so abundant that human societies thrived without having developed agricultural
or herding economies.
20. Human communities in the arid areas of the tropics relied on herding and
supplemented their diets with grain and vegetables obtained through trade with
settled agriculturalists. The vast majority of the people of the tropics were
farmers who cultivated various crops (rice, wheat, sorghum millet, etc.)
depending on the conditions of soil, climate, and water.
30. In those parts of South and Southeast Asia that had ample water supplies,
intensive agriculture transformed the environment and supported dense
populations. In most parts of sub-Saharan Africa and many parts of Southeast
Asia, farmers abandoned their fields every few years and cleared new areas by
cutting and burning the natural vegetation.
40. The tropics have an uneven distribution of rainfall during the year. In order to
have year-round access to water for intensive agriculture, tropical farming
societies constructed dams, irrigation canals, and reservoirs.
50. In India, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka, governments mobilized vast resources to
construct and maintain large irrigation and water-control projects. Such huge
projects increased production, but they were highly vulnerable to natural
disasters and political disruptions. In contrast, the smaller irrigation systems
constructed at the village level were easier to reconstruct and provided greater
C0. Mineral Resources
10. Tropical peoples used iron for agricultural implements, weapons, and needles.
Copper, particularly important in Africa, was used to make wire and decorative
objects. Africa was also known for its production of gold.
20. Metalworking and food-producing systems mobilized the labor of ordinary
people in order to produce surpluses that in places supported powerful states and profitable commercial systems. Neither of those elite enterprises would have
been possible without the work of ordinary people.
II0. New Islamic Empires
A0. Mali in the Western Sudan
10. Islam spread to sub-Saharan Africa by a gradual process of peaceful conversion.
Conversion was facilitated by commercial contacts.
20. In 1240 Sundiata (the Muslim leader of the Malinke people) established the
kingdom of Mali. Mali’s economy rested on agriculture and was supplemented
by control of regional and trans-Saharan trading routes and by control of the gold
mines of the Niger headwaters.
30. The Mali ruler Mansa Kankan Musa (r. 1312–1337) demonstrated his fabulous
wealth during a pilgrimage to Mecca. When he returned to Mali, Mansa Musa
established new mosques and Quranic schools.
40. The kingdom of Mali declined and collapsed in the mid to late fifteenth century
because of rebellions from within and attacks from without. Intellectual life and
trade moved to other African states, including the Hausa states and Kanem-
B0. The Delhi Sultanate in India
10. Between 1206 and 1236 the divided states of northwest India were defeated by
violent Muslim Turkish conquerors under the leadership of Sultan Iltutmish, who
established the Delhi Sultanate as a Muslim state. Although the Muslim elite
then settled down to rule India relatively peacefully, their Hindu subjects never
forgave the violence of the conquest.
20. Iltutmish passed his throne on to his daughter, Raziya. Raziya was a talented
ruler, but she was driven from office by men unwilling to accept a female
monarch. Under Ala-ud-din (r. 1296–1316) and Muhammad ibn Tughluq (r.
1325–1351), the Delhi Sultanate carried out a policy of aggressive territorial
expansion that was accompanied (in the case of Tughluq) by a policy of religious
toleration toward Hindus—a policy that was reversed by Tughluq’s successor.
30. In general, the Delhi sultans ruled by terror and were a burden on their subjects.
In the mid-fourteenth century internal rivalries and external threats undermined
the stability of the Sultanate. The Sultanate was destroyed when Timur sacked
Delhi in 1398.
III0. Indian Ocean Trade
A0. Monsoon Mariners
10. The Indian Ocean trade increased between 1200 and 1500, stimulated by the
prosperity of Latin Europe, Asian, and African states and, in the fourteenth
century, by the collapse of the overland trade routes.
20. In the Red and Arabian Seas, trade was carried on dhows. From India on to
Southeast Asia, junks dominated the trade routes.
30. Junks were technologically advanced vessels, having watertight compartments,
up to twelve sails, and carrying cargoes of up to 1,000 tons. Junks were
developed in China, but during the fifteenth century, junks were also built in
Bengal and Southeast Asia and sailed with cre