The Beginning

Traders and Discoverers

Before the sea was a viable mode of transportation, traders relied on pungent camels to carry their goods and traverse great distances.

It was a dangerous journey littered with bandits and a costly endeavour. Rulers could demand taxes and impose duties or obstruct passage. Bandits would expect much more without demand.

Camels are limited in size and strength and could not carry large goods and in great volumes.

The sea was the perfect alternative, and ship transportation is credited with size and volume. Ships were the natural choice and have linked the world with the initial purpose for trading.

Sadly, history exposed the greed of men and the desire to dominate others. Free and peaceful trade was thus rare as the control of the oceans and waterways is an unquenchable desire for many.

The Age of Discovery began with the Chinese with major exports like silk, ceramics, gold, silver and tin whilst importing medicines, pearls and agate. China also shared with the world its inventions of the compass, gunpowder, papermaking and printing.

Colonial Europeans quickly followed. They created a global network to Africa and Asia and traded with Arab and Indian merchants to make their food taste better. They then by-passed these middle-men to trade directly with the Indonesians, Filipinos and others.

Trade in silk and pottery involved sailing farther east to China. However, not satisfied with just commerce to make a handsome profit, domination was the real motive. It was not a difficult endeavour as the peaceful natives were easily manipulated. The earliest ‘record’ dates back to the 100s, whereby Ptolemy’s Geographike Huphesis spoke of a trading emporium at the southern tip of the Golden Chersonese which may be Singapore. There is also a record of a premium emporium dated 682 which is credited to Srivijaya in Palembang (Malacca Straits).

It was almost 400 years later when Malaya at Jambi succeeded Srivijaya. In 1127, under the Song Dynasty, maritime trade expanded rapidly and was said to be the catalyst that triggered the rapid growth of coastal cities and migration in the area. Chinese merchants voyaged to the South China seas to trade. It was much later that the Portuguese first set foot in Goa and then Malacca. They in turn set up strategic bases to control trade routes and expanded to other ports where their ships could reach. However, they were still crusading and lacked inclusiveness. The Dutch appeared with better-built vessels and weapons and soon became the dominant force in the East Indies. The British arrived late and ruled second to Dutch supremacy.