Silent trade

Silent trade

The Silent trade, also called the dumb barter, or depot trade, is a method by which people with no common language could barter goods. Group A would leave trade goods in a prominent position and signal, by gong, fire, or drum for example, that they had left goods. Group B would then arrive at the spot, examine the goods and deposit their trade goods that they wanted to exchange and withdraw. Group A would then return and either accept the trade by taking the goods from Group B or withdraw again leaving Group B to add to or change out items to create an equal value. The trade ends when Group A accepts Group B's offer and removes the offered goods leaving Group B to remove the original goods.

The practice was certainly well established between tribes in Africa in their trade with India. Cosmas Indicopleustes describes this practiced in Azania, where officials from Axum bartered for gold with beef 1. Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal recorded this practice when he occupied Ceuta in 1415.

Also in West Africa, gold mined south of the Sahel was traded, pound for pound, for salt mined in the desert. The salt from the desert was needed by the people of Sahel to flavor and preserve their food and the gold had obvious value, especially in trading with the European people. Because of this trade, cities grew and flourished and parts of West Africa became commercial centers. West Africa produced large amounts of gold until about 1500 AD. The communication in this gold-for-salt was carried out using drums.


1. Cited in J. Innes Miller, The Spice Trade of the Roman Empire (Oxford: University Press, 1969), pp. 167f. Although Miller offers an extensive passage in translation, he does not provide the source for his quotation. 2. Holt World History: The Human Journey. p. 193.

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