CHAPTER 13: Tropical Africa And Asia, 1200–1500
After studying this chapter students should:
Be able to identify the location and fundamental environmental characteristics of the tropics and their environmental zones, including arid areas, rain forests,
river valleys, savannas, plateaus, and mountainous regions, and explain how people made their livings in these various environmental zones.
Be able to identify and compare the two Islamic empires of Mali and the Delhi Sultanate.
Be able to describe the Indian Ocean trade and to identify the roles played in that trade by the Swahili city-states, Aden, Gujarat and the Malabar Coast, and
Understand and be able to give concrete examples of the ways in which trade and the spread of Islam changed the societies and cultures of places connected to
each other through the trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean trade networks.
Tropical Lands and Peoples
The Tropical Environment
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.