Export Led Growth in Arabia from the Middle Ages to WWI: Trading dates, pearls, and slaves with Africa to India

Bob Allen
New York University – Abu Dhabi

Three instances of export led growth in Arabia involved the export of a primary product and the import of slaves to provide the labour force to produce it.

In the Middle Ages the boom in date production centred in al-Hasa, portentous for the future of Saudi.

In the 17th and 18th centuries the boom centred in Oman.  It followed the accession of the first Yarubid imam (1624) who expelled the Portuguese and created internal order, making it profitable to grow dates and export them to India as the sweet liquid, dibs. Oman acquired the necessary labour by importing slaves from east Africa.

The opening of the Suez Canal in 1867 started the third boom. Date prices doubled.  Production expanded and again African slave imports increased to generate the labour force.  At the same time the demand for pearls rose many of the pearl divers were also slaves.

Some econometrics on the patterns of slave prices across Ethiopia, East Africa, Arabia, and the Gulf illuminate supply dynamics, and models of production of pearls and slaves show how the increase in product prices fueled the rise in slave prices.