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The Merchant Houses of Mocha

Trade and Architecture in an Indian Ocean Port

by Nancy Um

Publication Year: 2009

Gaining prominence as a seaport under the Ottomans in the mid-1500s, the city of Mocha on the Red Sea coast of Yemen pulsed with maritime commerce. Its very name became synonymous with Yemen's most important revenue-producing crop -- coffee. After the imams of the Qasimi dynasty ousted the Ottomans in 1635, Mocha's trade turned eastward toward the Indian Ocean and coastal India. Merchants and shipowners from Asian, African, and European shores flocked to the city to trade in Arabian coffee and aromatics, Indian textiles, Asian spices, and silver from the New World.

Published by: University of Washington Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

My fascination and engagement with Mocha have endured for more than a decade. During that time, many people and institutions around the world helped me make sense of ruins, documents, stories, spaces, and images. Numerous granting organizations provided the financial support for travel, research, and writing. They included the Institute of International ...

Note on Transliteration, Dates, and Abbreviations

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p. xiii

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pp. 3-15

Bounded by water on its western and southern borders, Yemen has engaged in a vibrant, long-distance maritime commerce for more than two millenniums. Greek and Egyptian traders carried cargos of Arabian aromatics and African and Indian luxury goods from the now-lost Himyarite Red Sea emporium of Mouza to the Mediterranean lands of the Roman Empire, ...

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1. The Mocha Trade Network

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pp. 16-35

In her broad study of the Muslim dimensions of the Indian Ocean trade, the historian Patricia Risso highlighted the scholarly disjuncture between the overwhelmingly land-based approach taken in Islamic historiography and the coastal focus of Indian Ocean historiographers.1 Generally, Islamic historiography has been ordered by the logic of dynasties and their territories ...

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2. The Yemeni Coffee Network

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pp. 36-47

In the sixteenth century the Red Sea spice trade experienced an economic downfall caused by Portuguese disruption of the traditional Asian conduits to Europe. A new product, coffee, emerged fortuitously to fill the trade gap. After the Ottoman state fully harnessed coffee cultivation in Yemen in the second half of the sixteenth century, it became an important ...

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3. A Littoral Society in Yemen

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pp. 48-77

Maritime historians have long struggled over the question of which direction port cities face. In many studies the maritime world is sacrificed for the interior hinterland; in others the prospects of the sea far outweigh the significance of the isolated inland. In light of this conflict, the Indian Ocean historian M. N. Pearson urged that maritime scholars use the notion of a “littoral ...

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4. Merchants and Nakhudhas

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pp. 78-95

The merchants of the coastal trade are more elusive subjects than the governors of Mocha because they were often omitted from the larger historical record of Yemen, focused as it was on local religious scholars and the legacies of the imams. Left out were more mobile, and often foreign, economic elites whose lifestyles were unsuited to the traditional format ...

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5. The Urban Form and Orientation of Mocha

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pp. 96-124

The harbor of Mocha took the shape of a crescent, with a shoreline stretching from south to north and two arms of land jutting from either end into the Red Sea. As ships entered the sheltered haven, multistoried, whitewashed buildings appeared along the shore, punctuated by towering minarets rising high above the skyline. Many visitors mentioned, however, ...

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6. Trading Spaces

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pp. 125-161

At its most essential, the role of the maritime port city is to facilitate the movement of goods from the sea onto dry land and from the interior into maritime networks. At Mocha the transfer of goods entailed an extended process and involved many players. Small lighter boats left from the jetty to bring in cargo from the larger Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf, and ...

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7. On the Politics of Inside and Out

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pp. 162-184

Although much has been written about the status and social standing of Jewish and Christian communities under Muslim rule in the Arab world, little is known about the smaller and less widespread religious minority group, the Hindu and Jain Baniyans of the Arabian Peninsula. The Baniyans of Mocha appear in every account of the city, but often in murky terms, ...

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Conclusion: The End of the Mocha Era

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pp. 185-190

The stories of many Indian Ocean port cities conform to the familiar narrative of humble beginning, illustrious peak, and eventual collapse. Although the ruins of Mocha’s once monumental buildings and traces of its jetty, now submerged, testify to the end point of its story, I have tried to avoid the predictable unraveling of urban prominence by plotting change ...

Appendix A: The Imams of Qāsimī Yemen and the Governors of Mocha

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pp. 191-192

Appendix B: Archival and Museum Sources Consulted

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pp. 193-197


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pp. 199-238


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pp. 239-240

References Cited

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pp. 241-255

Illustration Credits

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p. 256


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pp. 257-270

E-ISBN-13: 9780295800233
E-ISBN-10: 0295800232
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295989112
Print-ISBN-10: 0295989114

Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 774398900
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Merchant Houses of Mocha

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mukhā (Yemen) -- Commerce -- History -- 18th century.
  • Mukhā (Yemen) -- Buildings, structures, etc.
  • Mukhā (Yemen) -- Commerce -- History -- 17th century.
  • Architecture and merchants -- Yemen (Republic) -- Mukhā -- History -- 18th century.
  • Architecture and merchants -- Yemen (Republic) -- Mukhā -- History -- 17th century.
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