How to Use An Ocean of Paper

General Search

The general search of the Ocean of Paper database allows users to input any keyword into the search bar. The general search is intended to be used for broad exploration of the database. For additional search specificity, the advanced search is recommended. You can toggle between the general and advanced search on the search page. 

Please note: the general and advanced searches will only work using English. Arabic script will not work. Be sure to try multiple iterations of transliterated Arabic words when using the search, especially when searching for names. 

Prior to using the search engine, it is recommended that you familiarize yourself with the database by reading more about the interconnected world of the Indian Ocean in the late 19th Century:

Property Types
Currency in the Indian Ocean
Types of Contracts
Historical Background
Locating Waraqas

In this search engine, users may search using the following categories:

  1. Document title

    The document title is not original to the waraqa. It was created for ease of reference and notes the type of transaction, the debtor, creditor, and transaction number when applicable.

  2. Debtor

    Refers to the individual entering into a debt/borrowing agreement. These agreements took numerous forms (see contracts page for details) but all stipulated a sum of money, commodity, or property due upon the completion of the agreement. 

  3. Creditor

    The individual/party who is loaning the debtor/borrower money or goods. The means by which the creditor can collect on their debt agreement changed depending upon the type of agreement (see contracts page for details). In general, a specific creditor appears in the records with more frequency than any specific debtor. This is because a single creditor loaned money to multiple people.

    • Common creditor names include:
      • Al-Banyani
      • Al-Hindi
      • Jairam
      • Al-Bohri
      • Al-Mahrubi. 

  4. Transaction Amount

    The amount of money that the debt transaction stipulates must be reimbursed. The waraqas in the Ocean of Paper collection vary widely in the size of the transactions – from a couple rupees to thousands of qirsh.

  5. Transaction Currency

    All of the waraqas in this collection were drafted using one of three currencies – Maria Theresia Thalers (or dollars), which were known in the Indian Ocean as Qirsh (denoted as Q), Indian Rupees (denoted as R), or Indian Paisas (denoted as P). [For more information, see the Currency section].

  6. Date of Debt transaction

    All of the waraqas in the Ocean of Paper database include a transaction date, recorded in the hijri (Islamic) calendar. 

    The date of debt transaction search will work as a keyword search, not a calendar search. (ex: 2 Ramadan 1314 or 17 Sha'ban 1314)

  7. Date of registry

    The registry date is not the date that a waraqa was signed. Instead, it is the date that the creditor (usually an Indian merchant) registered the waraqa with the clerk's office of the British Consulate. (for more on clerks and waraqa registration see the people page)

    Dates of registry follow the Gregorian calendar.

    (ex: 2/2/1899 or 5/28/1886)

  8. Type of transaction

    Details the type of contract governing the debt transaction. There are seven distinct types of transaction in the Ocean of Paper database.

    • Iqrār (acknowledgment or debt)

    • Bay' Qat'

    • Bay' Khiyār

    • Rahn (pledge)

    • Qu'd (rental)

    • Ḍamān (guarantee)

    • Ḥawāla (transfer)

    Note, a search for "mortgage" will not return any search results. Although these waraqas functioned similarly to mortgages, only transaction types as described on the contracts page will return search results. Refer to the contracts page for more details

  9. Property exchanged

    To secure a line of credit, Indian Ocean economic actors offered their lenders/creditors a form of property (usually as collateral) for their loan. This included houses, shambas [a cultivated plot of land such as a farm or plantation], boats, ivory, etc.

  10. Location

  The majority of the transactions in this database took place in Zanzibar and neighboring Pemba. Other transactions took place along the East African coast, while a handful took place in Oman. (For more on locations see the places page). 

Using the Advanced Search

Users may narrow their search by using the following fields:

  • Title
  • Debtor
  • Creditor
  • Location
  • Contract type
  • Amount
  • Currency
  • Date of transaction
  • Date of registry

All advanced search categories are by default separated with the OR function. This means that if the user inputs information into multiple advanced search fields, the search engine will look for results that apply to any portion of the search query.

Within the search function, users can select the AND function to link two different categories together. For example, a search for khiyar sale as the transaction type AND  1894 for the year of registry.

Overall, the OR function is a way to broaden advanced search results, while the AND function will narrow advanced search results.

In addition to the AND function, both the amount and registry date fields can be entered as a range. A range search allows you to look at all records within a specified range.

Ex 1: search for transactions with a value 25 - 100

Ex 2: search for transactions between the years 1896 - 1898 

Viewing search results

After entering a search, results will appear in a table. This table will include the 11 categories of information related to each record. In each row, a thumbnail image will link you to a jpeg of the record. This jpeg will open in a new browser tab. The searches can be sorted by alphabetical or numeric values where relevant (note, this will not work in the date of deed category, which is recorded by hijri date).

Note, if a search category is blank, the category was not included in the waraqa. As well, a number of the records include ??? in the search result field. This means a word or words were not legible and could not be recorded for the database (ex: creditor field of "Mohamed ??? ???" means that the first name was legible but not the second or family names). In these instances, please refer to the jpeg for further reference. 

Next to each record entry is a check box. If you are interested in looking at this record in the future (for exporting) check the corresponding box. If you are interested in all of the records from your search, click the "select all" box above the check boxes. 

Note: any new search will clear the previous search results. Be sure to export any important search findings. 

Exporting records

At the bottom of each search page is a box "download selected records." This function will download all of your records as both an excel file and a zipped folder of the record jpegs. The jpegs will appear in zipped folder in the same order they appear on the search database. This means if you performed a chronological sort function for date of registry, both the excel file list and the jpegs will now be in that order. The jpeg file name in each row of the excel file will correspond to the jpeg files in the zipped folder. 

To access the record jpegs, open the zipped folder. Select extract files. Be sure all of the files in the folder are selected and determine where you would like the images to be downloaded on your computer.

It is recommended that you store each unique search in a separate folder on your computer. This will allow you to more easily reference the appropriate excel file and jpegs in the future.