Property Types

To secure access to credit, Indian Ocean economic actors often offered their lenders some type of property, usually as collateral against the loan. Listed below are the types of properties found in the deeds. Many deeds involved varying combinations of these types of property as well.

Boats: Ship captains and maritime merchants often put up their boats as collateral against loans they took when visiting Zanzibar and other ports. Boats varied in form – sometimes they were small longboats (called mashua) and other times they would be larger sea-going vessels (referred to here as khashab – a term that denotes sailing ships more generally).

Houses: Debtors from around the Indian Ocean regularly offered their creditors houses and other forms of urban real estate as collateral against the loans they took. Along with shambas (see below), houses are the most common forms of property we see being transferred in the deeds. Creditors would either rent these houses back to the debtors themselves or hold onto them as security to sell in case the debtor defaulted on the loan.

Ornaments: Debtors would occasionally offer their creditors ornaments – gold, ivory, cloves or jewelry – as collateral against loans taken.

Plots of Land: Deeds occasionally make reference to plots of land (called arumm) transferred as part of a loan contract. These were usually empty plots of land in towns.

Shambas: The term shamba refers to a farm – and more specifically, a farm producing market-oriented crops. Along with houses, shambas constituted the most common type of property transferred in deeds – particularly from East Africa. Debtors would often assign their creditors shambas that they owned as collateral against loans they took, and these shambas would frequently produce crops that the creditors themselves (in their capacity as merchants) would sell in markets abroad.

Godown – Deeds occasionally made reference to warehouses (called godown), which were transferred as part of a contract. The warehouses were found in specified towns.