chapter  3
32 Pages

Transnational merchants in the nineteenth-century Gulf

The case of the Safar family
WithJames Onley

The nineteenth-century Gulf was a remarkably transnational space, as the quotations above vividly illustrate. Foremost among the Gulf ’s transnationals were the merchants who, more than any other group, connected eastern Arabia to the wider world. They lived dual lives, speaking two or more languages and keeping homes in two or more countries. They dominated the import-export sector of the region. Some managed the customs administrations in a number of Gulf ports. Some came to play a central role in regional politics by acting as intermediaries between foreign governments or companies and local rulers and their subjects. This chapter examines the transnational connections, culture and activities of one Gulf merchant family in the nineteenth century: the Safar family of Hillah, Basrah, Bushehr (Bushire), Shiraz, Manamah, Muscat, Mocha (al-Mukha), Hudaydah and Bombay.