This picture shows the cotton flower, or boll. The cotton boll comprises fine fibers ideal for weaving into soft cloth. The story of cotton is the story of the colonization of Africa. Before traders came into Africa from Arabia and India, woven cloth was largely unknown in Africa. But by the early 19th century, large amounts of cotton were being exchanged for African goods including ivory, gold, rare woods and slaves. The introduction of cotton as a cash crop helped break the trade imbalance.