From the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, Latin America’s colonial economy developed in interaction with African economies, and especially through ties to West and Central Africa. While every region of the African continent had connections to the economic history of Latin America, the trans-Atlantic interplay was strongest for the African coast and hinterland from Senegal to Angola. The dispatch of some ten million enslaved Africans to Latin America and the Caribbean stands out as the most striking element of the interregional relationship. The complete story, however, includes exchanges of plant and animal biota and technologies, as well as a wider range of demographic and commercial interactions. To understand the dimensions of this intercontinental exchange, one must account for the impact of Africa on the Americas, the impact of the Americas on Africa, any new phenomena that emerged from their interactions, and the temporal ups and downs in intercontinental contact. In addition to chronicling these flows and confrontations, this survey provides an opportunity for some comparison of the historiography of economic change for Latin America and for Africa from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century.
Three points stand out for particular emphasis. First, for the period up to 1650, Africa and Latin America exerted profound influences on each other in their initial biological, economic, demographic, and cultural encounters. Second, for the period from 1650 to 1800, the Atlantic slave trade brought about substantial transformation in West and Central Africa and in parts of Latin America. Third, during the nineteenth century, even with the independence of most of Latin America and the decline of the Atlantic slave trade, several new sorts of intercontinental connections arose.