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4 - ‘Our indico designe’: Planting and processing indigo for export, Upper Guinea Coast, 1684–1702

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2013

Colleen E. Kriger
Affiliation:
University of North Carolina
Robin Law
Affiliation:
Professor of African History, University of Stirling
Suzanne Schwarz
Affiliation:
Professor of History, University of Worcester
Silke Strickrodt
Affiliation:
Research Fellow in Colonial History, German Institute of Historical Research, London
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Summary

Indigo was a major trade commodity in antiquity and in the Indian Ocean trade, as one of the dyestuffs falling under the generic categories of ‘spices’ or ‘drugs’. It continued to be important in the era of Atlantic trade as planters in the Americas vied with the Mughal Empire and other Asian indigo producers for a competitive edge in world markets. Dyeing with natural substances, which were often extremely variable in quality, was highly skilled work, often looked upon as an ‘art’ or a ‘mystery’ that few could master. But with the chemical revolutions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the bright lights of the laboratory and the instruments of scientific analysis displaced that aura of mystery. Invention of the synthetic dyes to which we are so accustomed today has almost entirely obscured the history of dyestuffs and their past technological and economic significance, especially for indigo. What was once so highly valued and in such great demand is now rarely recognized as such. This paper seeks to retrieve, examine, and better understand one small but informative part of this history – the attempt in the late seventeenth century by the Royal African Company of England (RAC) to establish plantations and processing of indigo on Africa's Upper Guinea coast.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2013

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