Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 May 2021
Drawing on probate inventories and other archives, agronomic reports and publications, Brazilian census data, and ethnography, this chapter analyzes the long march of modernization in Bahia’s dendê economy. It begins by detailing the remarkable preindustrial development achieved by rural agrarian communities with virtually no support or recognition from elite planters or public officials. It then demonstrates how government agronomists, unable to recognize the ancestral wisdom and resilience embedded in Bahia’s dendê economy, began working to impose “order and progress” on the Dendê Coast. Yet despite the drastic power imbalances and capitalized markets working in its favor, Brazil’s top-down campaign of palm oil modernization produced unexpected and mixed results. Rather than simplified, modern monocultures and hierarchical economies of scale, Bahia’s dendê landscapes, cultures, and economies (re)emerged as complex, contested, and fluid socioecological assemblages.