Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 May 2014
A great deal has been written in recent decades about the Atlantic slave trade, including the mechanics and terms of purchase, but relatively little about what Africans received in return for the slaves and other exports such as gold and ivory. And yet, if one is trying to reconstruct the material culture of, say, the Guinea Coast of West Africa during the slave-trade period, the vast European input cannot be ignored.
The written evidence consists of many thousands of surviving bills of lading, cargo manifests, port records, logbooks, invoices, quittances, trading-post inventories, account books, shipping recommendations, and orders from African traders. English customs records of commerce with Africa during the eighteenth century, when the slave trade peaked, alone contain hundreds of thousands of facts. A thorough analysis of all available data would call for the services of a research team equipped with computers, and fill many volumes. Using a portable typewriter (now finally abandoned for WordPerfect) and a card file, and sifting hundreds of published sources, I have over the years compiled an annotated master list of European trade goods sold on a portion of the Guinea Coast from Portuguese times to the mid-nineteenth century. The geographic focus is the shoreline from Liberia to Nigeria; from it more slaves left for the New World than from any comparable stretch of the African coast. I call the area “Kwaland” for the Kwa language family to which nearly all the indigenous peoples belong.
I am indebted to History in Africa's anonymous readers and Christopher R. DeCorse for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper. By “European trade goods” I mean those sold (not necessarily made) by Europeans and also by their American, Caribbean, and Brazilian counterparts.
2. A few notable studies of European trade goods have, however, been published. Herbert's, Eugenia W.Red Gold of Africa (Madison, 1984)Google Scholar devotes considerable space to cuprous imports. See esp. chapter 6, “Manillas, Neptunes, Rods, and Wire,” 123-53. Sundström's, LarsThe Trade of Guinea (Uppsala, 1965)Google Scholar [republished in New York in 1974 as The Exchange Economy of Pre-Colonial Tropical Africa] is strong on cuprous merchandise too (217-51) and also on textiles (147-86) and iron goods (187-216). Curtin's, Philip D.Economic Change in Precolonial Africa: Senegambia in the Era of the Slave Trade (Madison, 1975)Google Scholar covers the whole range of European commodities (237-66, 309-28) but I found his discussion of iron bars (240-47) especially helpful. The Journal of African History (henceforth JAH) has carried three important articles on the firearms trade: Kea, Ray E., “Firearms and Warfare on the Gold and Slave Coasts from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Centuries,” 12 (1971), 185–213Google Scholar; Inikori, J.E., “The Import of Firearms into West Africa, 1750-1807: A Quantitative Analysis,” 18 (1977), 339–68Google Scholar; and Richards, W.A., “The Import of Firearms into West Africa in the Eighteenth Century,” 21 (1980), 43–59.Google Scholar For a useful summary of the European bead trade to Africa, see Dubin, Lois Sherr, The History of Beads from 30,000 B.C. to the Present (London, 1987), 100–51.Google Scholar Cowrie imports are fully detailed in Hogendorn, Jan and Johnson, Marion, The Shell Money of the Slave Trade (Cambridge, 1986).CrossRefGoogle Scholar British exports to Africa are surveyed in Davies, K.G., The Royal African Company (London, 1957), 165–79Google Scholar; Richardson, David, “West African Consumption Patterns and Their Influence on the Eighteenth-Century Slave Trade” in Gemery, Henry A. and Hogendorn, Jan S., eds., The Uncommon Market: Essays in the Economic History of the Atlantic Slave Trade (New York, 1979)Google Scholar, and Johnson, Marion, Anglo-African Trade in the Eighteenth Century, eds., Lindblad, J.T. and Ross, Robert (Leiden, 1990)Google Scholar, French exports in Berbain, Simone, Le comptoir français de Juda (Ouidah) au XVIIIe siècle (Amsterdam, 1968), 82–88.Google Scholar Dahomey's European imports are studied in Peukert, Werner, Der atlantische Sklavenhandel von Dahomey, 1740-1797 (Wiesbaden, 1978), 134-51, 170–78.Google Scholar
Other useful recent publications include Jones, Adam, tr. and ed., German Sources for West African History, 1599-1669 (Wiesbaden, 1983)Google Scholar; idem, tr. and ed., Brandenburg Sources for West African History, 1680-1700 (Stuttgart, 1985); Metcalf, George, “Gold, Assortments and the Trade Ounce: Fante Merchants and the Problem of Supply and Demand in the 1770s,” JAH, 28 (1987), 27–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem, “A Microcosm of Why Africans Sold Slaves: Akan Consumption Patterns in the 1770s,” JAH, 28 (1987), 377-94; de Marees, Pieter, Description and Historical Account of the Gold Kingdom of Guinea (1602), tr. and ed. van Dantzig, Albert and Jones, Adam (Oxford, 1987)Google Scholar; Law, Robin, ed., Correspondence from the Royal African Company's Factories at Offra and Whydah on the Slave Coast …, 1678-93 (Edinburgh, 1990)Google Scholar; idem, ed., Correspondence of the Royal African Company's Chief Merchants at Cabo Corso Castle with William's Fort, Whydah, and the Little Popo Factory, 1727-1728 (Madison, 1991); idem, ed., Further Correspondence of the Royal African Company … Relating to the ‘Slave Coast,’ 1681-1699 (Madison, 1992); Makepeace, Margaret, ed., Trade on the Guinea Coast, 1657-1666: The Correspondence of the English East India Company (Madison, 1991)Google Scholar; Tattersfield, Nigel, The Forgotten Trade (London, 1991)Google Scholar; Hair, Paul, Jones, Adam, and Law, Robin, eds., Barbot on Guinea (2 vols.: London, 1992).Google Scholar
3. Marion Johnson computerized the information from gigantic annual ledgers for the years 1699 to 1808. Her labors produced a data set of about 34,000 records containing about half a million figures. Unfortunately, there was no breakdown in the ledgers by African coastal region. See Johnson, Anglo-African Trade. Data on merchandise carried to Africa by 338 British vessels between 1662 and 1700 are also being analyzed. They were obtained mainly from a register of outbound cargoes kept by the Royal African Company, and specify which part of the coast the goods were targeted for. See Eltis, David, “The Relative Importance of Slaves and Commodities in the Atlantic Trade of Seventeenth-Century Africa,” JAH, 35 (1994), 241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
4. The Congo/Angola coast ran this region a close second, and some Africanists would place it first in slave exports. But for me, the weight of evidence favors Liberia-to-Nigeria, once roughly known as “Lower Guinea.”
5. I prefer the term “Kwaland” to “Lower Guinea” (see “The European Introduction of Crops into West Africa in Precolonial Times,” HA, 19 , 13) for its greater precision.Google Scholar Many Kwa-speaking peoples are linked not only linguistically but by their primordial yam-and-oil-palm agriculture, their highly developed market systems, their pantheons reminiscent of those of ancient Mediterranean and Indo-European civilizations, their exceptional artistic creativity, and a remarkable strain of individualism.
6. Thornton, John, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1680 (Cambridge, 1992), 44–45.Google Scholar
8. West Africans could make cotton cloth, but not in the multitude of weaves, textures, patterns, dimensions, and colors available in India and Europe. Their range of local dyes was so limited they would unravel imported fabrics to obtain colored threads. Their lack of flax, suitable sheep, and requisite moth larvae ruled out production of linen, wool, and silk. West Africans could smelt and forge iron, and cast cuprous objects by the lost-wax process, but manufactured only a limited range of metal products, often using raw material imported from Europe. They relied almost exclusively on Europeans for metal receptacles; Akan kuduo (cast-brass ritual vessels originally of Muslim inspiration) and forowa (shea-butter containers made of European sheet brass) were rare exceptions. West Africans could repair guns but almost certainly not make them, nor gunpowder. In a few places they remelted glass, but there is no firm evidence they could make it from scratch. They could not make a mirror. And so on.
10. See, e.g., Isichei, Elizabeth, The Ibo People and the Europeans (London, 1973), 51–54Google Scholar, and Rodney, Walter, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (London, 1983), 111.Google Scholar Such statements, which have been rebutted by a number of Africanists but die hard, ignore the business acumen of African merchants who dealt with European slave buyers. They knew good commodities from bad, and how to play off one European trader against another to their own profit. It was, indeed, a sellers' market.
11. During the eighteenth century, for example, nearly two-thirds by value of exports (or re-exports) from England to Africa consisted of textiles, and metal goods formed the next largest group. Johnson, , Anglo-African Trade, 9, 10, 27.Google Scholar Johnson makes the odd comment that the vast majority of English exports were not “of practical use” because they were “consumption goods,” as if consumption were not the primary end of all economic activity.
13. Ratelband, K., ed., Vijf dagregisters van het kasteel São Jorge da Mina (Elmina) aan de Goudkust (1645-1647), (The Hague, 1953), 385–87.Google Scholar
14. Bosman, William, A New and Accurate Description of the Coast of Guinea, new ed., intro., Willis, John Ralph, notes, Fage, J.D. and Bradbury, R.E. (London, 1967), 91.Google Scholar
16. Two sources have been particularly useful for definitions: Irwin, John and Schwartz, P.R., Studies in Indo-European Textile History (Ahmedabad, 1966)Google Scholar, and Chaudhuri, K.M., The Trading World of Asia and the English East India Company, 1660-1760 (Cambridge, 1978)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, appendix. 4. See also Rinchon, Dieudonné, Le trafic négrier d'après les livres de commerce du capitaine gantois Pierre-Ignace-Liévin van Alstein (Brussels, 1938), 100–01Google Scholar; Johnston, John, The Journal of an African Slaver, 1789-1792, intr. Plimpton, George A. (Worcester, Mass., 1930), 5–6Google Scholar, and Berbain, , Comptoir, 78–79.Google Scholar
17. These include armozeens, atchibanees, birds eyes, boelangers, buckshaws, caddy, cambay, cossaes, chicolis, chowtars, coupis, coutils, culgees, cuslees, cutchalee, dimity, dungarees, gujarat, harlequins, hobbantams, hoo-hoos or humhums, jamdannees, madras, morees, nantebas, nillias, paeth, palampores, patnas, pelets, pelongs, sarry, seernickers, sendal, sextrasoys, tajaes, and tapanees. Some, like patnas, madras, and gujarat, refer simply to the city or region the cloth came from. Others may be variant spellings of major items, e.g., chicolis and chercolees.
18. The Hindi word for cloth, pati, was often added to textile names and corrupted by Europeans into peaux, paux, pauts, paats, pants, pouts, pot, potts, pauls, etc.
20. Bowdich, T. Edward, Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee (3d ed.: London, 1966), 331, 332.Google Scholar
21. Possibly an imitation of a cotton strip cloth made in old Benin (Nigeria), though some sources suggest Indian origins. The Dutch were manufacturing annabas by the 1670s and the English soon copied them.
23. Marees, Description, 231. The author of a description of Benin City, (ibid., 226-32), is identified only as D.R., generally considered to have been Ruiters, who published a trade and navigational guide to Guinea in 1623.
24. Ibid., 39. The so-called “fathom” was somewhere between 28 and 38 inches.
25. Ibid., 27.
26. Ibid., 34.
28. Barbot, John, A Description of the Coasts of North and South Guinea, in Awnsham, and Churchill, John, A Collection of Voyages and Travels (6 vols.: London, 1732), 5:274.Google Scholar Future page references will be to vol. 5 of Churchill. The 1732 version of Barbot has been largely superseded by Hair/Jones/Law, Barbot on Guinea, but this statement was omitted, presumably because it was derivative. I have not been able to find the original source.
29. Davies, , Royal African Company, 176.Google Scholar The length of pieces varied so the total yardage is a guess.
33. Kea, Ray A., Settlements, Trade, and Polities in the Seventeenth-Century Gold Coast (Baltimore, 1982), 208–09.Google Scholar
37. Yes, bandannas originated on the subcontinent, not in the American West. Both longees and sastracundies were sometimes identified as handkerchiefs.
39. Dapper, Olfert, Naukeurige beschrijvinge der afrikaensche gewesten (Amsterdam, 1668), 491.Google Scholar
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41. Enfield, William, An Essay Towards the History of Leverpool (2d ed.: London, 1774), 84.Google Scholar
43. The European derivation of various garments and shoes is embedded in Kwa languages. In Ghana's Twi, the nineteenth-century German lexicographer J.G. Christaller recorded fraka for frock, koto and kotu for coat, tros for trousers and, along with other observers, kamisa for shirt, from the Portuguese camisa, and asepatere for shoes, from the Portuguese sapato. He also traced the Twi word for handkerchief, duku, to the Danish dug or the Dutch dock. Christaller, , A Dictionary of the Asante and Fante Language Called Tshi (Chwee, Twi), (Basel, 1881), passim.Google Scholar
46. Ibid., 355.
48. Ibid., 88.
50. Barbot, , Description, 274.Google Scholar This statement was omitted in Hair/Jones/Law, Barbot on Guinea, presumably because it was derivative, but I have not found the original source. Ludwig Ferdinand Römer, a Danish trader on the Gold Coast in the 1740s, was told bedsheets were used for menstrual rags. Either the sheets were cut or torn into suitable pieces, or the informant was pulling his leg. Römer, L. F., Le Golfe de Guinée 1700-1750, tr. and ed. Dige-Hess, Mette (Paris, 1989), 176.Google Scholar
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61. Isert, Paul, tr. and ed. Winsnes, Selena Axelrod, Letters on West Africa and the Slave Trade: Paul Erdmann Isert's Journey to Guinea and the Caribbean Islands in Columbia (1788), (Oxford, 1992), 136.Google Scholar
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64. Ibid., 2:445.
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76. Dapper, , Naukeurige beschrijvinge, 510.Google Scholar He does not say how many manillas to a keg.
77. Nigerian manillas were about 60-65% copper and 25-30% lead. Lead started to be added to the English product by at least the 1720s, and to the Dutch commodity perhaps in the seventeenth century, if a reference by Dapper to “gray copper arm rings” being traded at New Calabar implied a lead alloy. Some Nigerian manillas that were turned in contained traces of silver and gold. Herbert, , Red Gold, 99, 202, 351n75Google Scholar; The Nigeria Handbook (London, 1953), 70Google Scholar; Buchanan, /Pugh, , Land and People, 240Google Scholar; Dapper, , Naukeurige beschrijvinge, 510.Google Scholar
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86. Two feet long, says Waddell, Hope Masterton (Twenty-Nine Years in the West Indies and Central Africa, [2d ed.: London, 1970], 247)Google Scholar, referring to the rod after it was split into wires; about 18 inches, says Northrup, David (Trade Without Rulers: Pre-Colonial Economic Development in South-Eastern Nigeria [Oxford, 1978], 163)Google Scholar, also referring to the wires; somewhat over two feet, says Talbot, P. Amaury (The Peoples of Southern Nigeria [4 vols., new impression, London, 1969], 3:875)Google Scholar; about the size of a small stair-carpet rod, says Burns, Alan C. (History of Nigeria [5th ed.: London, 1955], 289)Google Scholar; about three feet long, says Latham, A.J.H. (Old Calabar 1600-1891: The Impact of the International Economy upon a Traditional Society [Oxford, 1973], 76).Google Scholar
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177. Ibid. The figure used was 3,000 quintals, or 324,000 lbs., which works out to 129,600,000 shells at a rule-of-thumb 400 Maldive cowries to the pound.
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181. An anker is usually defined as about 10 U.S. gallons, but it ranged from perhaps 4 or 5 to 16 gallons in the slave trade records.
185. Ibid., 3:175.
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207. Labat, , Voyage, 2:114.Google Scholar Labat actually says this was the price of a male slave, but he misquotes Marchais' original manuscript on this point. That document, entitled “Journal du voiage de Guinée et Cayenne par le chevalier des Marchais, capitaine comandant la fregatte de la Compagnie des Indes, l'Expedition, pendant les années 1724, 1725 et 1726,” reposes in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris as “Fonds français 24223.” See folio 31v
210. Archeologists find European (and locally-made) tobacco pipes particularly useful as temporal markers in West African excavations. See, e.g., Shaw, Thurstan, “Early Smoking Pipes in Africa, Europe, and America,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 90(1960), 272–305Google Scholar; Walker, Iain C., “The Potential Age of European Clay Tobacco Pipes in West African Archaeological Research,” West African Journal of Archaeology 5 (1975), 165–93Google Scholar; DeCorse, , “Archaeological Study of Elmina,” 135–44.Google Scholar
212. DeCorse, , “Archaeological Study of Elmina,” 110-19, 292–97Google Scholar; idem, “Culture Contact, Continuity, and Change on the Gold Coast, AD 1400-1900,” African Archaeological Review 10 (1992), 181-82, 183, 189, 190.
214. Davies, , Royal African Company, 234.Google Scholar Gold Coasters, at least, had been familiar with paper since Portuguese times: both Beecham and Christaller gave krata as the Twi word for a sheet of paper, derived from the Portuguese carta.
217. Adams, John, Remarks on the Country Extending from Cape Palmas to the River Congo (London, 1823), 241, 244, 247, 250, 262–63.Google Scholar
224. Hair, /Jones, /Law, , Barbot on Guinea, 2:560.Google Scholar In Barbot, , Description, 274Google Scholar, the same passage reads: “With tallow they anoint their bodies from head to toe, and even use it to shave their beards, instead of soap.” See also Römer, , Golfe de Guinée, 145.Google Scholar
225. Van Dantzig, Albert, Les Hollandais sur la côte de Guinée à l'époque de l'essor de l'Ashanti et du Dahomey 1680-1740 (Paris, 1980), 125.Google Scholar
228. Isert tells us that “when a slaveship with a cargo of 500 slaves leaves the coast, it has to carry up to 600 barrels of water, each of which holds up to 260 kannen [one kanne equaling 1.9 liters].” Isert, , Letters, 76.Google Scholar
229. A porter could headload up to 150 lbs. but the standard load was probably limited to between 75 and 100 lbs. Kea, , Settlements, 255.Google Scholar
230. Butts and tuns are also mentioned but only, it would seem, as ships' water barrels or to hold provisions (beer, wine, biscuits) for European posts.
231. Burton, Richard, A Mission to Gelele, King of Dahome, ed., Newbury, C.W. (New York, 1966), 21, 190–91.Google Scholar
233. Also dashy, dashee, daschi, dachi, dache, daché, dachio, dasche, dasje, dassy, dassie, daixas, dosie, and dos in the literature.
238. Ibid., 340.
242. Bosman, , Description, 185.Google Scholar Römer informs us that in the 1740s certain families on the Gold Coast displayed centuries-old horsetails as “marks of great honor.” Golfe de Guinée, 35.
243. The Portuguese had apparently introduced hammocks first in the kingdom of Kongo in the sixteenth century. See Cuvelier, J. and Jadin, L., L'ancien Congo d'après les archives romaines (1518-1640), (Brussels, 1954), 122; Filippo Pigafetta, A Report of the Kingdom of Congo and of the Surrounding Countries; Drawn Out of the Writings and Discourses of the Portuguese, Duarte Lopez, tr. and ed. Hutchinson, Margarite (London, 1881), 51.Google Scholar
250. D'Elbée, , Journal, 448.Google Scholar The French word is more precise. Umbrellas in Kwaland were meant to protect against sunshine, not rain; they were parasols, not parapluies. But this practical function tended to be overshadowed by the symbolism involved.
251. Van Dantzig, , Dutch and the Guinea Coast, 79Google Scholar; Fynn, Asante, 159. The Dutch used the word quitasol, meaning parasol in Portuguese. In 1707 Cape Coast agent general Sir Dalby Thomas asked the RAC for “Kittesolls of scarlet cloth, embroidered, lined and well fringed,” as gifts for Gold Coast chiefs. Letter quoted in Garrard, Akan Weights, 92. The earliest reference to an umbrella as trade good on the Gold Coast seems to be that of Sieur Tibierge, who visited its western extremity at Assini in 1692. He saw a parasol that a local chief had bought from a European interloper at an exorbitant price. “Extrait du journal du sieur Tibierge, principal commis de la Compagnie de Guinée sur le vaisseau ‘le Pont d'Or’ au voyage en l'année 1692” in Roussier, Paul, L'établissement d'Issiny, 1687-1702 (Paris, 1935), 62.Google Scholar
259. Richard, and Lander, John, The Niger Journal of Richard and John Lander, ed. Hallett, Robin (London, 1965), 233.Google Scholar
261. Cuoq, Joseph M., tr. and ed., Recueil des sources arabes concernant l'Afrique occidentale du VIIIe au XVI siècle (Bilad al-Sudan), (Paris, 1975), 304.Google Scholar
265. McLeod, , Asante, 95–99Google Scholar; idem, “Asante Spokesmen's Staffs: Their Probable Origin and Development,” in Marion Johnson and M.D. McLeod, Akan-Asante Studies (London, 1979), 13-15.