In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa's Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World

In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa's Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World

In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa's Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World

In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa's Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World


The transatlantic slave trade forced millions of Africans into bondage. Until the early nineteenth century, African slaves came to the Americas in greater numbers than Europeans. In the Shadow of Slavery provides a startling new assessment of the Atlantic slave trade and upends conventional wisdom by shifting attention from the crops slaves were forced to produce to the foods they planted for their own nourishment. Many familiar foods--millet, sorghum, coffee, okra, watermelon, and the "Asian" long bean, for example--are native to Africa, while commercial products such as Coca Cola, Worcestershire Sauce, and Palmolive Soap rely on African plants that were brought to the Americas on slave ships as provisions, medicines, cordage, and bedding. In this exciting, original, and groundbreaking book, Judith A. Carney and Richard Nicholas Rosomoff draw on archaeological records, oral histories, and the accounts of slave ship captains to show how slaves' food plots--"botanical gardens of the dispossessed"--became the incubators of African survival in the Americas and Africanized the foodways of plantation societies.


The last half-century has seen a vigorous effort by scholars to unveil two partly
obscured histories of the post-Columbian era, one of plants and animals and
the other of peoples…. Yet at times it seems almost as if the histories of the
peoples, at least in relation to the migration of flora and fauna, may have lagged
behind—particularly if the peoples were not European.


THE POPULAR IMAGE OF AFRICA today is of a hungry continent, a continent chronically unable to feed itself, one that continually requires massive infusions of charity to keep its citizens from starvation. Yet this was not always so. In the thousands of years before the advent of recorded history, African peoples embarked upon the process of plant and animal domestication. As with their counterparts in tropical Asia and the Americas, Africans participated fully in the agricultural revolution that was taking place simultaneously around the world. By four thousand years ago, African food plants were on the move. They crossed the Indian Ocean and revolutionized the agricultural systems of semiarid Asia. African crops were again being dispersed during the early modern period of European overseas expansion. They found a new footing in the New World tropics, where they contributed important dietary staples and commodities to plantation societies.

For the most part, the African crops did not make the transoceanic journeys on their own. They depended on people to move them from one continent to another and, at times, on specialized knowledge to cultivate, process, and prepare them as food. The story of African crops is little known and poorly understood. Many of the continent’s dietary staples are incorrectly attributed to Asian origin. Others are dismissed as food crops of minor signifi-

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