Academic journal article African Studies Review

Ouidah: The Social History of a West African Slaving "Port," 1727-1892

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Ouidah: The Social History of a West African Slaving "Port," 1727-1892

Article excerpt

Robin Law. Ouidah: The Social History of a West African Slaving "Port," 1727-1892. Athens: Ohio University Press/Oxford: James Currey, 2004. vii + 308 pp. Maps. Tables. Bibliography. Index. $49.95. Cloth. $29.95. Paper.

Robin Law's Ouidah, the latest of his works on precolonial West African history, is a splendid study of a town that figured prominently in the history of the Atlantic slave trade. While the subtitle suggests that this book is largely a social history-given its discussion of Ouidah as a town subordinate to and often in conflict with its long-time overlord, Dahomey, as well as a town with many residents from different locales from around the world-in reality Law focuses just as much, if not more, on the its political and economic history. The author uses European documentary sources and oral traditions most effectively to explore the origins of Ouidah, the conquest of the town by Dahomey and the character of Dahomeyan Ouidah, the operations of the slave trade during both its legal and illegal phases, and the transition from slaves to palm oil.

Law's most impressive accomplishment is his ability to bring together in his treatment of the oral sources an analysis of memory and the ongoing discussions about how the slave trade is remembered in Ouidah in the context of a growing heritage tourism industry. He also discusses two other coastal West African ports-Elmina and Lagos-to provide a comparative context for the history of Ouidah (which technically was not a port, but operated more or less as one nevertheless). …

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