Academic journal article African Studies Review

Broken of Change: Atlantic Commerce and Cultures in Precolonial Western Africa

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Broken of Change: Atlantic Commerce and Cultures in Precolonial Western Africa

Article excerpt

Toby Green, ed. Brokers of Change: Atlantic Commerce and Cultures in Precolonial Western Africa. New York: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 2012. xv + 415 pp. Map. Figures. Tables. Index. $125.00. Cloth.

This collection of essays seeks to understand the process of contact and change in precolonial Western Senegambia through the influences of commerce, settlement, and interpersonal relations. The book might be seen as an extension and deepening of a tradition of Atlantic history pioneered in the 1960s by French scholars such as Pierre Chaunu, Frédéric Mauro, and the great Fernand Braudel, but with a much stronger emphasis on culture than was characteristic of the earlier generation. The essays fall into three themes: the concept of "creole," the specifics of commercial exchange in Senegambia, and the fate of the region following the end of the slave trade.

Gerhard Seibert, in a methodological piece, argues that the term "creole" really applies only to the newly created societies in the offshore islands of Africa, such as Sao Tomé and Cape Verde, and not the mainland, where the influence of Europe was more muted and the exchanges less profound. In particular, he excludes Angola and Kongo, where the most extensive mainland cultural exchange had taken place, without the more pervasive Europeanizing evident in the islands.

Natalie Evert's essay provides meat to this concept by examining the mixed communities along the Gold Coast, but it argues that Akan culture essentially prevailed over European culture. Toby Green's essay confirms this pattern as he traces the evolution of Cape Verde from a trading center to a backwater from a commercial point of view, but in other ways to a place of profound cultural exchange that created a new society. Ibrahima Seek sees the Senegambian mainland as a sort of laboratory for cultural mixing that subsequently had an impact on the African diaspora. Christopher Evans, Marie-Louise Stig S0rensen, and Konstantin Richter write about a Europeanstyle church found in excavations on Cape Verde, confirming the European contribution to religious life.

The role of Senegambia as a cultural template for the diaspora also concerns Bart Jacobs, who sees Dutch commerce in Senegambia as a precursor to the development of Papiamento in the Dutch West Indies. …

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