a1 University of Virginia
This article examines the transition from the slave trade to ‘legitimate commerce’ in Portuguese Guinea between 1840 and 1880. Peanuts became the principal export crop. They were cultivated on plantation-like establishments called feitorias located primarily along the banks of the Rio Grande and on Bolama Island. From the 1840s through the 1870s, Luso-African, other Euro-African and European traders built these feitorias. These traders depended upon both slave and contract labour to cultivate their export crop.
Although Portugal claimed Portuguese Guinea, French trading houses dominated ‘legitimate commerce’ in this West African enclave. The demand for increased peanut production came from the burgeoning French oil mills rather than from Portuguese industries. French merchants supplied the ships needed to transport the crop as well as many of the imported goods sold locally. By the 1870s the Portuguese realized they needed to break this French monopoly. By that time Europe was suffering from an economic recession, peanut prices were falling and cheaper oilseeds from India and America were entering the market. Portugal's attempts to establish commercial dominance met with little success.
The economic crisis of the 1870s not only created difficulties for feitoria owners and their workers, but also for Fulbe groups in the process of expansion. These Fulbe wanted to establish political control in order to reap the economic benefits the peanut trade offered — especially access to firearms and in turn, slaves. As peanut production fell from 1879 onward, Fulbe groups began fighting amongst themselves for control of shrinking resources. By 1887, the feitoria system and this phase of peanut production had ended. The Portuguese, like the Fulbe, had to look for new ways to survive economically.
* This article is based on research funded by the National Fellowships Fund Middle East and Africa Research Program and the Carter G. Woodson Institute (University of Virginia). Several scholars made valuable comments on various drafts of this article, including Boubacar Barry, George E. Brooks, Christopher Ehret, John Higginson, Joseph Miller, Boniface Obichere, Richard Ralston, and Lars Rudebeck. I thank them for sharing their ideas with me. My informants in Guinea-Bissau and the Gambia willingly shared their knowledge with me and for that I am particularly grateful. I am, of course, responsible for any errors which remain.