The Journal of African History

Research Article

African and European Cocoa Producers on Fernando Póo, 1880s to 1910s

W. G. Clarence-Smitha1*

a1 School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

The decline of the Creole or Fernandino planters of Fernando Póo came later and was less severe than has sometimes been said, while the indigenous Bubi inhabitants played a far greater role in the development of the cocoa economy than has usually been acknowledged. Social discrimination against Creoles and Bubi was of little significance. The re-direction of Fernandian exports to Spain from the 1890s had no negative effect on African producers, and Creoles and Spaniards united to fight tariff policies detrimental to their interests. Bubi suffered severely from land alienation, but they kept sufficient land to be able to participate fully in the cocoa boom. Creoles lost land through debt, but so did Spaniards. The beneficiaries of land transfers were black as well as white, and a map from around 1913 shows a roughly even mix of Spanish and Creole landowners. Black and white planters were united in every aspect of labour which involved relations with the authorities. Attempts to force poor Bubi into plantation labour collapsed quickly, and wealthy Bubi cultivators had little difficulty in finding labour to employ. Access to credit was equal for all landowners, and the evidence for Africans being more spendthift than Europeans is of dubious validity. The thesis of African decline becomes more plausible from the mid-1920s, due to Spanish immigration, the formation of joint-stock companies, and accentuated social discrimination, but the extent of that decline remains to be determined. The roughly tripartite equilibrium between Bubi, Creole and European cocoa producers in the early 1910s contrasts with descriptions of other cocoa-growing areas in western Africa, suggesting the need for a re-examination of the evidence for the Creole role in cocoa cultivation and for Creole economic decline from the 1890s in West Africa.


* My thanks are due to the Instituto de Cooperación para el Desarollo, Madrid, and to the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, for providing me with funds to study in Spain, and to the staff of the many archives and libraries who helped me: Archivo General de la Administración [AGA], Alcalá de Henares, Africa-Guinea (C = Caja; E = Expediente; GG = Gobernador General; Min. = Minister or secretary of state responsible for colonies); School of Oriental and African Studies [SOAS], London, Methodist Missionary Society Archives [MMSA], Primitive Methodist Papers (mf = microfiche); Liverpool City Libraries [LCL], Liverpool, Record Office and Local History Department [380 HOL = John Holt Papers]; Rhodes House [RH], Oxford; Unilever Archives [UA], London; University of Birmingham Library [UBL]; Arquivo Historico Ultramarino [AHU], Lisbon, Segunda Secção, São Tomé e Príncipe (P = Pasta); Arquivo Histórico de São Tomé e Príncipe [AHSTP], São Tomé (Cx = Caixa, P = Pasta, M = Maço). Photocopies of a set of documents from the Archivo de la Casa de Guinea (ACG), Barcelona, were kindly sent to me by Professor Gonzalo Sanz Casas. I was refused access to the Catholic Claretian mission archives in Madrid, but valuable extracts are reproduced in Cristóbal Fernández, Misiones y misioneros en la Guinea Española (Madrid, 1962).