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November/December 2004 ยท Historically Speaking 27 a two-part concept that included the idea of the "good king" as well as the "witch king." Good kings were virtuous rulers, and promises to lookout for the poor, protect the weak, and serve the communitywere a regular part ofthe oaths that kings swore on their coronations . Their opposites were the wicked kings whoused the same powers both temporaland occult to enlarge their personal wealth and power, and thus, like the private merchants who might also participate in the occult as well as the material world, were suspected of witchcraft. The elaboration of these sorts of schemes, to the degree that they can be teased from original source material, is certainly an interesting twist on political theory and can help to illuminate other political theories advanced in other areas. The rulers ofthe African polities thatwere regularlyvisited byslave traderswerenotnecessarily just warlords, personally enriching themselves and perhaps subject to witchcraft accusations for the unholy connivance with strangers. They might be important slavers and good rulers at the same time, at least in the eyes of their subjects. Queen Njinga of Matamba (r. 1624-1663), an important participantin the slave trade, was both loved and feared for her alleged occult powers. Like manyothers, she regarded the taking ofslaves as an integral part ofwarfare, and as long as her subjects accepted the basis for her wars, they could live with their consequences for the slave trade. One might do well to conceive of the polities ofAtlantic Africa as "fiscal-military states" much as the states ofWestern Europe were at the same time. Groups from within an area grasped at local resources or long distance trade to negotiate with other powerful groups to enhance their power and to make war. European states engaged in nearly constant warfare and an equally constant search for the means to pay for it, and revolutions broke out when the two ran into each other. African rulers managed to build larger and more centralized states through similar strategies, and the acquisition of slaves as dependents was one part ofthe equation, just as the sale of slaves to European merchants was another part. If the resources ofAmerica enabled kings ofSpain, Portugal, France, and England to enhance their fiscal and military power, then the slave trade helped African rulers to increase their domestic power and expand their domains. And for them, too, revolution might be the result of too great a push and too big a distance between ambition and results, as the seductive combination of strategic designs and the means to pay for them through captives brought African rulers too deeply into the slave trading economy. When Beatriz Kimpa Vita accused the kings ofKongo indirectlyof witchcraft in 1704 for failing to end wars and unite the country, she was expressing in the terms ofthe political philosophyprevalent at the time a revulsion for the particular sort of fiscal-military state that Kongo represented. However, this does not mean that other kings in other times who were regarded as "good kings" might not make war on their neighbors and enslave the captives, so long as the wars were regarded as necessary. Miller clearlyputs his finger on the point of greatest interest for world historians by focusing thus on the slave trade, for it is a great moral issue and also one that forces us to examine closelythe complexities ofAfrican society and the state, touching as it does on conceptions ofpower and legitimacy and on the relationship between Africa and Europe. Once we go beyond seeing the slave trade as Europeans raiding the African coast (which rarelyhappened) or theworkings ofa simple "gun/slave cycle" inwhichAfricanweaknesses were cynically manipulated by Europeans, we can begin to enter into a world of complex politics that raises not only questions intrinsic to the slave trade but also to the use ofpower in general. Thus, though I question some of his specifics, I wholeheartedly endorse Miller's largerpointthatwe oughtto considerAfrican dynamics as a part ofworld history to be placed alongside the historyofotherregions. Africa has its own unique political, ideological , and economic history. Adding it to the larger picture ofworld historywill enrich our understanding ofother areas with a different combination of circumstances and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 27-30
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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