- From Africa to Brazil: Culture, Identity, and an Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600-1830
Walter Hawthorne's From Africa to Brazil: Culture, Identity, and an Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600-1830 paints a vivid and detailed picture of personal and commercial ties between the Upper Guinea Coast and the Amazonia region. The author sheds light on the construction of slave identity and assigns to specific groups of Africans, free and enslaved, an agency not often found in studies of slavery and the Atlantic World.
Hawthorne's work makes valuable contributions to the scant historiographies of both Upper Guinea and Amazonia during the era of the slave trade. Too often, studies of the Atlantic World generalize cultural transfers from Africa to the New World and focus on African origins in large and organized states. The strength of this work is that Hawthorne shows that smaller, decentralized societies exercised a great deal of agency in managing the slave trade to their own benefit, and, once captured, African slaves sought to create new group identities as coping mechanisms and to aid in cultural re-creation. He links Upper Guinean societies with their Amazonian counterparts in a detailed transatlantic [End Page 431] perspective, calling the two regions "two sides of the same coin . . . that comprised one unit—one region that stretched across an ocean" (p. 6).
This book, like many works on the Atlantic World, takes as its point of departure the experiences of people transported from Africa to the New World, but Hawthorne establishes clear jumping-off points (the ports of Bissau and Cacheu in Upper Guinea), clear landing points in the New World (the ports of São Luís and Belém), and clear destinations in the captaincies of Maranhão and Pará in Brazil. The book covers the period from the establishment of a colony in Amazonia in 1621 to the legal ending of the slave trade into the region in 1830, but the main focus stretches from the 1755 proclamation that prohibited Indians from being enslaved up to the Portuguese agreement to cease slave trading north of the equator in 1815. Hawthorne, like John Thornton and others who reject more Eurocentric approaches to the Atlantic World, sees Africans and Africans in the Americas as playing active roles in the creation of new Atlantic economic and cultural systems.
Hawthorne is a professor of African history at Michigan State University. His previous book, Planting Rice and Harvesting Slaves: Transformations along the Guinea-Bissau Coast, 1400-1900, lays the groundwork for some of the present work. Hawthorne's research interests provide a solid foundation from which to build his narrative in the Upper Guinea region, but his analysis and impressive utilization of available sources on an understudied region of Brazil quickly make him an expert on both sides of the Atlantic.
The book is organized into two parts with three chapters in each. Part 1 addresses the demographics of slaves in Amazonia, the production of slaves in Upper Guinea, and their experiences being transported to the African coast and across the Atlantic Ocean. Chapter 1 argues that, previous to 1755, planters in Maranhão and Pará could not afford African slaves and relied, instead, on Indian labor. However, because of European diseases that took a devastating toll on Indians and the state support of rice and cotton production in the late eighteenth century, planters acquired additional capital and increasingly turned to Africans from Upper Guinea after 1755. Chapter 2 takes place in Upper Guinea and analyzes how and why slaves were captured. Hawthorne asserts that small, decentralized societies lying within an area ten miles from the ports of Bissau and Cacheu needed iron to forge weapons and agricultural implements, a process Hawthorne developed in his previous work and refers to as the "iron-slave cycle."1 He argues [End Page 432] that these societies controlled and managed the trade: "obtaining trade items, particularly iron for tools and weapons, was the only way for communities to survive and prosper" (p...