- An African Slaving Port and the Atlantic World: Benguela and its Hinterland by Mariana P. Candido, and: The Atlantic Slave Trade from West Central Africa, 1780–1867 by Daniel B. Domingues da Silva
The Atlantic slave trade has been an ever-growing field for at least the last three decades. A sundry number of scholars have stressed the North Atlantic slave traders' role in human trafficking from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century as well as the impact of enslavement and slave exports on African societies. Nevertheless, West Central Africa—namely Kongo and Angola—has drawn less attention than it deserves, given that almost roughly half of the slaves deported through the Atlantic came from that region from the middle of the eighteenth century up to closing of the middle passage.
After the seminal works of David Birmingham, Jan Vansina, Beatrix Heintze, John Thornton, and Joseph Miller,1 a new generation of scholars revisited Angola's slavery and slave trade, providing new approaches and information on the subject. The books by Mariana P. Candido and Daniel B. Domingues da Silva are fair examples of that fresh blooming in this field. Besides the points in common and their divergences, both authors challenge the same idea, namely, the slaving frontier thesis (which was fully elaborated by Miller but can be tracked down to Vansina's and Birmingham's and even to Claude Meillassoux's works),2 according to which the role of violence in the production of slaves in Angola was replaced, after a variable span of time, by mercantile activities in the territory under Portuguese and their allies control; meanwhile, warfare and slave raid practices spread into the societies beyond these "pacified" territories. However, while Candido gives the place of honor to qualitative data in order to demonstrate the pervasive [End Page 418] violence inside the Portuguese Angola frontiers, Domingues da Silva draws upon quantitative and qualitative data to underpin his findings.
In the five chapters of Candido's book, focusing on Benguela and its hinterland, the role of violence is the main feature. She argues that violence was pivotal in shaping the transformations, which Benguela and its hinterland underwent since the seventeenth century, because the slave trade became the region's chief economic activity from early Portuguese conquest on. From political institutions to social relations, as well as personal and collective identities and cultural traits, the whole of society was affected by its involvement in—and engulfment by—the slave trade. In her own words: "In fact, violence is seen in this study as fundamental to colonialism and territorial occupation, and its continuity provoked political reorganization, economic reorientation, and altered social and cultural values, creating new groups and practices" (p. 314). From this point of view, the work intends to be "a major reassessment of the impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade on African societies" (p. 8).
She criticizes a set of arguments which came to prevail among leading scholars in this field, most of all the underestimation of the overall impact of the human drain by the slave trade. Even the process of creolization has a close relation with slavery and slave trade, thus with violence: "[…] the impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade cannot simply be measured by the number of people exported from the continent. Its effects went beyond demographics, altering styles of dress, diet, and drinking habits, and allowing for the introduction of new ideas and technologies" (p. 173).
One of the more enduring debates concerning the pre-colonial Angola refers to the putative existence of an ethnicity which the Portuguese called Jaga. Mariana Candido addresses this subject in the first chapter, pointing out the contradictions in contemporary reports on the Jaga's features: "Thus, rather than referring to a specific group of people in Benguela, jaga was employed to refer to nameless enemies, whose political and social...