By the time the “Scramble for Africa” among European colonial powers began in the late nineteenth century, Africa had already been globally connected for centuries. Its gold had fueled the economies of Europe and the Islamic world for nearly a millennium, and the sophisticated kingdoms spanning its west coast had traded with Europeans since the fifteenth century. Until at least 1650, this was a trade of equals, using a variety of currencies—most importantly, cowrie shells imported from the Maldives and nzimbu shells imported from Brazil. But, as the slave trade grew, African kingdoms began to lose prominence in the growing global economy. We have been living with the effects of this shift ever since. With A Fistful of Shells, Toby Green transforms our view of West and West-Central Africa by reconstructing the world of these kingdoms, which revolved around trade, diplomacy, complex religious beliefs, and the production of art. Green shows how the slave trade led to economic disparities that caused African kingdoms to lose relative political and economic power. The concentration of money in the hands of Atlantic elites in and outside these kingdoms brought about a revolutionary nineteenth century in Africa, parallel to the upheavals then taking place in Europe and America. Yet political fragmentation following the fall of African aristocracies produced radically different results as European colonization took hold. Drawing not just on written histories, but on archival research in nine countries, art, oral history, archaeology, and letters, Green lays bare the transformations that have shaped world politics and the global economy since the fifteenth century and paints a new and masterful portrait of West Africa, past and present.
|Publisher:||University of Chicago Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.80(d)|
About the Author
Toby Green is a senior lecturer in Lusophone African history and culture at King’s College London and is author of The Rise of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in Western Africa, 1300-1589.
Table of Contents
List of Maps Foreword Note on Spellings/Names Glossary Introduction Part One Causes: Economic Divergence in West and West- Central Africa Timelines for Part One 1 ‘Three Measures of Gold’: The Rise and Fall of the Great Empires of the Sahel 2 Causeways across the Savannah: From Senegambia to Sierra Leone 3 Ready Money: The Gold Coast and the Gold Trade 4 Rivers of Cloth, Masks of Bronze: The Bights of Benin and Biafra 5 The Kingdom of Kongo: From Majesty to Revolt Coda to Part One Part Two Consequences: Politics, Belief and Revolutions from Below Timeline for Part Two: West African Political History, c. 1680–1850 Prologue to Part Two 6 ‘With Boots Worth 3 Slaves’: Slavery and Value in the Eighteenth Century 7 On a War Footing: The ‘Fiscal- Military State’ in West African Politics 8 Feeding Power: New Societies, New Worldviews 9 Transnational Africas, Struggle and the Rising of Modernity 10 Warrior Aristocracies and Pushback from Below 11 Let them Drink Rum! Islam, Revolution and the Aristocracy Conclusion Bibliography Notes List of Illustrations Index
What People are Saying About This
“Very seldom do I pick up a history book and wish I had written it myself. Toby Green’s Fistful of Shells is one such book. Brilliantly conceptualized, beautifully written, Fistful of Shells breaks with colonially configured regional boundaries—which work to re-create unintended silos of knowledge—to imagine a West and West Central African Atlantic era history of money, power, religion, and inequality that is as rich as it is sound.”
“The range and depth of this book is simply stunning. By masterfully drawing on primary research and secondary sources in multiple languages, Green delivers a provocative book that is also a landmark of historical imagination and craftsmanship.”
"A magisterial, extensive and fresh account of the history of West Africa that rewrites the region and its peoples back into World History, where they belong."
"Toby Green's transformative book repositions West African history in an entirely new light. It brings into focus the region's fundamental place in shaping the modern world as well as the powerful and also difficult legacy of this today."