Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Chapter 8: Transatlantic Links: The Benguela-Bahia Connections, 1700–1850 (Excerpts)

Plantation life - Brazil
A representation of plantation life in Brazil

In the eighth chapter of Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images, Mariana P. Candido sheds light on the commercial and human exchanges between the Brazilian slave port of Salvador in Bahia and Benguela, in West Central Africa. Whereas many scholars privilege connections between Bahia and the Bight of Benin or between Rio de Janeiro and Luanda, Candido, in this groundbreaking chapter, looks at various primary sources that highlight the daily lives of men and women of the Benguela-Bahia South Atlantic communities. In doing so, she illuminates an almost unknown aspect of the slave trade in the South Atlantic as well as the ways enslaved Benguelas were integrated into Bahian society and how Bahians were assimilated into the community of Luso-Brazilian slave merchants in Benguela.

Most of the Africans who landed in Bahia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries came from the Costa da Mina, the Portuguese designation for the area comprising the Windward Coast, the Gold Coast, the Bight of Benin, and the Bight of Biafra. More than 230,000 Africans deported from the port of Luanda also arrived in Bahia during this time. High mortality among the slave population in Bahia and in Brazil in general, coupled with a low natural reproduction rate, led planters and slaveholders to constantly import more African slaves. In an early nineteenth-century guide for British merchants, the English traveler Andrew Grant declared, “Bahians are permitted to import their own slaves, which they mostly obtain from Angola and Benguela.” Grant’s assertion points out the important role of Bahia-based merchants in the transatlantic slave trade and the city’s strong link with West Central African ports. It also indicates that the South Atlantic commerce was bilateral and independent of the involvement of Portuguese merchant elites. Metropole as colonial center exercised control over the trade through the collection of taxes, yet the organization of the trade venture was in the hands of Bahian merchants. Most of the goods—such as alcohol and tobacco—exchanged for slaves on the coast of Africa were produced in Brazil and transported in vessels owned and operated by Brazil-based merchants. Thus, in contrast to the triangular trade pattern that characterized other parts of the Atlantic, the trade between Benguela and Bahia was bilateral and restricted to the South Atlantic space.

In Bahia, slaves were employed in the urban center as domestics, shoemakers, porters, market traders, and dockworkers and labored as well as in the fields around Salvador. Slave labor also produced cachaça (alcohol distilled from sugarcane) and manioc flour in the mills. Along with the Indian textiles exported by Bahian merchants, alcohol and manioc flour were the primary goods exchanged for slaves in the South Atlantic world. Among the Bahian slave population, there were many Africans originally from the Costa da Mina, but there were also individuals who had been forcibly embarked in Luanda and Benguela.

Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images edited by Ana Lucia Araujo is available in hardcover. It is also available in different ebook formats, which start at $19.99 to purchase and $9.99 to rent. Professors who wish to use this book along with others in the slavery studies collection for their classes should use the Cambria Book Cloud, which allows for the bundling of ebooks at only $9.99 per title for each student.