Spain in West Africa after the Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1860s–90s

Friday, January 5, 2018: 4:30 PM
Delaware Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Adriana Chira, Emory University
In the 1840s, Spanish authorities retook possession of Fernando Po from the British with the goal of creating “a new Cuba” off the African coast. Havana-based and Catalan capital holders would supply the island with basic resources during the first stages of sugar and cocoa planting, whilst also arranging for a range of different colonists to be shipped to the island: emancipados and political dissidents from Cuba, convicts from the Iberian Peninsula, and by the 1880s, contracted laborers from other parts of West Africa. The Spanish goal of turning West Africa into a new plantation area where the Caribbean could be recreated was not unique. Other European powers with previous interests in sugar production in the Caribbean turned to “legitimate commerce” in staples such as palm and peanut oil, and, later, cocoa, along the West African coast. The story of Spanish Equatorial Guinea is less known.

The paper traces the transfer of Afro-descendants, resources, and economic ideologies from the Spanish Caribbean to West Africa between the 1860s, as Spain witnessed a surge in militarism and the rise of the ideology of Hispanismo, and the 1890s. It examines the role of a “motley crew” that included Sierra Leonean colonists, emancipados, Cuban political dissidents, Iberian convicts, and seamen in Fernando Po’s early transformation into a cocoa plantation economy. The paper argues for an approach to the Atlantic that explores how defunct trans-Atlantic slave trading networks became retooled toward African colonization after the 1860s. It suggests that a) the study of nineteenth-century “second slavery” should not be restricted to the Western Hemisphere; and b) that little known and relatively politically powerless characters with an Atlantic experience served as the initial intermediaries for Spanish colonialism in West Africa before the 1884 Berlin Conference.

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