Saturday, September 21, 2013

Ouidah: Social History Of West African (Western African Studies) Robin Law (1)

Ouidah and Dahomey, like Elmina and Asante, represent some of the most recognizable names of West African ports and states during the transatlantic slave trade. Robin Law's new work builds upon a historiographical tradition that explores Ouidah's role, especially after the Dahomean conquest, in that trade. While much of the literature on Dahomey and the Asante stresses the role of the state in controlling and profiting from exchange, Law successfully changes this perspective by focusing upon the "evolution of the merchant community" (p. 3). As Law convincingly shows, Ouidah's merchant community proved successful in gaining some degree of economic freedom from the Dahomean political structure. Over time, a system developed at Ouidah where both the Dahomean state and the local transatlantic merchant community could profit from the slave trade and, later, legitimate trade. In laying the foundations for a social history of Ouidah, Law places it within its larger Atlantic context by examining how internal and external factors influenced its development.


Omowale Jabali said...

Ouidah, like other West African ports, was a part of the larger Atlantic economy which, as these ports integrated themselves into Atlantic trade networks, maintained control over local cross-cultural trade. According to Law, Ouidah and other coastal ports served four major roles in that they organized "overseas commerce," developed relations with the hinterland, were affected by "Atlantic commerce" and experienced problems in the transition to legitimate trade (p. 5). For Ouidah, Law utilizes Ralph Austen and Jonathan Derrick's conception of a middleman community to understand its place in the Atlantic World. He argues that the Gold Coast "enclave-entropôt" model created by Harvey Feinberg does not work, as European power was more limited at Ouidah, while Karl Polanyi's "port of trade" does not apply. This constitutes the first of numerous challenges to Polanyi found throughout the work.

Omowale Jabali said...

A further review: