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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:The Business of Slaving: Pawnship in Western Africa, c. 1600-1810
Authors:Lovejoy, Paul E.ISNI
Richardson, David
Periodical:The Journal of African History
Geographic term:West Africa
Subjects:slave trade
History and Exploration
Economics and Trade
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
External link:https://www.jstor.org/stable/3647216
Abstract:The use of people as pawns to underpin credit was widespread in western Africa during the era of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This study examines where and when pawns were used in commercial transactions involving European slave merchants in the period c. 1600-1810. It pays attention to various aspects of pawning, including the ratios and numbers of pawns, time limitations on debts, and retribution and recourse in pawning cases. It shows that European merchants relied on pawnship as an instrument of credit protection in many places, though not everywhere. Variations in the incidence of pawning, geographically and temporally, appear to have been related to political structures within which credit arrangements worked in Africa. Europeans apparently did not hold pawns at Ouidah (after 1727), at Bonny or on the Angolan coast. Furthermore, pawnship arrangements involving Europeans are not reported in areas where Muslim merchants were dominant, such as Senegambia. Pawnship was important, however, in areas where secret societies and age-graded 'palavar' houses were involved in debt enforcement. The fact that the use of pawns in relations between Africans and European merchants was restricted to certain places on the African coast modifies Walter Rodney's thesis that on the Upper Guinea Coast, servile institutions increased under the influence of trans-Atlantic slavery. The present analysis suggests that pawning was indigenous to many parts of western Africa but was adapted as an institution underpinning credit in trans-Atlantic trade. Notes, ref., sum.