CHOCOLATE AND THE PORTUGUESE ATLANTIC COLONIES:  THE INTRODUCTION OF CACAU & PLANTATION LABOR SYSTEMS INTO SÃO TOMÉ, 1815-1910


Timothy D. Walker

Associate Professor of History; University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
twalker@umassd.edu

Theobroma cacao, or cocoa, originated in the Amazon River basin of South America. Though they did not popularize chocolate consumption among Europeans, Portuguese colonists in Brazil used slave labor (native Americans and Africans) to collect and cultivate a highly lucrative cacao crop from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. When Brazilian independence loomed, Portuguese authorities became the first to transplant not only the cacao plant to West African colonies, but also an entire slave-based plantation system for cacao production that endures to the present day. The destinies of millions of African workers were shaped by the transatlantic dissemination — and vast expansion in production of — cacao under Portuguese colonial rule.

This work will explore the connection between cocoa and slavery across the Portuguese Atlantic sphere. Further, the presentation will discuss the nexus within the Portuguese Atlantic maritime colonial network of these two important early nineteenth century commodities: slaves and chocolate. Portuguese planters and colonial officials expanded the cocoa industry in the Atlantic; eventually Brazil and West Africa would become the world’s leading cacao production zones. The paper will focus particular analysis on the transplant of cocoa plantation systems from Brazil to São Tomé, and on consignments of slaves and cacao tree cuttings exchanged across the Atlantic, destined for the production of chocolate (resulting in great profits that accrued in Lisbon and London). The Portuguese accomplished this Afro-Brazilian exchange in the early nineteenth century, at a time when abolition movements had already begun to gain traction in Europe and North America.

I intend to demonstrate that, although chocolate consumption burgeoned while demand for slaves diminished (due to abolition) throughout most of the Atlantic World, cacau grown in Portuguese- speaking enclaves helped to perpetuate forced labor systems in the Atlantic, even into the twentieth century. I will close with comments about the role of British abolitionism in redirecting the flow of compelled laborers within the Lusophone African and Atlantic island colonies (Cape Verde, Angola, Guiné, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe), and the role of British chocolate confectioners in curbing labor abuses in the Portuguese African colonies.

Keywords:Chocolate; Portuguese; Atlantic Colonies; Cacau; Plantation Labor; São Tomé

Biography note: Dr. Timothy Walker (B.A., Hiram College, 1986; M.A., Ph.D., Boston University, 2001) is an associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.  At UMD, he serves as Fulbright Program Advisor (faculty and students); Associate Director of the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture (2007-2009); and a member of the graduate faculty of the Department of Portuguese Studies.  Walker is also an Affiliated Researcher of the Centro de História de Além-Mar (CHAM); Universidade Nova de Lisboa.  From 1994 to 2003, he was a visiting professor at the Universidade Aberta in Lisbon.  During Fall Term 2010 Walker was a visiting professor at Brown University.
Walker is the recipient of a Fulbright dissertation fellowship to Portugal (1996-1997), a doctoral research fellowship from the Portuguese Camões Institute (1995-1996), and a NEH-funded American Institute for Indian Studies Professional Development Grant for post-doctoral work in India (2000-2002). Walker has also been named a fellow of the Portuguese Orient Foundation (Fundação Oriente), the Luso-American Development Foundation (2003 & 2008), and in 2010-2011 he held a fellowship from the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, Portugal, to support the writing of a new monograph on Indo-Portuguese colonial medicine and hybridized medical culture.