COCOA EMPIRE: AGRICULTURAL SCIENCE AND FORCED LABOUR IN THE COLONIAL WORLD.

 

Marta Macedo
CIUHCT- Interuniversitary Center for the History of Science and Technology
University of Lisbon

marta.cdm@gmail.com

São Tomé and Príncipe’s political and economical importance, during the first decades of the 20th century, extended well beyond the realm of Portuguese sovereignty. The archipelago’s plantations were responsible for 20% of the world’s cocoa output, and, more decisively, were supplying the international market with high quality industry-suited seeds. It was Portuguese colonial cocoa that enabled, in a first phase, the mass production of British, German and American chocolate.

This paper will focus on the way São Tomé’s cocoa became such a desired commodity. It will try to illuminate the long and hard process that contributed to the production of a standardized cocoa and the way in which the farm’s scientific rationalization and the technological devices to discipline the workers’ bodies constituted two interdependent parts of a single agricultural, economic and political system of colonial exploitation. São Tomé’s plantations became sophisticated laboratories where new forms of plant and seed control were tested alongside a modern oppressive labour regime. The study also aims at showing that the production of agricultural knowledge and the definition of racial hierarchies, depended, chiefly, on the negotiation and cooperation between imperial powers and on a variety of very concrete material practices that defined the plantation’s daily routine, established both by Portuguese and foreign experts. The circulation of São Tomé’s agricultural procedures, economies of scale, seeds, forced labour, and management expertise to Cameroon’s cocoa plantations, highlights how those apparently obscure islands became critical nodes in a network of colonial scientific culture, essential for the European political control and economic domination of Africa.

Keywords: Agricultural science, Forced labour, Circulation of scientific knowledge

Biography note: Marta Macedo é investigadora de pós doutoramento no Centro Interuniversitário de História das Ciências e da Tecnologia – Universidade de Lisboa. A sua tese de Doutoramento, apresentada em 2010 na Universidade de Coimbra, trata a transformação do território português na segunda metade do século XIX e modo como as práticas de racionalização, simplificação e standardização dos engenheiros se revelaram essenciais para a experiência portuguesa de modernidade e para a construção da identidade nacional. Presentemente, está a investigar de que modo as práticas técnico-científicas construíram e sustentaram os projectos coloniais de vários países europeus durante o século XX.

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