Cocoa is blood and they are eating my flesh

Toby Green

  • Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery and Colonial Africa by Catherine Higgs
    Ohio, 230 pp, £24.95, June 2012, ISBN 978 0 8214 2006 5

For centuries, the region that now straddles northern Angola and the western part of the Democratic Republic of Congo formed a political and cultural whole. South of what the BaKongo knew as the Zaire river lay the heartland of the Kingdom of Kongo, one of the most powerful states of West-Central Africa. Kongo sat at the crossroads of trade routes linking the forests of the interior with the arid coastal areas near Luanda, in Angola, and the savannahs of the plateau further north. These deep-rooted connections meant that slaving wars in one area influenced the political stability of the rest of the region. In the late 17th and 18th centuries, Kongo and Ndongo – the kingdom at the heart of what is now Angola – fractured into warring statelets whose main business was to bring slaves to the coast, thus helping Atlantic slavery to reach ever further into Central Africa. These countries remain interlocked, involved in geopolitical struggles for coltan, diamonds, oil and timber.

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[*] Basil Davidson wrote about the decolonisation of Portuguese Africa in the LRB of 18 February 1999.