In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Cocoa is blood and they are eating my fleshToby Green

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Vol. 35 No. 7 · 11 April 2013

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, 978 0 8214 2006 5
Show More
Show More

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.

When Roger Casement visited a coffee plantation in northern Angola in 1902, he described the situation there in a report to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He found that contract workers known in Portuguese Angola as serviçais were being brought in from the Congo Free State, sold to plantations, and then forbidden to leave the estates that had ‘bought’ them. The serviçais were paid not in cash but vouchers, which they could only use at the estate store to buy poor quality goods and rum. This ‘voucher-wage labour’ was also common in the British-run nitrate mines of northern Chile. Casement reported that the Angolan serviçais were being treated as slaves, with high death rates resulting from a shocking diet. Picked up by H.R. Fox Bourne, the secretary of the Aborigines’ Protection Society (APS), Casement’s Angola report was used to add weight to protests led by the activist-journalist E.D. Morel against conditions in the Congo Free State, run as a personal fiefdom by King Leopold II of Belgium. Casement was soon sent to investigate the situation in Congo itself, leading him to produce the report that would make him famous (before his championing of the cause of Irish independence led to his execution for treason). The abuses in Congo alarmed humanitarian groups such as the APS and the Anti-Slavery Society: William Cadbury, a director of Cadbury’s in Birmingham and a Quaker, like the rest of his family, was deeply involved in these movements and could not countenance that his company’s profits were supported by slavery: and yet supported by slavery they were, as Catherine Higgs shows.

The paradox for European imperialisms in Africa was that while the nature of imperialism is to exploit the labour of the colonised, the ideological foundation of empire was that only imperial rule could end the evils of slavery and slave labour. The empire promised its subjects a fair – or at least a fairer – system of labour. Free wage labour would, it was thought, give the workers dignity and result in the progress of the African continent. The wish for Africans to understand the ‘dignity of labour’ may look ironic, but it meant that British industrialists were keen to take action to end their dependence on slavery, a dependence which by that time had lasted nearly two centuries.

Higgs’s Chocolate Islands relates William Cadbury’s efforts to find out whether the cocoa his company bought from Portuguese Africa was still produced by slaves. Higgs tells us that Cadbury’s conscience had first been troubled when, in 1901, he read a catalogue from a cocoa estate on the small Portuguese island of São Tomé, in the Gulf of Guinea. Among the items listed for sale were cattle valued at £420 and ‘200 black labourers’. He found this alarming because Cadbury’s imported more than half its cocoa from São Tomé and its tiny neighbour Príncipe, so he decided to set about investigating labour conditions on the islands. Being, as he said, too busy to look into the matter himself, he commissioned Joseph Burtt, a middle-aged utopian who had abandoned banking to live in a commune in Gloucestershire, to go on his behalf. The commune had begun to falter, and Burtt was casting around for a purpose in life to match his idealism. The anti-slavery movement fitted the bill, and he set sail for São Tomé in May 1905.

As Burtt was to discover, slavery in Africa was impossible to disentangle from the imperial system. The Kikongo, Kimbundu and Ovimbundu-speaking regions of Angola and Congo had long been the major zones from which enslaved Africans departed on the Middle Passage: according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, from the 16th century onwards almost half of the Africans shipped across the Atlantic came from there. The high incidence of slave trafficking in Angola and Kongo was a consequence of colonial wars waged by the Portuguese, with the help of Brazilian troops and African allies, much as the Spanish used Native Americans to fight in Mexico. These wars depopulated much of Angola and Kongo, and led to the collapse of the Kingdom of Kongo after the Portuguese victory at the Battle of Mbwila in 1665. Kongo’s political system disintegrated and a series of civil wars followed in which the capture of potential slaves was a priority. Angola and Kongo remained major suppliers of slaves throughout the 18th century and after.

The Abolition Act of 1807 ended the British slave trade, but the trade from Angola to Brazil carried on until the 1850s, and slavery wasn’t abolished in Brazil itself until 1888. When Burtt crossed the Ovimbundu highlands from Benguela in southern Angola, following a long-standing slave route that stretched east towards what had been the Lunda empire, he discovered skeletons, decomposing corpses and abandoned ankle-shackles. A century after Abolit-ion, slavery in Angola was still widespread even if colonists – both Portuguese officials and British investors – turned a blind eye to it.

Burtt’s experiences demonstrate the informal spread of British imperial power in 20th-century Africa. Angola was a Portuguese colony, but British capital and missionaries were major presences there. Burtt frequently stayed with missionaries and men such as John Norton-Griffiths, the contractor of the Benguela railway, who beat his African workers so readily that Burtt claimed he was ‘cordially hated by nearly all his men’, all 1700 of them. Another well-known Englishman in Benguela was famed for having floored an African drunk and then kicked him in the face and stomach. In spite of all the high-flown rhetoric about the dignity of labour, arbitrary violence was used to enforce colonial labour norms: it was used to build railways and ports that would bring progress to Africa, and expedite the transport of raw materials to European factories.

After Casement’s 1902 report on the serviçais in his plantations, the Portuguese, as a gesture towards meeting British concerns, passed a labour law stipulating that serviçais on São Tomé and Principe should have five-year contracts, and that half of their salaries should be held over to pay for their repatriation to Angola when their contract expired. But when Burtt visited in 1905 he found no evidence that any serviçais had ever left the islands. Higgs draws on Burtt’s letters for her evocative narrative of his visits to different plantations: though impressed by the living conditions on some of them, Burtt found that the serviçais were not free to hire out their own labour. The 1903 law was a classic example of a law só para o Inglês ver – just for the English to see – as the Portuguese had called their 1836 law ‘abolishing’ the slave trade.

During the two years he was away from Britain, Burtt wrote regularly to William Cadbury. His letters show him gradually realising that British capital was propping up the continuation of the slave trade. The booming cocoa market and the profits made by Cadbury’s itself were keeping the prices of serviçais sold to São Tomé high. But the imperial British economy was also underpinned by the gold rush in Johannesburg: many of the miners came from Portuguese Mozambique and, as Burtt noted, forcing the Portuguese to end the slave trade from Angola might lead them to close the border between Mozambique and South Africa, with unwelcome consequences for British finances. Those same migrations continue today, and Higgs makes clear how stubbornly enduring the relationship between labour, migration and capital in South-Eastern Africa has been.

Burtt’s unequivocal findings about the continuing use of slave labour on São Tomé led Cadbury to make his own shorter journey of inquiry soon afterwards, and the firm stopped buying cocoa from the islands in 1910. The anti-slavery campaign petered out during the First World War and forced labour continued to be used in colonial Africa well into the 20th century: as Basil Davidson discovered, it continued in Angola in the 1950s, and recent research shows that it may have been widespread as late as the independence wars of the 1960s.* The Angolan colony was key to propping up the struggling economy of the Salazar regime and after the coup in Lisbon in 1974 large numbers of Portuguese migrants hastily departed, their flight memorably described by Ryszard Kapuściński in Another Day of Life. The migrants, and the whole infrastructure of Portuguese Africa, were dependent on forced labour in parts of Angola that most colonists never saw.

As for Cadbury’s, they started to buy their cocoa from the British colony of the Gold Coast (which became Ghana in 1957), and still buy most of their cocoa beans there. Labour practices were, and remain, far from ideal. As Higgs notes, TV documentaries in the early 2000s revealed that there was still widespread use of child labour in Ghana, with slaves trafficked south from Mali and Burkina Faso. When one worker was asked what he would say to consumers of this mythical product, chocolate, which he had never seen, he replied: ‘They are eating my flesh.’ Almost a century earlier, when Burtt asked an American missionary about cocoa, his reply had been: ‘Cocoa is blood.’ Higgs’s book is a reminder of the relevance of African histories to contemporary questions. There are obvious parallels between the serviçais and the factory workers of 21st-century China, or the cleaners and service providers of Dubai. Modern Western democracies may be founded on ideologies of freedom, but they have yet to reconcile these ideologies with what used to be known as the ‘labour question’. The intellectual incoherence of late capitalism emerges nowhere more starkly than in the paradox of the coercive labour regimes needed to facilitate unlimited free consumption.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.


Vol. 35 No. 9 · 9 May 2013

Reading Toby Green’s account of Roger Casement’s visit to a coffee plantation in northern Angola in 1902, I was struck by the parallels with the memories of local people I met on the island of Principe in the late 1990s (LRB, 11 April). The Portuguese continued to exploit indentured labour (slaves, effectively) on cocoa plantations in São Tomé and Principe until the 1974 revolution, bringing in workers from Cabo Verde. At the end of the 20th century the abandoned infrastructure of the cocoa farms was still visible, and in the decaying villas of the plantation managers it was still possible to find, among the rotting fauteuils, pages of 1970s colonial newsletters reporting on the latest fashions in Lisbon and on punishments meted out to bolshie blacks. When the plantation managers fled, the São Tomé cocoa industry collapsed. The workers continue to live in the rows of slave cottages, eking out an existence as subsistence farmers, with return to Cabo Verde an unaffordable dream.

Tom Smith

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address and a telephone number

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.