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African oil palms, colonial socioecological transformation and the making of an Afro-Brazilian landscape in Bahia, Brazil.


Environmental histories of the African diaspora challenge Eurocentric interpretations of the Columbian Exchange by identifying African antecedents in New World landscapes and cultures. This paper joins that effort by tracing the formation of African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) landscapes in Bahia, Brazil. Long essential in many West African societies, the African oil palm and its products diffused to Bahia early in the colonial period. Palm oil became an integral component of Afro-Brazilian culture and cuisine, and the palm groves that yield the oil represent an Afro-Brazilian landscape. Although the palm's West African origins are well known, and despite its importance in local cultures and global economies, studies of Bahia's African oil palm landscapes remain rare and generally ahistorical. This paper marshals evidence from colonial archives, traveller's accounts, ethnographies, fieldwork and digital geographic data to analyse the formation of Bahia's Dende Coast (Costa do Dende, or Palm Oil Coast). While Africans and Afro-Brazilians emerge as principal actors, the analysis places humans within a broader socioecological framework to demonstrate how historical processes, geographies, agroecologies and human agency all coalesced to establish and sustain Bahia's Afro-Brazilian landscape.


African oil palm, Afro-Brazilian, resistance, African diaspora, Columbian Exchange


Palm oil is fundamental to Afro-Brazilian culture. Long essential in many West and Central African societies, the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) and its products diffused to the Neotropics as early African contributions to the Columbian Exchange. In Bahia, Portuguese America's original capital and the cradle of Afro-Brazil, the African oil palm became established by the seventeenth century, subsequently providing a base ingredient in Afro-Brazilian cuisine and liturgical materials in Afro-Brazilian religions. Though ineluctably bound with Afro-Brazilian spirituality, palm oil retains broad appeal in popular Afro-Brazilian dishes like moqueca, a spicy stew of seafood, vegetables and palm oil, and acaraje, a black-eyed pea dumpling deep-fried in the oil, enjoyed by people of all faiths. In the capital city Salvador and throughout Bahia, traditional street vendors known simply as baianas sell acaraje and other foods based in palm oil, maintaining a steady regional demand for the oil. (1)

Most of the palm oil used for cooking and religious purposes in Bahia comes from an eighty-kilometre strip of Atlantic coastal lowlands stretching south from Valenca to Marau and extending inland for 25-30 kilometres (Figure 1). During the colonial period, that region provided the bulk of Bahia's staple manioc (Manihot esculenta) flour. Today semi-wild, or subspontaneous, stands of African oil palm dominate the area as secondary vegetation in the Atlantic forest (mata atlantica) biome. In 1991, Bahia's Secretary of Culture officially designated the area as the Costa do Dende, or Dende Coast, accentuating the Afro-Brazilian term for palm oil. That official branding marked the culmination of centuries of development, a formal nod to the dense groves of African oil palm that had come to define the region. (2)

Though scholars have catalogued and analysed uses of palm oil in Afro-Brazilian religions and foodways, and despite the oil's prominence in global markets, scholarship on the palms, people and landscapes that produce the oil in Bahia remains rare and generally ahistorical. This study addresses that deficiency with an environmental history of the African oil palm in Bahia. Just as palm oil is integral to Afro-Brazilian cuisine and culture, Bahia's African oil palm groves represent a veritable Afro-Brazilian landscape where residents continue to produce, perform and market that culture. This paper draws on textual, ethnographic and digital sources to trace the historical development of Bahia's African oil palm groves, from the early colonial period to the final abolition of slavery in 1888. While Africans and Afro-Brazilians emerge as principal actors, the analysis places humans within a broader socioecological framework to demonstrate how historical processes, geographies, agroecologies and human agency all coalesced to establish and sustain Bahia's Afro-Brazilian landscape (Figure 2).


Recent studies of the African diaspora have sought to unpack the various creative processes and networks that bridged the broader Atlantic world beginning in the colonial period. While previous scholarship tended to depict enslaved Africans as passive victims, scholars are increasingly recognising the corporeal and cognitive agency of Africans in diaspora. Theorists of slave agency in Brazil have elaborated the concept of resistance along a spectrum of 'negotiation and conflict'. Unravelling violent insurrection and flight from more routine forms of bargaining and subterfuge, the concept frames enslaved humans as calculating and innovative actors. Resistance was not always direct or violent - more often it was understated, shrewd and mundane. Any assertion that resistance only occurred through physical violence reinforces masculinist tropes of subjugation and conquest and dismisses the everyday strategies of subversion conceived and carried out by enslaved women and men. Leveraging those myriad forms of resistance--from violent to routine--Afro-descendants contributed to the development of novel cultures and landscapes in the Americas. (3)

One prominent form of everyday resistance is the cultural-environmental, or socioecological, agency of the enslaved. In provision grounds, dooryard gardens, pastures, maroon communities and even plantation monocultures, enslaved and freed Afro-descendants (4) used ethnobotanical and agricultural knowledge to transform colonial landscapes. By applying and adapting cultural knowledge to bio-physical environments, enslaved humans exploited narrow spaces of negotiation to realise their own culinary, spiritual, medicinal and economic preferences. As such, the African diaspora contributed to the Columbian Exchange, transforming New World landscapes with biological, material and intellectual inputs. (5)

According to Carney, Africans in diaspora used cultural-environmental knowledge to create 'landscapes and places of memory', or recollections of Africa inscribed in New World environments. Developed in (post)colonial South-east Asia, Scott's 'landscape of resistance' is an allied model that views landscape as a set of human-environmental parameters for class relations. In short, while Carney sees the landscape as a product of resistance, Scott understands landscape as the stage on which resistance operates. In combining the two concepts, we recognise landscapes of resistance in the African diaspora as contexts for class struggle as well as novel socioecological transformations. Thus landscapes of resistance stand as extraordinary historical documents of and dynamic monuments to cultural-ecological relationships, power relations and environmental change. (6)

Analysis of such (post)colonial landscapes provokes methodological challenges. Eurocentric documentation often obscures or deemphasises subaltern voices and contributions to landscape change. Inclusive methodologies employing diverse sources, in supplement to colonial archives, can recover historical socioecological processes where text alone is insufficient. This study draws on archived documents, travellers' accounts, ethnographies, landscape observations and remotely sensed and other data deployed in a geographic information system (GIS) to analyse the development of Bahia's Dende Coast. Fieldwork was conducted in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014, producing ethnographies with 453 people in Bahia. Archived documents were consulted at the Arquivo Publico do Estado da Bahia (hereafter APB) in Salvador, the Arquivo Nacional (hereafter ANRJ) and the Biblioteca Nacional (hereafter BNRJ) in Rio de Janeiro, the Arquivo Historico Ultramarino (hereafter AHU) in Lisbon and from various collections held online and in libraries in Brazil and the US. Using a 'grounded visualization' technique, land use and vegetation patterns were analysed by combining 312 field observations with satellite data in a GIS. Only through an inclusive, polyvocal methodology does the historical development of Bahia's Dende Coast become discernible. Relevant voices emanate from across the Atlantic world, beginning in West Africa. (7)


The African oil palm emerged from the forest-savannah ecotone in West Africa's Gulf of Guinea region. Botanists, ecologists and archaeologists link the palm's early development and distribution with migrating humans. Unable to unravel a purely 'natural' provenance from anthropogenic influence, scientists describe oil palm populations with equivocations such as 'semi-wild' and 'subspontaneous'. While the oil palm requires high levels of moisture, it does not tolerate shade; the species therefore likely originated on the fringes of wet forests and along riparian openings. To transition from the margins and into the forest zone, where it now thrives, the oil palm relied on human intervention. (8)

Around 7,000 years ago, the appearance of polished stone tools allowed West Africans to transform closed forest canopy into swidden mosaics. As farmers cleared forest to cultivate yams (Dioscorea sp.), they spared African oil palms, prized for oils and wines. In cycles of fallow, the oil palm would propagate in the opened canopy, developing dense stands after several years. Returning to clear areas for replanting, farmers would spare oil palms yet again, leaving them to grow above yams and other food crops. Following that pattern, African oil palm groves diffused the full length of sub-Saharan Africa's forest zone, from Senegambia to Angola and into the Congo, sharing space with various cultivars including plantains, taro, rice, and several varieties of beans (Figure 3). (9)

With the dawn of the transatlantic slave trade, palm oil became a key Atlantic commodity. Luso-African trade in palm oil dates to the early sixteenth century, (10) and along with human chattel, oil and kernels from the African oil palm helped form early Atlantic trade networks linking the Old and New Worlds. Palm oil seasoned and enriched the various gruels that sustained captives awaiting transport and during the Middle Passage. (11) On arrival in the New World, sailors and dockhands rubbed enslaved bodies with palm oil to tone their skin and 'ready' them for sale. (12) Thus palm oil, used to sustain and finally market human chattel, followed the transatlantic slave economy through Africa, at sea and on arrival in the Americas.

If slave ships were unable to source enough oil or, more likely, wished to save on costs, slavers could procure bunches of oil palm fruit for on board processing. As with most African cereals, milling palm oil was generally a task reserved for African women, who required only a mortar and pestle, a stove and a pot to transform the fruit to oil in bulk. Such equipment was available on many slave ships where cooks, frequently enslaved women, prepared and served captives' meals. Processing palm oil aboard slave ships was not unheard of, particularly on Portuguese vessels. British forces seized the Portuguese schooner Ligeira in 1837. Along with 313 enslaved Africans they inventoried 'a boiler for making palm oil; and some raw cotton'. Producing palm oil on board slave ships would have yielded a surplus of palm kernels (i.e. seeds) that would remain viable for months after milling. On arrival in the Americas those seeds, even if simply thrown out at port, could secure footholds on New World shores. (13)

Nonetheless, direct references to palm kernels traversing the Atlantic are all but absent. A scattering of colonial references from the Neotropics, along with contemporary evidence, does however link the early diffusion of the African oil palm with the transatlantic slave trade. From the mid-seventeenth century, colonial documents referred to African oil palms growing in the British West Indies. Those accounts framed the palm and its oil as African. Ligon described 'Negro-oil' in Barbados in the 1640s, Sloane observed oil palms 'from Guinea' (West Africa) (14) on the Colbeck plantation in Jamaica during the 1680s and oil palms grew on an English plantation in Antigua by 1729, presumably as a subsistence crop. The Dutch botanist Jacquin bestowed the palm with its scientific name in 1763 based on earlier observations, not in its native Africa, but rather Martinique in the French Antilles. In the eighth edition of his Gardener's Dictionary dated 1768, Philip Miller wrote that African oil palms were 'first carried from Africa to America by the the trees are in plenty in most of the [West Indies], where the negroes are careful to propagate them'. Elsewhere in the circum-Caribbean, including Cuba, Dominica, Haiti, Guadeloupe, Guiana, Puerto Rico, Suriname, Trinidad and Garifuna Central America, subspontaneous African oil palms persist in small numbers, and modern linguistic analyses suggest centuries of use by Afro-descendants. In the case of Brazil, early historical documentation of the African oil palm remains only fragmentary. (15)


After claiming its American territory in 1500, Portugal dispatched Brazil's first governor-general to Salvador in 1549, installing its colonial capital at the entrance to the Bay of All Saints and beginning in earnest the colonisation of Bahia. Atlantic islands off Africa's western coast served as primary ports of call, stocking ships bound for the colony with provisions, domesticates and African captives. Writing in the 1570s, Portuguese sugar planter Gabriel Soares de Sousa credited Cape Verde and Sao Tome with providing Bahia's original livestock, sugar cane, bananas, rice, ginger, coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) and African yams that 'produced in a way that amazed the Africans, who use them the most'. Despite vivid descriptions of Bahian landscapes, neither his Tratado nor two other sixteenth-century accounts of the colony mentioned the African oil palm. (16)

Nevertheless, palm kernels (seeds) likely crossed the Atlantic to South America during the first century of Brazil's colonisation. As we have seen, the subspontaneous range of the African oil palm extends from Senegambia to Angola, including the Atlantic island and European way station of Sao Tome; therefore palm oil and kernels were prominent in all the areas and ports frequented by European ships in the early colonial period. Sao Tome was especially active in early Luso- and Dutch-African trades. An anonymous account of a Portuguese pilot first published in 1550 discussed palm oil commerce on the island. Flemish botanist Clusius described mixtures of palm oil and manioc flour used to victual captives on Portuguese slave ships leaving the island in 1598. A Dutch ledger from the 1640s lists a recurrent trade in palm oil and kernels moving between Sao Tome, Angola, and Brazil. Meanwhile, the Dutch naturalist Willem Piso reported from Pernambuco on colonial programmes of botanical transplantation including 'vines, citrus, and many legumes, roots, and vegetables previously brought from Portugal and Angola, and more recently from the Netherlands, now widely cultivated in gardens and commonly used in kitchens'. Various other French and privateer ships also plied the South Atlantic during the early colonial period, building settlements and conducting clandestine commerce in both Africa and Brazil. While the specifics remain elusive, Brazil's first African oil palm seeds likely came from one or more European vessels during the mid-sixteenth to early-seventeenth centuries. (17)

Indigenous oil-bearing palms and imprecise botanical documentation further complicate the historical record for Brazil. Soares de Sousa was the first European to describe the oleaginous pindoba palm (Attalea oleifera), 'from which [indigenous peoples] make oil for their remedies'. Writing from Maranhao near the mouth of the Amazon in 1619, Portuguese Captain Estacio da Silveira described 'palms from Guine' that were more likely pindobas. Capuchin accounts from an earlier French colony there (1612-1615) made no mention of African palms; instead d'Abbeville admired many indigenous species, including a palm 'called pindo (pindoba) by the Indians ...from which they make a very good and sweet oil'. Likewise, in the first history of Brazil, written in Bahia in 1627, Frei Vicente described 'many varieties of palms...some with bunches of cocos from which we make edible oil'. Using only the ambiguous 'cocos', his report is indeterminate. (18)

Early observers linked the pindoba to indigenous Brazilians without mentioning use by Afro-descendants, but that began to change in the seventeenth century. Stationed in Pernambuco from 1638-1644, Dutch naturalist and astronomer Georg Marggraf meticulously described the pindoba and its fruit, 'a tasteless pulp the color of saffron; which the Afro-descendants (AEthiopibus) eat with farinha'. His observation records a creole culinary innovation. Accustomed to various African dishes seasoned with palm oil, Afro-descendants in Northeast Brazil apparently turned to the pindoba to spice the bland manioc flour that provided the bulk of their calories. (19)

Standing in for the African oil palm, the pindoba became an important symbol of Afro-Brazilian resistance as the namesake and 'principal source of extraction' of Brazil's largest and best-known maroon settlement, Palmares. Located in colonial Pernambuco, Palmares was a 'neo-African kingdom' comprised of dozens of proximate maroon settlements with thousands of inhabitants. Through practically the entire seventeenth century (1597?-1694), the community beat back successive Portuguese and Dutch strikes before its final dissolution. Reports of Dutch and Portuguese military campaigns in 1645 and 1678 mention oil made from palms, which Carneiro interpreted as pindobas. Palmares and its pindobas illustrate the importance of oleaginous palms in African and Afro-Brazilian culture as well as the collective resilience of Afrodescendants in adapting to unfamiliar landscapes and flora. (20)

Just as pindoba oil gained traction in Afro-Brazilian communities and cultures in North-east Brazil, African oil palms suddenly appear in the historical record for Bahia. In 1699, English privateer William Dampier arrived in Salvador where he recorded the first incontrovertible account of Elaeis guineensis growing in Brazilian soil. Among a population of enslaved Afrodescendants 'so numerous, that they make up the greatest part or bulk of the inhabitants', he reported:

  Palm-berries (called here Dendees) grow plentifully about Bahia...
  These are the same kind of berries or nuts as those they make the
  Palm-Oyl [sic] with on the Coast of Guinea, where they abound: And I
  was told that they make oyl [sic] with them here also. (21)

Dampier's account is telling. Calling the fruit 'Dendees', he recorded what remains its contemporary Afro-Brazilian name--'Dende', derived from the Kimbundu Bantu term 'ndende.' Speakers of Kimbundu and related Bantu languages from West Central Africa comprised the overwhelming majority of Africans sent to Bahia and elsewhere in Brazil during the seventeenth century. Kimbundu served as a lingua franca among the enslaved during that period, eventually lending many familiar words to the Luso-Brazilian lexicon, including samba, dengue, quilombo, and moqueca. Numerous common names for Elaeis guineensis exist in Africa - one modern compilation lists 332. Thus by establishing the term Dende in Brazil, despite the many potential alternatives, West Central Africans managed to define and retain a measure of control over the species in the New World. (22)

As Luso-Bahian slaving operations shifted away from West Central Africa in the subsequent century, the initial Bantu influence in terminology persisted. Combining the fruit's Kimbundu lexeme with an Arabo-Iberian word for olive oil, the creole compound 'azeite-de-Dende' became the standard term for palm oil in Bahia, and the palm itself became known as the dendezeiro.

Yet elsewhere in the Luso-Afro-Atlantic, from the sixteenth to the early-twentieth centuries, the prevailing term for palm oil remained 'azeite de palma', stressing a Eurasian etymology. That contrast in nomenclature distinguished Bahia's domestic Dende from palm oil of African extraction, and indicates a fundamental and enduring African influence in Bahia's oil palm cultures and landscapes. (23)

Finally, Dampier claimed that African oil palms grew 'plentifully' in Bahia by 1699, indicating that its introduction(s) began some decades earlier. Using pre-modern germination techniques, African oil palm seeds would have taken several years to grow into productive, seed-bearing palms; therefore considerable groves could have developed only after decades of introduction and propagation. Thus Dampier's account, combined with linguistic, demographic and botanical evidence, dates the African oil palm's introduction to Bahia no later than the mid-seventeenth century and possibly more than a century earlier. (24)

Following Dampier, visitors to Bahia continued to associate the African oil palm with New World Africans. The Count of Atouguia arrived at the colony in 1751 on a trade mission to analyse the economics of palms in the Portuguese Empire. After discussing the utility of several other species, he glossed over Elaeis guineensis: 'And for the blacks to eat, [oil] from a seed, here called Dende, that is so abundant its price rarely increases to that of olive oil from Portugal'. The envoy dismissed the economic prospects of domestic palm oil, even as the same product produced in Africa was already a global commodity and popular in Salvador. By referencing the creolized Kimbundu term for the oil and discounting its commercial viability, the envoy--in the name of the crown - effectively conceded Bahia's palm oil economy to Afro-descendants. (25)

Palm oil became central to Afro-Bahian identity in the nineteenth century, during what the Brazilian historian Cascudo called the 'golden age of azeite-de-Dende' 26 Travelling through Bahia in 1818 and 1819, German naturalists and explorers Spix and Martius reported, 'In the words of the Brazilians themselves, the African oil palm was brought by the Negroes of Guinea'. They go on to connect palm oil production and use directly with the enslaved, pointing out culinary, material and medicinal uses.

 The preparation of palm oil is done by slaves, and because of this,
 without great care... They use this common oil in cooking, where it is
 greatly appreciated, especially by Blacks; and also in lamps and as an
 ointment. They consider the ointment a treatment for skin diseases.

Finally, they hint at Afro-Brazilian spiritual uses.

 Frequently one observes, on the streets of Bahia, a black man rubbing
 himself with cooked Dendes, preparing himself, that is to say, for the
 nocturnal dances (Candomble). (27)

For Afro-descendants in colonial Bahia, the utility of the African oil palm was extraordinary. More than just a caloric supplement to spice bland starches, the palm provided soaps, shampoos, ointments and wines, as well as thatching for roofs and illumination in oil lamps. The African oil palm represented a botanical link to Africa and by the nineteenth century became a sacred symbol of Afro-Brazil. Today young fronds cut from the palm adorn the entrances to places of worship (terreiros) in the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomble, and azeite-de-Dende remains an essential liturgical material, especially as an offering to the temperamental deity Exu. Palm oil helps distinguish many ritual foods, including acaraje, caruru (okra stew), ipete (oiled yams) and many others. The oil is so fundamental to Candomble that its devotees are known interchangeably as povo do santo (people of the saints) and povo do Dende. (28)

As we have seen, the African oil palm diffused widely in the colonial Caribbean and South America, as part of a broad circuit of exchange in the early modern Atlantic world. The specifics of its introduction(s) to Brazil, however, remain unclear. The nineteenth-century naturalists Spix and Martius credited Africans themselves with the palm's transfer to Bahia, but contemporary scholars, beginning with Bahian social scientist Edison Carneiro, have assumed that slave traffickers first planted the palm there. Either way, seed transfers were only a tenuous beginning. Historical evidence from Bahia consistently associates the African oil palm with Afro-descendants, suggesting that the resulting landscapes and cultures emerged from African and Afro-Brazilian knowledge and preferences. (29)

Individual oil palms continue to grow uncultivated along the length of Brazil's tropical Atlantic coasts from Rio de Janeiro to the mouth of the Amazon. Nevertheless, Bahia's Dende Coast remains the lone New World locale where a dense and distinct landscape of subspontaneous Elaeis guineensis developed. What set that landscape apart and what were the contributions of Afro-descendants? (30)


From the early colonial period, Bahia's African oil palm landscapes developed in a complex and gradual socioecological process. In what follows, that development is disentangled into three interactive components: coastal and estuarine geography, colonial agroecologies and resistance. Analysing each component individually deconstructs the dynamics of place formation, isolating various influences that coalesced to transform the landscape. We begin by assessing the interactions of the African oil palm with Bahia's littoral.

Coastal and estuarine geography

As noted, the African oil palm thrives in rainforest clearings rich in sunlight and precipitation. Coastal Bahia's Atlantic forest biome fits that profile, but colonial planters with little regard for the palm ostensibly controlled the vast majority of land uses there, and they systematically removed unwanted arboreal species when clearing fields. While planters occasionally spared a few palms on their properties, the abundance of African oil palms in the colonial period suggests a broader and more complex process of diffusion.

Elaeis guineensis is salt-tolerant. That adaptation has allowed the palm to propagate near African coasts for millennia, and near Bahian coasts for centuries. On either side of the tropical Atlantic, African oil palms abound on the margins of the intertidal zone, especially tucked in behind the mangrove ecosystem, or mangal (Figure 4). In Bahia, the mangal fades variously into lowland sandy shrub forests known as restinga and remnants of moist Atlantic forest. Those ecotones provide open canopies with access to sunlight and precipitation, albeit in moderately salty soils. Conversely, the sugar, tobacco and manioc that comprised the bulk of Bahia's colonial agriculture could not prosper in saline soils; therefore, neither export nor subsistence agriculture could challenge the oil palm for space in the intertidal zone, leaving it to flourish and proliferate. The mangal then served as a conduit for the expansion of the African oil palm in Bahia. (31)

The mangal is widespread in coastal Bahia. Travelling along Bahia's coast from Ilheus to Itaparica in the early nineteenth century, Spix and Martius observed, 'Near the ocean, the coasts of the mainland and numerous islands are in large part covered with mangroves'. Today, following decades of modern development, mangrove ecosystems still occupy 46 per cent of the intertidal zone surrounding the Bay of All Saints, or Reconcavo, and 62 per cent of the southern coastline from Jaguaripe to the Marau Peninsula. Along the latter, the Tinhare fluvial archipelago and the Bay of Camamu protect the seventy-kilo-metre stretch of mangrove forests lining the Dende Coast. There the brackish tidewater mangal gives way to dense stands of African oil palms that help symbolise and sustain the region (Figure 5). (32)

Figure 6 combines location data for existing palm oil processing facilities with satellite imagery to illustrate the durable legacy of Bahia's oil palm-mangal socioecosystem. The enduring relationship between palm oil production and tidewater mangal hint at the historical development of Bahia's African oil palm landscape. Ethnography supports the association; local farmers now consider the shore the preferential zone for oil palm cultivation. As one smallholder instructed,

 There's more Dende down near the coast, because it takes to the land
 down there by the sea, the sort of land we don't have up here
 (10 kilometres inland). Dende does not take to clay soils. And the
 wind down there is salty; every breeze that passes through brings salt
 to the Dende...By the time it gets up here, the salt has dissipated.
 Dende loves salt! It loves salty lands. Up here [Dende] more often
 dies. (33)

Modern scientists would likely qualify his argument, but the farmer's sentiment is pervasive in the region, and illustrates the socioecological connection between the African oil palm and Bahia's coast.

In addition to its beneficial floristic and ambient conditions, the mangal also marshals its fauna to diffuse the African oil palm. Besides humans, a range of creatures including birds, rodents, reptiles and domesticated animals all partake of the oil palm's fruit, sowing its seeds as they move about. The Southern American Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus brasiliensis) is a particularly effective dispersant of oil palm seeds. The vernacular for subspontaneous oil palm groves in Bahia is fields 'planted by vultures (urubu)', and the phrase is common even in Brazilian scientific literature. A description of Bahia's oil palm landscapes written in 1975 by a federal agricultural research agency begins: 'In the state of Bahia the African oil palm is found along the entire coast, in subspontaneous situation, planted by vultures, formed in subnative groves in autoctonal secondary growth forests (capoeiras)'. Of course, vultures and people help comprise a complex socioecosystem. Notwithstanding their presumably fundamental role in spreading oil palm seeds, vultures operate(d) in a humanised landscape that supported increases in the bird population, which in turn would have increased candidates for seed vectors, expediting the oil palm's expansion. (34)

Bahia's tidewater mangal provided a vital foothold for the African oil palm where it continues to proliferate. Yet, dense subspontaneous groves of oil palms now stretch inland as far as thirty kilometres. To understand the process of diffusion that led to the contemporary Dende Coast, we turn to the fundamental role of colonial agriculture and its patterning in the landscape. The inland oil palm groves that eventually developed did so within particular agroecological contexts.

Colonial agroecologies (35)

In Bahia, the Luso-Brazilian sugar economy concentrated west of the capital in the fertile lands ringing the Bay of All Saints, a region known as the Reconcavo. By the seventeenth century, a particular agricultural geography had taken shape. Sugar barons and their mills (engenhos) held sway along the bay's northern rim where rich massape clays abounded. In the western Reconcavo, inland from the town of Cachoeira, tobacco farms dominated. Southward from Nazare das Farinhas and Jaguaripe, in sandier soils less apt for the major export crops, manioc-producing lands stretched for hundreds of kilometres through the southern Comarca of Ilheus. Manioc flour was the indispensable staple that fed Bahia's agricultural workers and the growing urban population in the capital city; thus its production was of great economic and strategic importance to colonial authorities. Successive royal decrees beginning in 1639 ordered farmers on the Southern Coast to plant manioc instead of sugar or tobacco. From the Jiquirica valley to the Marau Peninsula, the area now dubbed the Dende Coast lies at the heart of those colonial manioc landscapes. (36)

In response to a growing internal foodstuffs market, population and manioc fields boomed on the Southern Coast beginning in the 1780s. Despite a prevalence of poor farmers and small land holdings in the region, enslaved workers comprised more than half its population. According to Barickman, typical manioc farms in coastal Bahia employed between two and eight enslaved labourers. A 1786 census of Cairu listed 188 manioc farms, 169 of which employed 635 enslaved workers to give an average of 4.3 per farm. The region's Afro-Brazilian presence was not however limited to the enslaved. Bahia's relatively high rates of manumission produced an Afro-Brazilian peasantry of subsistence farmers as early as the eighteenth century, many of whom worked manioc fields on the coast, some with enslaved workers of their own. Thus Afro-descendants, enslaved and free, predominated on Bahia's Southern Coast. (37)

Throughout Bahia, modes of agricultural production reflected a racial hierarchy. Farmers of European descent typically produced for export markets, i.e. sugar, coffee, cotton and cacao, although some produced manioc for regional and urban markets. Finding fewer opportunities in the export markets, free people of African descent engaged primarily in subsistence production, growing manioc and other foodstuffs for consumption and selling surpluses on the internal market. By the late-eighteenth century if not before, manioc farming on Bahia's Southern Coast was largely an Afro-Brazilian enterprise. (38)

Traditional swidden-fallow manioc agriculture in Bahia is analogous to yam cultivation in Western Africa. The first Portuguese visitors to Brazil, familiar only with the African staple, mistook indigenous manioc farming for that of yams. Both are root tubers traditionally cultivated in tropical rainforest biomes, and thrive best in systems with relatively long fallow periods of five to fifteen years. After the establishment of the African oil palm in Bahia, both supported systems of agroforestry with perennial palms growing above herbaceous tubers and other crops. Rich in fats and carotenoids, palm oil complements carbohydrate-rich manioc. Thus Bahia's manioc-oil palm agroecologies provided nutritional balance similar to Western Africa's yam-oil palm complex. (39)

Shifting tuber agriculture propagated African oil palms in Bahia much as it had in Africa. As farmers felled tracts of Atlantic forest to plant manioc, they spared oil palms. Once in fallow, spared palms proliferated in the opened canopy. The legacies of that agroecological history remain embedded in the cultures and landscapes of coastal Bahia. As a third-generation manioc farmer and palm oil producer in Taperoa explained,

 Nowadays Dende is mostly planted, but it wasn't always like that. It
 was [planted by] the animals that fed in the fields...[Farmers] would
 burn the forest to plant manioc. Other crops don't take well to
 swidden (fogo), but [manioc] is a life of fire. So it was like that,
 no one taught us how to plant Dende, because it was always ready to
 go... Like we always say, 'Planted by vultures.' Every animal plants
 it, rats love Dende, all animals love Dende...When they eat it, they
 carry it off. After a little while, they drop it and it grows right
 there in the ground... Before too long the forest fills up with
 Dende...You never see fields with only manioc or sugar cane around
 here, there's always lots of Dende, too. (40)

The farmer's account places oil palm expansion within an agroecosystem of swidden manioc blazed into Atlantic forest. While he is quick to highlight floral and faunal influences, his statement ultimately emphasises the human agency involved in clearing forest and sparing oil palms. Through that socioecological process, manioc farmers in coastal Bahia drew African oil palms from the mangal onto upland farms, encouraging dense subspontaneous groves in tabuleiro Atlantic forests. As such, those farmers fused African and Brazilian cultural-environmental knowledges to create a novel Afro-Brazilian agroecological framework that transformed New World landscapes (Figure 7).

A synergy of coastal geography and agroecological patterning provided a venue for the African oil palm in Bahia, and the subsequent Afro-Brazilian landscape emerged from an amalgam of indigenous, European and African agencies. Europeans mandated the cultivation of manioc along the Southern Coast; however peoples of African descent were its principal cultivators. And while the indigenous Manihot esculenta and its swidden-fallow cultivation and processing techniques are native to north-eastern South America, the tuber-African oil palm relationship derives from Africa. Moreover, manioc's similarity to African yams and its sixteenth century introduction to Africa meant that most Afro-descendants in Brazil shared a degree of familiarity with the plant and its cultivation techniques. Ultimately Afro-Brazilian knowledge and resistance played a decisive role in the establishment and maintenance of dense African oil palm landscapes and the cultures they supported. Analysing the African oil palm within Bahia's colonial slave economy reveals how enslaved workers circumvented that system to transform their environment. (41)


Despite the brutality of the transatlantic slave system, enslaved workers used negotiation, force and flight to gain access to land throughout the diaspora, creating landscapes of resistance. One such landscape, widespread in the tropics, is the mangal. That socioecosystem was familiar to many New World Africans, especially those with ties to coastal Africa, where the mangal has sustained foragers and farmers for millennia. For Afro-descendant communities throughout the Neotropics, the mangal served (and serves) as a refuge and resource. In Bahia, as in Western Africa, the mangal counted the African oil palm among its many assets. (42)

In colonial Brazil, Portuguese property law eased access to the coast. With salty soils of little use for agriculture, royal decrees maintained tidelands as public property. The mangal became a de facto commons, granting extraordinary usufruct access for fishing, hunting, shellfish gathering and other subsistence and commercial activities. That access extended even to enslaved workers who managed to negotiate time off in a variety of forms. Quota systems, the religious calendar (Sundays as well as feast days) and specific agreements allowed workers time to tend to their own sustenance. Soares de Sousa referred to fields belonging to enslaved Africans in the sixteenth century. In dooryard gardens and subsistence plots, enslaved workers cultivated foodstuffs to augment sustenance and occasionally to sell. For those living near coasts, the mangal provided a vital lifeline, supplying protein in the form of seafood and, from its stands of African oil palm, a preferred oil rich in calories and nutrients. (43)

While many used the oil palm-mangal as a commons, returning on occasion to forage, hunt and cultivate sustenance and surplus, others seized permanent refuge there. Maroon communities known as mocambos or quilombos were widespread along Bahia's coast, both in the colonial Reconcavo and to its south, where the oil palm-mangal harboured fugitive and free Afro-descendants. Centuries later, thousands of communities descended from quilombos still exist in Brazil. The locations and socioecological contexts of contemporary quilombos exemplify enduring relationships of geography, agriculture, and resistance (Figures 5 and 6). (44)

Figure 8 reveals some socioecological aspects of resistance still apparent on the Iguape peninsula--a district of the north-western Reconcavo long-prized by sugar planters. Removed from elite land holdings and monoculture, the spatial distribution of quilombos in that region instead clusters around the resource-rich mangal. The locations of the communities represent an ecotonal subsistence strategy, balancing access to the sea and mangal with community ownership of upland fields fit for subsistence farming. Today residents farm manioc and tend the subspontaneous oil palm groves near the shore of the Bay of All Saints, just as their predecessors did. Those communities stand as legacies of Afro-Brazilian resistance inscribed in local landscapes, and underscore a protracted struggle for land, livelihood and human rights that persists in contemporary Bahia. (45)

Contemporary palm oil harvesters and processors in Iguape draw on long-established local traditions. An account ledger dated 1791 from an engenho bordering Iguape's mangal provides a rare look into the production of palm oil by enslaved workers. Attached to the post-mortem inventory of Felix Alves de Andrade, owner of Engenho Maroim, the ledger registered the significant sum of four milreis (Rs.4$000) paid to Benta, a Brazilian-born (crioula) enslaved woman, for beans and palm oil. She processed palm oil to resist the monotonous and likely inadequate diet imposed by her captors. Benta's surplus production enhanced not only her nutrition but also her economic situation. While the production and sale of foodstuffs by enslaved workers in colonial Brazil is widely recognised, Benta's account is extraordinary for its direct reference to palm oil, as well as its implication for labour divisions. As a woman, Benta provides a gendered connection to Africa, where palm oil processing had long been the domain of women. (46)

While the regularity of palm oil processing by enslaved workers is unknown, it was certainly not limited to the one occurrence. A contemporary of Benta, Vilhena confirmed and encouraged the availability of African oil palms on sugar engenhos. 'There should also be African oil palms (dendezeiros) [next to the master's house]', he suggested; 'planters should prohibit slaves from selling the fruit bunches, but allow them to take them home and extract the oil'. Implying that enslaved workers sometimes sold oil palm fruit, Vilhena recommended against the practice, presumably to bolster workers' rations without additional expenditures. Subspontaneous African oil palms were a boon, then, not only to the Afro-descendants who relished the oil, but also to miserly planters looking to evade responsibility for their captives' nourishment. (47)

When enslaved workers and others produced surpluses, they could access a robust regional foodstuffs market. A list of produce marketed at an outdoor fair in Nazare das Farinhas in the summer of 1823 lists a wide range of local goods. Alongside staples, livestock and an impressive array of fruit, customers could buy palm oil and the unprocessed fruit of the African oil palm. Though the effort to produce palm oil was considerable, a bottle of the oil claimed a relatively high price compared to processed staples such as manioc flour. Subspontaneous African oil palm groves were indeed a windfall for rural Bahians. (48)

In complement to the domestic Dende that supplied rural areas, merchants in Salvador imported 'azeite de palma' from West and Central Africa. Arriving from African ports in Sao Tome, the Mina Coast, Luanda, Lagos and Ouidah, among others, imported oil was the preference among urban consumers from the early eighteenth century. The palm oil trade was bound tightly with the slave trade, as many of its most notorious purveyors dealt in both commodities. That commercial relationship speaks to the ambiguities of colonial trade in the Luso-Atlantic. Ships trafficking African captives often carried preferred African commodities like palm oil, kola nuts, cowry shells and colourful handmade textiles (panos da costa). Such diverse payloads linked the brutal trade in humans with Afro-Brazilian cultural resistance, or the importation and sale of African goods in defiance of European preferences and colonial laws. (49)

The regular and sometimes clandestine trade with Africa helped foment a culture of Afro-Brazilian street food in Salvador, often at the expense of royal profits. Vilhena warned in the eighteenth century that 'groups of black women', in concert with powerful European wholesalers, sold 'mostly contraband goods...bought from foreign ships...coming from factories on the coasts of Guine and Mina, in this way stealing [excise revenue] from His Majesty'. He bemoaned the 'insignificant and vile' fare sold by ambulant Afrodescendants, including many dishes still popular in Bahia: 'caruru, vatapa...acaraje, [and] ubobo', all based in palm oil, 'the essential seasoning in most of Black cuisine'. That urban market for imported oil contrasted with domestic Dende produced and distributed mainly by rural farmers, some of them enslaved. Nonetheless, both rural and urban Bahians enforced similar cultural preferences and economic demands for palm oil, linking its domestic and foreign markets. (50)

Even as imported African oil satisfied most of the urban market, less-expensive domestic palm oil did supplement supplies. Travelling through the rural manioc-producing region of Jaguaripe during Holy Week of 1817, Prince Maximilian reported the cultivation of 'coco-Dende', linking it to weekly shipments of produce to the capital. As trade with West Africa began to subside toward the end of the nineteenth century, demand for domestic palm oil increased. In 1876, a steam-powered soap factory opened in Nazare, using coconut, castor and palm oils produced in Bahia. In June of 1878, the Salvador daily O Monitor reported the arrival of twenty barrels of palm oil on a sailboat from Santarem on the Southern Coast. The urban market for domestic Dende was finally expanding. (51)

Growth of the domestic palm oil market failed to attract the attention of elite sugar planters in the Reconcavo who remained uninterested in Dende production through the colonial period. An inventory from 1875 is instructive. At the time of his death, affluent planter Tomas Pedreira Geremoabo owned sugar mills in Maragogipe and Iguape, along with 57 enslaved workers. Included in his post-mortem inventory was Ilha dos Coelhos, an islet near his engenhos in the Paraguacu Inlet, listed 'in poor state (mau estado)', and valued at Rs.50$000. Three years later, a notice in O Monitor advertised the public auction of Geremoabo's estate and described the same islet simply as 'with African oil palms (dendezeiros)'. Its appraisal had dropped to Rs.30$000, just 2.3 percent of the price of his most valuable enslaved worker. Apparently, an abundance of oil palms still amounted to degraded land of little worth in the 1870s. That islet also demonstrates how African oil palms and their primarily Afro-Brazilian harvesters could quietly exploit the neglect of landed elites. (52)

The value of subspontaneous African oil palm groves, like those that occupied the Ilha dos Coelhos, was likely imperceptible to probate assessors more accustomed to appraising monoculture. Scattered irregularly across fields and forests, subspontaneous oil palms would have generally failed to draw the attention of officials; but, when cultivated in rows, the orderly geometry would have indicated valuable agriculture. An 1871 inventory from Jaguaripe offers a rare and revealing example of that distinction. At the time of his death, Portuguese subject Manoel Martins de Andrade owned, along with ten enslaved workers, an orchard of 'several coconut palms in production, several mango trees, African oil palms, and other fruit trees [all] being situated in their own fields with free access to the sea'. His inventory depicts monocultures of African oil palms as distinct from the biodiverse agroecological landscapes of palms, tubers and other food crops that, while more typical of the region, assessors generally disregarded. It also suggests an increase in both supply and demand for domestic palm oil. (53)

Further evidence of ordered oil palm cultivation during that period comes from the Southern Coast. An inventory from 1876 listed 500 oil palms on the grounds of one of the largest sugar mills in Ilheus, and one from 1880 lists a field of ten oil palms in Taperoa, valued at just Rs.$300 each. Though still scarce, the increase in documented oil palm cultivation is telling. During the final throes of slavery-based agriculture, proprietors in Bahia moved to appropriate Afro-Brazilian palm oil production, presaging the agroindustrial development that began in the next century. (54)

Notwithstanding the changing market forces, palm oil remained an important tradition and source of revenue for rural Afro-descendants at the close of the slavery era. A full century after Benta's account, freedwomen continued to process palm oil for consumption and sale. Nine years after emancipation, in 1897, probate officers in Camamu inventoried the contents of a home owned by the recently deceased Gaudencia Martins, a native of Africa and formerly enslaved worker. Among her few possessions were a mortar and pestle and a large jug (moringa) and small bottle of 'azeite Dende'. Together those goods and implements suggest that Martins processed palm oil in surplus amounts, likely for sale. Officials appraised her jug of palm oil at Rs.7$000, more than 23 times the appraised value of one African oil palm, and seventy times the going rate of one kilogram of manioc flour. Long prized for its nutritional benefit and connection to Africa, palm oil had become a relatively lucrative value-added commodity for Afro-descendants emerging from the ruins of the slavery economy. (55)

While the dense stands of African oil palm comprising the Dende Coast developed southward from the Jaguaripe Inlet to the Marau Peninsula, commensurate groves failed to appear elsewhere in Bahia where less accommodating agroecologies prevailed. Scattered with sugar engenhos and cattle pastures during the colonial period, Bahia's sparsely populated Coconut Coast extends north from Salvador to the border with Sergipe. Though African oil palms do occur sporadically there, coconut palms predominate along its sandy, unprotected shoreline, lending that area its name. The Reconcavo boasts a longstanding association with the African oil palm, but land pressures associated with export agriculture confined the palm mainly to the mangal. South of the Dende Coast, in the lands around Ilheus, colonial population and manioc production lagged well behind areas further north. During the nineteenth century that region became the centre of a cacao boom, which largely employed cabruca, a closed-canopy agroforestry system. By then, a socioecological collusion of humans, birds, mangroves and manioc was (re)producing a distinct and productive landscape of African oil palms on Bahia's Dende Coast. (56)


The African oil palm migrated to the New World tropics as part of a momentous human and botanical diaspora. While the process of the palm's introduction to Brazil remains unclear, it was apparently abundant in Bahia by 1699 when it suddenly appeared in the record. Primary accounts and linguistic evidence suggest African agency played a significant role in the palm's initial establishment and perpetuation, if not its actual introduction. Colonial elites showed little interest in the African oil palm, and its durability within Bahia's landscapes and cultures reflects the cultural-environmental knowledge and preferences of Afro-Brazilians. Using overt and subtle resistance strategies, Afro-descendants managed to contravene European designs on the landscape.

Along much of the Bahian coastline, the mangal socioecosystem harboured the African oil palm and served as a conduit for its diffusion. Although non-human inputs were crucial for the spread (i.e. subspontaneity) of the palm, traditional and scientific emphasis on the role of vultures and other animals works to devalue the fundamental contributions of New World Africans in the development and maintenance of Bahia's groves. Enslaved workers tended African oil palms for cultural and economic uses, and benefited from the vibrant mangal where shellfish and African oil palms flourished. Born into Brazilian slavery, Benta learned to process palm oil in the New World. Harnessing African and Brazilian knowledges, she leveraged a transatlantic network of tradition and innovation to improve her dietary and economic conditions.

As an Afro-Brazilian peasantry emerged in the late eighteenth century, farmers in coastal Bahia blended African and Brazilian agricultural and ethnobotanical knowledges to proliferate the African oil palm. Swidden mosaics of Atlantic forest and manioc fields transformed coastal Bahia into a transatlantic simulacrum of the palm-tuber complex of Western Africa, creating an Afro-Brazilian landscape. The resulting Dende Coast endures as a testament to African and Afro-descendant contributions to the economic, ecological and cultural development of the Americas.

Indeed that landscape helped transform Brazilian national cultures and identities. Moqueca, the iconic Afro-Brazilian seafood stew, emerged from the brackish confluence of aquatic fauna and African oil palms in the tidewater mangal. From upland farms came pirao, a hardy porridge of manioc flour tinged with palm oil. Along with peppers and spices, palm oil Africanised Brazilian cuisine and became the flavour of Afro-Brazil. When internal migration surged, beginning in the late-eighteenth century, enslaved and freed Afro-descendants carried Bahia's palm oil-infused culinary and religious traditions to Rio de Janeiro and cities across Brazil, helping to meld and nationalise an Afro-Brazilian culture.

Benta's legacy perseveres in the landscapes of resistance she helped create in Iguape. There a group of registered quilombo communities welcomes visitors on 'Route of Freedom (Rota da Liberdade)' tours that highlight traditional Afro-Brazilian subsistence, culinary and religious practices, including processing techniques of manioc and palm oil. By showcasing their cultural-ecological heritage in situ, those communities maintain creative and commercial control of their personal and regional histories. Besides providing an important revenue stream for the community, exhibitions of palm oil processing and sales of artisanal produce during tours and at local markets propel historical narratives of resistance into the present. Artisanal palm oil production there and in Afro-Brazilian communities throughout coastal Bahia provides a cultural-environmental link with the African continent, as well as a window into the complex historical development of the Americas.

(Post)colonial landscapes are layered with myriad influences and processes. The historical study of such landscapes therefore benefits from inclusive, polyvocal methodologies. The interaction of diverse voices, sources and methods produces rich and novel accounts that illuminate the mechanics of place-formation while working to counteract Eurocentrism and elite privilege. Deconstructing the agents, networks and processes involved in a colonial landscape transformation, we can grasp and appreciate the historical development of an Afro-Brazilian landscape.


Fieldwork in 2010 was supported by a Robert C. West Field Research Award funded by the Department of Geography and Anthropology, Louisiana State University; and 2012 fieldwork by an IIE Graduate Fellowship for International Study funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (formerly, Fulbright-Hays DDRA). I am grateful for thoughtful comments from Judith Carney and the anonymous reviewers, and for input and support from many generous collaborators in Bahia, especially Daniel Jesus dos Santos and Urano Andrade. All errors are mine alone.


Department of Geography and Anthropology Louisiana State University 227 Howe-Russell-Kniffen Geoscience Complex Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA


(1.) Luis da Camara Cascudo, Historia da Alimentacao no Brasil, 4th ed. (Sao Paulo: Global Editora, 2011) pp. 150, 555-7, 841-5; Robert A. Voeks, Sacred Leaves of Candomble (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997) pp. 82-4, 213. Elaeis guineensis does not appear in Alfred Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (Westport: Greenwood, 1972).

(2.) CEPLAC, Socio-economico da Regiao Cacaueira, vol. 13 (Ilheus: IICA, 1975) pp. 45-6; B.J. Barickman, A Bahian Counterpoint: Sugar, Tobacco, Cassava, and Slavery in the Reconcavo, 1780-1860 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998). The Dende Coast includes the counties (municipios) of Cairu, Camamu, Igrapiuna, , Nilo Pecanha, Marau, Taperoa and Valenca; see Case Watkins, 'Dendezeiro: African Oil Palm Agroecologies in Bahia, Brazil, and Implications for Development', Journal of Latin American Geography 10/1 (2011): 9-33.

(3.) John K. Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998); Judith A. Carney and Richard N. Rosomoff, In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa's Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009); Joao Jose Reis and Eduardo da Silva, Negociacao e Conflito: A Resistencia Negra no Brasil Escravista (Sao Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1989); Stuart B. Schwartz, Slaves, Peasants, and Rebels: Reconsidering Brazilian Slavery (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992) pp. x-xi; William C. Van Norman, Shade Grown Slavery: The Lives of Slaves on Coffee Plantations in Cuba (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2013) ch. 6. Haripriya Rangan, Judith Carney and Tim Denham, 'Environmental History of Botanical Exchanges in the Indian Ocean World', Environment and History 18/3 (2012): 311-42; David Barry Gaspar and Darlene Clark Hine (eds) More Than Chattel: Black Women and Slavery in the Americas (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996).

(4.) Africans in diaspora and their descendants.

(5.) Cascudo, Historia da Alimentacao, pp. 205-6; Ira Berlin and Philip D. Morgan (eds) Cultivation and Culture: Labor and the Shaping of Slave Life in the Americas (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993); Voeks, Sacred Leaves; Carney and Rosomoff, In the Shadow of Slavery; Andrew Sluyter, Black Ranching Frontiers: African Cattle Herders of the Atlantic World, 1500-1900 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).

(6.) The transformation of such cultural landscapes has long been a prominent theme among cultural geographers, but the discipline had until recently largely neglected African agency. Recent geographical scholarship is, however, working to uncover the socioecological legacies of the African diaspora: see works in n. 5 and Judith A. Carney, 'Landscapes and Places of Memory: African Diaspora Research and Geography', in Tejumola Olaniyan and James H. Sweet (eds) The African Diaspora and the Disciplines, pp. 101-18 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010). For a sweeping treatment of 'landscape' within geography, see John Wylie, Landscape (London: Routledge, 2007). For a geographical theorisation of colonial landscapes, see Andrew Sluyter, Colonialism and Landscape: Postcolonial Theory and Applications (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002). James C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985) pp. 48-85.

(7.) Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995); James H. Sweet 'Reimagining the African-Atlantic Archive: Method, Concept, Epistemology, Ontology', The Journal of African History 55/2 (2014): 147-59. For examples of inclusive methodologies, see n. 5 and Sluyter, Colonialism and Landscape. LaDona Knigge and Meghan Cope, 'Grounded Visualization: Integrating the Analysis of Qualitative and Quantitative Data through Grounded Theory and Visualization', Environment and Planning A 38/11 (2006): 2021-2037.

(8.) Jack R. Harlan et al., 'Plant Domestication and Indigenous African Agriculture', in Jack R. Harlan et al. (eds) Origins of African Plant Domestication, pp. 3-22 (The Hague: Mouton, 1976); C.W.S. Hartley, The Oil Palm, 3rd ed., (Essex: Longman, 1988) p. 4.

(9.) Harlan, 'Plant Domestication', p. 4; Carney and Rosomoff, In the Shadow of Slavery, pp. 15-18, 44; Hartley, Oil Palm, pp. 5-8.

(10.) Duarte Pacheco Pereira, Esmeraldo de Situ Orbis (London: Hakluyt Society, [1505-1508] 1937) p. 121.

(11.) For palm oil as a provision on slave ships, see Carolus Clusius, Exoticorvm Libri Decem (Leiden: Plantiana Raphelengii, 1605) pp. 57, 194 and Carney and Rosomoff, In the Shadow of Slavery, pp. 52, 69. For its use in African slaving operations, see Joseph C. Miller, Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade, 1730-1830 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997) pp. 398, 414.

(12.) Marcus Rediker, The Slave Ship: A Human History (New York: Viking, 2008) p. 350; Leif Svalesen, The Slave Ship Fredensborg (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000) pp. 70-1, 94, 108-12, 117-8, 190.

(13.) Kristin Mann, Slavery and the Birth of an African City: Lagos, 1760-1900 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007) p. 133; Carney and Rosomoff, In the Shadow of Slavery, pp. 74-6; Rediker, Slave Ship, p. 214; Svalesen, Slave Ship, p. 70; H.W. Macaulay and Walter W. Lewis, 'Her Majesty's Commissioners to Viscount Palmerston, No. 17', in 'Correspondence with the British Commissioners Relating to the Slave Trade: Sierra Leone, The Havana, Rio de Janeiro, and Surinam', in Accounts and Papers: 1837-8, vol. 15, 17 vols. (London: W. Clowes and Sons, 1838) p. 25.

(14.) Europeans commonly referred to much or all of Western Africa as Guinea or Guine during the transatlantic slave trade--see Carney and Rosomoff, In the Shadow of Slavery, pp. 102-3.

(15.) For an exceptional record of palm kernels as seventeenth-century commodities, see Adam Jones (ed.) West Africa in the Mid-seventeenth Century: An Anonymous Dutch Manuscript (Atlanta: Emory University, 1995) pp. 73-128. Early accounts of Elaeis guineensis in the Caribbean are recorded in Richard Ligon, A True and Exact History of the Island of Barbados (Indianapolis: Hackett, [1657] 2011) pp. 102, 123-4, Hans Sloane, Catalogus Plantarum Quae in Insula Jamaica (London: Impensis D. Brown, 1688) p. 176, David R Harris, 'Plants, Animals, and Man in the Outer Leeward Islands, West Indies: An Ecological Study of Antigua, Barbuda, and Anguilla', (Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 1965) p. 115, Nicolaus Joseph von Jacquin, Selectarum Stirpium Americanarum Historia (Vindobonae: Krausiana, 1763) pp. 280-2, and Philip Miller, The Gardeners Dictionary, 8th ed., (London: Printed for the author, 1768), n.p., entry at PAL. See the international linguistic compilation in James A. Duke et al., Duke's Handbook of Medicinal Plants of Latin America (Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis, 2009) pp. 289-91.

(16.) Orlando Ribeiro, Aspectos e Problemas da Expansao Portuguesa (Lisboa: Centro de Estudos Politicos e Sociais, 1962) pp. 107-9, 153-4; Gabriel Soares de Sousa, Tratado Descriptivo do Brasil em 1587 (Sao Paulo: da Silva, 1879) pp. 143-50, 169. Other accounts of 16th century Bahia include Pero de Magalhaes Gandavo, Historia da Provincia Santa Cruz: A que Vulgarmente Chamamos Brasil (Lisbon: Biblioteca Nacional, [1576] 1984) and Fernao Cardim, Tratados da Terra e Gente do Brasil (Sao Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, [1583-1589?] 1939).

(17.) Anonymous, 'Navegacao de Lisboa a Ilha de S. Thome', in Academia Real das Sciencias (ed.) Colleccao de Noticias para a Historia e Geografia das Nacoes Ultramarinas (Lisbon: Typographia da Academia Real das Sciencias, 1812), vol. 2, no. 2, p. 88; Clusius, Exoticorvm, p. 57; Jones, West Africa, pp. 73-128; Willem Piso, 'Medicina Brasiliensi', in Historia Naturalis Brasiliae, ed. Joannes de Laet, 4 vols. (Lugdun. Batavorum: Apud Franciscum Hackium, 1648) vol. 1, p. 5. For French incursions in colonial Brazil, see H.B. Johnson, 'Portuguese Settlement, 1500-1580', in Leslie Bethell (ed.) Colonial Brazil (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987) pp. 17-20, 27-30.

(18.) Soares de Sousa, Tratado, pp. 177-8. Pindoba can also refer to the oleaginous catole (A. humilis) but, describing the palms as 'very tall and thick', Soares de Sousa almost certainly indicated A. oleifera. Simao Estacio da Silveira, Relacao Sumaria das Cousas do Maranhao, 8th ed., (Sao Luis: Editora Siciliano, [1624] 2001) p. 63; Claude d'Abbeville, Histoire de la Mission des Peres Capucins en l'Isle de Maragnan et Terres Circonuoisines, (Paris: Francois Huby, 1614) p. 221. In that original French version, d'Abbeville lists the palm as 'Pindo', but the temperate Butia capitata does not extend to the Amazon. An 1874 Portuguese translation by P.A. Marques lists the palm, in my opinion correctly, as 'Pindoba'. Frei Vicente do Salvador, Historia do Brazil (Rio de Janeiro: Biblioteca Nacional, [1627] 1889) p. 13. Hoehne interprets Vicente as describing Elaeis guineensis, but that claim is unverifiable: see F.C. Hoehne, Botanica e Agricultura no Brasil no Seculo XVI (Sao Paulo: Editora Nacional, 1937) p. 327.

(19.) Georg Marggraf, 'Historiae Plantarum', in Historia Naturalis Brasiliae, ed. Joannes de Laet, 8 vols. (Lugdun. Batavorum: Apud Franciscum Hackium, 1648) vol. 3, p. 134.

(20.) First quote in Ivan Alves Filho, Memorial dos Palmares (Rio de Janeiro: Xenon, 1988) p. 15. Second quote in Schwartz, Slaves, Peasants, and Rebels, p. 122; discussion of disputed population figures on p. 123. Flavio Gomes, Palmares: Escravidao e Liberdade no Atlantico Sul (Sao Paulo: Editora Contexto, 2005). Both reports are published in Edison Carneiro, O Quilombo dos Palmares, 2nd ed. (Sao Paulo: Editora Nacional, 1958) pp. 201-222, 251-260. Palmares was located at altitudes of approximately 500 metres in and around the Serra da Barriga, a rugged forest in the agreste region of contemporary Alagoas. Elaeis guineensis does not usually thrive in such conditions.

(21.) William Dampier, Dampier's Voyages (London: E. Grant Richards, 1906), vol. 2, pp. 386, 393.

(22.) John T. Schneider, Dictionary of African Borrowings in Brazilian Portuguese (Hamburg: Verlag, 1991) pp. 129, 131, 220, 253, 261-2. For the four 'cycles' of Bahian slavery, see Pierre Verger, Trade Relations Between the Bight of Benin and Bahia from the 17th to 19th Centuries, trans. Evelyn Crawford (Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1976) p. 1. For Kimbundu as lingua franca, see James H. Sweet, 'The Evolution of Ritual in the African Diaspora: Central African Kilundu in Brazil, St. Domingue, and the United States, Seventeenth-Nineteenth Centuries', in Michael Angelo Gomez (ed.) Diasporic Africa: A Reader (New York: New York University Press, 2006) p. 71. For a compilation of African common names for Elaeis guineensis, see H.M. Burkill, The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa, 2nd ed., 6 vols. (Kew: Royal Botanic Gardens, 1985-2004), vol. 4, pp. 354-5.

(23.) For more on etymology, see Watkins, 'Dendezeiro': 19. For 16th century Luso-African trade in 'azeite de palma', see Pereira, Esmeraldo, p. 121. For 20th century imports of 'azeite de palma' to Bahia, see 'Mercado de Importacao', Boletim da Secretaria de Agricultura, Viacao, Industria e Obras Publicas do Estado da Bahia Anno 2, 1/1-2 (January-February, 1904): 89. Adhering to the distinction between 'Dende' and 'azeite de palma', I use the term 'Dende Coast' throughout this paper and elsewhere.

(24.) On germination, see R. Corley and P. Tinker, The Oil Palm, 4th ed. (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003) p. 217.

(25.) AHU, Conselho Ultramarino, Caixa 2, Docs. 167-8; also available in Projeto Resgate, Universidade de Brasa-lia, (Accessed 10 Aug. 2012).

(26.) Cascudo, Historia da Alimentacao, p. 224.

(27.) Johann von Spix and Karl von Martius, Atraves da Bahia, 3rd ed., trans. Manoel Augusto Pirajai da Silva and Paulo Wolf (Sao Paulo: Companhia editora nacional, 1938) p. 85.

(28.) For uses of palm oil in Afro-Brazilian religious rituals in the mid-nineteenth century, see Luis Nicolau Pares, The Formation of Candomblei: Vodun History and Ritual in Brazil (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013) pp.116-17. Voeks, Sacred Leaves, pp. 82-4, 213; Raul Lody, Tem Dende, Tem Axe: Etnografia do Dendezeiro (Rio de Janeiro: Pallas, 1992) pp. 13, 61-80.

(29.) Edison Carneiro, Ladinos e Crioulos: Estudos sobre o Negro no Brasil (Rio de Janeiro: Civilizacao Brasileira, 1964) p.73.

(30.) Municipal reports solicited by Brazil's national library in the 1880s record African oil palms in the states of Alagoas, Ceara, and Pernambuco--see Anais da Biblioteca Nacional, (Rio de Janeiro: Biblioteca Nacional, 1991-1992), vol. 111, pp. 158, 239, 255; vol. 112, 258. A monograph from the mid-twentieth century found African oil palms in the states of Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Espirito Santo, Piaui, and Maranhao--see Gregoirio Bondar, O Dendezeiro (Sao Paulo: Edicoes Melhoramentos, 1954) p. 9.

(31.) On salt-tolerance, see Corley and Tinker, Oil Palm, p. 77. Rice is one of few crops that flourish in the intertidal zone. Its commercial production in Bahia, however, remained secondary through the colonial period and beyond, accounting for only 5.05% of the foodstuffs handled by Bahia's public granary from 1785-1849. Manioc flour averaged 87.44% in the same period--see Richard Graham, Feeding the City: From Street Market to Liberal Reform in Salvador, Brazil, 1780-1860 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010), app. b. Rice was, however, common as a subsistence crop in coastal Bahia, including Cairu, Camamu, Ilheus and Boipeba in the eighteenth century, where lowland fields likely integrated with the oil palm-mangal, as they doin Senegambia: see Luis dos Santos Vilhena, A Bahia no Seculo XVIII, 3 vols. (Salvador: Editora Itapua, 1969), vol. 2, pp. 492, 496.7; see also Judith Carney, '"With Grains in Her Hair": Rice in Colonial Brazil', Slavery and Abolition 25/1 (2004): 1-27. For mangrove rice cultivation in Senegal, see Judith A. Carney, Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), ch. 2, African oil palms in fig. 2.15.

(32.) Spix and Martius, Atraves da Bahia, p. 224; Mauro Cirano and Guilherme Camargo Lessa, 'Oceanographic Characteristics of Baia de Todos os Santos, Brazil', Revista Brasileira de Geofisica 25/4 (2007): 365. A GIS analysis of Landsat 7 imagery (2012) revealed mangal on 62.7% of the southern coast from the Jaguaripe inlet to the base of the Marau peninsula.

(33.) Interview 2 Nov. 2012.

(34.) Interviews from 2009-2012 are replete with references to oil palm fields 'plantado pelo urubu'. CEPLAC, Diagnostico, p. 45; see also Bondar, Dendezeiro, pp. 5, 9, 19.

(35.) Here I consider the period of 'colonial agroecologies' to extend past Brazil's formal independence from Portugal in 1822 (i.e. the Empire of Brazil) until emancipation in 1888. During that period, major agricultural changes occurred throughout Brazil but, in Bahia, slavery-based agriculture remained stubbornly entrenched, see Emilia Viotti da Costa, The Brazilian Empire: Myths and Histories (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000) ch. 6.

(36.) Barickman, Bahian Counterpoint, pp. 12-15; Graham, Feeding the City, p. 86; Stuart Schwartz, 'Plantations and Peripheries, c. 1580-c. 1750', in Leslie Bethell (ed.) Colonial Brazil (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987) p. 108.

(37.) Stuart B. Schwartz, Sugar Plantations in the Formation of Brazilian Society: Bahia, 1550-1835 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985) p. 87; Barickman, Bahian Counterpoint, pp. 144, 150-1; Schwartz, Slaves, Peasants, and Rebels, pp. 46, 69-72, 90-1. The region remains predominantly Afro-Brazilian. The 2010 Brazilian Census lists 83.29% of the population of the eight municipios of the Dende Coast as 'preta' or 'parda', the two official racial designations corresponding with African descent, see 30 Sept. 2013).

(38.) Schwartz, Sugar Plantations, pp. 26-7, 245-51, 296, 334; Gentil Martins Dias, Depois do Latifundio: Continuidade e Mudanca na Sociedade Rural Nordestina (Rio de Janeiro: Tempo Brasileiro, 1978) pp. 68-70.

(39.) Ribeiro, Aspectos e Problemas, p. 7; David R. Harris, 'Traditional Systems of Plant Food Production and the Origins of Agriculture in West Africa', in Jack R. Harlan et al. (eds) Origins of African Plant Domestication (The Hague: Mouton, 1976) pp. 311-56.

(40.) Interview 23 Feb. 2012.

(41.) William O. Jones, Manioc in Africa (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1959) p. 32.

(42.) Carney, Black Rice, chs. 2-3; Nina Friedemann and Jaime Arocha, De Sol a Sol: Genesis, Transformacion y Presencia de los Negros en Colombia (Planeta, 1986) pp. 301-78; Felix G. Coe and Gregory J. Anderson, 'Ethnobotany of the Garifuna of Eastern Nicaragua', Economic Botany 50/1 (1996): 71-107; Arturo Escobar, Territories of Difference: Place, Movements, Life, Redes (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008) pp. 39-40, 85-110; Ivor Miller, Voice of the Leopard: African Secret Societies and Cuba (Oxford: University Press of Mississippi, 2009) pp. 70, 75.

(43.) Shawn William Miller, 'Stilt-Root Subsistence: Colonial Mangroves and Brazil's Landless Poor', Hispanic American Historical Review 83/2 (2003): 223-53; Soares de Sousa, Tratado, pp. 169, 293-4. Schwartz, Slaves, Peasants, and Rebels, pp. 45-7; Carney and Rosomoff, In the Shadow of Slavery, pp. 123-38; Barickman, Bahian Counterpoint, pp. 54-65.

(44.) Schwartz, Slaves, Peasants, and Rebels, pp. 105-9. The Brazilian constitution of 1988 codified federal support for quilombos, granting public services and communal land titles. As of 2013, Bahia had recognised 584 quilombo communities, with another 90 in various stages of processing, together more than any other state. For ongoing quilombo certification, see (accessed 8 Dec. 2013). Besides federal certification, many states also recognise quilombos. For a comprehensive list of Bahian quilombos including an additional 30 recognised only by the state, see Universidade Federal da Bahia, Projeto GeografAR, (accessed 7 Nov. 2013).

(45.) Interviews and observations of 14 Aug. and 9 Nov. 2012.

(46.) Inv. of Felix Alves de Andrade, Cachoeira, 1791, APB, Secao Judiciaria (SJ), 2/706/1168/3. I am indebted to B.J. Barickman for this reference. The 'real' (plural 'reis') was the standard unit of currency in colonial Brazil. One thousand units became a 'milreis', written as Rs.1$000. In 1791, Rs.4$000 was enough to purchase 11 kilograms of beans in Salvador--see Barickman, Bahian Counterpoint, p. 62.

(47.) Vilhena, Bahia, vol. 3, p. 188; see also Spix and Martius, Atraves da Bahia, p. 85.

(48.) 'Mappa especulativo dos efeitos entrado pelas estradas de Nazare Termo de Jaguaripe na semana e feira de 12 de Janr[degrees] de 1823', BNRJ, Secao de Manuscritos, II-34, 8, 29 lists 'Dende in bunches' for Rs.1$280 each and bottles of 'azeite de Dende' for Rs.2$560 each. For comparison, 1 unit of manioc flour cost Rs.$320.

(49.) Jose Honorio Rodrigues, Brazil and Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965) pp. 178-84. Vilhena, Bahia, vol. 3, p. 714. For applications by slave traffickers to simultaneously import humans and palm oil from Africa, see 'Correspondencia Recebida do Comandante das Forcas Navais', APB, Secao Colonial-Provincial (SACP), maco 3176. For general references to imports of African palm oil arriving in Bahia from 1718-1889, see Ignacio Accioli de Cerqueira e Silva, Memorias Historicas, e Politicas de Provincia da Bahia (Salvador: Typografia do Correio Mercantil, 1835), vol. 1, p. 158, Carneiro, Ladinos e Crioulos, p. 73; and the series of ship manifests in Serie Manifesto, APB, Secao Alfandega (SA).

(50.) Vilhena, Bahia, vol. 3, pp. 130-1, 188.

(51.) Prinz von Maximilian Wied, Viagem ao Brasil do Principe Maximiliano de Wied-Neuwied, trans. Edgar Sussekind de Mendonca and Flavio Poppe de Figueiredo (Sao Paulo: Companhia Editora Nacional, 1940) pp. 443-4; 'Correspondencia recebida da Camara de Nazare', APB, SACP, maco 1370; 'Importacao, O Monitor, 22 June 1878: 2. Santarem is a former name of contemporary Itubera

(52.) Inv. of Tomas Pedreira Geremoabo, Salvador, 1875, APB, SJ, 5/2183/2652/1; 'Declaracoes', O Monitor, 19 Sep. 1878: 2.

(53.) Inv. of Manoel Martins de Andrade, Jaguaripe, 1871, APB, SJ, 3/1292/1761/07. One of those ten people was a two-year old boy named Silvano.

(54.) Inv. of Maria da Piedade Melo e Sa, Ilheus, 1876, APB, SJ, 03/1406/1875/22; Inv. of Jose Fernandes Panam, Taperoa, 1880, 1/123/190/01. Salvador residents also cultivated African oil palms during this period, notably in Candomble compounds: see Lisa Earl Castillo, 'O Terreiro do Alaketu e seus Fundadores: Historia e Genealogia Familiar, 1807-1867', Afro-Asia 43 (2011): 213-59 and Pares, Formation of Candomble, p. 173. For cultivation in late-nineteenth century Ilheus, see Mary Ann Mahony, 'The World Cacao Made: Society, Politics, and History in Southern Bahia, Brazil, 1822-1919' (Ph.D., Yale University, 1996) pp. 185, 274 n. 12, 285-6.

(55.) Inv. of Gaudencia Martins (Africana), Camamu, 1897, APB, SJ, 1/412/800/10. Weekly commodities prices listed in 'Pauta e oficio semanal, 1896', APB, SA, Diretoria das Rendas, 060.05. Preferred for processing palm oil in bulk, the mortar and pestle were unnecessary for preparing small amounts; contemporary Bahians sometimes press preheated palm fruit by hand to produce enough oil for family meals. The above moringa was likely a large ceramic jug made from clay with intrinsic monetary value independent of the palm oil it contained.

(56.) CEPLAC, Diagnostico, p. 41.
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