Tag Archives: African slave labor

The History of Chocolate: A Story of Mass Democracy or Mass Exploitation?

Background

A traditional view of the history of chocolate focuses on the growth in mass consumption of chocolate as a byproduct of democratization and the industrial revolution. With time, consumption of chocolate spread from Aztec elites to the European nobility to the common citizens of the Western world. However, I contend that the history of chocolate is not simply one of expanded access fueled by increased political and economic inclusiveness, but rather one of shifting patterns of exploitation. The expansion of chocolate consumption has tracked the political enfranchisement and growth in economic power of white Westerners, but has simultaneously resulted in the brutal exploitation of poor brown and black people, first in Latin America, and now in Africa.

The Elite Origins of Chocolate

In ancient Aztec society, the consumption of chocolate was confined to the elites, which included members of the royal house, lords and nobility, long-distance merchants and warriors. Consumed after dinner at royal banquets, it was considered an exotic delicacy and a gift from the gods, a precious treasure not to be wasted on commoners (Coe and Coe, pg. 95). It was also used in religious ceremonies, including marriage rites, to symbolize the sacred nature of matrimonial covenants (Coe and Coe, pgs. 97-101). When the Conquistadors brought chocolate back to the Old World from Mesoamerica, it quickly spread through Europe, becoming a delicious treat for European nobles. Through the displays and pageants of Spain’s Habsburg rulers, the drink quickly gained fame, with powerful oligarchs such as Cosimo de’ Medici becoming “chocoholics” (Coe and Coe, pg. 135). Curiously, chocolate came to be seen as more feminine, as it was popularized with ladies of the royal courts in Europe. It retained its association with marriage, as women intermarried among royal families and brought their love of chocolate with them (Coe and Coe, pgs. 136-137).

The image below displays the status of chocolate drink as both an elite status symbol and a beverage uniquely associated with the idealized image of the noble lady and her well-ordered household:

18th century French noblewomen drink chocolate with their afternoon meal

Chocolate Comes to the Masses

Despite chocolate’s elite origins, a different narrative took form around chocolate as production methods were refined and it became more broadly available to the masses. By the late 17th century in England, chocolate became associated with the intellectual movement towards democratic governance during the Enlightenment era. Chocolate houses and coffee houses became centers of democratic thought, prompting Charles II to issue an ultimately futile decree to close them down in 1675 (Coe and Coe, pg. 168). Chocolate was truly democratized in the mid-19th century, as technological innovation during the Industrial Revolution made chocolate far more accessible to ordinary people. In 1828, Coenraad Johannes Van Houten invented the alkalizing process which gave chocolate its familiar dark color and made it milder in flavor. In 1849, Joseph Fry invented the modern chocolate bar, using cocoa butter to transform chocolate into a solid confection (Coe and Coe, pgs. 234 – 241). Simultaneously, sugar, which had come into common usage as both a preservative and an ingredient to supplement the caloric needs of working and middle class citizens in the West, came to be one of the most important components of both chocolate drink and the newly invented bars (Schartzkopf and Sampeck). As the narrative goes, the physical transformation of chocolate represented a revolution in accessibility, carried on a wave of political democratization and the industrialization-fueled growth in mass consumption.

The picture below displays three different styles of modern, mass-produced chocolate bar, complete with sugar for extra flavoring and the familiar dark coloring introduced by Van Houten’s method:

Modern, mass-produced chocolate bars complete with unique design elements

The Thin Veneer of Democracy

Though the history of the spread of chocolate is often portrayed as a triumph of mass democracy, in truth chocolate has been and continues to be a product of extremely unequal, hierarchical systems of racial and class-based oppression, in which poor brown and black people produce chocolate as a luxury good to be enjoyed by better off, mostly white Westerners. The oppressive hierarchies of Western chocolate production trace their origins to the encomienda system of the early 16th century, in which Spanish colonizers virtually enslaved the Native people of their American colonies, forcing them to harvest cash crops such as chocolate beans, often at the expense of their own lives (Yeager). Eventually, the encomienda system came to an end, and chocolate production in the New World gradually became the domain of newly enslaved Africans. As globalization increased, and outright slavery fell out of favor, production shifted from Latin America to Africa, with (technically illegal) slave labor still being used to produce chocolate in places such as Sao Tome as late as the early 20th century (Satre). In the modern era, the exploitation of African labor continues. 74% of chocolate was produced in Africa during the 2016-2017 season, but Africans only consumed a tiny percentage of the chocolate they produced, and received a comparatively small cut of the profits (Leissle, pgs. 4-7, 36-46). In the words of Ghanian farmer Mercy Asabea, when asked about the local scarcity of chocolate, “Ghana made Europe what it is…We have every resource here, yet Ghanians are not progressing at all” (Leissle, pg. 57).

The following chart shows a harrowing picture of the relationship between modern chocolate production and consumption, with the orange dots representing main exporters and the red dots representing export destinations:

Modern chocolate production and consumption patterns (April 2010 to March 2011)

Accusations of highly exploitative labor practices, including forced child labor, continue to this day. This video from the Stolen Lives Project details just a few of the abuses allegedly committed by the modern day chocolate production industry:

Conclusion

Ultimately, it is important for us to develop a realistic perspective on chocolate and its origins. One can both appreciate the expansion of access to this delicious treat, especially in the Western world, yet simultaneously reject purely Western-centered narratives which exclude the experiences of disadvantaged black and brown people in the developing world as they relate to chocolate production and consumption

Works Cited

“Bars of Black Swiss Chocolate.” Wikimedia Commons, 8 Oct. 2015, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dark_chocolate_bar.jpg.

Boucher, Francois. “The Afternoon Meal.” Wikimedia Commons, 10 Aug. 2017, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fran%C3%A7ois_Boucher_002.jpg.

Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. Thames and Hudson, 2013.

Leissle, Kristy. Cocoa. Polity Press, 2018.

Satre, Lowell Joseph. Chocolate on Trial: Slavery, Politics, and the Ethics of Business. Ohio Univ. Press, 2006.

Schwartzkopf, Stacey, and Kathryn E. Sampeck. “Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism.” Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica, by Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck, University of Texas Press, 2017, pp. 73–99.

Stolen Lives Project. Chocolate Slaves. Vimeo, 2 Aug. 2015, vimeo.com/135172005.

Wade, Kristine. “The Production of Chocolate.” Flickr, 3 Feb. 2017, http://www.flickr.com/photos/147998004@N06/32640931946.

Yeager, Timothy J. “Encomienda or Slavery? The Spanish Crown’s Choice of Labor Organization in Sixteenth-Century Spanish America.” The Journal of Economic History, vol. 55, no. 04, 1995, pp. 842–859., doi:10.1017/s0022050700042182.

Economics + Transatlantic Slave Trade = Racism

In today’s world, racism unfortunately still exists, but to acknowledge why racism is still existent, one needs to pinpoint the relationship between African Americans and slavery, and ask, why Africans in particular were enslaved. Eric Williams, historian & former Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago answers this question stating, “The reason was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the laborer, but the cheapness of the labor.” What he is arguing here is that Africans were not enslaved because they were naturally set to be enslaved, they weren’t enslaved because they were known to be better workers. They were first enslaved because they were the cheapest and easiest population to get at and to quickly and efficiently move to the new world to begin producing these goods (Martin).  Racism was a byproduct of the transatlantic slave trade and not the reason for it because it was primarily driven by economic considerations/justifications as illustrated by the encomienda system which was very much structured like the European feudal structures.

enclomendia picpyrud meowmadisonlong_1385062049

(Source: https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/infogram-particles-700/madisonlong_1385062049.jpg)

The conquerors used Native Americans to farm the land and work the mines to produce wealth, the system of force labor is called the Encomienda System. These activities provided food for the population and products for the trade with Europe and the east. The Encomienda System was similar to The Manor System in Medieval Europe or the Feudal System. Instead of having nobles as lords who controlled the peasants, in this case the Spanish were the lords, and the Native Americans were like the peasants. The Spanish claimed that the Encomienda system would benefit both settlers and Indians. The idea is that they would come with their superior intellect and military might to protect and care for the indigenous people, and thereby save their souls by baptizing them or by making them Christian. In return, the indigenous people would work a portion of their time for Spanish settlers, and give them a tribute of their crops, such as a form of cacao, often 10’s of thousands of cacao beans per year (Martin). The reality played out differently.

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(Source: http://cdn.dipity.com/uploads/events/0d8054001025d85654853dd5f81d502e_1M.png)

The Spanish settlers forced long labor on different crops. They didn’t pay indigenous workers. They failed to protect them, and they also seized their lands as time went on. So indigenous people were unable to pay tribute the Spaniards would claim their lands as theirs. And as a result, indigenous people died from a variety of different diseases in which they didn’t have immunity and experienced harsh living, and working conditions. The Encomienda system really went on until it was clear that demographic collapse was imminent that the clergy protested. So the Spanish clergy in this area of the world protested and the indigenous people themselves revolted against it. However abuses continued (Martin). After the indigenous slave labor proved to be insufficient, Chattel slavery is what the Europeans turned to next.

slave20trade20map1(Source: http://macquirelatory.com/Slave%20Trade/slave%20trade%20map.jpg)

Chattel Slavery, slavery in which people are treated as the chattel (personal property) of an owner, and are bought and sold as commodities had the greatest result from sugar (Martin). As sugar was a rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, and a necessity by 1850, the enslavement of Africans was disseminated by Europeans who prosecuted and profited from the slave trade for three centuries (Mintz 148).  “The institutionalization of slavery in the New World led directly to the Transatlantic slave trade due to the fact that demand for slaves outpaced the growth in supply by natural increase nearly everywhere in the Americas”(Cumo). As there was massive demand for labor, the Europeans looked to Africa. The African’s themselves sold African slaves as a commodity in return for goods such as rum, guns, textiles and other goods to exchange for slaves, and then transported them across the Atlantic to sell to plantation-owners, and then returned with sugar and coffee, also fueled the first great wave of economic globalization (The Economist). By the Africans selling their own people, they enriched their own realms and strengthened them too. This is where the dehumanization aimed at Africans begins.

It was, after all, in the interest of slave traders and slave owners to propagate the myth that Africans were not human beings, or at least not fully human, a species different from the rest of humanity most likely due to the pro-slavery lobby that lived on. Thus, it is the idea of racial hierarchy, developed, refined and disseminated by Europeans over such a spectrum of time where racism really initiated against African Americans. It is not clear why Europeans fixated on the skin color of Africans. Imaginably, they did so simply because the physical appearance of blacks was as markedly different from their own and, regarding themselves as superior beings, most Europeans associated a series of negative characteristics with blacks (Olusoga). Also, it was thought that Africans were said to “be able to need less food, and be able to withstand the elements better than whites”, this here is social and psychological violence falsely generated to dehumanize Africans (Asante). The false claims of blacks that was intentionally imagined preceded slavery and helped to justify it.

In conclusion, without European slave traders, slave buyers, slave insurers, slave sailors, slave auctioneers, and slave owners, there would have been no transport of Africans across the sea for enslavement, and therefore no racism developed. Further exploration on this topic would be to watch the multimedia source below, and see the further developed myth of racism that stemmed from economics and the byproduct of the transatlantic slave trade to this day. Although racism is a myth derived, developed, and changed from generation to generation, the impact of racism is very real to this day.

Works Cited:

Asante, Molefi Kete. The Ideology of Racial Hierarchy and the Construction of the European Slave Trade. Vol. 3. 2001. Web. 01 Mar. 2016.

Cumo, Christopher. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade, 1750–1900.” World History Encyclopedia. Alfred J. Andrea. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Credo Reference. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

International: Breaking the chains; slavery. (2007, Feb 24). The Economist, 382, 64-73. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 5: Popular Sweet Tooths and Scandal.” Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

Martin, Carla. “AAAS E-119 Lecture 6: Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. 2016. Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York, NY: Viking, 1985. Print.

Olusoga, David. “The Roots of European Racism Lie in the Slave Trade, Colonialism – and Edward Long | David Olusoga.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 2015. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

The Interdependent Relationship between African Slaves and British Culture

A cursory glance at the African slave trade, the sugar industry, and British culture suggests that there is little these three topics have in common. After study, it is discovered that while it is true that there is little these three have in common, a more interesting and complex relationship surfaces, one of interdependency. The cyclical interdependency that developed from the 1600s-1800s between enslaved African laborers on sugar plantations and English consumption of sugar, was driven on one end by the economic advantages found in African slave labor and on the other by the cultural, economic, and political significance sugar held in English culture. I will demonstrate the economic dependence sugar plantation owners had on African slave labor and how that developed into an English cultural dependence on the slave trade, creating an interdependent relationship.

As the American Natives succumbed to European diseases, European plantation owners looked across the ocean to Africa for their source of labor. These African slaves were procured by African slave traders through various inhumane methods and sold to European buyers on the African coast.

Alexander Falconbridge was a surgeon who took part in four voyages on slave ships, where he spoke with numerous slaves about their experiences and witnessed the slave trade firsthand.
Alexander Falconbridge was a surgeon who took part in four voyages on slave ships, where he spoke with numerous slaves about their experiences and witnessed the slave trade firsthand.

Surgeon Alexander Falconbridge wrote in his 1788 An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa, “most of the negroes shipped off from the coast of Africa, are kidnapped” (13). With a majority of African slaves procured through kidnapping, the supply of slaves was seemingly endless, essentially the entire African population, since anyone could be kidnapped and sold into slavery. Unstable politics and lack of regulation and enforcement meant all Africans were vulnerable to becoming slaves. In this, plantation farmers found an economical solution, an endless supply, to their labor supply deficiency. Scholars have since provided additional evidence that Africans were the economically prudent choice of labor. Africans were supposedly more productive than Natives: “sugar… required strength which the Indian lacked, and demanded the robust “cotton nigger” as sugar’s need of strong mules produced…the epithet “sugar mules” (Williams 3). The belief that Africans were biologically suited for labor in addition to the endless supply meant that African labor was a prudent investment, and so, 10 to 15 million enslaved Africans were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean between 1500 and 1900 (Martin, Lecture 10). Furthermore, economists Alfred Conrad and John Meyer showed that African slave labor was not only a smart individual investment, but also a generator of global economic growth: the rate of return on the purchase of a slave stands at a high 13% while slave finance, procurement, and transport created a huge industry in which many made their fortune (The Economist 4).

Sugar plantation owners depended on Africans as laborers because of the economic advantages Africans allowed for: an endless supply of labor, biological suitability for labor, and high returns for individual owners and the world economy. Thus, sugar plantation owners came to depend on African slaves as their source of labor and producer of sugar.

Sugar was a rarity in 1650, a luxury in 1750, but by 1850, sugar had transformed into a necessity for the entire population, thus making it a commodity that motivated the need for a large labor force (Mintz 147-148). In England, sugar made its way from the wealthy mouths of the elite to the masses through cups of tea and coffee. The cultural significance of sugar (and so slaves) and the elitism associated with it can be seen through literature, art, and personal journals of the time. For example, posing in portraits with slave or sugar became quite a popular genre, representing excellent taste as well as wealth and power.

George Washington by John Trumbull. George Washington was a well-known figurehead during his time and his portraits were well publicized. It is believed that as a result, his personal servant Billie was one of the most well known slaves.
George Washington by John Trumbull. George Washington was a well-known figurehead during his time and his portraits were well publicized. It is believed that as a result, his personal servant Billie was one of the most well known slaves.

Untitled by Anonymous is believed to depict a Frenchman due to his wardrobe. The royal colors that he is adorned in, the cane he carries, and even his dominant position all lend to a aura of power and wealth.
Untitled by Anonymous is believed to depict a Frenchman due to his wardrobe. The royal colors that he is adorned in, the cane he carries, and even his dominant position all lend to a aura of power and wealth.

In Untitled, a young slave boy is offering a European plantation owner a sample of refined ground sugar while a slave woman labors in the background. George Washington poses proudly in George Washington with his personal servant and slave William “Billy” Lee in the background. In both of these portraits, the slaves are painted smaller, more demure, and with less detail, all lending their inferiority to the white man. Meanwhile, all details of the portraits depict the white man exuding confidence and importance: the color and quality of his coat, his cane, and his posture. The presence of sugar and slaves imply that this white man is wealthy and powerful.

As sugar gained popularity, the English people used it as medicine, spice condiment, decorative material, sweetener, and preservative. And so, sugar became an integral English commodity: sugar mitigated the bitterness of medicine, made meals more delicious, decorated halls and foyers, sweetened teas and coffees, and lengthened the life of short seasoned crops.

The growing demand for sugar boosted England’s economy to unseen heights: Herman Merivale, a prominent British colonial administer, answered “sugar” when asked “What raised Liverpool and Manchester from provincial towns to gigantic cities?” (Lecture 10). Sugar inspired the invention of new machinery, mass production, and consumerism. Sugar equaled progress and money. As sugar gained importance, its economic power also transformed into political power. Sir Dalby Thomas, governor of Jamaica and sugar planter, noted that the entire process of slave labor – colonial establishment, slave procurement, protection of shipping, all the way to the actual consumption of commodities – “took shape under the wing of the state,” and so each stage of the system was “meaningful politically as they were economically” (Mintz 41).

1600-1800: The rise in sugar consumption rose as sugar gained cultural, economic, and politic significance. In turn, this drove the demand for a labor force, ideally cheap and efficient.
1600-1800: The demand in sugar consumption rose as sugar gained cultural, economic, and politic significance. In turn, this drove the demand for a labor force, ideally cheap and efficient.

Sugar’s cultural significance, and later economic and political, resulted in increased demands, an exponential rise as seen in the chart. As demand rose, England became more and more dependent on the African labor force to supply their demand.

Initially, English plantation owners depended on the African slave as their cheap source of labor. As sugar gained popularity, culturally, economically, and politically, the English people also came to depend on the African slave labor to supply their demand for sugar. The interdependency between British culture and African slaves would eventually become a huge obstacle in the abolitionist movement because the end of slavery implied the end of Britain’s rise.

Work Cited

Primary Sources

Falconbridge, Alexandra. An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa. London: J. Phillips, 1788. Internet Archive. Web. 13 March 2015.

Trumbull, John. George Washington. 1780. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Web. 13 March 2015.

Anonymous. Untitled. Date Unknown. Location Unknown. Hérodote. Web. 13 March 2015.

Secondary Sources

C.W. and A.J.K.D. “Did slavery make economic sense?” The Economist. Sep. 27. 2013. Web.

Martin, Carla D. “Slavery, Abolition, and Forced Labor.” Chocolate, Culture, and the Politics of Food. Harvard Extension School: Cambridge, MA. 3 March. 2015. Class Lecture.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power. Brattleboro: The Book Press, 1922. Print

Williams, Eric. Capitalism and Slavery. Richmond, The Will Byrd Press Press, Inc, 1944. Print.