Kola trade and state-building: upper Guinea Coast and Senegambia, 15th - 17th centuries
Brooks, George E.
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INTRODUCTION: From earliest recorded times to the present day, no African commodity has been more important in West African commerce than kola, a product of the coastal rainforest belt. Kola are highly esteemed as an indulgent and mild stimulant, are used for medical purposes, as valued presents between friends and first acquaintances, as symbols in social and religious ceremonies, as tokens of peace or war (depending on their white or red color) in diplomatic exchanges between states, and as the source of a distinctive yellow dye for decorating cloth. The beginnings of West African inter-regional commerce in kola cannot be dated. That the savannah populations had a longstanding commerce with the forest areas is attested by Arabic sources dating kola exports from the Western Sudan to North Africa from the thirteenth century. 2 In recent years scholars have contributed much information concerning overland routes connecting kola-producing areas of Guinea-Conakry, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ghana with interior markets, but there has been no comparable study of coastwise commerce along the upper Guinea Coast, and for good reason: the paucity of sources for the period prior to the seventeenth century.... [TRUNCATED]
African Studies Center Working Paper No. 38
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