While is it a well known fact that an inter exchange of crops among continents took place during the transatlantic trade era, the contribution of Africa in this exchange is almost unmentioned. Judith Carney in her article “African Rice in the Columbian Exchange” sets out to fill this informational gap by identifying the role that Africa played in establishing rice and other crops in America.
In this paper, I shall give my opinion of Carney’s publication and establish its historical significance. Carney begins by asserting that the African people have domesticated indigenous plants that have sustained the continent’s population for thousands of years. In my opinion, this is an important point since it highlights the fact that despite the famine that often plague the continent, its inhabitants have been able to adopt and domesticate crops that can cope with the harsh Sahara environment. The article also highlights that long before the Columbian Exchange, African cereals were being dispersed to India and China. This demonstrates that the continent had trade ties with continents other than Europe and America.
The presence of rice in Africa is credited to the Muslim traders who brought the cereal from Asia and introduced it to Eastern Africa. The article then focuses on the slave trade which saw Africans being taken to the plantation in America as forced laborers. The important point that Carney makes in this section is that Africans are only deemed as recipients of crops from the America while the crops that the slaves took with them are ignored. African crops such as millet, sorghum, rice and yams were used to feed the slaves in the voyage. From the article, it is clear that while the crop dispersion from African to America may not have been the primary objective, it was one of the byproducts of the slave trade. Slave ships bought huge amounts of domesticated African crops and in particular rice to feed their slaves on the long voyage.
The surplus of the food carried by the slave ships was then sold off in the American region leading to the domestication of the same in the continent. Despite the fact that this cereals were obtained from African soils, the credit for these cereals is given to the Europeans who carried the product from Asia to Africa. This misconception was only reviewed on discovery that African rice was distinctly different from the Asian species. The article by Carney also brings to light racial prejudices that European scholars had against Africans. These scholars refused to credit Africans with having developed the ability to build irrigations schemes and therefore proposed that rice was only grown in naturally occurring flood plains.
This bias is not surprising since the Europeans viewed the Africans as a primitive people and any marked agricultural advancement on their part could only be explained away as a factor of Asian or European influence. Another fact that arises from this article is that while rice was the most significant crop brought from Africa, there were other African crops that were domesticated in the Americas by African Slaves. These slaves engaged in growing preferred foods from their home continents in their slave gardens without any assistance or interest from their masters. This experimental practice led to the establishment of African domesticated foods in the Americas.
Carney laments that this is an achievement for which few scholars have credited the African slaves for. This paper set out to analyze the article by Judith Carney so as to form an opinion on her findings regarding the role of Africa in the Columbian exchange. It has been identified that African crops and in particular rice were a part of the crop exchange although the African continent was not credited with this crop. From this article, it is also clear that European scholars were biased against Africa and failed to give it due credit for its role in the Columbian Exchange.
Carney’s article has to some extent righted this historic wrong by highlighting the role that Africa played in the crop exchange.