Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Latin American History. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 22 May 2024

Palm Oil and Afro-Brazilian Cultureslocked

Palm Oil and Afro-Brazilian Cultureslocked

  • Case WatkinsCase WatkinsJames Madison University

Summary

Palm oil is fundamental in Afro-Brazilian cultures, economies, and ecologies. Perhaps no other single material is as essential to Afro-Brazilian identities and cosmologies as is palm oil. Known in Brazil as dendê, or more precisely, azeite de dendê, palm oil exemplifies the intricate relations linking cultures and environments in the African diaspora. During colonial overseas expansion, the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis Jacq.) crossed the Atlantic to become a transformative but underappreciated African contribution to cultures and ecologies in the Americas. In Brazil, the palm interspersed within mangrove ecosystems, secondary forests, shifting agriculture, and diversified agroforests on the coasts of Bahia, creating complex landscapes and economies that supplied palm oil for a variety of Afro-Brazilian cultural expressions. In complement to those landscapes of domestically produced dendê, by the 18th century, transatlantic commercial networks had begun importing palm oil in bulk from West and Central Africa to Bahia. Along with a range of other ancestral goods, including colorful West African textiles and stimulating kola nuts, African palm oil served as an essential base material in growing Afro-Brazilian foodways, aesthetics, and religions. When these trades fell into decline in the late 19th century, demand for locally produced palm oil spiked, and Bahia’s domestic economy consolidated regional dendê cultures, ecologies, and markets. In the 21st century, palm oil remains integral in Afro-Brazilian identities and cultures, and complex traditional landscapes continue to supply local and national markets. Enduring as a living monument to resistance in the African diaspora, dendê provides livelihoods for rural communities, the unmistakeable flavor of Afro-Brazilian foodways, and a sacred symbol and ritual element in Afro-Brazilian religions.

Subjects

  • History of Brazil
  • History of Latin America and the Oceanic World
  • Afro-Latin History
  • Cultural History
  • Digital Innovations, Sources, and Interdisciplinary Approaches
  • Environmental History

You do not currently have access to this article

Login

Please login to access the full content.

Subscribe

Access to the full content requires a subscription