P148 – African Consumers of Imported Goods. Studies on the Globalization of Ordinary Things (18th-21st c.)
10 July, 09:00 – 10:30

Guindeuil Thomas / Centre français des études éthiopiennes (CFEE)/Institut des mondes africains (IMAF)
Coret Clélia / Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne/Institut des mondes africains (IMAF)


This panel deals with the process of globalization in Africa focusing on the imported material goods and their uses, from the end of the 18th century up to now. Africa still only appears as a marginal space in global history despite the considerable importance of African studies to the social, economic and cultural phenomena of globalization. Research devoted to the most outward-looking African societies enabled to bring Africa into an acknowledged global circulating system of ideas and commodities. In this way, attention has been paid to human contacts and, as a consequence, to the creation of networks which overcame the boundaries and made possible these circulations on very long distances. Though it is nowadays admitted that Africa takes part in global exchanges through the activity of African traders, a next phase has been initiated with the book of J. Prestholdt (2008), who imported history of consumption and consumerism – first developed for the study of Europe (D. Roche, 1997) – on the African field. Using this approach, this panel addresses questions on globalization focusing on African consumers, and particularly on consumers of the imported goods for which long distance commercial networks have been built. To what needs these goods are they responding? Are they produced in this aim, and for these consumers in particular? How do African consumers deal with these objects? How do these objects become “cultural” and “heritage” artefacts for local populations?

Biens matériels importés et leurs usages en Afrique. Études sur la mondialisation des biens ordinaires (XVIIIe-XXIe siècles)
Ce panel se propose d’étudier les processus de mondialisation en Afrique de la fin de la période moderne à nos jours, à travers une approche centrée sur les biens matériels importés et leurs usages. Le champ de l’histoire globale n’accorde qu’une place marginale à l’Afrique, et ce malgré l’attention des études africaines pour les phénomènes sociaux, économiques ou culturels liés aux mondialisations. Ce sont en particulier les études dédiées aux sociétés les plus tournées vers les activités d’échange qui ont raccroché l’Afrique à un système mondial de circulation des idées et des biens déjà bien identifié. L’attention s’est fixée sur la constitution de réseaux humains qui transcendent les frontières et permettent aux biens de parcourir de très longues distances. S’il est aujourd’hui établi que l’Afrique s’intègre aux échanges mondiaux par l’activité de ses marchands, un cap a été franchi avec l’ouvrage de J. Prestholdt (2008), qui a importé sur un terrain africain une « histoire de la consommation » longtemps réservée à l’Europe (D. Roche, 1997). En s’inspirant de cette démarche, ce panel réunira des contributions sur la consommation des biens importés, qui sont la raison d’être des réseaux commerciaux de longue distance. À quels besoins répondent ces biens ? Ces biens sont-ils fabriqués pour cette finalité et ces consommateurs ? Comment s’intègrent-t-ils chez leurs acquéreurs, au point parfois d’être revendiqués comme des objets « culturels » et patrimonialisés ?

Paper 1

Benjamin Jody / Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA

Cotton, Cloth and Cosmopolitanisms on the Upper Guinea Coast: Merchants, Migrants, Slaves and Speculators, 1785-1815

During the most active years of the Atlantic slave trade in West Africa, cloth trading constituted a major market entangled with both slave trading and social transformations linking Senegambia and Upper Guinea to India, southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas. Textiles were essential commodities used for slave trading in West Africa and were among the most heavily exported goods to Africa from Europe. This paper employs a reading of textiles, both as commodities and as historical sources, to highlight competition and cosmopolitanism along the Guinea riverine coast between the Iles de Los and Freetown the context of slave rebellions, warfare between Britain and France and British-imposed abolition of slave trading. In what ways are interests based in the interior interacting with dynamics on the coast during this period through the close of the Napoleonic Wars? Conversely, what role does cotton farming play in Freetown’s efforts to promote ‘legitimate trade’ both on the coast and in the interior when compared to earlier efforts? What do the clothing styles of various actors—Africans, Euro-Africans, Europeans, African Americans and others—suggest about cultural interaction, cultural values and social change of the period?

Paper 2

Coret Clélia / Universitié Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne / Institut des mondes africains (IMAF)

Culture, Consumption and Trade. The Various Uses of Tobacco on the East African Coast (19th-Century)

Used for medecine purposes or for sociability moments, being chewed or snorted, tobacco was used in different ways on the East African coast before the 19th-Century. Muslim groups (Swahili) as well as non muslim groups (Oromo, Boni) used to consume tobacco at that time. When the European colonisation began, these uses were transformed because the production of tobacco changed as well. The German settlers in the Witu protectorate, Tanganyika, intensified the local production of tobacco, but importation of tobacco (Havana leaves for instance) was still important . This presentation will deal with the evolution of the uses and the value of tobacco as a mean to explore the relationships between the different populations of the Swahili coast during the early colonial period. It will show how the control of imported commodities was linked to power.

Paper 3

Stylianou Nicola / The Open University, UK

Hayes Textiles Ltd and the British Manufacture of Gele in the Post-Colonial Period

The gele, a headwrap worn by women has become an iconic Nigerian fashion and an important signifier of Yoruban and Nigerian identity. It is frequently seen in major European and American cities. However, a British company was instrumental in the development of the modern gele we see today. Hayes Textiles Ltd drew on an elaborate international manufacturing network (Switzerland, India, and Japan) to create gele exclusively for the Nigerian market from the 1930s until the company’s closure in 2000. This paper will focus on the company’s role post independence, a period in which Hayes textiles flourished despite a ban on importing luxury goods into Nigeria.
The company were market leaders in their field. Similarly to the better known ‘wax prints’ produced by British and Dutch manufacturers from the late nineteenth century onwards we see a British company, working hard to meet the desires of their African clientele. The designs produced were eclectic, drawing on West African textile traditions as well as sources from all around the world. While floral and geometric patterns dominate Chinese Pagodas, Japanese cherry blossoms and the British Tudor Rose sit alongside Mercedes Benz logos and space rockets.
This paper will seek to explore what these textiles reveal about the aspirations of Nigerians post-independence and consider the implications of a British company being so instrumental in Nigerian fashion in a post-colonial context.

Paper 4

Frederiksen Bodil Folke / Roskilde University, Denmark

Representing Imported Commodities to Kenya’s 1950s Middle Classes

Throughout the first half of the 20th century the business interests and avtivities of Kenya’s Asian population formed key conduits that inserted foreign household consumer goods in the Colony. In urban areas Asians competed with European business and merchant interests; in rural areas their retail outlets in small ’dukas’ met with only a few African competitors.
As Colin Campbell (1987) notes, writing about 19th Century Europe, modern consumerism demands three things: mass production, advertising and credit. In Kenya, industrial production of ’ordinary things’, like food stuffs, clothes and durable household goods, gained speed after World War II, but the large European and and Asian middle class, and sections of Africans, relied on the regular provision of imported goods.
Inspired by D. Roche’s approach in his ’History of Ordinary Things’ (1997) I will present work on the diffusion and circulation of information of imported goods. In particular I will look into newspaper advertisments as a pivotal element in the circulation of knowledge of the foreign products and their uses. From the early 20th century onwards, newspapers formed a key part of the infrastructure that enabled communication, commerce and consumption, and Indian finance, technology and editorial skills sustained a number of them.
My sources for this presentation are advertisents of consumer products in a selection of Asian and African newspapers, 1945-52.

Paper 5

Guindeuil Thomas / Centre français des études éthiopiennes (CFEE), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia/Institut des mondes africains (IMAF)

The material culture of Ethiopian Coffee ceremony and its imported elements

The coffee ceremony is now a part of the national traditions of Ethiopia, though its history does not seem very long. Mobilizing elements of Arabic hospitality as well as parts of local rituals, the ceremony, first attested in the 20th century, is based on a particular material culture: coffee-pot, cups, tray, incense burner, stool, grass, etc. The coffee ceremony is a common institution to most of the inhabitants of Ethiopian highlands. Popularly considered as the fullest expression of Ethiopian art of living, this very consensual institution has incorporated, very soon, imported elements, such as Chinese coffee cups. This has been registered through ethnographic collections, and a look at contemporary popular markets in Ethiopia confirms the increasing mixed nature of the material culture of Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Retracing this history helps to understand, in the Ethiopian context, the articulation between imports, local production and local demands regarding the building of everyday life material culture.

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