Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-55597f9d44-qcsxw Total loading time: 0.348 Render date: 2022-08-08T19:15:17.983Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

The significance of Drought, Disease and Famine in the agriculturally marginal zones of West-Central Africa1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 January 2009

Joseph C. Miller
Affiliation:
University of Virginia

Extract

Some 170 references to drought and disease along the south-western coast of Central Africa between 1550 and 1830 suggest that climatic and epidemiological factors motivated the farmers and herders of West-Central Africa in historically significant ways. Nearly all references come from documentary sources and so bear primarily on conditions in the drier and less fertile areas near Luanda and to the south, where African reactions would have been strongest.

While minor shortages of rain occurred too frequently to receive much explicit attention in the documents, longer droughts spread more widely every decade or so and attracted notice. Major periods of dryness, extending for seven years or more and touching all parts of the region, occurred perhaps once each century and produced comments throughout the documentation.

Localized minor droughts hardly disrupted the lives of Africans, who had presumably devised agricultural and pastoral strategies to take account of such ordinary climatic variation. Two-or three-year rainfall shortages produced banditry and warfare that often attracted Portuguese military retaliation. Major droughts disrupted polities and societies and hence coincided with major turning points in West-Central African history in the late sixteenth and late eighteenth centuries. In the earlier case, agricultural failures produced the famed ‘Jaga’ or Imbangala warriors, who elevated pillage to a way of life and who joined the Portuguese in establishing the Angolan slave trade. The later, protracted drought from 1784 to 1793 coincided with the historic peak of slave exports from West-Central Africa.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1982

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

2 Dias, Jill R., ‘Famine and disease in the history of Angola, c. 1830–1930’, Journal of African History, xxi, iii (1981), 349–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3 Cf. the analysis of evidence for similarly oscillating good rains and droughts in eastern and south-eastern Africa in the remote past by Webster, J. B., ‘Drought and Migration: the Lake Malawi Littoral as a Region of Refuge’, in Hinchley, Madalon T., ed., Proceedings of the Symposium on Drought in Botswana (Durham, N.H., 1979), 148–57.Google Scholar Also Webster, J. B., ‘Noi! Noi! Famines as an Aid to Interlacustrine Chronology’, 137Google Scholar, and Herring, R. S., ‘Hydrology and Chronology: the Rodah Nilometer as an Aid in Dating Interlacustrine History’, 38–86, in Webster, J. B., ed., Chronology, Migration and Drought in Interlacustrine Africa (New York, 1979).Google Scholar

4 Pre-eminently Gibson, Gordon D., ‘Himba Epochs’, History in Africa, iv (1977), 67121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Also Larson, Thomas J., ‘The Significance of Rain-Making for the Mbukushu,’ African Studies, xxv, i (1966), 2336CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hauenstein, A., ‘Rites et coutumes liés au culte de la pluie parmi différentes tribus du Sud-Ouest de l'Angola’, Boletim do Instituto de Angola, xxvii (1967), 532; xxix (1967), 528Google Scholar; Mittelberger, Carlos, ‘A chuva e a fome entre os Cuanhamas’, Estudos ultramarinos, VI (1956), 131–72.Google Scholar Extensive comments for the seventeenth century appear in João António de Montecuccolo, Cavazzi, Descrição histórica dos três reinos do Congo, Matamba e Angola (tr. and ed. de Luguzzano, Graciano Maria) (Lisbon, 1965)Google Scholar, esp. book i, paragraphs 14–16; book ii, paragraph 2. See also footnotes 46 and 47 below.

5 On climatology: Queiróz, Dário Xavier, Variabilidade das chuvas em Angola (Luanda, 1955)Google Scholar, and Distribuição da precipitação na Provincia de Angola (Luanda: 1952).Google Scholar Also Trewartha, Glenn T., The Earth's Problem Climates (Madison, 1961), 111–20, 138–48Google Scholar; Pittock, A. B. et al. (eds.), Climatic Change and Variability: A Southern Perspective (Cambridge, 1978).Google Scholar Sharon Nicholson has extended her work on Sahelian West Africa to cover the southern hemisphere: ‘African Climate and Environmental Changes During the Past Five Centuries’ (unpublished final report to the National Science Foundation, 1980).Google Scholar I am grateful to Dr Nicholson for allowing me to see this report.

6 Miller, Joseph C., ed., The African Past Speaks (Folkestone, 1980)Google Scholar, esp. introduction.

7 Esp. Thornton, John K., ‘The Kingdom of Kongo in the Era of the Civil Wars, 1641–1718’ (Ph.D. dissertation, University of California at Los Angleles, 1979)Google Scholar, chap, i, and ‘Demography and history in the Kingdom of the Kongo’, Journal of African History, xviii, iv (1977), 507–30.Google Scholar

8 By Beatrix Heintze, work in preparation.

9 Dias, ‘Famine and Disease’; Gervase Clarence-Smith, W., ‘Drought in Southern Angola and Northern Namibia–1837 to 1945’ (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, unpublished seminar paper, 1974).Google Scholar I would like to acknowledge the stimulation I received from the opportunity to participate in the SOAS working group on climate and history led by Dr Humphrey Fisher in 1974–5.

10 Hitchcock, R. K., ‘The Traditional Response to Drought in Botswana’, in Hinchley, , ed., Proceedings, 91–7Google Scholar; Gervase Clarence-Smith, W., ‘Climatic Variations and Natural Disasters in Barotseland, 1847–1907’ (University of Zambia – School of Education, History Staff Seminars, unpublished paper 1977).Google Scholar

11 Cf. Nicholson, ‘African Climate’.

12 Dias, ‘Famine and Disease’ and works cited therein, and also footnote 5 supra.

13 Silberbauer, G. B., ‘Social Hibernation: the response of the G/wi Band to Seasonal Drought’, in Hinchley, , ed., Proceedings, 112.Google Scholar One may also consult with profit the works of Dirks, Robert, especially ‘Social Responses during Severe Food Shortages and Famine’, Current Anthropology, xxi, i (1980), 2144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

14 For this region: Gibson, ‘Himba Epochs’; Hauenstein, ‘Rites et coutumes’; Mittelberger, ‘A chuva e a fome’.

15 Gibson, , ‘Himba Epochs’, 98.Google Scholar

16 Pittock et al., Climatic Change and Variability. See also Tyson, P. D., Dyer, G. J. and Mametse, M. N., ‘Secular Changes in South African Rainfall’, Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, ci (1975), 817–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Tyson, P. D., ‘Southern African Rainfall: Past, Present, and Future’, in Hinchley, , ed., Proceedings, 4552Google Scholar; Cooke, H. J., ‘Botswana's Present Climate and the Evidence for Past Change’, in Hinchley, , Proceedings, 53–8.Google Scholar

17 E.g. Nicholson, Sharon, ‘The Methodology of Historical Climate Reconstruction and its Application to Africa’, Journal of African History, xx, i (1979), 3149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

18 Thornton, ‘Demography and History’, 529, makes this observation for the area south of the mouth of the Zaire river.

19 Webster, , ‘Drought and Migration’, 152.Google Scholar

20 Cited in Historia angolana (Luanda, 1979?), 56.Google Scholar

21 A fuller statement of these ideas appears in Miller, Joseph C., ‘Lineages, Ideology, and the History of Slavery in Western Central Africa’, in Lovejoy, Paul E., ed., Ideology of Slavery in Africa (Beverly Hills, 1981), 4172.Google Scholar

22 One cannot know the precise level of such losses, but scattered estimates of mortality in recent droughts, ranging upwards from one-third to one-half of the population, imply that they fell in a range of significance.

23 Cf. Curtin, Philip D., ‘Epidemiology and the Slave Trade’, Political Science Quarterly, lxxxiii (1968), 190216CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dawson, Marc H., ‘Smallpox in Kenya, 1880–1920’, in Janzen, John M. and Feierman, Steven, eds., The Social History of Disease and Medicine in Africa (special issue of Social Science and Medicine: Part B – Medical Anthropology, xiii B, iv, 1979), 245–50.Google Scholar

24 Cf. Miller, Joseph C., ‘Legal Portuguese Slaving from Angola: Some Preliminary Indications of Volume and Direction, 1760–1830’, Revue française d'histoire d'outremer, lii, i–ii (nos. 226–27) (1975). 135–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

25 Dawson, ‘Smallpox in Kenya’.

26 Gibson, , ‘Himba Epochs’, 52.Google Scholar

27 The notion that African diseases infected Brazil via the slave trade is nearly a cliché in the literature on Brazilian medical history; e.g. de Freitas, Octàvio, Doenças africanas no Brasil (São Paulo, 1935).Google Scholar

28 See Appendix.

29 dos Santos, João Marinho, ‘Angola na governação dos Felipes: Uma perspectiva de história económica e social’, Revista de história económica e social, iii (1979), 5376.Google Scholar For a contemporary observation: Sousa Coutinho letter of 26 November 1772 (Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino (AHU), Angola, cx. 36).

30 de Cadornega, António de Oliveira, História geral das guerras angolanas (1680) (Lisbon, 19401942), 1, 70.Google Scholar

31 ‘Quando chove ha muito mantimento, mas não ha quern o coma’: de Azeredo, José Pinto, Ensaios sôbre algumas enfermidades d'Angola (Lisbon, 1799), 49.Google Scholar

32 Joseph C. Miller, Way of Death: the Angolan Slave Trade, 1730–1830 (in preparation), and related studies.

34 Birmingham, David B., Trade and Conflict in Angola (Oxford, 1966), 78103.Google Scholar

35 Thornton, , ‘Kingdom of Kongo’, 182–7.Google Scholar

36 Joseph C. Miller, ‘Central and Southern Angola to ca. 1840’, and Gervase Clarence-Smith, W., ‘Class Formation in the Central Highlands of Angola, 1840s to 1910s’, in Heimer, Franz-Wilhelm, ed., The Formation of Angolan Society (forthcoming).Google Scholar

37 Miller, Joseph C., ’Requiem for the “Jaga”’, Cahiers d'études africaines, xiii, i (no. 49) (1973). 121–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar; but cf. Thornton, John K., ‘A Resurrection for the Jaga’, Cahiers d'ėtudes africaines, xviii, i–ii (nos. 69–70) (1978), 2237Google Scholar; Miller, ‘Thanatopsis’, ibid., 229–31; and Hilton, Anne, ‘The Jaga reconsidered’, Journal of African History, xxiii, ii (1981), 191202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

38 Cadornega, , História geral, 1, 52–3Google Scholar; Bràsio, António, ed., Monumenta missionária africana – Africa ocidental (Lisbon 19521971), iii, 333–6.Google Scholar

39 Miller, Joseph C., Kings and Kinsmen: Early Mbundu States in Angola (Oxford, 1976), 194210.Google Scholar

40 In such situations, typically ‘Deprived at home, starving children and adolescents form foraging and bandit gangs…’: Dirks, , ‘Social Responses’, 30.Google Scholar Webster, ‘Drought and Migration’, 152, has noticed the correlation of drought with raiders on a wider scale.

41 Miller, Kings and Kinsmen.

42 Dirks, ‘Social Responses’; in general, Laughlin, Charles D. Jr., and Brady, Ivan A., eds, Extinction and Survival in Human Populations (New York, 1978).Google Scholar Cf. Webster, , ‘Noi! Noi!’, 12Google Scholar, for other parts of Africa.

43 Dias, Gastão Sousa, Relações de Angola (Primórdios da ocupação portuguesa) (Coimbra, 1934). 154, 179.Google Scholar

44 Estermann, Carlos, Etnografia do sudoeste de Angola (Lisbon, 19601961), 1, 43Google Scholar; Urquhart, Alvin W., Patterns of Settlement and Subsistence in Southwestern Angola (Washington, D.C., 1963), 123Google Scholar; Heintze, Beatrix, ‘Die Vassallentribute in Angola im 17. Jahrhundert’ (manuscript in preparation), n. 29Google Scholar; Vail, Leroy and White, Landeg, Capitalism and Colonialism in Mozambique (London, 1980), 120Google Scholar; also recently in Angola during drought, according to reports.

45 Ravenstein, E. G., ed., The Strange Adventure of Andrew Battell of Leigh in Angola and Adjoining Regions (London, 1901), 19 ff.Google Scholar

46 Miller, , Kings and Kinsmen, 144–5Google Scholar, paraphrasing van den Byvang, M., ‘Notice historique sur les Balunda’, Congo, i, iv (1935), 433–4.Google Scholar

47 Miller, , Kings and Kinsmen, 200–1.Google Scholar

48 Cf. Appendix and Miller, Kings and Kinsmen.

49 Miller, , Kings and Kinsmen, 163–6, 232–4.Google Scholar

50 Miller, , Kings and Kinsmen, 164–5Google Scholar; Larson, , ‘Significance’, 24, 28, 32, 35Google Scholar; Hitchcock, , ‘Traditional Response’, 9196.Google Scholar

51 Birmingham, , Trade and Conflict, 78103Google Scholar; Miller, Joseph C., ‘Nzinga of Matamba in a New Perspective’, Journal of African History, xvi, ii (1975), 201–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

52 Miller, ‘Southern and Central Angola’.

53 For a modern instance, Clarence-Smith, ‘Drought’; parallel movements of herders from drier to moister regions in time of drought are cited in Herring, R. S., ‘The View from Mount Otuke: Migrations of the Lango Omiro’, in Webster, , ed., Chronology, Migration and Drought, 51, 58Google Scholar; R. A. Sargent, ‘The Generations of Turmoil and Stress: A Proliferation of States in the Northern Interlacustrine Region, c. 1544–1625’, in Ibid. 232–3.

54 Miller, ‘Central and Southern Angola’.

55 Dias, ‘Famine and Disease’, richly documents this phenomenon for the Luanda region after 1830.

56 Inter alia: Beach, David, ‘The Shona Economy: Branches of Production’, in Palmer, Robin and Parsons, Neil, eds, The Roots of Rural Poverty in Central and Southern Africa (London, 1977), 43–4, 56Google Scholar; Clarence-Smith, W. Gervase, Slaves, Peasants and Capitalists in Southern Angola, 1840–1926 (Cambridge, 1979), 84Google Scholar; Fage, John D., ‘Slaves and Society in Western Africa, c. 1445–c. 1700’, Journal of African History, xxi, iii (1980), 289310CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hartwig, Gerald W., ‘Social Consequences of Epidemic Diseases’, in Hartwig, Gerald W. and Patterson, K. David, eds, Disease in African History: An Introductory Survey and Case Studies (Durham, N.C., 1978), 38Google Scholar, and passim; Northrup, David, Trade Without Rulers (Oxford, 1976). 74–5Google Scholar; Sargent, , ‘Generations of Turmoil and Stress’, 235Google Scholar; Spear, Thomas T., The Kaya Complex: A History of the Mijikenda Peoples of the Kenya Coast to 1900 (Nairobi, 1978), 100Google Scholar; Tosh, John, Clan Leaders and Colonial Chiefs in Lango (Oxford, 1978), 57, 269Google Scholar; and many others. For the general point, Dirks, , ’Social Responses’, 30.Google Scholar

57 de Lacerda, M. Pinheiro, ‘Notícia da cidade de Benguella, e dos costumes dos gentios habitantes daquella sertão’, Annaes marítimos e coloniaes, v (1845), 489.Google Scholar

58 On the nutritional trade-off see Vail, and White, , Capitalism and Colonialism, 219.Google Scholar

59 Miller, ‘Lineages, Ideology, and the History of Slavery’.

60 E.g. Kasanje: Miller, Joseph C., ‘Slaves, Slavers, and Social Change in Nineteenth Century Kasanje’, in Heimer, Franz-Wilhelm, ed., Social Change in Angola (Munich, 1973). 929.Google Scholar

61 Klein, Herbert S., ‘The Portuguese Slave Trade from Angola in the Eighteenth Century’, Journal of Economic History, xxxii, iv (1974), 894918Google Scholar; Miller, ‘Legal Portuguese Slaving’.

62 Miller, , ‘Legal Portuguese Slaving’, 156–60.Google Scholar

63 E.g. da Cunha letter, 6 March 1755 (AHU, Angola, ex. 27).

64 Cadornega, , História geral, 1, 138–9.Google Scholar

65 Sousa Coutinho letter, 28 May 1766 (AHU, Angola, cx. 31).

66 Miller, Way of Death.

67 Cf. Fage, John D., ‘The Effect of the Export Slave Trade on African Populations’, in Rathbone, R. J. A. R. and Moss, R. P., eds, The Population Factor in African Studies (London, 1975), 1523Google Scholar; Anstey, Roger T., The Atlantic Slave Trade and British Abolition (London, 1975), 81–2Google Scholar; Birmingham, David, ‘Central Africa from Cameroun to the Zambezi’, in Oliver, Roland, ed., The Cambridge History of Africa – Vol. 3, from c. 1050 to c. 1600 (Cambridge, 1977), 519–20, 522.Google Scholar But cf. growing recognition in other circles of ecological constraints on population: Thornton, , ‘Kingdom of Kongo’, 6Google Scholar; Guy, Jeff, The Destruction of the Zulu Kingdom (London, 1979), 4 ff.Google Scholar

68 Thornton, ‘Demography and History’, for the only historical calculation of population densities.

69 Cf. Spear, , Kaya Complex, 112–13Google Scholar; Bryson, Reid, Climatesof Hunger (Madison, 1977).Google Scholar

70 Thornton, John K., ‘The Slave Trade in Eighteenth Century Angola: Effects on Demographic Structures’, Canadian Journal of African Studies, xiv, iii (1980), 417–27.Google Scholar

71 Bryson, , Climates of Hunger, 3 ff.Google Scholar

72 E.g. van Leynseele, Pierre, ‘Ecological Stability and Intensive Fish Production: The Case of the Libinza People of the Middle Ngiri (Zaire)’, in Burnham, P. C. and Ellen, R. F., eds., Social and Ecological Systems (A.S.A. Monograph 18) (London, 1979), 167–84.Google Scholar

68
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

The significance of Drought, Disease and Famine in the agriculturally marginal zones of West-Central Africa1
Available formats
×

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

The significance of Drought, Disease and Famine in the agriculturally marginal zones of West-Central Africa1
Available formats
×

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

The significance of Drought, Disease and Famine in the agriculturally marginal zones of West-Central Africa1
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *