Working Paper 193

Ransoming, Collateral, and Protective Captivity on the Upper Guinea Coast before 1650: colonial continuities, contemporary echoes

Peter Mark

Department 'Integration and Conflict'

Year of publication

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Working Paper 193

This paper investigates the origins of pawning in European-African interaction along the Upper Guinea Coast. Pawning in this context refers to the holding of human beings as security for debt or to ensure that treaty obligations be fulfilled. While pawning was an indigenous practice in Upper Guinea, it is proposed here that when the Portuguese arrived in West Africa, they were already familiar with systems of ransoming, especially of members of the nobility. The adoption of pawning and the associated practice of not enslaving members of social elites may be explained by the fact that these customs were already familiar to both the Portuguese and their West African hosts. Vestiges of these social institutions may be found well into the colonial period on the Upper Guinea Coast.

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