The King of Drinks

Schnapps Gin from Modernity to Tradition


Imported schnapps gin has a remarkable history in West Africa. Gin was imported in great quantities between 1880 and World War I, when its consumption showed access to the modern, international world. Subsequently schnapps was transformed into a good that signified traditional, local culture. Today, imported schnapps has high status because of its importance for African ritual and as symbol of the status of chiefs and elders, but actual consumption is limited. This book explores this unexpected trajectory of commoditisation to investigate how imported goods acquire specific local meanings. This analysis of consumption and marketing of gin contributes to our understanding of patterns of consumption, rejection and appropriation within processes of identity formation, elite formation, and the redefinition of community in colonial and postcolonial West Africa.
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Biographical Note

Dmitri van den Bersselaar, Ph.D. (1998), Leiden University, is Lecturer in African History at the University of Liverpool. He has published on the social and cultural history of nineteenth and twentieth century Ghana and Nigeria

Review Quote

"This book is both provocative and subversive. The evidence that van
den Bersselaar provides for his central argument—that “imported goods
are likely to be incorporated into African consumptive patterns in ways
that make sense in the context of existing yet continually changing African
world views, .....” — has important implications not only for our understanding
of modern West African history but for broader scholarship on consumption
and commodities as well. Better yet, it’s a pleasure to read". Charles Ambler in" African Studies Review 2008

“Like many commodity histories, van den Bersselaar’s book successfully combines
aspects of economic, political and social history with, in this case, excursions into the
history of trade law and advertising”
Insa Nolte in Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, Volume 23, No 2 (Spring, 2009)

Table of contents

Chapter 1. Introduction: foreign imports, local meanings
Chapter 2. The Rise of Gin
Chapter 3. Becoming the King of Drinks
Chapter 4. ‘Bird gin’ and ‘money gin’: brands and marketing
Chapter 5. Poison or medicine? Changing perceptions of Dutch gin
Chapter 6. ‘Your very good health!’ Gin for an independent West Africa
Chapter 7. Schnapps gin from modernity to tradition
Chapter 8. Bibliography


Academic and public libraries; specialists and students in the history of consumption and marketing, West African social and cultural history, and alcohol studies; educated laymen interested in Dutch jenever.