Enslaving Spirits

The Portuguese-Brazilian Alcohol Trade at Luanda and its Hinterland, c. 1550-1830


Long recognized as having played many important roles in the slave export trade of western Africa, foreign alcohol and its various functions within this context have nevertheless escaped systematic analysis. This volume focuses on the topic at Luanda and its Hinterland, where the connections between foreign alcohol and the slave export trade reached their zenith. Here, following the mid-1500s, an extremely close relationship developed between imported intoxicants and slaves exported, by the thousands in any given year, into the Atlantic World: first, fortified Portuguese wine and, following 1650, Brazilian rum emerged as crucial trade goods for the acquisition of slaves. But the significance of Luso-Brazilian intoxicants goes far beyond this singular fact: they also served a number of other functions, some of which were directly tied to slave trading and others indirectly underpinned the business. The volume addresses the problem of alcohol in African history, historicizes “indigenous” alcoholic beverages in West-Central Africa at the time of contact, analyzes the introduction and increasing use of foreign intoxicants for the acquisition of exportable slaves, ponders the profits that such transactions generated within the Atlantic world, reconstructs the other uses of imported alcohol in directly and indirectly underpinning the export slave trade of Luanda, and assesses the impact of foreign alcohol upon West-Central African consumers.


EUR €100.00USD $124.00

Biographical Note

José C. Curto, Ph.D. (1996) in History, University of California at Los Angeles, is Assistant Professor of History at York University (Toronto, Canada). He has published extensively on demography, slavery, and slave trading in Angola, including The Story of Nbena, 1817-1820: Unlawful Enslavement and the Concept of 'Original Freedom' in Angola, in Paul E. Lovejoy and David V. Trotman, eds. Trans-Atlantic Dimensions of Ethnicity in the African Diaspora (Continuum, 2004).

Review Quote

"Thus, with cautions reference to numerical data, Curto not only brings to life the shift in commercial ascendancy to Brazil-based merchants, but tempers claims of the impact of alcohol on Angolan society in a measured assessment of the levels of imports in relationship to local population..Curto provides fascinating information on the ways that various kinds of alcohol became deeply embedded in commercial relationships." Charles Ambler, African History, 2005. "At first blush, alcohol would seem an unlikely commodity linking three locations, each on a different continent, on the Atlantic seaboard. José C. Curto's story of one of avarice, greed, cruelty, and inhumanity; of political manoeuvring for comparative advantage; and of expolitation. The setting is West Central Africa and, in particular, Luanda and its hinterland. And the time-frame is almost three hundred years that witnessed periods of intermittent calm but also of political, social, and economic upheaval, not only in West Central Africa but also in Portugal and Brazil with each of which Africa became inextricably linked by a vicious supply-and-demand cycle for labour. This multi-continental dimension, coupled with its revisionist approach and scholarship based on extensive research, makes the book required reading for those interested in the history of Portugal, Africa, and Brazil and in the field of Atlantic history." A.J.R. Russell-Wood, The International History Review, 2005. "…an important contribution to the history of the alcohol trade in Africa." Linda M. Heywood.

Table of contents

Acknowledgements List of Abbreviations Maps and Illustrations Introduction: Alcohol as History in Africa 1. Alcohol in Early Modern West Central Africa 2. The Introduction of Bacchus Into West Central Africa 3. The Reign of Bacchus: Portuguese Alcohol at Luanda and its Hinterland During the Early Slave Trade, c. 1550–1649 4. The Downfall of Bacchus: Brazilian Traders, Portuguese Capitalists and the Struggle for the Alcohol Trade at Luanda and its Hinterland, c. 1650–1699 5. The Long Century of Gerebita: The Luso-Brazilian Alcohol Trade at Luanda and its Hinterland, c. 1700–1830 6. The Profits of Luso-Brazilian Alcohol in Slaving at Luanda and its Hinterland 7. Underpinning the Slave Trade: Other Uses of Luso-Brazilian Alcohol in Luanda and its Hinterland, c. 1575–1830 Conclusion: The Impact of Portuguese and Brazilian Intoxicants Appendix: Graphs Bibliography Index


Angola specialists, scholars working on various aspects of the slave trade within Africa, the Atlantic, and the Americas, and other social scientists interested in changing consumption patterns, including alcohol, during the pre-1850 era constitute potential buyers, as do students enrolled in college/university courses dealing with the African past, the Atlantic World, the histories of Brazil and Portugal, and Alcohol Studies. The educated public throughout the Atlantic world interested in these issues represents a market that is of equal, if not greater, importance for this volume.