home Events Programme 2: Cocoa, Slaves and Goo

Programme 2: Cocoa, Slaves and Goo

Programme 2: Cocoa, Slaves and Goo


  • Location: Ghana, Benin
  • Coastal trade before and after New World slavery
  • African notions of time!
  • Commodity production without industrial and trade rights – fruit, cocoa beans and cola nuts
  • Ganvie (meaning peace at last) an African Venice on and above the water
  • Voodoo  religion
  • 5000 children per annum still sold into slavery…”Can anyone watching this imagine poverty so awful that all you can do is sell your children?”
  • Slave trade produced jazz music


Frederick Douglass Frederick Douglass

This great man wrote about his life as a slave and after freeing himself in the USA. He lived from 1817 to 1897. His initials are F D. Who is he? What can you find out about him?


Map of the slave trade



Which two famous towns on the west coast of England were the main slavery ports?

Why were Africans needed to be taken by force to the Americas?

Were there any people already living in the countries that African slaves were moved to?

When did this slave trade stop, and why?


Olaudah Equiano

was an African who wrote his autobiography in 1789.

In these extracts he described his early life in Africa.


Olaudah Equiano

Oil portrait by unidentified painter is hanging in the Royal Albert Museum, Exeter, Devon, England. The Museum identifies the subject as Olaudah Equiano, although he may be, in fact, Ottobah Cugoano. For details, see Jerome S. Handler, Survivors of the Middle Passage: Life Histories of Enslaved Africans in British America, Slavery & Abolition, vol. 23 (2002), pp. 25-56. (slide of painting, courtesy of Royal Albert Museum)

“That part of Africa, known by the name of Guinea, to which the trade for slaves is carried on, extends along the coast above 3400 miles, from Senegal to Angola, and includes a variety of kingdoms. Of these, the most considerable is the kingdom of Benin, both as to extent and wealth, the richness and cultivation of the soil, the power of the king and the number and warlike disposition of the inhabitants.

This kingdom is divided into many provinces or districts; in one of the most remote and fertile of which, called Eboe, I was born in the year 1745, in a charming fruitful vale named Essaka. The distance of the province from the capital of Benin and the sea coast must be very considerable; for I had never heard of white men or Europeans.”

Our land is uncommonly rich and fruitful, and produces all kinds of vegetables in abundance. We have plenty of Indian corn, and vast quantities of cotton and tobacco. Our pineapples grow with culture; they are about the size of the largest sugar loaf, and finely flavoured. We have also spices of different kinds, particularly pepper; and a variety of delicious fruits which I have never seen in Europe; together with gum of various kinds and honey in abundance. All our industry is exerted to improve those blessings of nature. Agriculture is our chief employment; and everyone, even the children and women, are engaged in it. Thus we all habituated to labour from our earliest years.”

“Our tillage is exercised in a plain or common, some hours walk from our dwellings, and all the neighbours resort thither in a body. They use no beasts of husbandry; and their only instruments are hoes, axes, shovels and beaks, or pointed iron to dig with. Sometimes we are visited by locusts, which come in large clouds, so as to darken the air, and destroy our harvest. This however happens rarely, but when it does, a famine is produced by it.”

“As our manners are simple, our luxuries are few. The dress of both sexes is nearly the same. It generally consists of a long piece of calico, or Muslin, wrapped loosely around the body, somewhat in the form of a highland plaid. This is usually dyed blue, which is our favourite colour. It is extracted from a berry, and is brighter and richer than any I have seen in Europe. Besides this, our women of distinction wear golden ornaments, which they dispose with some profusion on their arms and legs. When our women are not employed with the men in tillage, their usual occupation is spinning and weaving cotton, which they afterwards dye and make into garments. They also manufacture earthen vessels, of which we have many kinds. Among the rest, tobacco pipes, made after the same fashion, and used in the same manner, as those in Turkey.”

We are almost a nation of dancers, musicians and poets. Thus every great event, such as a triumphant return from battle, or other cause of public rejoicing, is celebrated in public dances which are accompanied with songs and music suited to the occasion. We have many musical instruments, particularly drums of different kinds, a piece of music which resembles a guitar, and another much like a stickado. These last are chiefly used by betrothed virgins, who play on them, all grand festivals.”

How do you think Olaudah’s life changed after this early stage?



Enslaved Africans



Was there slavery in Africa BEFORE Europeans took slaves to the Americas? What clues can be found in this drawing?




Word Histories/Music Jazz musicians


JAZZ – where does this word come from?

At the end of this film Bob Geldof talks about the birth of a new kind of music made in New Orleans by African slaves. He suggests that the word for this music comes from the jasmine perfume worn by watching ladies.

However, there are many other explanations for where the word JAZZ came from a hundred years ago. Can you find what the others are?

Research and evaluate the different ideas using

these on-line sources

Origin of word jazz (includes Jasmine)


JAS, JASS, JAZ, JASCZ or just plain JAZZ

“If the truth was really known about the origins of Jazz,

it would certainly never be mentioned in polite society.”


In this article, arguments are put forward for a creolized French

etymology. The word is derived from French CHASSE


The Irish word Teas (pronounced jass, chas, or t’as) means Heat.

It was taken from the Irish, within the imminence of St. Patrick’s Day,

1913.” Eamonn McCann, of Bloody Sunday fame, former Irish civil rights leader.


Of all these possible origins for the word JAZZ which do you prefer?

Have you found any other possible explanations?

1. Here are some more words connected to jazz music which you can also check out:


2. The world of jazz music also produced a kind of language of its own, and many of its words have become part of regular English. For example, COOL meaning very good  or just OK. In fact ‘COOL JAZZ’ was a whole style of jazz in the 1950s.

Try some more JAZZ words and guess their meanings:

  • RIFF
  • DIG
  • GIG
  • HIP

3. Create some of your own! Take five existing words, or make up brand new ones, and explain their meaning as new jazz words to another group! What would it take, do you think, for lots of people to start using your new words?

4. ETYMOLOGY is the scientific term for the process of establishing a word’s origin. But where does the word ETYMOLOGY come from?

Science : Kola Nuts

In Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the kola nut had special significance in Nigeria. It was used as a gesture of peace, friendship and hospitality. It was offered to guests when they entered a house. The use of kola nuts symbolized everything that was civilized and peaceful in their world. (This was in sharp comparison to the white men’s ways later in the novel.) It can be compared to the traditional Indian peace pipe or the religious idea of breaking bread.

[From http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~contests/timelines/geographies/1850_kola_nut.html]

The Kola Nut is also a sign in African astrology – http://www.catchafire.com/astrology/african/kolanut.htm

Information about kola nuts is at http://www.westafricanjourney.com/Gallery/Kola.htm and at http://www.uic.edu/classes/engl/engl161-patstoll/customs2.htm#kola Some info: “Historically the green or brown nuts were used as currency (money). Its addictiveness creates a huge demand, even in areas far from its rain forest origins. Fortunately, when kept in moist wrappings – burlap is often used – the green and brown nuts can be stored for several weeks without losing much of their freshness. Today in many places the nuts are still regarded as a store of wealth – travelers can go to markets with the certainty that they can trade their kola for the goods which they need.”


Kola nuts


This tree grows about 40 feet high, has yellow flowers, spotted with purple; leaves 6 to 8 inches long, pointed at both ends.

The seeds are extensively used as a condiment by the natives of Western and Central tropical Africa, also in the West Indies and Brazil, by descendants of slaves who introduced the trees to these countries.

In Western Africa these trees are usually found growing near the sea-coast, and a big trade is carried on with the nuts by the people of the interior, being eaten by them as far as Fezzan and Tripoli. A small piece is chewed before each meal to promote digestion; it is also thought to improve the flavour of anything eaten after it and even to render putrid water palatable; the powder is applied to cuts.

There are several kinds of Cola seeds derived from different species, but the Cola vera are most generally used and preferred for medicinal purposes. Those from West Africa and West Indies supply the commercial drug. C. acuminata, or Gurru Nuts, are employed in the same way as C. vera; they are from a tree growing in Cameron and Congo, not esteemed so highly, but much in use as a caffeine stimulant; 600 tons are said to be sent yearly to Brazil for the negroes’ use, who also employ the seeds of S. Chica and S. Striata. The Kola of commerce consists of the separated cotyledons of the kernel of the seed; when fresh it is nearly white, on drying it undergoes a fermentative change, turning reddish brown and losing much of its astringency. The dried cotyledons vary in size from 1 to 2 inches, are irregular in shape but roughly plano-convex, exterior reddy brown, interior paler, easily cut, showing a uniform section, odourless and almost tasteless. Large quantities are consumed in Africa on account of their sustaining properties, where they form an important article of inland commerce.


The different varieties of nuts give a greater or lesser percentage of caffeine, which is only found in the fresh state. The seeds are said to contain a glucoside, Kolanin, but this substance appears to be a mixture of Kola red and caffeine. The seeds also contain starch, fatty matter, sugar, a fat decomposing enzyme acting on various oils.

Medicinal Action and Uses

The properties of Kola are the same as caffeine, modified only by the astringents present. Fresh Kola Nuts have stimulant action apart from the caffeine content, but as they appear in European commerce, their action is indistinguishable from that of other caffeine drugs and Kola red is inert. Kola is also a valuable nervine, heart tonic, and a good general tonic.



Geography: Ganvie, Africa’s Venice

In the sixteenth century, the ruling Dan-Homey King combed the countryside for men to be traded off in exchange for the goods that the Europeans brought with them; especially guns. Initially, the weaker communities seeking refuge from the king’s army were safe on the lake, as the Abomey religion prohibited warriors from attacking over water.

Then, at the end of the Seventeenth Century, other feuds occurred, and there was a migration from over-farmed Tado to the swampy forest around Lake Nokoue.

Initially, the weaker communities seeking refuge from the king’s army were safe on the lake, as the Abomey religion prohibited warriors from attacking over water.


The Tofinu people work their lake efficiently, planting branches in the shallow waters to produce artificial thickets that trap the fish for extraction or breeding.

Quite unique on the African continent, the village of Ganvie, about an hour north of Cotonou, is built on the water. The houses stand on stilts and the inhabitants move around in small boats. Even the market is on the water and people carry out their business by boat.

Stories tell that the people of Ganvie in the 17th century were fleeing the Abomey kings and their brutal rule, war and slave trade. Since the king’s soldiers could not swim, they built themselves a village on the water, and were thereby safe from the persecutors.

Today the main trade of the people of Ganvie is fishing, but tourism is also important. Ganvie has various churches built on small islands, and also Vodoun temples that are built on stilts like the rest of the houses.