Chocolate Islands

Chocolate Islands

Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa

Book - 2012
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“Catherine Higgs’s Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa is an elegantly written, well-illustrated account of the ensuing investigations into this so-called new slavery in Africa orchestrated largely by Cadbury and the British Foreign Office. …[The] study resonates today, dealing, as it does, with the often tainted international origins of our later era of mass consumerism.” —American Historical Review

In Chocolate Islands: Cocoa, Slavery, and Colonial Africa, Catherine Higgs traces the early-twentieth-century journey of the Englishman Joseph Burtt to the Portuguese colony of São Tomé and Príncipe—the chocolate islands—through Angola and Mozambique, and finally to British Southern Africa. Burtt had been hired by the chocolate firm Cadbury Brothers Limited to determine if the cocoa it was buying from the islands had been harvested by slave laborers forcibly recruited from Angola, an allegation that became one of the grand scandals of the early colonial era. Burtt spent six months on São Tomé and Príncipe and a year in Angola. His five-month march across Angola in 1906 took him from innocence and credulity to outrage and activism and ultimately helped change labor recruiting practices in colonial Africa.

This beautifully written and engaging travel narrative draws on collections in Portugal, the United Kingdom, and Africa to explore British and Portuguese attitudes toward work, slavery, race, and imperialism. In a story still familiar a century after Burtt’s sojourn, Chocolate Islands reveals the idealism, naivety, and racism that shaped attitudes toward Africa, even among those who sought to improve the conditions of its workers.

Book News
Cathering Higgs (history, U. of Tennessee, Knoxville), has combined careful academic research with the kind of skillful writing you'd expect in a good historical novel. She tells the true story of the chocolate islands, where slavery, free labor, and coercion all formed part of the colonial history of cocoa-growing. Her account begins when the Cadbury Company, fair-minded makers of children's chocolates, was accused of using slave labor in the early years of the 20th century. The book follows Cadbury's own investigation into whether its cocoa-harvesters were Portuguese slaves. It describes both what Cadbury investigators discovered and what they did about it. Higgs vividly evokes the people involved, and documents her sources (the book includes extensive notes and a choice bibliography). The book is well illustrated with black and white photographs. While Higgs has the fairness and sense to let the story stand for itself, it raises lasting questions about the dignity of work and the pressures and practices of international business. The book is strikingly relevant to today's headlines. It is an excellent study for academics who want to know how to research at a professional level and then write well for the public, and it will strongly appeal to general readers. Annotation ©2012 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Publisher: Athens, Ohio : Ohio University Press, c2012
Description: xv, 230 p. : ill., maps ; 23 cm
ISBN: 9780821420065
Branch Call Number: 331.763374 Hig


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