‘Slaves for Peanuts’ Tells the Tragic Story Behind America’s Favorite Snack


There was slavery in all places [in the world] and it existed on a continuum. In this specific a part of West Africa, there existed many extraordinarily hierarchical societies and so they included individuals who have been enslaved. That enslavement had various kinds of features, various kinds of durations, and totally different ranges of integration. And that’s basically certainly one of the largest variations between African slavery and slavery in America, the place integration was a lot much less doubtless. There are, in fact instances, many instances, of individuals in America shopping for their freedom, after which perhaps finally shopping for the freedom of their kids. That did occur, nevertheless it was much less doubtless. And although it’s controversial to say, not each place in the United States was a plantation with 500 slaves who have been dying day by day. There have been additionally household farms with one or two slaves who did have nearer relationships with the individuals who had enslaved them. These varieties of paradoxes existed in each locations.

“Many of the peanut farm laborers were enslaved or in various states of indenture and the Europeans turned a blind eye to this and even returned runaway slaves to their owners, essentially supporting the perpetuation of slavery.”

In West Africa, it was potential and far simpler to purchase your self out of slavery and to combine. Still, as a result of West African societies have been hierarchical, being previously enslaved was a distinction that was identified about you. It meant you may make cash and purchase land, however you couldn’t get married to sure individuals or do sure different issues.

There was a system in place in West Africa for the acquisition of slaves, often by wars through which they’d be taken as hostages and ransomed off, and generally saved as laborers. At the starting of the transatlantic slave commerce, the Europeans mobilized these networks. So, the individuals who usually could be ransomed off as an alternative discovered themselves on slave ships heading to Brazil, Havana, or Virginia. Of course, as soon as there was demand for enslaved individuals, the system mobilized itself to enslave extra. [Even though the French empire had abolished slavery,] as peanut manufacturing ramped up in the nineteenth century, so did the demand for extra labor and a push to place much more land into manufacturing. Many of the peanut farm laborers have been enslaved or in varied states of indenture and the Europeans turned a blind eye to this and even returned runaway slaves to their house owners, basically supporting the perpetuation of slavery.

Why was this sample of turning a blind eye to the continued use of slave labor so pervasive and so handy for the Europeans?

The Europeans’ territorial management was restricted. And they have been afraid of wide-scale rebel [among African leaders who depended on slave labor]. For instance, as the area round Dagana [in northern Senegal] was annexed and got here beneath direct French administration—which means the French have been going to should impose their very own guidelines—lots of the herders and farmers in the area began emigrate to Mali. Slavery was not the solely motive they have been shifting. But of their stories, the French directors have been anxious about lastly having management of a territory and having all its individuals depart. They anxious about not having sufficient labor to supply the peanut crop. So, they tried to barter this line. At the similar time, additionally they created a rhetoric about their concern about slavery. It was like [spin]. It took me some time to begin studying the paperwork in a solution to combine the sort of hypocrisy that was current.

The French described their railroad venture to export peanuts from Kajoor as a mechanism to battle slavery. Was that, partly, their justification for constructing it?

The specific motive for that individual venture, often called “the peanut train,” was to convey “civilization” to the area. As the observe and stations have been constructed, they have been annexed and have become French land, the place the French ought to have imposed their very own legal guidelines by releasing runaway slaves who managed to reach there. But the French have been loath to take action. That state of affairs looks like America in Afghanistan. Whenever you could have an occupation, you may inform individuals what to do and perhaps when you could have sufficient firepower, they hearken to you the second you’re there. But should you don’t persuade them in different methods to collaborate with you thru varied corrupt means, your occupation doesn’t work.

When the rail line was lastly constructed, it led to extra peanut manufacturing and much more enslaved individuals being introduced into the space to lift these crops. Eventually, the French occupied the complete area. Was there was any silver lining to the arrival of the railroad?

When I used to be engaged on this e book, I thought of the peanut to be its personal character. This is the peanut’s dramatic arc. The peanut is that this instrument for colonial enlargement, nevertheless it paradoxically additionally turns into an instrument for sure individuals to turn into free. It was related in America as nicely, with kitchen farms for slaves, the place they might promote [food] on the facet and achieve just a little cash. But as a result of peanuts have been grown at such scale and folks have been promoting them for a significant amount of cash, some have been capable of purchase their very own freedom extra shortly than earlier than. And as a result of there was this peanut rush, they might transfer to different locations and purchase land to develop peanuts and would have a solution to assist themselves. The [enslaved people] typically hailed from societies the place even when they wished to be free, they wouldn’t have entry to land and wouldn’t be capable of assist themselves. And in Kajoor, as the peanuts continued to develop in demand, extra individuals might use them as a instrument for their very own freedom. That’s certainly one of the shocking arcs of the peanut’s story.

Peanuts at the station in Senegal. (Public domain photo by François-Edmond Fortier (1862-1928)

Peanuts at the station in Senegal. Public area photograph by François-Edmond Fortier (1862-1928).

After the railroad was constructed by Kajoor, how did the stress to develop peanut manufacturing impression that area?

As manufacturing expanded in Kajoor, there was additionally an enlargement of an extractive type of agriculture. There was much less crop rotation, fewer fallow durations. Many bushes have been minimize right down to clear land and develop extra peanuts. It was a burgeoning monoculture. All this lowered the major productiveness of the land over time. It was a short-sighted extraction. In addition, as a result of farmers grew to become indebted, they have been getting junk seeds from retailers and that led to peanuts of lesser high quality. It was a gradual decline.

Today, the panorama of Kajoor feels bereft of life. Some individuals there nonetheless develop peanuts, nevertheless it’s on a a lot, a lot smaller scale.  In reality, once you drive by the space, it feels devastated. It doesn’t appear fertile in any respect. Over the years, there was much more deforestation, resulting in issues with water erosion. When it rains it squalls, onerous and quick. And due to deforestation, the erosion brought on by these violent rains is critical. Such man-made disasters have modified the topography and economics of Kajoor.

Today, the U.S., China, and India dominate the peanut commerce. Do peanuts nonetheless gas the economic system and the tradition in Senegal?

Senegal is quantity six in world manufacturing and quantity 4 in world peanut exports. Granted, it’s producing simply 3 p.c of world’s manufacturing [China is churning out 36 percent], however I nonetheless suppose it’s fairly extraordinary that this nation that’s barely smaller than South Dakota is rising such a lot of peanuts. From speaking to individuals on the floor, I do know that the peanut continues to be grown on a large scale in lots of areas in Senegal. It’s traded principally to China and India, that are prime producing international locations however don’t have sufficient peanuts [for the people there].


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