Fields-Black on Deep Roots of Rice Cultivation in West Africa and the Diaspora

Fields-Black, Edda L. Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora. Indiana University Press, 2008.

Gilbert, Erik.  “Coastal Rice Farming Systems in Guinea and Sierra Leone, Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora. By Edda L. Fields-Black.”  The Journal of African History 50, no. 03 (2009): 437-438.

From the review by Erik Gilbert:

“The role of African technologies and agricultural knowledge in the development of rice farming in the Americas has drawn considerable scholarly attention in the last decade. That Africans might have contributed not just their labor to the tidal rice-farming systems of the South Carolina Low Country but also essential knowledge of the techniques needed to grow rice in that challenging environment is highly appealing. It gives agency to enslaved Africans and recognizes the sophistication of West African riziculture. The most recent expression of this idea has been Judith Carney’s Black Rice.1 Carney’s work has been challenged by David Eltis, Philip Morgan, and David Richardson, who have argued that the number of slaves coming to South Carolina from rice-growing areas of Africa is too small to explain the development of American rice farming.2

Edda Fields-Black’s new book contributes to this debate primarily by adding to our knowledge of the coastal rice-farming systems of Guinea and Sierra Leone, where rice-farming techniques most closely resemble the tidal irrigation systems of the South Carolina Low Country. In this part of Sierra Leone, farmers clear mangrove swamps and, through careful control of the movement of fresh water through the fields, drain and desalinate the soil. This is a process that can take years and that can be reversed almost instantly if embankments built to keep salt water out are breached. Managing the water supply to these fields requires careful harnessing of tides in the river estuaries so that salt water is kept out but fresh water is allowed in. Early observers of this system assumed that the stateless societies of the coast were unlikely to have created so complex a technology and that it must have been introduced either by Europeans or by Africans from the states of the interior….”

Read the rest at Cambridge Journals ($$)

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