The External Trade of the Loango Coast 1576-1870:
The Effects of Changing Commercial Relations on the Vili Kingdom of Loango

Phyllis M. Martin

Oxford University Press 1972
A book review by Danny Yee © 1992
There are two very common misconceptions about African history. The first is that before the arrival of the Europeans sub-Saharan Africa was occupied by "primitive" tribes. The second is that a clear distinction can be made between colonial and precolonial history. The External Trade of the Loango Coast, an account of a little known but intriguing part of African history, provides good illustration of the fallacy of both these ideas. The subject may seem esoteric, but consider whether a book entitled "English foreign trade 1500-1800" would be considered at all remarkable.

In the 16th and 17th centuries the Vili kingdom of Loango, situated on the west coast of Africa between the equator and the mouth of the Congo, was a powerful centralised state. Its ruler, the Maloango, was able to impose his own conditions on European traders and played the different nations (predominantly Portuguese and Dutch) off against one another. Vili brokers acted as middlemen between African traders and European ship captains and Vili officials exacted taxes and duties; both made immense profits. Vili currency (palm cloth) remained in use throughout the whole of southwest Africa for several centuries.

The trade was initially in luxury goods, with ivory, redwood and copper being traded for cloth, guns and other manufactures, but the growing demand for slaves in the New World resulted in the almost completely domination of the slave trade. The volume of slaves exported from the Loango coast reached over 15000 per year, and Vili merchants penetrated far into the African interior in search of new sources. The primary economic effect of this trade was to create a class of rich nobles whose wealth did not depend on the Maloango. This resulted in the gradual collapse of centralised authority and the eventual lapse of the office of Maloango. So the final demise of the kingdom was due to European influence, but only indirectly so.

November 1992

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%T The External Trade of the Loango Coast 1576-1870
%S The Effects of Changing Commercial Relations on the Vili Kingdom of Loango
%A Martin, Phyllis M.
%I Oxford University Press
%D 1972
%O hardcover, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0198216858
%P ix,193pp