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The Forgotten Diaspora
Jewish Communities in West Africa and the Making of the Atlantic World


  • Date Published: January 2014
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107667464

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About the Authors
  • This book traces the history of early seventeenth-century Portuguese Sephardic traders who settled in two communities on Senegal's Petite Côte. There, they lived as public Jews, under the spiritual guidance of a rabbi sent by the newly established Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam and were protected from agents of the Inquisition by local Muslim rulers. The Petite Côte communities included several Jews of mixed Portuguese-African heritage as well as African wives, offspring, and servants. The blade weapons trade was an important part of their commercial activities. These merchants participated marginally in the slave trade but fully in the arms trade, illegally supplying West African markets with swords. This arms trade depended on artisans and merchants based in Morocco, Lisbon, and northern Europe and affected warfare in the Sahel and along the Upper Guinea Coast. The study discovers previously unknown Jewish communities and by doing so offers a reinterpretation of the dynamics and processes of identity construction throughout the Atlantic world.

    • Presents the existence of communities of public Jews in early 17th-century West Africa was previously unknown
    • Discovers an important early-17th century blade weapons trade linking Morocco, Lisbon, and West Africa is a major discovery of this book
    • Offers a reassessment of the chronology and origin of Afro-Portuguese ivories, and their possible links to Jewish trade and identity
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'A fascinating and richly documented study of identity negotiation among Portuguese New Christian merchants who settled in seventeenth-century Senegambia. These men married or cohabited with women from African elites, maintained contacts with the Sephardim of Amsterdam, traded across multiple boundaries (behaving when necessary as Catholics), and lived openly as Jews.' Miriam Bodian, University of Texas, Austin

    'In this richly textured study, Mark and Horta show how a forgotten diaspora of Sephardic Jews from Lisbon connected three continents and laid the foundation for the emergence of a dynamic Atlantic world. Theirs is a history of the intimacy of Jewish-Muslim relations, the flexible nature of Jewish identity and practice in an African setting, and the ways that Judaism influenced African spirituality. This is a story that had to be told.' Walter Hawthorne, Michigan State University and author of From Africa to Brazil: Culture, Identity, and an Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600–1830

    'This is a superb piece of detective work. Mark and Horta trace the history of several Jewish communities in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Senegambia and use it to cast light on the history of the Jewish Diaspora, on West African commerce, and on the construction of race in the early modern world.' Martin Klein, University of Toronto

    '… meticulously researched … this path-breaking book has persuasively demonstrated the importance of West African Jews for understanding the early modern Atlantic world.' Daniel J. Schroeter, Journal of African History

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2014
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107667464
    • length: 280 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 16 mm
    • weight: 0.43kg
    • contains: 8 b/w illus. 3 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Two Sephardic communities on Senegal's Petite Côte
    2. Jewish identity in Senegambia
    3. Religious interaction: Catholics, Jews, and Muslims in early 17th-century Upper Guinea
    4. The blade weapons trade in seventeenth-century West Africa
    5. The Luso-African ivories as historical source for the weapons trade and for the Jewish presence in Guinea of Cape Verde
    6. The later years: merchant mobility and the evolution of identity
    Appendix I
    Appendix II.

  • Authors

    Peter Mark, Wesleyan University, Connecticut
    Peter Mark is Professor of Art History at Wesleyan University. He is the author of several books, including 'Portuguese' Style and Luso-African Identity: Precolonial Senegambia, Sixteenth to Nineteenth Centuries (2002) and The Wild Bull and the Sacred Forest: Form, Meaning and Change in Senegambian Initiation Masks of the Diola (Cambridge University Press, 1992), as well as multiple scholarly articles. Professor Mark has twice been an Alexander von Humboldt research Fellow at the Frobenius-Institut, Goethe Universität (Frankfurt). He has also held National Endowment for the Humanities and Fulbright Fellowships.

    José da Silva Horta, Universidade de Lisboa
    José da Silva Horta is Assistant Professor, with tenure, of African History and of Expansion History at Lisbon University, where he is also a researcher at the Center of History. He serves as director of the Faculty of Letters Doctoral Program in African History and of the African Studies Undergraduate Program. He is author of A 'Guiné do Cabo Verde': produção textual e representações (1578–1684), PhD dissertation, 2002 (revised to the press). His publications include A representação do Africano na Literatura de Viagens, do Senegal à Serra Leoa (1453–1508) (1991) and articles in international journals.

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