Book Review – ‘Feeding Globalization: Madagascar and the provisioning trade, 1600–1800’ by John McAleer
In 1798 Benjamin Stout, the captain of an American merchant ship which had apparently been shipwrecked off the southern coast of Africa two years earlier, wrote approvingly of Madagascar, describing it as ‘one of the largest and finest islands in the world’. Indeed, he was astonished that ‘no European power hath as yet made a permanent settlement on the coast of this prolific country’. Jane Hooper’s impressive book, Feeding Globalization, offers a solution to this conundrum. By demonstrating the ways in which local, indigenous polities managed their relations with passing Europeans, this work illustrates the limited control any outside trader or official had over access to the island.
Madagascar has been routinely relegated to a bit-part player in the history of Western maritime endeavour. Too often, as Hooper points out, the island is dismissed simply as a purveyor of people for the transatlantic slave trade or presented as a nest of pirates, bent on plundering the increasingly lucrative European (and American) trade with Asia. Feeding Globalization shows how, in both cases, the prevailing narrative distorts historical reality and obscures the important role of the island and the agency of its people in the complex commercial world of the Indian Ocean.
Hooper makes a convincing case for directing our attention to non-luxury items in attempting to understand the dynamics of the early modern world. Historians have, she suggests, focused rather too much on luxuries and slaves. As a result, they have paid scant attention to ‘the resources that went into fuelling long-distance trade.
In offering a detailed, richly textured historical account of the island, its many polities and communities, Feeding Globalization explores the contribution of Madagascar to a globalizing world and the opportunities this presented for locals and strangers alike …