Copyright
W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du Bois.

Economic co-operation among Negro Americans. Report of a social study made by Atlanta University under the patronage of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. together with the proceedings of the 12th Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, held at Atlanta University, on Tuesday, May t online

. (page 2 of 22)
Online LibraryW. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du BoisEconomic co-operation among Negro Americans. Report of a social study made by Atlanta University under the patronage of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. together with the proceedings of the 12th Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, held at Atlanta University, on Tuesday, May t → online text (page 2 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the Social Sciences we cannot segregate the class and make the "crucial
test," as we can in certain physical experiments. This is true in a great
many cases, but it is not universally true, as witness the present in
stance, where we have a segregation, and where we can study a class
by itself. Moreover the analogy goes still further: The rise of a lower
social class in any community is in no wise different from the develop
ment of a race; in fact, we realize in studying races, and particularly
primitive races as we have them today in contact with more highly de
veloped races, that what we have going on around us every day in civ-



12 Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans

ilized society is the same thing in microcosm which the world has seen
going on from the beginning: that whereas in the world we have sepa
rate large groups in varying degrees of civilization and development,
and they gradually rise and fall and sometimes even change their rela
tive positions, so, too, in any separate group or nation, we have smaller
groups with differing developments, and these classes into which the
group is divided, are coming forward or retrograding in the same way,
and with many of the same phenomena. Therefore, a study of the
Negro American in the United States today in his economic aspect, as
well as in other aspects, throws peculiar light upon the problems of all
social classes in a great modern nation.

Section 2. Africa

It used to be assumed in studying the Negro American that in any
development we might safely begin with zero so far as Africa is con
cerned ; the later studies are more and more convincing us that this
former attitude has been wrong, and that always in explaining the de
velopment in America of the Negro we must look back upon a consid
erable past development in Africa. We have, therefore, first to ask
ourselves in this study, How far are there traces in Africa of economic
life and economic co-operation among Negroes?

Ratzel thoughtfully says: "Even in earlier days a deeper thinker
might not have agreed with our great, but in this respect short-sighted
historical philosophers, who held that Africa was only in the ante
chamber of universal history. The land which bore Egypt and Car
thage will always be of importance in the world s history ; and even the
transplantation without their will of millions of Africans to America
remains an event having most important consequences. But since
Africa, both politically and economically, has been brought nearer to
us, the above mentioned idea has had altogether to give way. That
continent, the greatest portion of which longest remained a terra incog
nita, has suddenly been called on to play a great part in the history of
the expansion of the European races. In our days Africa has become
the scene of a great movement, which must fix its destiny in history
for thousands of years. While a century ago the great political and
trading powers were still merely hanging on like leeches to its out
skirts, today the spheres of interest," domains of power of which the
extent is not yet known even to their owner, are meeting in the far
interior of the continent. Herewith for the first time Europeans are
coming into very close connections with the most vigorous shoot of the
dark branches of nations, on the soil most appropriate to it, but to them
in the first place by no means favorable. Now it will be decided
whether much or little of these, the oldest of all now living stocks, will
pass into mankind of the remoter future. And this is one of the
greatest problems of the history of the world, which must be the history
of mankind."

Not only is there this new attitude toward the meaning of Africa as a
whole, but we are also revising our ideas as to the exact status of Africa



Africa 13

in its development toward civilization. We are beginning to see that
the Africans, notwithstanding the fact that they have not reached
European culture, nevertheless have made great advances. In 1885 Dr.
Wilhelm Schneider summed up the cultural accomplishments of the
Negro by bringing together the testimonies of African travellers up to
that time. If we take from that excellent summing up the condition
of the African in economic organization we shall have a fairly trust
worthy picture. Schneider first takes up the matter of agriculture, and
says that the Negro pursues agriculture together with cattle raising
and dairying. Sheep, goats and chickens are domestic animals all over
Africa, and cows are raised in regions where grass grows. Von Fran-
zius considers Africa the home of the house cattle and the Negro as the
original tamer.

Northeastern Africa especially is noted for agriculture, cattle raising
and fruit culture. In the eastern Soudan and among the great Bantu
tribes extending from the Soudan down toward the south, cattle are
evidences of wealth, one tribe, for instance, having so many oxen that
each village had ten or twelve thousand head. Lenz (1884), Bouet-Wil-
laumez (1848), Hecquard (1854), Bosnian (1805), and Baker (1868), all
bear witness to this, and Schweinfurth (1878), tells us of great cattle
parks with 2,000-3,000 head, and of numerous agricultural and cattle
raising tribes. Von der Decken (1859-61), describes the paradise of the
dwellers about Kilimanjaro the bananas, fruit, beans, and peas, and
cattle raising with stall-feed, the fertilizing of the fields, and irriga
tion. The Negroid Gallas have seven or eight cattle to each inhabi
tant. Cameron (1877), tells of villages so clean, with huts so artistic,
that save in book knowledge the people occupied no low plane of civ
ilization. Livingstone bears witness to the busy cattle raising of the
Bantus and Kaffirs.

Hulub (1881), and Chapman (1868), tell of agriculture and fruit raising
in South Africa. Shu tt (1884), found the tribes in the Southwestern
basin of the Congo with sheep, swine, goats and cattle. The African
elephant, however, never was tamed by the natives in later years,
partly because he is much wilder than the Indian.

Schneider sums up the Africans accomplishments in handwork and
industry by quoting Soyaux on Africans, as follows: Whoever denies
to them independent invention and individual taste in their work,
either shuts his eyes intentionally before perfectly evident facts, or
lack of knowledge renders him an incompetent judge." Gabriel de
Mortillet (1883), declares them the only iron users among primitive
people, and at any rate they are far beyond others in the development
of iron industry, and their work bears strong resemblance to that of the
ancient Egyptians. Some would therefore argue that the Negro learned
it from other folk, but Andree declares that the Negro developed his own
"Iron Kingdom," and still others believe that from him it spread to
Europe and Asia.*

*Of. Boas, In our day.



14 Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans

Various tribes have been described : Baker and Felkin tell of smiths
of wonderful adroitness, goat-skins prepared better than a European
tailor could do, drinking cups and kegs of remarkable symmetry and
polished clay floors. Schweinfurth says: "The arrow and spear heads
are of the finest and most artistic work; their bristle-like barbs and
points are baffling when one knows how few tools these smiths have."
Excellent wood-carving is found among the Bongo, Ovambo and
Makololo. Pottery and basketry and careful hut-building distinguish
many tribes. The Monbuttu work both iron and copper. "The mas
terpieces of the Monbuttu smiths are the fine chains worn as ornaments,
and which in perfection of form and fineness compare well with our
best steel chains. 1 Such chains are hardened by hammering. Barth
found copper exported from central Africa in competition with Euro
pean copper at Kano.

Nor is the iron industry confined to the Soudan. About the great
lakes and other parts of central Africa it is widely distributed. Thorn
ton says: "This iron industry proves that the East Africans stand by
no means on so low a plane of culture as many travellers would have
us think. It is unnecessary to be reminded that a people who without
instruction and with the rudest tools do such skilled work, could do if
furnished with steel tools. Arrows made east of Lake Nyanza were
found to be nearly as good as the best Swedish iron in Birmingham.
From Egypt to the cape Livingstone assures us that the mortar and
pestle, the long handled axe, the goat skin bellows, etc., have the same
form, size, etc., pointing to a migration south westward. Holub (1879),
on the Zambesi found fine workers in iron and bronze (copper and tin).
The Bantu huts contain spoons, wooden dishes, milk pails, calibashes,
handmills and axes. Kaffirs and Zulus, in the extreme south, are good
smiths and the latter melt copper and tin together and draw wire from
it, according to Kranz (1880). West of the Great Lakes, Stanley (1878),
found wonderful examples of smith work: figures worked out of brass
and much work in copper. Cameron (1878), saw vases made near Lake
Tanganyika which reminded him of the amphorae in the Villa of
Diomedes, Pompeii. Horn (1882), praises tribes here for iron and cop
per work. Livingstone (1871), passed thirty smelting houses in one
journey and Cameron came across bellows with valves, and tribes who
used knives in eating. He found tribes which no Europeans had ever
visited, who made ingots of copper in the form of St. Andrew s cross,
which circulated even to the coast. In the southern Con go basin iron
and copper are worked ; also wood and ivory carving and pottery are
pursued. In equatorial west Africa, Lenz and Du Chaillu (1861), found
the iron workers with charcoal, and also carvers of bone and ivory.
Near Cape Lopez, Hiibbe-Schleiden found tribes making ivory needles
inlaid with ebony, while the arms and dishes of the Osaka are found
among many tribes even as far as the Atlantic ocean. Wilson (1856),
found natives in West Africa who could repair American watches.

The Ashanti are renowned weavers and dyers, smiths and founders.
Gold coast Negroes make gold rings and chains, forming the metal into



Africa 15

all kinds of forms. Soyauxsays: "The works in relief which natives of
Lower Guinea carve with their own knives out of ivory and hippopota
mus teeth, are really entitled to he called works of art, and many wooden
figures of fetiches in the Ethnographical Museum of Berlin show some
understanding of the proportions of the human body." Great Bassam
is called by Hecquard the "Fatherland of Smiths." The Mandingo in
the Northwest are remarkable workers in iron, silver and gold, we are
told by Mungo Park (1800), while there is a mass of testimony as to the
work in the northwest of Africa in gold, tin, weaving and dyeing.
Caille" found the Negroes in Bambana manufacturing gunpowder
(1824-8), and the Haussa make soap; so, too, Negroes in Uganda and
other parts have made guns after seeing European models.

On the whole, as Herman Soyaux says: in art and industry the
accomplishment of the African Negro is in many respects far beyond
expectation and at least shows what they might do in more favorable
surroundings; and Lenz adds: "Our sharpest European merchants,
even Jews and Armenians, can learn much from the cunning of the
Negro in trade."*

Coming down to later writers, we find Ratzel testifying that:
Among all the great groups of the " natural" races, the Negroes are the best
and keenest tillers of the ground. A minority despise agriculture and breed
cattle; many combine both occupations. Among the genuine tillersj the
whole life of the family is taken up in agriculture ; and hence the months are
by preference called after the operations which they demand. Constant clear
ings change forests to fields, and the ground is manured with the ashes of the
burnt thicket. In the middle of the fields rise the light watch-towers, from which
a watchman scares grain-eating birds and other thieves. An African cultivated
landscape is incomplete without barns. The rapidity with which, when
newly imported, the most various forms of cultivation spread in Africa says
much for the attention which is devoted to this branch of economy. Indus
tries, again, which may be called agricultural, like the preparation of meal
from millet and other crops, also from cassava, the fabrication of fermented
drinks from grain, or the manufacture of cotton, are widely known and sedu
lously fostered, t

Biicher says :

That travellers have often described the deep impression made upon them
when, on coming out of the dreary primeval forest, they happened suddenly
upon the well-tended fields of the natives. In the more thickly populated
parts of Africa these fields often stretch for many a mile, and the assiduous
care of the Negro women shines in all the brighter light when we consider the
insecurity of life, the constant feuds and pillages, in which no one knows
whether he will in the end be able to harvest what he has sown. Livingstone
gives somewhere a graphic description of the devastations wrought by slave
hunts; the people are lying about slain, the dwellings were demolished; in
the fields, however, the grain Avas ripening and there was none to harvest it. }

The economic organization thus indicated is moreover arranged for
purposes of trade. Biicher says :

* Schneider: Oulturfaehigkeit des Negers.

{-Ratzel, II., 380-881. J Buecher (Wlckett), p. 47.



16 Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans

Travellers have of ten observed this tribal or local development of industrial
technique. "The native villages," relates a Belgian observer of the lower
Congo, "are often situated in groups. Their activities are based upon reci-
procality, and they are to a certain extent the complements of one another.
Each group has its more or less strongly denned specialty. One carries on
fishing, another produces palm wine; a third devotes itself to trade and is
broker for the others, supplying the community with all products from out
side ; another has reserved to itself work in iron and copper, making weapons
for war and hunting, various utensils, etc. None may, however, pass beyond
the sphere of its own specialty without exposing itself to the risk of being
universally proscribed." From the Boango Coast, Bastian tells of a great
number of similar centres for special products of domestic industry. Loango
excels in mats and fishing baskets, while the carving of elephants tusks is
specially followed in Chilungo. The so-called "Mafooka" hats with raised
patterns are drawn chiefly from the bordering country of Kakongo and May-
yumbe. In Bakunya are made potter s wares, which are in great demand,
in Basanza excellent swords, in Basundi especially beautiful ornamented cop
per rings, and the Zaire clever wood and tablet carvings, in Loango orna
mented clothes and intricately designed mats, in Mayumbe clothing of finely
woven mat-work, in Kakongo embroidered hats and also burnt clay pitchers,
and among the Bayakas and Mantetjes stuffs of woven grass.*

A recent native African writer thus describes the trade organiza
tion of Ashanti:

The king of Ashanti knew mostof these merchant princes and His Majesty,
at stated times in the commercial year, sent some of his head tradesmen with
gold dust, ivory and other products to the coast to his merchant friends in ex
change for Manchester goods and other articles of European manufacture. In
one visit the caravan cleared off several hundred bales of cotton goods which
found their way into the utmost parts of Soudan.

It was a part of the state system of Ashanti to encourage trade. The king
once in every forty days, at the Adai custom, distributed among a number of
chiefs various sums of gold dust with a charge to turn the same to good
account. These chiefs then sent down to the coast caravans of tradesmen,
some of whom would be their slaves, sometimes some two to three hundred
strong, to barter ivory for European goods, or buy such goods with gold dust,
which the king obtained from the royal alluvial workings. Down to 1873 a
constant stream of Ashanti traders might be seen daily wending their way
to the coast and back again, yielding more certain wealth and prosperity to
the merchants of the Gold Coast and Great Britain than may be expected for
sometime yet to come from the mining industry and railway development put
together. The trade chiefs would, in due time, render a faithful account to
the king s stewards, being allowed to retain a fair portion of the profit. In the
king s household, too, he would have special men who directly traded for him.
Important chiefs carried on the same system of trading with the coast as did
the king. Thus every member of the state from the king downwards, took
an active interest in the promotion of trade and in the keeping open of trade
routes into the interior.

Nor was the Fanti petty trader left in the lurch; for, while the merchant
princes drove magnificent trade with the caravans from Ashanti, the native
petty trader hawked his goods to great advantage in the intermediate towns
and villages, his customers being private speculators from the interior.

* Buecher s Industrial Evolution (Wickett), pp. 57-H.



Africa 17

Often the men in the coast towns acted as middlemen between men of the
interior tribes coming down to trade with the merchant houses, and gained an
honest means of livelihood in that way.

Some of the chiefs in the intermediate districts would sometimes prove
obstreperous to the caravans coming down, which became a grievance to His
Majesty, the king of Ashanti, whose ruffled temper would often be smoothed
down by diplomatic messages and an exchange of presents. Thus all went
merrily and the country prospered until the dawn of that evil day when its
protectors, instead of letting well enough alone, began to meddle with un
scientific hands in the working of its state system.*

Batzel describes further the market places:

From the Fish river to Kuka, and from Lagos to Zanzibar, the market is the
centre of all the more stirring life in Negro communities, and attempts to
train him to culture have made their most effectual start from this tendency.
Trade is a great implement of civilization for Africa; and this is as true of the
furthest interior whither Europeans or Africans seldom penetrate, as of the
places on the coast. In the larger localities, like Ujiji and Nyangwe, perma
nent markets of more than local importance are found. Everything can be
bought and sold here, from the commonest earthenware pots to the prettiest
girls from Usukuma. Hither flock from 1,000 to 3,000 natives of both sexes and
various ages. How like is the market traffic, with all its uproar and sound of
human voices, to one of our own markets! There is the same rivalry in
praising the goods, the violent, brisk movements, the expressive gesture, the
inquiring, searching glance, the changing looks of depreciation or triumph, of
apprehension, delight, approbation. So says Stanley. Trade customs are not
everywhere alike. If when negotiating with the Bangalas of Angola you do
not quickly give them what they want, they go away and do not come back.
Then perhaps they try to get possession of the coveted object by means of
theft. It is otherwise with the Songos and Kiokos, who let you deal with them
in the usual way. To buy even some small article you must go to the market;
people avoid trading anywhere else. If a man says to another: "Sell me this
hen," or " that fruit," the answer as a rule will be " Come to the market place.
The crowd gives confidence to individuals, and the inviolability of the visitor
to the market, and of the market itself, looks like an idea of justice consecra
ted by long practice. Does not this remind us of the old Germanic " market
place?"t

He adds, with regard to roads:

The permanent caravan roads call for special attention. They are of the
greatest importance to the culture of Africa at large, since they have long
formed the channels through which everj r stimulus to culture found its way
from foreign countries, into the interior. The most important of all come
in from the east, since they lead directly into the heart of the Negro countries.
The south and west, too, are less favored in this respect; only the Portuguese
road to Cazembe s country had a certain importance here. The northern roads
throughout the desert to the Soudan, however, do not lead directly to the Ne
groes, but at first into tke mixed states of the Canooris, Fulbes and Arabs,
whose intercourse with the Negroes to the south unhappily results, as in the
case of the old Egyptians, in slavery.

In the east, however, not foreigners but the Negroes themselves have been
active in the caravan trade. Here is the true seat of the trade in Negroes ;

* Hay ford, pp. t5-97. i Ratzel, p. 370.



18 Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans

here especially the porter system is organized. It was formerly far easier to
reach Uganda or Ujiji from Bagamoyo than Stanley Pool from the mouth of
the Congo. The Wany amwesi, those talented, keen traders and colonists, have
made their-roads to the coast from time immemorial. When one was closed
by war or a blood feud, they opened up another; but the caravans proper-
called Safari in Kiswaheli, Lugendo in Kinyamwesi for long consisted only
of hired porters from the coast. Burton states that it was only shortly before
this time that the inhabitants of the coast began to go on this business.*

As to money Ratzel says :

Where [African] trade with Arabs or Europeans begins, beads are almost
indispensable in any trade transactions. The quality in demand is not always
the same, but is in a certain degree governed by the fashion. Even in the
sixteenth century beads had a currency value among the inhabitants of the
Angola coast, and the old Venetian beads which are found, quite worn down,
in graves, point to the still greater antiquity of this tendency. But excessive
importation has everywhere caused a rapid fall in value. Glass beads depre
ciate more and more every year, and now serve only the object of feminine
vanity; it is long, says Schweinfurth, since they were hoarded as treasures
and buried like precious stones. The preference for cowries shows more per
sistence. These have spread, especially from east Africa, as money ; but even
in the sixteenth century they were in use on the west coast. They were how
ever given up, as too heavy, in places where they no longer had a high value.
Cowries are also used as dice. In Nyangwe, besides the cowries, slaves and
goats were generally current in Cameron s time.

On the upper Nile copper and brass have commonly taken their place, and
in the form of rings have a money value throughout Equatorial Africa. Be
sides these iron axes and rings are in circulation, also pieces of iron shaped
like horse-shoes or hoes.

On Lake Bemba three iron hoes were the fare asked of Livingstone for put
ting ten persons across. Cotton cloth in uselessly narrow strips passes as
money in the Soudan to beyond Adamwa, while in Bornu money even takes
the form of " tobes " or shirts, never intended for wearing. Cattle are currency
among all pastoral races; but, with the exception of Abyssinia and many
parts of the Sahara and the Soudan, where sums are reckoned in Maria Theresa
dollars, coins have established themselves only in the most progressive and
prosperous districts, like Basutoland or the equatorial east coast; now, too, on
the Niger.f

Section 3. The West Indies

From such an environment as we have very imperfectly Indicated,
the Negroes were suddenly snatched and brought first to the West In
dies and afterward to the American continent. In this change a great
deal of the past organization was destroyed. Still the transition
could not utterly break them from the past, and several institutions
remained. The first was, of course, the religious institution which
showed itself in the beginning of the Negro church. This was especially
manifest in the organization called Obe or Obeah worship; considera
ble collections were made of money and kind by the Obi or Voodoo
priests; still the organization was scarcely one which one could call
economic.

* Ratzel, II :377. -j- Ratzel, II :879.



The West Indies 19



A second survival was that of political organization. This could be
seen, of course, in such revolts as that of the Maroons in Jamaica, who
set up apolitical organization and maintained themselves for years;
but it can be seen more instructively in the Negro governors of New
England. Most persons have looked upon this survival of political
organization among the Negroes as simply an imitation of the whites,


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryW. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt) Du BoisEconomic co-operation among Negro Americans. Report of a social study made by Atlanta University under the patronage of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. together with the proceedings of the 12th Conference for the Study of the Negro Problems, held at Atlanta University, on Tuesday, May t → online text (page 2 of 22)