Material Values of the Teke Peoples of West Central Africa (1880–1920)

Green, James (2017) Material Values of the Teke Peoples of West Central Africa (1880–1920). Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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In this thesis I examine the material values of the Teke peoples, whose cultural influence is felt across a vast region – including central Republic of the Congo, south-eastern Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the vicinity of Congo Pool (ncouna) – totalling some 90,000 km2 of West Central Africa, an area roughly the size of Portugal. A diverse range of ecological zones exist here, from plateau savannah and equatorial rainforest to the marshy banks of Congo Pool, location of the present-day capital cities of Brazzaville and Kinshasa.
For centuries the Teke acted as vital intermediaries in the trade of valuable natural
resources, both in the form of raw materials and as finished goods, across this ecologically diverse region. Gaining insight into indigenous Teke conceptions of materials allows us to better situate and understand the value system of West Central Africa as a whole, for the Teke were bound through trade alliances to hundreds of different ethnicities across the Congo Basin.
Depictions of the Teke in the European archive are understood to be shaped by the
material values of outsiders. The earliest extensive account – dating to the 1580s – is based on rumours collected by a Portuguese trader who was unable to travel to the Teke region itself because of geographical and political barriers. Despite this, European traders on the coast were nonetheless aware of the Teke peoples as a source of valuable goods, and that they were in charge of the markets of the pombo or Congo Pool. Neighbouring polities, especially the Kongo peoples, remained forbidding gatekeepers to the Teke region until the arrival of Henry Morton
Stanley (1841–1904) (hereafter Stanley) in 1877 and Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza (1852–1905) (hereafter Brazza) in 1880 who gained access to the region overland, from ‘behind’ geographical and political barriers along historic trade routes to the Atlantic Ocean.
This critical time of first direct contact marks the beginning of the period under study. A vast amount of data concerning the material value of the Teke – and the resources that could be gained from this inner region of West Central Africa more generally – was generated by a number of different European visitors. Much of it concerns the Congo as a potential place of profit, and therefore often contains information relating to valuable or potentially valuable materials. This thesis employs this information as a means of uncovering the historical value system of the Teke, who, as traders in charge of the central markets of Congo Pool, were often on the other side of these deals.
This thesis argues that it is possible, by a cross-comparison of the data contained in this web of interlocking sources, to locate the ‘indigenous perspective’ in the colonial archive as it relates to material values. Scrutinising the values attached to different materials offers insights into West Central Africa at a moment of sudden transformation, when, after centuries of relative isolation from direct Atlantic trade, the Teke were thrust into a global economy.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Jackie Webb
Date Deposited: 01 Aug 2018 13:21
Last Modified: 01 Aug 2018 13:21


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