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Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas Hardcover – April 30, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

From Bondage to Freedom "Among the longstanding themes in African-American history is the debate over cultural survival and acculturation," observes UCLA geography professor Judith A. Carney in the introduction to Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas. Contrary to common belief, she explains, rice was not brought by Europeans to the Americas by way of Asia, but rather was introduced here by Africans and cultivated by African-American slaves, particularly in South Carolina, where rice crops proved to be one of the most profitable plantation-based economies. Though this is a scholarly work, Carney's clear, uncluttered prose invites a wider readership.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

Exploring crops, landscapes and agricultural practices in Africa and America, [Carney] demonstrates the critical role Africans played in the creation of the system of rice production that provided the foundation of Carolina's wealth...This detailed study of historical botany, technological adaptation and agricultural diffusion adds depth to our understanding of slavery and makes a compelling case for "the agency of slaves" in the creation of the South's economy and culture.
--Drew Gilpin Faust (New York Times Book Review 2001-04-22)

Contrary to common belief, [Carney] explains, rice was not brought by Europeans to the Americas by way of Asia, but rather was introduced here by Africans and cultivated by African-American slaves, particularly in South Carolina, where rice crops proved to be one of the most profitable plantation-based economies. Though this is a scholarly work, Carney's clear, uncluttered prose invites a wider readership. (Publishers Weekly 2001-02-19)

Black Rice sets out to discredit for good an old Southern recipe for history that depicts slaves as mere laborers who dumbly performed work their masters conceived. Carney tells it the other way around. After years visiting West African rice fields, then digging in archives on both sides of the Atlantic, she has emerged with evidence that early slave traders sought and seized Africans who had the abilities to grow a specific African rice...Black Rice might be called an agricultural detective story. The historical crime--and that's clearly how Carney sees it--is the relative lack of attention given to African rice.
--Allan M. Jalon (Los Angeles Times 2001-08-20)

Judith A. Carney's Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas...describes how the South Carolina rice industry was built not only on slave labor but on the agricultural and technological knowledge brought over by the Africans...[It] changes our understanding of the black contribution to American life.
--Barry Gewen (New York Times Book Review 2005-06-05)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 30, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674004523
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674004528
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #438,697 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Bob Newman VINE VOICE on March 31, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not long ago, it was common belief that rice was domesticated in Asia and brought to other parts of the world either by Muslims or European traders. Thus, if rice were cultivated in the Carolinas from the late 17th century on, the presence of that crop was due to some European intervention. Carney explodes this myth. Showing the existence of rice cultivation in West Africa for at least two thousand years and proving that a) the variety of rice plant is not the same as the one in Asia and b) that a vast body of knowledge about rice growing existed in West Africa when the Portuguese first arrived there, she lays firm groundwork on which to build her idea that it was African slaves who taught the English planters in the Carolinas how to grow rice, built all the waterworks and field irrigation systems, passed on knowledge about milling the crop, and cooking the rice as well. She concludes that a whole system of knowledge was transferred from West Africa to North America's southeast coastal swamps (and to Brazil and Suriname too). This knowledge belonged especially to women of certain peoples who lived in the coastal rice growing zones of the area between Senegal and the Ivory Coast (and also in the interior [...] delta area of Mali). It was appropriated, just like the bodies of the slaves, and falsely said to originate with the white planters. How a bunch of ship captains and slave traders would have time to master the art of rice cultivation and bring it to the Americas was never explained by traditional historians. And the rice paddies of England somehow do not loom large in British legend. Africans---again---were erased from history. Carney has re-written them into the record in a very interesting book.Read more ›
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful By David W. Barber on July 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas. Judith A. Carney. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001. xiv and 240 pp. Notes, references, and index. (ISBN 0-674-00452-3)

Reviewed by David Barber, Graduate Student, The University of Southern Mississippi; Hattiesburg, MS.

Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas, By Judith A. Carney, investigates the historical origins of South Carolina's rice industry and the role African slaves played by providing the knowledge and technology of rice cultivation in the Americas. From a personal background, Judith A. Carney is a professor of geography at UCLA. Carney's main argument focuses on the African slaves' contributions to the rice industry, their introduction of rice to the Americas, and their cultivation technology that provided the driving force behind one of the most profitable cash crop commodities in the South. Carney's book dispels the false, popular belief that rice was introduced to the Western Hemisphere by European traders. However, the book is limited, somewhat, as a source for studying the history of American cooking. Although Carney's book provides a valuable insight into the history of rice cultivation in America, it provides very little information regarding the usage or consumption of cultivated rice by the American society.

Judith A. Carney is a professor of geography at UCLA. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkley. In Black Rice, Carney utilizes a variety of primary sources, as well as secondary sources to support her findings. The book contains an introduction, six chapters, notes, references, and an index.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By James Hoogerwerf on February 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
Carney's thesis is that it was African rice, glaberrima, and African slave knowledge that developed the crop in the Americas, not Asian rice, sativa, or Portuguese traders. Her perspective is interdisciplinary and cross-cultural and establishes a foundation of African rice growing experience that migrated with slaves across the Atlantic.

The distinctive shovel or hoe called the kayendo, described in mangrove rice cultivation by Venetian Chronicler, Cadamosto in 1455, supports her premise. It vouches strongly for the fact that irrigated rice cultivation preceded Portuguese arrival. Irrigated rice and the concomitant social development, establishes the presence of an African rice species and native African cultivation well before the Portuguese could have brought seed and rice growing expertise from Asia.

The keyendo was a key tool in the highly productive mangrove system of rice production. The men aerated the soil, built embankments and ridges and turned over soil to bury weeds. The kayendo, Caney notes, is still in use today. While the kayendo was used by men to prepare the heavy clay found in costal mangrove areas in Africa, rice was primarily a woman's task. Carney notes similar gender roles and attitudes in the American plantation system.

Use of the keynedo demonstrates the early sophistication of African rice production. Mangrove rice cultivation required extensive field preparation and management. This knowledge was transferred to the American continent. It contradicts the claim of Portuguese and plantation origins of American rice production with Asian seed. The rice, Carney argues, was of African origin and she points to the critical role of slaves in adapting it to the New World.
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