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Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas [Paperback]

by Judith A. Carney
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 31, 2002 0674008340 978-0674008342

Few Americans identify slavery with the cultivation of rice, yet rice was a major plantation crop during the first three centuries of settlement in the Americas. Rice accompanied African slaves across the Middle Passage throughout the New World to Brazil, the Caribbean, and the southern United States. By the middle of the eighteenth century, rice plantations in South Carolina and the black slaves who worked them had created one of the most profitable economies in the world.

Black Rice tells the story of the true provenance of rice in the Americas. It establishes, through agricultural and historical evidence, the vital significance of rice in West African society for a millennium before Europeans arrived and the slave trade began. The standard belief that Europeans introduced rice to West Africa and then brought the knowledge of its cultivation to the Americas is a fundamental fallacy, one which succeeds in effacing the origins of the crop and the role of Africans and African-American slaves in transferring the seed, the cultivation skills, and the cultural practices necessary for establishing it in the New World.

In this vivid interpretation of rice and slaves in the Atlantic world, Judith Carney reveals how racism has shaped our historical memory and neglected this critical African contribution to the making of the Americas.


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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

>Black Rice is an original, knowledgeable, exciting, and important addition to the literature of the making and remaking of the Atlantic world. Judith Carney demonstrates how the trans-Atlantic transfer of rice cultivation marked not simply the movement of an important crop across the Atlantic, but also the relocation of an entire culture. (Ira Berlin, author of Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America)

An intrepid and observant researcher who links African rice to North and South America in fresh and convincing ways, Judith Carney's work is wide-ranging, provocative, and clear. Black Rice is a wonderfully rich and creative book about an amazing crop and the people who labored to grow it. You will never look at a bowl of rice--or the entire Atlantic basin--in quite the same way again. (Peter H. Wood, author of Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion)

Black Rice is a luminous, brilliant account of innovation, resistance, and identity linking Old and New Worlds. Carney has unearthed a compelling, and hitherto neglected, aspect of Africa's contribution to the agrarian history of the Americas. A magisterial geographical history of the Black Atlantic. (Michael Watts, University of California, Berkeley)

If there were a field of "Trans-Atlantic Subaltern Studies," Black Rice would represent both a foundation stone of the edifice and one of its most impressive achievements. (James C. Scott, Yale University)

Among the very finest examples of what African Diaspora Studies should be: multidisciplinary, multilingual, broad in geographic scope, and focused on Africa and Africans as vital, active contributors to the technology and culture of the Americas. (Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, author of Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century)

With a fusion of highly original geographic, ethnographic, and historical analysis, Carney powerfully traces the provenance and provisioning of rice in the Americas, the profound role that it played in defining gender roles, and the myriad ways that slave labor altered the once hidden political ecology of rice landscapes. (Karl Zimmerer, author of Changing Fortunes: Biodiversity and Peasant Livelihood in the Peruvian Andes)

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)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 31, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674008340
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674008342
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The African Connection 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
4.0 out of 5 stars Rice and the African Connection 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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspective 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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