Beyond ‘Exotic Groceries’: Tapioca-Cassava, a Hidden Commodity of Empire

Author: Kaori O'Connor

Working Paper Number: 10

PDF file: PDF icon WP10(2).pdf

This is a study of a commodity that has been largely overlooked in Empire histories, but which was an important element in the commerce, culture and constitution of the Portuguese, Brazilian, French, Belgian, Spanish and British Empires and their possessions in Africa, Asia and the Atlantic Islands. Instead of focussing on production, the export market and purely economic relations in the manner of classic economic histories, the paper uses tapioca-cassava and the anthropology of food to explore consumption, social relationships, and the workings of internal markets with the objective of better understanding the socio-cultural complexities of Empire trade, the cosmopolitan communities that emerged from it, and the ways in which local-national-global relations have articulated over time. In introducing the concept of ‘hidden’ commodities, the paper aims to show how a cultural approach can contribute to a more complete understanding of the processes of commodification, and to an assessment of the extent to which these are truly global.