Dressing the Slavery: Textiles, Slaves, and the Contrato de Angola (18 th Century)
ABSTRACT The Transatlantic slave trade was closely related to the exchange of manufactured goods between Europeans and Africans, particularly of textiles, as historiography has pointed out for decades. In Angola’s ports and hinterland, textile imports were essential to procure and export slaves as well, since fabrics made up the bundle of goods exchanged for enslaved people. In this article, we approach the role of Contrato de Angola (contract to collect tax) as a supplier of textiles to the Luanda based merchants, underlying the geographical origin and the sort of fabrics, resorting to trade records by the Contrato’s managers in the 1760s and 1770s. In order to highlight the results, we draw comparisons between our figures and data of commercial dealings from late seventeenth century and from the Angolan external trade between the end of the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century. We conclude that some of the features of this trade were quite stable, such as the Lisbon merchants’s aversion to directly invest in slaves bound for Atlantic crossing, and we emphasize some differences as well, particularly the outstanding share of European textiles in the Contrato’s role as a supplier of trade goods.