Edited: Sep 4, 2018
What cases of knowledge imported from Africa to the West do you know?
One of the most important contributions the Africans made to the New World colonies in America was rice cultivation. Rice was a necessity for the survival of European colonists in a tropical or subtropical climate.
In documentation of the Office of the Louisiana Historical Society, Henry P. Dart (1931) reported that in 1719:
. . . two French captains . . . left Le Havre for West Africa with precise instructions. . . . to bring back to Pensacola (Florida-Louisiana), those Africans expert in the cultivation of rice, cotton, tobacco and indigo; and to bring barrels of seedlings of rice, ready for planting; because colonial Louisiana was hungry.
Judith Carney, in her book "Black Rice" has insisted that rice cultivation was made possible not because of capital investment but because of African expertise.
Before the arrival of Africans in colonial Virginia, rice cultivation was only experimental and depended upon rainfall to produce a variety called sativa. With the arrival of the first Africans in Virginia in 1619, the British colonizers were informed that rice cultivation was possible in the deep valleys. These colonists had no experience with wetland rice cultivation. Later, rice cultivation rapidly became “cash crop revenue” for the colonizers in the Americas. Before the end of the 17th century, a new method of rice cultivation was introduced in South Carolina, because its ecological environment was more favorable to the implementation and development of this special crop. Historical evidence documents this appropriation of African knowledge as the first case of technology transfer as a result of the Africans who were brought to the New World.
According to Carney(2001) :
In reaffirming the claim for autonomy over their labor for part of the day, slaves were engaged in a struggle to humanize their degraded shift to chattel. Thus in frontier South Carolina, as Africans and Europeans faced each other in new territory under dramatically altered and unequal power relations, the outcome was agricultural diffusion, technological transfer, and novel forms of labor organisation. . . . Across the middle passage slaves showed the way to plant and process new crops introduced from Africa, to herd cattle in the open range, and to provide techniques of weaving and dyeing. The trend throughout the subsequent centuries of slavery was to erase the momentous African contribution, which scholarship is only recently beginning to uncover. This consideration of the complexities of rice culture draws attention to just one of the numerous knowledge systems that slaves introduced to the Americas in the face of staggering difficulties and loss of personal liberty. (pp. 105–106)
There is pertinent evidence that Africans brought a system of knowledge with them into the new World. Indeed, many years went by before anyone recognized the existence of Oryza glaberrima as a quality of rice that was different from any other because it originated in West Africa. Carney noted:
In the early twentieth century French commentaries on glaberrima from the Inland Delta of the Niger River drew attention to the red color of African rice. Among the indigenous glaberrima varieties identified in their botanic collections is one they designated mutica, which has grown under lightly flooded conditions.
The British colonizers observed that this African variety adapted much better to poor soils and excessive flooding. Glaberrima also grows very fast and all these characteristics made this special crop more competitive than the Asian variety, "sativa".
Multiple scientific studies have also suggested the similarity of rice cultivation strategies and techniques practiced by the Africans in South Carolina and in Georgia. According to John Drayton, as cited in Black Rice:
Besides the white and gold rice, already mentioned, there are some others in the states of little note and consequences; primarily cultivated by negroes. They are called Guinea rice, bearded rice, a short grained rice, somewhat like barley, and a species of highland rice. (Carney, 2001, p.150 )
Karen Hess (1992) noted with regard to African influences on New World cuisine:
Many rice dishes associated with African settlement in the Americas bear distinctive African signatures in preparation. These dishes combine the cooking of rice with beans, such as the Cuban Moros y Cristianos (“Moors and Christians”), prepared with black beans; Hoppin’ John in South Carolina and Louisiana (black-eyed peas or cowpeas); and a similar dish in the Caribbean based on pigeon peas and rice. Other African food traditions in the Americas are the Louisiana jambalaya, based on rice, sausages, and seasonings, and gumbo, with the addition of okra. An additional African food way is the preparation of stews from well- cooked greens, fatback pork, and hot pepper seasonings.
Olga F. Linares discuss the history and potential of Oryza Glabberima in "African rice (Oryza glaberrima): History and future potential".
Africans helped to develop indigo, which was the first Southern industrial culture of the United States of America. The cultivation of indigo was introduced first in Louisiana in 1721, two years after the arrival of the first cohort of Africans from West Africa. Joseph Dubreuil, a native of Dijon, France, introduced the cultivation and production of indigo in Louisiana. He became the wealthiest man in the colony, and in 1743, the export of indigo to other countries had begun. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall (1992) suggested “it is quite possible that he learned the techniques for processing indigo from his African slaves” (p. 139).
According to Gwendolyn Midlo Hall (1992), one of the skills regularly listed on slave inventories in Louisiana was that of indigo maker (indigotier).
Slaves were commonly used as medical doctors and surgeons in eighteenth-century Louisiana. They were skilled in herbal medicine and were often better therapists than the French doctors, who were always described as surgeons. Du Pratz wrote that a slave doctor belonging to the plantation of the king in New Orleans had taught him to "cure all illnesses to which women are subject, because these black women are no more exempt than white women." This slave doctor had an effective cure for scurvy before 1734, the year Du Pratz left Louisiana. First he treated the pain. Then he made a paste from iron rust soaked in lemon juice and herbs, which he placed on the patient's gums at all times except when the patient ate. Every day the patient drank two pints of tea made with lemon juice and herbs. He recommended against dieting. The patient was to eat good food often, but in small quantities. Evidently, this cure was ignored in Louisiana, where it would have been easy to administer: There were so many oranges growing there that the settlers allowed them to rot on the trees. As late as 1779, scurvy among the newly settled Canary Islanders was attributed to eating salt meat.(Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, 1992, p. 126)
Paul E. Lovejoy discuss this topic in "African Contributions to Science, Technology and Development".
This paper, by Candice L. Goucher, examines the history of African metallurgy in the era of Atlantic trade. It reports on excavations at the John Reeder foundry site in St Thomas, Jamaica. The transfer of African technologies to the Caribbean reveals the plantation economy's dependence on African technical expertise, not merely slave labour. The comprehensive focus on the Atlantic world also informs archaeological investigations of African-European interaction in West Central Africa. The complexity of Atlantic technological history is characterized by a diverse range of dynamic interactions, rather than the inevitable decline of African-derived systems. Only by identifying processes as well as products of African technological interaction will it be possible fully to reconstruct the forging of the African past.
In Brazil, the development of steelmaking was attributed to "the technical skills of a few African slaves"(Furtado 1965).
This paper also discuss the technological transfer of African ironmaking science, but is a little more biased.