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Book : The Forgotten Diaspora


Jewish Communities in West Africa
This book traces the history of early seventeenth-century Portuguese Sephardic traders who settled in two communities on Senegal’s Petite Cote. There, they lived as public Jews, under the spiritual guidance of a rabbi sent to them by the newly established Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam. In Senegal, the Jews were protected from agents of the Inquisition by local Muslim rulers. The Petite Cote communities included several Jews of mixed Portuguese-African heritage as well as African wives, offspring and servants. These merchants illegally supplied West African markets with swords, and this trade depended on artisans and merchants based in Morocco, Lisbon and northern Europe, and affected warfare in the Sahel and along the Upper Guinea Coast. After members of these communities moved to the United Provinces around 1620, they had a profound influence on relations between black and white Jews in Amsterdam. The study not only discovers previously unknown Jewish communities but by doing so offers a reinterpretation of the dynamics and processes of identity construction throughout the Atlantic world.
’A fascinating and richly documented study of identity negotiation among Portuguese New Christian merchants who settled in seventeenth-century Senegambia. These men married or cohabited with women from African elites, maintained contacts with the Sephardim of Amsterdam, traded across multiple boundaries (behaving when necessary as Catholics), and lived openly as Jews.’ Miriam Bodian, University of Texas, Austin
’In this richly textured study, Mark and Horta show how a forgotten diaspora of Sephardic Jews from Lisbon connected three continents and laid the foundation for the emergence of a dynamic Atlantic world. Theirs is a history of the intimacy of Jewish-Muslim relations, the flexible nature of Jewish identity and practice in an African setting, and the ways that Judaism influenced African spirituality. This is a story that had to be told.’ Walter Hawthorne, Michigan State University and author of From Africa to Brazil : Culture, Identity, and an Atlantic Slave Trade, 1600–1830
’This is a superb piece of detective work. Mark and Horta trace the history of several Jewish communities in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Senegambia and use it to cast light on the history of the Jewish Diaspora, on West African commerce, and on the construction of race in the early modern world.’ Martin Klein, University of Toronto
’… meticulously researched … this path-breaking book has persuasively demonstrated the importance of West African Jews for understanding the early modern Atlantic world.’ Daniel J. Schroeter, Journal of African History

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