- Guinea, or Guinea Coast, is a geographical term of Berber origins used by Europeans from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries to designate varying sections of the western coast of Africa, a region that formed one apex of the Atlantic Triangle trade, and lay along the route to the Asian lands formerly known as the East Indies. Taken in the broadest sense, that is, stretching from the southern edge of the Sahara Desert to Angola, it was divided into Upper and Lower Guinea at the Equator. Further subdivisions indicated the most lucrative export commodities, hence the Pepper or Grain Coast, the Ivory Coast, the Mina or Gold Coast, and the Slave Coast. Given that these items originated in the hinterland, and their procurers were known to have supplied the Trans-Saharan and internal Sudan trade beforehand, such labels point to the existence of an extensive and efficient distribution system.It is well documented in Arabic written sources that the region’s resources prompted the rise of indigenous empires especially from the tenth century onward and occasionally lasting into the twentieth century, including those of the Mande, Soninke, Yoruba, Edo, Akan, and Fulbe people. Enabled by a technological revolution, and pressed by a shortage of bullion, the Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator (1394–1460) initiated the European exploration of the Atlantic seaboard, primarily to gain direct access to the goldfields of the western Sudan. A further advantage of establishing trading posts on the Guinea Coast lay in their utility as a stepping stone to the spice trade of Asia, until then monopolized by the Levant traders of Genoa and Venice, and also disrupted by the expansion of the Ottoman Empire.Even though the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 made the region a formal Portuguese sphere of interest, Portugal’s emerging seaborne empire was soon challenged by Dutch, English, French, Danish, Swedish, Brandenburger, and even Courland competitors from the 1520s on. Having organized chartered companies with commercial monopolies, Europeans constructed a network of factories and forts along the seaboard and built up a profitable trade first in gold then slaves to satisfy the need of an emerging plantation complex in the Americas. The capital thus accumulated and access to lubricants derived from palm or peanut oil contributed to the rise of industrial Europe. Imports included European metal ware, textiles, and firearms; American silver and tobacco; and Asian and African cowries and cloth. Such early commercial links to the Guinea helped establish the modern interdependent world economy. Partaking in the Columbian exchange, the transfer of disease, plant and animal species, as well as technology, ideas and religious currents across continents formed part of the transactions at the same time. The hinterland, however, was less affected until the so-called Scramble for Africa, the period of direct territorial annexation that is commonly dated from the 1870s. Obstacles included resistance by the powerful indigenous states of the interior, efficient competition from other trading systems, the limited length of navigable rivers, few suitable natural harbors, a disease environment that earned the coast the epithet “White Man’s Grave,” and finally the lack of sufficient funds or official support. By the 1870s, France and Britain remained the two dominant European powers that also carried the lead in colonization and territorial annexations.See also <
>; < >; < >.FURTHER READING:Birmingham, David. Trade and Empire in the Atlantic, 1400–1600. New York: Routledge, 2000;Hopkins, Anthony G. An Economic History of West Africa. New York: Longman, 1973.GÁBOR BERCZELI
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.