The emergence of European powers
on the world scene after the fifteenth century brought with it more than the subjugation of colonized peoples; it also brought an increase in the market for drugs, which until then had seen little distribution beyond their lands of origin. Growth in trade required goods for which there was demand, and drugs filled that role neatly.
This book explores how Europeans introduced and used drugs in colonial contexts for the exploitation and placation of indigenous labor. Combining history and anthropology, it examines the role of drugs in trade and labor during the age of western colonial expansion. From considering the introduction of alcohol in the West African slave trade to the use of coca as a labor enhancer in the Andes, these original contributions examine both the encouragement of drug use by colonial powers and the extent to which local peoples' previous experience with psychoactive substances shaped their use of drugs introduced by Europeans.
The authors show that drugs possessed characteristics that made them a particularly effective means for propagating trade or increasing the extent and intensity of labor. In the early stages of European expansion, drugs were introduced to draw people, quite literally, into relations of dependency with European trade partners. Over time, the drugs used to intensify the amount and duration of labor shifted from alcohol, opium, and marijuana—which were used to overcome the drudgery and discomfort of physical labor—to caffeine-based stimulants, which provided a more alert workforce.
Valuable not only for its ethnographic detail but also for its broader insight into the nature of capitalist expansion, this collection reveals the surprising consistency of drug use in the colonial process. Drugs, Labor and Colonial Expansion is a book rich with cross-cultural insights that ranges widely across disciplines to provide a new and needed look at the colonial experience.