The African oil palm in Bahia, Brazil: Past, present, and potential of an Afro-Brazilian landscape

A subspontaneous grove of African oil palms at the foot an intertidal mangrove forest in the Pau d’Oleo district of Igrapiuna, Bahia. Photo by Case Watkins. 

In 1991, the Secretary of Culture in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia officially designated an eighty-kilometer strip of its Atlantic shores as the Costa do Dendê, or Palm Oil Coast, in a formal nod to the dense stands of African oil palms that had come to dominate local landscapes. Part of a broader initiative to promote tourism, the move branded the region as the main source of Bahian palm oil—long a fundamental material component of vibrant Afro-Brazilian culinary and religious cultures practiced throughout the country. Culminating at least five centuries of transatlantic social, economic, and ecological development, Bahia’s African oil palm groves emerged as a veritable Afro-Brazilian landscape.
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