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The Early of the 19th Century: Palm Oil Got Booming

Igbo men in the Oil Rivers region of Nigeria carrying gourds filled with palm oil to sell to European buyers, c. 1900 (Image © Jonathan Adagogo Green / The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY NC SA)
The Early of the 19th Century: Palm Oil Got Booming

InfoSAWIT, JAKARTA - Palm oil was famous in Europe in the 15th century but the big scale – imports by slavery traders in Liverpool and Bristol started in the 19th century. These traders were used to palm oil application in West Africa and they regularly purchased it as the food for the slaves that they sent to America.

Pauline noted that through the slavery, palm oil got into Martinique. He was recorded as Elais Guineensis Jacq. in Selectarum Stirpium Americanarum Historia (1763) by a French botanical expert, Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin.

After slavery was no longer in America in 1907, England traders in West Africa turned to Europe within the business, natural resources as the commodities, particularly palm oi. At the time, the main source of fat and oil in northern Europe derived from animals. It was difficult to get routine supplies. That is why palm oil was most wanted commodity and ‘be lubricant of industrial revolution’ in the early of 19th century.

Palm oil was used as lubricants in tin plate industries, and as semi-solid fat to make candle and soap. The breakthrough in chemical sectors, namely found by Michel Eugène Chevreul in 1823 facilitated to get big scale – soap production in many industries. After the new technique to bleach red palm oil was found in 1836, palm oil becomes the interesting material to make or produce soap.

Many used palm oil – escalated from 157 metric tons (MT) per year by the late of 1790s to be 32.480 MT by the early of 1850s – it was taken to England by small scale – trades in West Africa, such as, John Johnson Hamilton which after that he is known as “palm oil ruffians”.

The trade was not for the weak. Once a year, the traders – mostly as young worker had to get cold – spent their days for about six weeks to travel by small boat to one of many trade stations in the coast of West Africa. There were dozens of trade stations around Oil Rivers in Delta Niger – where it was palm oil trade center in West Africa.

West African small scale – traders brought tons of palm oil to England. It had long and dangerous journey. It was the young workers. They had to live and fully trade in many former big ships to avoid diseases, such as, malaria and yellow fever. They had to wait in their ships until palm oil buyers come from the production regions in many remote areas.

It was different from big scale – concession industries in Southeast Asia. Most of palm oil in West Africa was produced from the wild and semi-wild forests. In some regions, such as, Oil Rivers in Nigeria, many wild palm oil trees were harvested. Some plantings were taken as the response to the demands from Europe but there was not big transformation about area cultivation or ecology.

Palm oil trade history also delivered deeper understanding about how palm oil has become the essential commodity in industrial and trade history globally. (*)

for more, please read Majalah InfoSAWIT, April 2024