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Interlopers of EmpireThe Lebanese Diaspora in Colonial French West Africa$
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Andrew Arsan

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199333387

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199333387.001.0001

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Merchants and Magpies

Merchants and Magpies

The Trading Lives of Eastern Mediterranean Migrants

(p.123) 5 Merchants and Magpies
Interlopers of Empire

Andrew Arsan

Oxford University Press

This chapter reconstructs the trading lives and commercial strategies of Lebanese migrants to colonial French West Africa. While scholars have sought in the past to understand the apparent successes of these men and women, they have stressed structural factors, seeing their presence as but another sign of West Africa’s incorporation into the world economy, or tacking their waxing and waning fortunes to the ups and downs of the colonial economy. This chapter takes a rather different approach, looking in fine detail at the trading networks, credit relations, hierarchical arrangements, and bargaining tactics which underwrote Eastern Mediterranean commercial lives. Furthermore, it contends that explanations that seek some inherent cultural trait that might account for the commercial inclinations, and success, of Lebanese migrants are fundamentally inadequate. These men and women were magpies who, even as they relied in certain circumstances on familiar patterns they had brought with them from the Eastern Mediterranean, were always ready to borrow tactics and strategies and refashion them for their own purposes. This explains, for instance, their overlooked but significant involvement in the West African kola trade. And this, in turn, undermines tired distinctions between ‘European’ and ‘African’, formal and informal, economies.

Keywords:   colonial economy, informal economy, trade, commerce, credit, networks

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