Small Navigation Menu

Primary Menu

Piety, beeswax and the Portuguese African slave trade to Lima, Peru, in the early colonial period

Citation: Newson, Linda (2018) Piety, beeswax and the Portuguese African slave trade to Lima, Peru, in the early colonial period. Atlantic Studies: Global currents . ISSN 1478-8810 (Submitted)


Creative Commons: Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

The demand for beeswax for liturgical and medicinal purposes in the Americas vastly increased with the arrival of the Spanish. However, the absence of bees in early colonial Peru meant that this demand could not be met locally so that beeswax and candles had to be imported. While some beeswax was imported from Spain and from other American regions, an alternative source emerged with the Portuguese slave trade from Senegambia where the product was abundant. Using the account books of one of the main slave traders to Peru, Manuel Bautista Pérez, this paper follows the trajectory of the beeswax from Senegambia to Lima, via Cartagena de Indias and the Panamanian isthmus. It reveals how the trade in an everyday product might link producers and consumers in distant regions and how it was dependent on social relationships, cultural values and ecological conditions that were geographically and historically contingent. It shows how the beeswax trade was inextricably linked to the operation of the Portuguese slave trade so that when Portugal lost the monopoly contract for the introduction of slaves to Spanish America in 1640, the beeswax trade from Africa evaporated despite ongoing demand and profitability. Subsequently Lima imported most of its beeswax from Europe or other American regions, but the operation and profitability of the trade continued to be influenced by the same factors that characterised the trade from Africa. Due the centrality of bees to the story, it reveals how animals may play an important role in history even if they are not regarded as active agents and their significance is circumscribed by humans.

Creators: Newson, Linda (0000-0001-5900-2316) and
Official URL:
Subjects: History
Latin American Studies
Keywords: Beeswax, stingless bees, Portuguese slave trade, Peru, Senegambia, wax chandlers
Divisions: Institute of Latin American Studies
  • 23 October 2017 (accepted)
  • 2 April 2018 (published)


View details