From the Amazon to the Congo Valley: A Comparative Study on the Violent Commodification of Labour During the Rubber Boom (1870s–1910s)

  • Louise Cardoso de Mello
  • Sven Van Melkebeke
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Economic History book series (PEHS)


This chapter presents a comparative historical analysis of the process of labour commodification during the rubber boom period in Western Amazonia and the Congo Free State. Its primary objective is to address the debate on the expansion of commodity frontiers and its social repercussions on native peoples. Therefore, we look at the changes and continuities in social and labour relations in both regions in regard to their colonial background and neo-colonial context, so as to demonstrate that the commodification of rubber prompted the commodification of indigenous workforce, by focusing on the practices of enslavement by debt and enslavement by tax. Ultimately, we hope to shed some light on the coloniality and violent repercussions that have underlaid the expansion of capitalism and globalisation in the Amazonian and Congo regions to this day.



We would like to extend our gratitude to the organisers and publishers of this volume, as well as to the Commodities of Empire Research Project and all of those involved in the Commodity Frontiers Workshop held in Zayed University, Dubai in December 2017. The remarks and inputs made by our colleagues and fellow presenters were very useful. Furthermore, we would like to thank the institutions that have funded and/or supported this research, namely, the Rio de Janeiro Research Foundation (FAPERJ) and the Economies, Comparisons, Connections (ECC) research group at Ghent University.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Louise Cardoso de Mello
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sven Van Melkebeke
    • 3
  1. 1.Universidad Pablo de OlavideSevilleSpain
  2. 2.Universidade Federal FluminenseRio de JaneiroBrazil
  3. 3.Ghent UniversityGhentBelgium

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