INQUIRY: Delayed transfer of rights in commercial exchange

Matthew Hill (mhill@WATARTS.UWATERLOO.CA)
Mon, 7 Nov 1994 15:19:38 -0500

I am looking for ethnographic parallels to the following situation.

In the early eighteenth century on the River Gambia in West Africa, it was
apparently customary for vendors of animals or animal produce (e.g. eggs)
to retain rights to the materials vent until nightfall. That is, if I
bought your cow in the morning, you could come to me in the afternoon and
reclaim it, repaying me the purchase price. If I had slaughtered or even
injured your cow, I was in the wrong and could be held for damages.
Commodities in the normal run of trade for export such as hides, ivory,
wax or slaves do not seem to have been subject to this rule.

Note that this is, in the view of European participants at least,
in the realm of simple purchase and sale, not ritual exchange with
extended symbolic meaning.

Note also that the situation is one in which African vendors came from
cultures which were of political and economic complexity comparable to
those of Europe and had been involved in trade with Europeans for
several centuries.