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European trade on the coast of Guinea

West Africa was the region of the continent that saw the most extensive European trade, and the long-lasting names Gold Coast and Ivory Coast commemorate two of its most profitable exports. This map of the region, issued by printer and mapmaker  Detail of Blaeu map of GuineaWillem Janszoon Blaeu (1571-1638), shows the coast in great detail, including the European outposts, and it is decorated with the inevitable cartouche showing exotic animals and uncivilized Africans. Even though West Africa was a heavily populated area, there are few notations about African towns and political divisions, reflecting a lack of knowledge, if not interest, on the part of the Dutch. Which of the Dutch mapmakers was originally responsible for this map is not clear. The same map with Jan Jansson's name on it is included in his 1645 world atlas and a smaller, unattributed version appears in Dapper's 1686 Description de l'Afrique. Since these maps were intended for educational and artistic purposes rather than for navigation, neither the cartographer nor the buyer set a high premium on having  Detail of Labat map of the coast of Guinea the latest, most accurate maps. Indeed, given the high cost of designing and engraving a new map, there was considerable incentive for mapmakers to recycle existing plates, sometimes for decades.

The French began to play a larger role in African commerce in the late seventeenth century. One of the best accounts of their early expeditions is Jean-Baptiste Labat's, Voyage du Chevalier Des Marchais en Guineé, isles voisines, et à Cayenne (1731). Labat (1663-1738) served as a Dominican missionary in the West Indies and later took part in French trading voyages to West Africa and South America. As was true with a number of missionaries' accounts, Labat's was more sympathetic and respectful of indigenous societies and cultures than was usually the case with accounts written by explorers. The large foldout map issued with the book also reflects an advance in mapmaking. The French royal cartographer, the Sieur d'Anville, made it a policy to include only those geographical features which were known from first-hand scientific observation. Unlike the Blaeu and Visscher maps, d'Anville's indicates precisely the regions that are known, but is completely blank in the unexplored interior.

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