The elegant plume: ostrich feathers, African commercial networks, and European capitalism

Aomar Boum, Michael Bonine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Ostrich feathers have long been an important export from Africa to different European markets. The ostrich plume was a key part of the luxury trade across Mediterranean shores for centuries. The main source of ostrich feathers was from wild ostriches especially from North and West Africa. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the rising economic value of ostrich plumes triggered colonial French and British competition over this luxury commodity, leading to the establishment of domesticated ostrich farms by the French in North and West Africa and by the British in South Africa. This article uses an economic historical framework to understand colonial ostrich feather trade and its impact on French and British relations during the nineteenth century in Africa. We examine the ostrich feather commercial networks that began to emerge particularly by the middle of nineteenth century, and focus on the sources of ostrich feathers and the local practices for hunting and raising ostriches. We argue that by looking at the need for ostrich plumes in European markets and the rise in public consumption of fashion goods based on the ostrich plume, nineteenth-century European capitalism destroyed not only the wild African ostriches, but also local African livelihoods based on wild ostriches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-26
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of North African Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Africa
  • European colonialism
  • Fashion
  • Ostrich domestication
  • Ostrich feather

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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