Jewish Communities in West Africa and the Making of the Atlantic World

Jewish Communities in West Africa and the Making of the Atlantic World

“Almost thirty years earlier, a very different sequence of events had taken place. In 1460, just after the death of Henry the Navigator, Afonso V, king of Portugal, dispatched a caravel to the Petite Cote. He gave the captain, Diogo Gomes, who already had experience sailing along the Guinea coast, tern horses to trade, along with authority over all the ships he would find there, “because he knew there were caravels that took swords and weapons to the Moors, giving [Gomes] orders to bring them under guard to him in Portugal.”

“Gomes was, of course, tracking illegal traders. One of these interlopers was captured, brought to the city of Oporto, and tortured “for having brought weapons to the Moors.” Fearing a similar fate, Mendo Afonso, an early lancado who had taken swords to Guinea, remained on the coast, living among African Muslims, until 1463 when he asked the king for a pardon.”

“The ensuing 150 years witnessed growing commerce between Portugal and West Africa. In exchange for ivory, wax, hides and, increasingly by the final decades of the sixteenth century, slaves, Portuguese merchants brought iron-even though it, too, was illegal–textiles, and horses to Guine. By the last two decades of the sixteenth century, weapons, especially iron swords, were an important component of Portuguese exports to Africa. A close of the reading of sixteenth and early seventeenth century Portuguese narratives indicates that these weapons were highly in demand in the Wolof and Serer states of northern Senegambia, as well as among the Banyuns, Cassangas, and other populations in the Gambia-Bissau region.”

“A Papal Bull, “In Coena Domini,” promulgated in 1364 and reissued annually until 1774, prohibited, among other offenses, the sale of weapons to the Infidel, upon pain of excommunication. By the late 1500s, if the Portuguese expressed public scruples about contravening the Papal Bull, their French, Dutch, and English trading rivals had no such compunctions. Portuguese lancados who had settled on the Senegambian coast played an important role as intermediaries in this international commerce. If one wished to obtain slaves, it was necessary to offer armas brancas. By the early seventeenth century, Lisbon merchants, too, were deeply involved in the trade.”

“The international weapons trade to West Africa was both affected by and itself influenced contemporary events in Morocco. The Moroccan invasion of Songhai in 1591 was a seminal episode in the military history of the sahel. The victory of the army of the Saadin ruler, Ahmed Al-Mansour, at the Battle of Tondibi had a far-reaching impact on the subsequent arms trade from the inland delta of the Niger River to the West African coast.”

“Shortly, after he defeated the Portuguese army at Al-Kasr-Quibir, in 1578, Mansour had begun to develop a modern arms industry based in Marrakesh. The Moroccan invasion of Songhai, thirteen years later, brought great numbers of these weapons invasion of Songhai, thirteen years later, brought great numbers of these weapons into the sahel and provided graphic evidence of the effectiveness of both armas brancas and mobile artillery.”

“By the end of Mansour’s reign in 1603, he had also begun to establish diplomatic and commercial ties to the United Provinces. These ties, which expanded under his successor, were mediated by Jewish merchants of Portuguese descent. Ultimately, the court of Marrakesh, assisted by the trader based in Holland, played a central role in the establishment of a complex network of military and commercial connections that linked Morocco to northern European trade networks and that connected both Marrakesh and Amsterdam to the weapons trade in West Africa.”

“Race and attitudes towards race as they are socially constructed to have to be understood as they were in their specific temporal context. The Portuguese experience provided the foundation for attitudes among the Sephardic community of Amsterdam. The concept of raca was closely related to other categories in the late sixteenth and seventeenth-century Luso-African accounts about Guinea of Cape Verde. It should be noted that the term “race” the Portuguese Inquisition and the assessment of “purity of blood” that was required of candidates for a specific post and honorary titles.”

“This process began to have concrete consequences from the 1570s onward. But the Portuguese race evoked family origin (the roots), either ethnic, social, or religious. The term was not necessarily connected with skin color or other physical features, even if the latter could be signs of a certain social status, like slavery. It had a similar meaning to the concept of nacao, and hence sometimes an individual may be described as either [“jalofo denagao”] or “of the Wolof race [“de raga jalofo”], or “of the Wolof caste [“de casta jalofo”] just as another individual might be referred to as “of the Moorish race,” “of the Moorish nation,” or of “Moorish caste.” 

“The same applies to Jewish and New Christian which, as she asserted, was better than the caste of Old Christians. This was part of a common counterdiscourse among New Christians, a reaction to the permanent pressure against people of Jewish descent in Catholic Society. But this response appropriated the Old Christian discourse fostered by the Inquisition in Iberia.”

“Who were these Moors? In Portuguese sources of that time the category of “Mouro” could have two different meanings: a general one as a synonym for “Muslims,” wherever they were, or a specific meaning, the nomadic inhabitants of Mauritania. If we follow the first meaning which seems correct for the 1618 account the document would simply be saying that black non-Muslim traders were purchasing the swords, which then were resold to Muslims.”

“For instance the Muslim trading partners, as we know, consisted both of members of the Wolof political elite, and of Muslim agents of the Mande trade network that connected the Guinea coast to the inland sahel. But in the 1590 qoutation, we believe the second meaning was being used. By 1590, as we know Castelo Branco’s account, blade weapons, including alfanges and daggers, were arriving on the coast of Jolofo.”

“Andrew Alvares de Almada’s treatise (manuscript of ca. 1596) reads that Blacks were learning cavalry techniques from the Moors, who came from the desert: “They learn these tricks from the Moors, who normally follow the Jolof court, and who come there to sell horses. The same traders who sold horses would likely have sold cavalry weapons. In the 1590 Inquisition report, the Negros who sold these weapons were likely Wolofs and the Mouros who bought them were very likely these Sahran caravan merchants who had business with the Wolof royal courts, exchaning horses for other merchandise.”

Source: The Forgotten Diaspora: Jewish Communities in West Africa and the Making of ..By Peter Mark, José da Silva Horta.

El Aemer El Mujaddid

American born Moor, Author, History Researcher, Modernist, 720 Entrepreneur/ Corporate Mogul in the making; who observes & analyzes human nature for data mining purposes. Knowing is Half the Battle, Wisdom is needed for appropriate application of knowledge and right reasoning.

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