Angola Under the Portuguese: The Myth and the Reality

“Freyre and others maintain that there was considerable miscegenation between the Portuguese and the Moors and Jews which reputedly resulted in a Portuguese tolerance of, even preference for, dark complexioned women. This miscegenation, however, may have been more common during the Moorish occupation. Unquestionably the most peaceful and tolerant relations between the Portuguese, Moors, and Jews transpired under the Moorish rule of Portugal.”

“Ironically, Portugal manifested its most intolerant and brutal behavior towards its own ‘infidels’ at the very time the Portuguese were meeting and colonizing the African and Indian ‘infidels’. In fact, prior to the end of the Inquisition in 1769, Jews, Moors, and Negroes were frequently referred to in official documents as racas infectadas (infected races).”

“If there was a legacy of amicability among the Portuguese towards the Moors after seven centuries of contact in Iberia, it was not apparent in their relations with the Moors they encountered in Africa. Beginning with the conquest of the Moroccan coast town of Ceuta in 1415 and until the middle of the eighteenth century, Portugal was engaged in almost constant warfare with the Moors. At times these battles reached the proportion of a holy crusade; personal accounts of some of the battles reveal that the Portuguese soldiers often made no distinction between combatants and civilians since none of the infidels was deemed worthy of human consideration.”

 “A richly detailed narration of these voyages by Henry’s personal chronicler, Gomes Eanes de Azurara, recounts the initiation of the African slave trade with the exons of Antao Goncalvez and Nuno Tristao to Senegal in 1441 and 1442 respectively. By 1446 there were nearly a thousand African slaves in Portugal. Azurara, who witnessed the return of many of the early slave ships, described the anguish which overcame the Africans as families and friends were separated indiscriminately, ‘faces bathed in tears…[while] others struck their faces with the palms of their hands, throwing themselves upon the ground.”

 “Slavery, however, was not the only objective of the Portuguese explorations. They also sought minerals, ivory, spices, and souls as they searched for a land or sea route to the fabled riches of the Orient. Their experience in the Maghreb provided them with important knowledge which fed these ambitions: they learned of gold on the Guinea coast which was beyond the control of their Muslims enemies, and of Arab navigation on the East African coast, confirming that the continent was surrounded by water.”

 “By 1471 Portuguese sailors had arrived in Ghana and found it so rich in gold that a decade later they built their first fort in West Africa (Elmina), in order to deter other European explorers from following in their wake. Another fort was built at Benin (Nigeria), where Portugal found not only more wealth but a well-developed kingdom which greatly impressed the crown. The Portuguese and Benin kings exchanged gifts and diplomatic missions and the latter’s son even adopted Christianity. Further down the coast, along the northern frontiers of Angola, the Portuguese encountered in 1482 the undisputed leader among the coastal states of Central Africa–the vast Kongo Kingdom. In a letter directred to Joao III (1526) Afonso wrote, ‘there are many traders in all corners of the country. They bring ruin to the country. Everday people are enslaved and kidnapped, even nobles, even members of the King’s own family.” 

“Portugal, the native inhabitants of Portugal were influenced and shaped by a variety of cultural, ethnic, racial and religious groups. From the arrival of the Phoenicians in the eighth century BC until the final expulsion of the Moors in the thirteenth century AD, the Iberian tribes absorbed at least seven major civilizations including the Greeks, Celts, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, and Moors. Each left an indelible mark on the emerging Portuguese society.”

“Unfortunately, there is scanty information concerning miscegenation in Portugal during the period when blacks formed a part of its population. In fact, most histories of Portugal contain little more than passing references to the presence of African slaves. Yet, African slaves constituted an important segment of Portuguese society, being an integral part of the labor force, for more than three centuries–long than the period of slavery in the United States.”

“In a 1533 letter written from Evora, a Flemish priest wrote, undoubtedly exaggerating that ‘slaves were swarming all over. All the work is done by captive blacks and Moors. Portugal is being glutted with this race. I’m beginning to believe that the slaves in Lisbon outnumber the Portuguese. Actually, from about the middle of the sixteenth century until at least 1620 approximately 10 percent of Lisbon’s 100,000 inhabitants were Africans.”

“Although slavery was abolished in Portugal (not in the colonies in 1761, as late as the mid-nineteenth century Lichnowsky reported seeing ‘thousands of blacks on the streets in Lisbon’, noting that they were not treated as men by the Portuguese ‘but as an inferior race of domestic animals’.”

 Source: Angola Under the Portuguese: The Myth and the Reality By Gerald J. Bender


Portuguese Explorers took every opportunity of kidnapping Moors on Saharan Coast

“During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the great inducement that brought Europeans to the West Coast of Africa was not merely the trade in gold, ivory, camwood, and pepper, but it was first and foremost, slaves. Liberia, however, for reasons which will be shown, suffered perhaps less than most parts of the West African Coast, the adjoining district of the Ivory Coast having even greater immunity. Nevertheless, it was the slave trade that indirectly gave birth to Liberia as a recognized state, and it is, therefore, necessary to treat it to some extent as part of Liberian History. Negro slaves were used by the Ancient Egyptians, and from Egypt, in later days they were sent to Rome and to the Byzantine Empire.”
“Carthage also procured Negroes for the Roman galleys, possibly from Tripoli. Under Islam, however, the modern trade in Negro slaves as we know it really began. The Arab wars of conquest in the Egyptian Sudan and along the East African Coast, and Arab and Berber raids across the Sahara Desert from North Africa to the regions of the Niger,rapidly led to the dispatch of Negro slaves to Southern Persia, Western India, the coast of Arabia, Egypt, the whole of North Africa, and most parts of the Turkish Empire.”
“Negro slaves were occasionally imported into Italy as curiosities during the Middle Ages. The early Portuguese explorers sent out by Prince Henry at first took every opportunity of Kidnapping the Moors whom they met on the coast of the Sahara, and these people were dispatched as slaves to Portugal. Prince, Henry, however, came in time to realize the iniquity of this proceeding and its bad policy on the part of a nation which at that time was aspiring to colonize and rule Morocco.”
“He, therefore, ordered that they should be given a chance of ransoming themselves. One of these Moors explained that he was a nobleman by birth and state that he could give five or six Negroes for his own ransom and another five for the freedom of those amongst his fellow captives who were also men of position. The result was that Antao Goncalvez, their captor, on returning to the Rio de Oro, received ten Negroes, a little gold-dust, a shield of ox hide and a number of ostrich eggs as ransom.”
“The Portuguese learned in this way that by pursuing their journeys father south they might come to a land where it was possible to obtain “black Moors” as slaves. It was already appreciated that the Negro as a captive was a far more tractable and manageable person than anyone akin to the white man in race. Consequently, during the first hundred years of their African exploration, the Portuguese picked up Negroes by purchase from the Fula and Mandingo chiefs of Senegambia, and also by kidnapping them occasionally on the peninsula of Sierra Leone and on the Liberian Coast. They traded for them on the Gold Coast, in the Congo and Angola countries.”
“These slaves were mostly sent to Portugal as curiosities, quite as much as for domestic service. Care was generally taken to have them baptized and even to a certain extent educated. Meantime, North and South America had been discovered and the West India Islands settled by Spaniards. As early as 1501, only nine years since the West Indian Islands had been discovered by Christopher Columbus, it was found that the wretched inhabitants of the Antilles were dying out under the treatment of the colonizing Spaniards. In 1502, therefore, it was decided to export from Spain and Portugal to the West Indies some of the Negro slaves who had been reached converted to Christianity.”
“By 1503 there were already quite a number of Negroes in Hispaniola (Hait–San Domingo). In 1510 the King of Spain (Ferdinand) dispatched more Negro slaves, obtained through the Portuguese from West Africa, to the mines in the island. The celebrated Bartolomeo de las Casas, Bishop of Chiapa in Hispaniola, came to Spain in 1517, to the court of the young King-Emperor Charles V., to protest against the wicked treatment which the West Indian indigenes were enduring at the hands of the Spaniards.”
“As a remedy he proposed that the hardier Negroes of West Africa should be imported directly into the West Indies, to furnish the unskilled labor for which the native Americans were unsuited by their constitution. Charles V. had, however, already anticipated this idea, and a year or two previously had granted licenses to Flemish courtiers to recruit Negroes in West Africa for dispatch to the West Indies. One of these patents issued by Charles gave the exclusive right to a Flemish courtier named Lebrassa to supply four thousand Negroes annually to Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamacia, and Puerto Rico.”
“This Fleming sold his patent to a group of Genoese merchants, who then struck a bargain with the Portuguese to supply the slaves. But the trade did not get into full swing till after the middle of the sixteenth century, when, amongst others, the English seaman John Hawkins took up a concession for the supply of Negroes from Guinea to the West Indies. He mad in all three voyages, the first of which was undertaken in 1562. He obtained his slaves first from the rives between the Gambia and the confines of Liberia, visiting Sierra Leone amongst other places.”
“One the last of these journeys he was accompanied by Drake. (afterward Sir Francis), then a mere youth. They probably touched at the Liberian coast for water on their way to Elmina, where two hundred slaves were obtained by joining a native king in a raid. The coast of Liberia was not so much ravaged by the slave trade as were the regions between the Gambia and Sierra Leone, the Dahome or Slave Coast, the Niger Delta, Old Calabar, Loango, and Congo. Perhaps in all the ravages which the over-sea slave trade brought about, the Niger Delta and the Lower Congo suffered the worst.”
“What damage was done to the coast of Liberia seems to be chiefly attributed to the English, who had already begun to visit that coast at the close of the sixteenth century, and were very busy there all through the seventeenth, The French traveler Villault de Bellefonds mentions repeatedly in his writings the damage the English did on the Grain Coast (Liberia) in attacking the natives for little or no cause, and in carrying them off as slaves.”
“In fact, a slang term, “Panyar (from the Portuguese Apanhar, to seize, catch, kidnap), had sprung up in the coast jargon to illustrate the English methods. Even English travelers such as William Smith (who went out as a surveyor to the Gold Coast early in the eighteenth century) admit that the English had become very unpopular on the Gold Coast, owing to these aggressions on the natives; and William Smith and his companions endeavored to pass as Frenchmen when they visited Eastern Liberia and the Ivory Coast, ‘because of the bad name the English had acquired.”