Portuguese reached the mouth of the Congo River, on the Atlantic coast, in 1484. Commercial relationships with the inland Bantu kingdoms and European merchants followed. Jesuit missionaries developed friendly relations with the Bakongo (a Bantu people), especially their kings. In the late 1400s a youth and future king had ten years of clerical instruction, become a devout Christian, was baptized and took a Portuguese name Afonso. He acquired an admiration for Christian values and European culture. He became king sometime between 1506 and 1509, his capital São Salvador (in the northwest corner of what today is Angola).
Like a lot of Europeans, Afonso accepted slavery. Portuguese traders from São Tomé came to the Kongo looking for slaves for the Portuguese sugar plantations on that island, and King Afonso participated in the slave trade for the sake of revenue, but he was angered by the rapacity of the Portuguese slavers and their taking profits that he believed should be his.
Britannica writes of Afonso in 1512 reaching an agreement with the king of Portugal
by which the Kongo accepted Portuguese institutions, granted extraterritorial rights to Portuguese subjects, and supplied slaves to Portuguese traders. Afonso also rebuilt the kingdom’s capital using stone, expanded the kingdom to the south and east, and firmly established the Roman Catholic Church in Kongo.
Portuguese slave traders were able to convince communities to rebel against Afonso's rule. Then they would use the rebellion as an excuse to make war against them, which created prisoners of war and more slaves. By the 1520s slave trading left Afonso's kingdom in turmoil, his authority undercut and some areas depopulated. In 1522, the Portuguese took over the administration of Kongo, while Afonso remained nominally as king.
About 200 Portuguese were residing in the Kongo capital, São Salvador, and mixed Portuguese and Bakongo people were increasing in number, some of whom would fill government positions.
Afonso sent friendly letters to the King of Portugal, complaining of the immorality and of the depredations created by Portuguese slave traders from São Tomé – letters that were confiscated in São Tomé. Afonso pleaded for more teachers, doctors and priests. He destroyed paganism where he could, and he had Christian churches built. His son was a bishop and sneered at by Portuguese missionaries.
Some among the Portuguese disliked the polygamy of the Bakongo people and viewed the Bakongo as shameless regarding sins of the senses. They saw the Bakongo as lustful as a result of eating food that was too spicy. And there was disapproval of Portuguese clerics taking black mistresses.
Bakongo law concerning sexual misconduct was harsh. Adultery was considered a transgression against taboos and a tearing of the fabric of society. Those judged guilty of sexual promiscuity could be sold into slavery or wrapped in dried palm leaves and burned alive.
King Afonso's death in 1542 or '43 was followed by the usual succession crisis and bloodshed. Afonso's grandson, Diogo, emerged triumphant. King Diogo went to war against a vassal state, Ndongo (in what today is Angola) to protect what he believed was the Kongo's monopoly on trade with the Portuguese. Ndongo's army routed Diogo's army and in 1556 established independence. Soon after, Ndongo's king welcomed the arrival of a group of Jesuits, the king hoping to improve relations with the Portuguese.
The Kongo's King Diogo died in 1561, and another civil war erupted over who was to succeed him, a war that killed both whites and blacks. And so it went. The war's victor was Afonso II, but he was murdered while at mass, by his brother, Bernardi. Then Bernardi died in battle against a neighboring king and was succeeded by Alvaro I, who ruled Kongo for the next twenty years.
In 1568 the Kongo was invaded by Jaga tribesmen. King Alvaro fled, accompanied by Bakongo princes and others. The Jaga seized the capital, São Salvador, and burned villages and churches. Portugal sent an expedition of 600 soldiers, mostly from the colony of São Tome. Alvaro was given back his throne, and he approved of Portuguese settling in Luanda — creation of the colony of Angola.
Traders from São Tomé transferred their slave prospecting to Luanda on the Atlantic coast. Stories of gold and silver inland inspired the Portuguese to send a military force inland. Defeated by tropical diseases and other troubles the army's move inland came to a halt in the late 1580s. In Luanda, remnants of the army took up slave-trading and lesser forays into the interior. Inland from Luanda a greater instability had arisen. New warlords led bands of starving refugees which fought one another and devastated settled communities. Local rulers were drawn into the slave trade with the Portuguese, and at times they were destroyed by it.
In Kongo in the 1590s Dutch traders arrived, and rebellious Bakongo people allied themselves with the Dutch against the Portuguese. Many Portuguese withdrew from the Kongo region, leaving behind some missionaries, including a Jesuit college at São Salvador.
Portugal was seeking white settlers for its new colony, Angola. Portuguese from the Kongo, exiles and convicts from Portugal and criminals from Brazil gathered south of Luanda, at Benguela. Frustrated in their search for silver and gold, and unable to compete in slave trading, some of these settlers turned to fishing and farming. Involved in the slave trade, Portuguese governors at Luanda allied themselves with roving African bands known as the Imbangala. The Imbangala were led by warlords who were participating in the slave trade. They settled inland, creating the kingdom of Kasanje, which became a slave-trading center between points east and the Atlantic coast.
In Luanda, Jesuits quarreled among themselves but united against those colonial governors who attempted to interfere with their activities. The Jesuits took responsibility for education. They trained blacks and mulattos for the clergy and for lower administrative positions in the new colony's bureaucracy – to the annoyance of Portuguese settlers who blamed the trained Africans for all of what they saw as the colony's problems.
There were Jesuits who reasoned that the best way to convert Africans was to sell them, to introduce them to Christianity through the dignity of labor on plantations in the Americas. Ships owned by the Jesuits were engaged in the shipment of slaves from Luanda to Brazil. And before departing, slaves were baptized en masse.
In Brazil, the Portuguese had been building planations. Jesuit correspondence with the King of Portugal claimed: "Your Highness will draw much profit because there will be many stock farms and many plantations, even if there be not much gold and silver." (Darcy Ribeiro, The Brazilian People, p 25-26.)
A Jesuit program settled indigenous people into the villages (aldeias) that they ran — by Father José de Anchieta the major architect of this program. The people in these villages were denied their traditional to hunt and gather. They were to learn Christian doctrine and morality, learn a trade, pursue their native crafts, and learn to read and write. and they were protected from unapproved enslavement.
Jesuits in Brazil came into conflict with colonists who wanted a supply of labor. A royal decree in 1574 had granted the Jesuits full control over the Indians in their villages while permitting the colonists to enslave Indians captured in "legitimate" warfare.
The Bandeirantes (followers of the banner) are described by Britannica as
usually mamelucos (of mixed Indian and Portuguese ancestry) from São Paulo who went in search of profit and adventure as they penetrated into unmapped regions. They thus helped establish Brazil’s claim to the South American interior, beyond the line between Portuguese and Spanish possessions in the Americas that had been laid down in the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). The Bandeirantes, numbering anywhere from about 50 to several thousand men, were organized and tightly controlled by wealthy entrepreneurs. The expeditions would usually ... (100 of
In hunting for slaves, the Bandeirantes are known to have disguised themselves as Jesuits, sometimes singing mass to lure the Tupi from their settlements. If luring them didn't work, the Bandeirantes might surround a settlement and set it afire to force them out. Sometimes the Bandeirantes conducted a surprise attack. Another Bandeirante tactic was to set one native tribe against a second tribe in order to weaken them and then to enslave both of them.
As the supply of slaves from Brazil diminished, the Portuguese took more slaves from Africa. The Portuguese had begun crystallizing sugar by boiling sugar cane cuttings in large in vats. A new industry to make money putting sugar on Europe's dining tables was in the making. By 1600, Portugal's colony in Brazil had around 120 sugar plantations, with sugar and dyewood being its main exports, sugar exports around 50 million tons a year. In the colony were around 30,000 black slaves and about 50,000 Portuguese and half Portuguese, and about 680 head of cattle. (Joyce Appleby, Shores of Knowledge, p 18.)
CONTINUE READING: Portugal, Africa and Slavery
Copyright © 2017 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.