OUT and ABOUT – Portuguese Africa

I have been looking into some of the expeditions that Portugal is so famous for, and they certainly travelled far! In an age when people almost never went more than about 30 km from their own house, travel of any kind was pretty incredible, and the Portuguese ships were simply impressive in their bravery and ambition, but it occurred to me to wonder what they would have encountered on these trips, particularly on the ones where they came down the coast of Africa?

Portuguese Fort Kilwa – Tanzania

Certainly, he records show that when they reached South Africa there were few peoples already there besides the Khoi Khoi and the San, and by and large there were almost no settlements to be found. but there are legends of great cities in Africa, and indeed accounts show that in fact there were cities with whom the Portuguese traded as they passed down the coast. There is a story of how they encountered the kings of the Kongo, becoming trade partners and allies with what was a powerful nation at the time. When sugar became a very desirable commodity, the Portuguese established plantations in Sao Tome and Principe, using slaves bought from the Kongo king to work the plantations.

Fort Jesus – Mombasa – Kenya

When the Portuguese came to Angola and finally established a colony there, they also brought with them consumables from the Americas, including tobacco and coffee. Through trade these things have become to this day massively important crops in Angola as a result. Some of the cities, which in accounts have been said to be on par with European cities of the time, included Zanzibar, Kilwa, Mombasa and others on the East Coast, that were impressive into the 16th century.

In many ways the kingdoms on the upper coasts of Africa have been almost forgotten, but back in their day they were places that were on par with Europe of the time, and the sailors that arrived there probably found them quite civilized in many ways. though of course, civilized did not necessarily mean peaceful, and many of these places gained their power and riches through war with other tribes, sustained by trade with the Arabs and then the Portuguese to maintain a superiority over their neighbors. One of the most amazing and exciting things about these early accounts is simply the wonder and adventure that they show on the path to discover the world.

Philip Allebone

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