Early Portoguese Soldiers. Image credit twcenter.net

Early Portuguese Soldiers. Image credit twcenter.net

ZIMSEC O Level History Notes: The Portuguese in Zambezi Valley: Portuguese attempts to colonise the Mutapa State

  • Due to a decline in trade the Portuguese decided to send an emissary to the Mutapa State
  • He was tasked with tracing the trade route and work on ways to control and monopolise this route.
  • He was also tasked with getting to know the ruling class, the Mutapa himself, his sub-chiefs and try and enter into mutual and friendly treaties.
  • The primary aim was to improve the mining and trade in gold.
  • Antonio Fernandes was the emissary who was sent to Mutapa state by the Portuguese in 1513.
  • He was versed in the coastal and interior languages and customs.
  • He visited a lot of places including Manyika, Barwe, Tavara, Tete, Mbire, Fura and Harava and talked of the abundance of gold in the area.
  • He urged the Portuguese to enter the hinterland and establish trading ports and develop mining and trade in gold and copper.
  • The Portuguese sent other emissaries who reached the same conclusions.
  • The Mutapa later asked for a permanent representatives of the Portuguese to be stationed in his kingdom who was given the title “Captain of the Gates” who was in charge of relations between Portuguese traders and the Mutapa King.
  • Fernao de Proemca was the first Captain of the gates, he was appointed by the Portuguese but had to be approved by the Mutapa..
  • He resided at Masapa.
  • He also had the title “Great Wife bestowed on him and his appointment was permanent.
  • The Portuguese also brought with them a Jesuit Priest, Father Gonçcalo da Silveira.
  • The priest converted and baptized the Mutapa who was given the name Don Sebastian.
  • Muslim traders and some people in the Mutapa court were alarmed by this and worked to have da Silveira executed.
  • On March 15 1651, Silveira and about 50 Christian converts were strangled and thrown into the Musengezi river at the order of Mutapa Negomo.
  • This marked a turning point in the relations between the Portuguese and the Mutapa.
  • King Sebastian of Portugal used the death of da Silveira as an excuse to try and colonise the Zambezi valley.
  • He sent an expedition of 1 000 men under Francisco Barreto to expel the Swahili from the Mutapa and take control of the gold trade in the Mutapa state in 1569.
  • Barreto’s expedition was a complete failure because:
  • They arrived during the rainy season of 1571 and many men died from fever and lost their horses to sleeping sickness.
  • There was little food at Sena for the Portuguese.
  • Negotiations with the Mutapa were very slow and Barreto himself died from fever before they were completed.
  • Only 200 men managed to return to the coast alive.
  • Vasco Homan another Portuguese tried to reach the gold mines in Manyika and the silver mines at Chikoa but all his efforts were in vain.
  • In the end the Portuguese decided to concentrate on trade and making alliances.
  • A land concession by the Mutapa Negomo gave the Portuguese an opportunity to interfere more into the politics of the Mutapa.
  • In the 17th century the Portuguese established a warehouse and a church at Sena with a population of 50 Portuguese, 750 Indians and Africans of mixed races.
  • Some were also stationed at Tete.
  • The Portuguese paid tribute to the chiefs of the areas.
  • Another Portuguese expedition under Pereira was repelled by the Mutapa.
  • An expedition led by Bocarro was more successful in Kilwa north of the Zambezi.
  • The Portuguese helped Nyambo Kapararidze to power but he refused their demands for influence and attacked the garrisons and trade towns.
  • They responded by using private armies under the command of Meneses to defeat the Mutapa.
  • They replaced him with a more westernised Mutapa called Mavhura Mhande who went on to grant concessions to them.
  • The Portuguese moved and traded freely in the kingdom/state and missionaries built churches and schools and taught Africans their culture.
  • Settlers gained land through bribery and threats.
  • The Portuguese replaced African chiefs and ruled over everyone.
  • After Mavhura Mhande’s death the Portuguese enjoyed economic prosperity in their plantations (prazos) by using underpaid and unpaid labour.
  • African miners began to produce less and less gold as the Portuguese did not pay a fair price.
  • The Portuguese opened up the country to free trade.
  • Slave labour was acquired and some of it was exported to Brazil.
  • Most Shona people fled to Changamire’s area due to the constant conflicts.
  • Changamire Dombo defeated the Portuguese at Dambarare, Massapa and Manyika and killed all the Portuguese.
  • He died before he could follow through with his successes on Tete and Sena.
  • The Portuguese never gained any political influence in the Rozvi kingdom.

Portuguese activities in the Mutapa kingdom were characterised by:

  1. Interference in traditional politics leading to the erosion of the power of kings and chiefs.
  2. Divisions between the common people and the traditional leaders.
  3. Loss of independence of traditional chiefs and their subjects.
  4. Expropriation and externalisation of African resources.
  5. Enslavement of Africans
  6. Environmental degradation
  7. Loss of human life especially in conflicts.
  8. Cultural decay.
  9. Unequal trade

To access more topics go to the History Notes page.

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