African workers working on a Prazo. Image credit

African workers working on a Prazo. Image credit

ZIMSEC O Level History Notes: The Portuguese in the Zambezi valley: The Prazo system

  • Prazos were large land grants given to the Portuguese settlers in the Zambezi valley by the Mutapas whose power was begining to decline.
  • The Mutapas got military assistance and support in return.
  • Other prazeros used dubious means to acquire the lands they used as prazeros however.
  • The prazo system was deeply rooted in the feudal system practised in Europe (Portugal) and was transported to parts of Africa and Brazil by the Portuguese.
  • The term prazo has seen it translated into the Shona word purazi.
  • The Prazo owners were known as Prazeros/Prazeiros or Senhors.
  • Senhor is Portuguese for Mr. and is related and pronounced like the English word Senior.
  • The prazo system was a system of slavery that saw men and women being forcibly attached to the farms.
  • Women were forced to till the land and to become concubines to the prazeros
  • Men were forcibly conscripted into the armies of the prazeros.
  • These armies were known as the chikunda forces.
  • These armies took part in slave raids and the slaves were then transported to the East and West coasts to be sold.
  • These prazos became powerful and independent.
  • Most prazeros were found between Sofala, Chikoa (also spelt Chicoa/Chikwa) and Qualimane.
  • Medeira became chief of Inhambazo after concessions were given by Chief Nogomo and Rusere.
  • Sisnado Dias Bayao controlled Cheringoma after the concessions were given to him by Quiteve in return for Military assistance.
  • Autonia Lobo da Silva also acquired large tracts of land.
  • The Portuguese got land titles from the Portuguese government to become Portuguese agents of civilisation.
  • The Prazo system undermined and destroyed the structures and traditions of African society.
  • The land concessions also robbed Africans of their land resulting in land shortages and hunger amongst the Africans.
  • This forced Africans to seek work in the prazos as labourers.
  • African chiefs lost their power and authority to the Senhors who now had jurisdiction over all the people who resided in their prazos.
  • The prazeros now assumed powers hitherto reserved for chiefs for example demanding tribute and recruiting men for wars against other chiefs.
  • They also claimed other ritualistic powers that were due to African chiefs such as before planting and harvesting
  • They surrounded themselves with religious leaders for cultural events like rain making ceremonies.
  • The prazeros also supervised elections of chiefs and headmen in their areas.
  • The chikunda  forces attacked Shona chiefs and took their cattle.
  • They controlled mines and recklessly exploited the minerals and wealth of the Mutapa state.
  • When Mavhura died in 1653 he was replaced by Siti Kazurukamusapa who was on the Portuguese payroll.
  • He allied with the Dominicans and was given the name Domingos after he had been baptized.
  • He faced a rebellion in 1654 which was put down with the help of the Portuguese.
  • However by 1663 the state was ungovernable.
  • The prazeros rose against the Mutapa and killed him with th help of his followers.
  • Scores of people died in the Portuguese mines as mining was dangerous work and the Portuguese employed unsafe methods.
  • Large areas were left unpopulated as people were taken away as slaves to either work as labourers, to be conscripted into the chikundas  or to be sold as slaves.
  • Civil wars amongst the prazeros led to social strife and unrest among the Shona.
  • Normal trade amongst the Shona which had hitherto thrived was seriously harmed.
  • From 1663-1704 the Mukombwe dynasty tried to rebuilt the Mutapa State with little success.
  • This dynasty was opposed by the Portuguese who saw them(the Mukombwes) as being against their activities.
  • The Portuguese were their worst enemies and the ruin thy caused saw many prazeros leave the state.
  • The prazo system later crumbled and fell away.

To access more topics go to the History Notes page.

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