The Portuguese in West Africa, 1415-1670: A Documentary History

Article excerpt

The Portuguese in West Africa, 1415-1670: A Documentary History. By Malyn Newitt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. Pp. xviii, 246. $90.00 cloth, 27.99 paper.

Given the great importance of the Portuguese as sources for the early history of West Africa, it has been a shame that it is impossible to provide students with good translations of the best primary sources. Malyn Newett has now attempted to do this, in a well produced and translated selection of original sources on the Portuguese sources in West and West Central Africa, including Morocco and the Angola coast. The only comparable work is John Blake's collection of sources published in 1942 by the Haklyut Society covering only 1450-1560, a more limited geographical range and with scholars as much as students in mind.1 Newitt's collection was originally intended as a companion volume to one he published on East Africa for Ashgate in 2002, a work that was priced sufficiently high as to discourage the student audience for whom it was produced. The Cambridge volume is much more economical.2 Newitt's collection is more valuable than Blake's because he selects sources that reveal African society as much as European activity, though Newitt does include sources on the Europeans as well.

Newitt provides a useful, up-to-date and accurate introduction to the collection as a whole, placing Portuguese expansion in the larger sweep of world and African history. Each document in turn receives its own introduction, providing context and explaining the selection. The maps are clear and provide sufficient if minimal orientation to the geography and principal place names. Newitt's themes include the Portuguese in Morocco, Portuguese expansion along the coast, the settlement of the Atlantic Islands, the early relations with Sierra Leone, the founding of Elmina and the Portuguese role in Benin, the early history of Portuguese relations with Kongo, and then the founding of Angola. …