Portuguese in South-East Africa, 1600-1700

By Eric Axelson | Go to book overview

13
SOUTH-EAST AFRICA AT THE CLOSE OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY

At the close of the century Moçambique was the only captaincy remaining to Portugal in south-east Africa. The residents of the island were reduced in numbers and in circumstances because of the decline in the trade of the Rivers.

The Rivers were still entered by way of Quelimane. The port was as difficult of access as ever. There were two constantly changing channels. There were no buoys, no pilots. But at high tide vessels of up to 300 tons could enter if they were fortunate enough to find one of the channels. On the south bank were some palm trunks nearly buried in sand, all that remained of the fort started by Sousa Freire and never completed. Five pieces of 12-lb. calibre had been taken from the fort to the town of Quelimane, where they lay carriageless. The town consisted of fourteen or fifteen thatched houses, with five or six white residents, dependent for their livelihood mainly on coco-nut plantations. There was no wall round the town, but each house had its own stockade, and the town's main defence depended on the respect with which the neighbouring natives regarded the more powerful Europeans.

Luabo, the alternative entrance to the Zambezi, contained no Portuguese residents apart from two Jesuit missionaries, and a few mulattoes.

The fertile Zambezi delta was capable of producing three crops a year. Rice flourished, and wheat, and coco-nut palms, in addition to the various indigenous grains. Sugar-cane grew, but mills were lacking. The delta could easily have supplied the Rivers and Moçambique with all the food their inhabitants required, but the natives saw no reason why they should work unnecessarily.1

Goods travelled up the Zambezi in coches and almadias. For three months in the year, however, between September and November, the Cuacua was closed to traffic. Eighteen leagues up the Zambezi travellers came to Caia, where the Jesuits maintained a house to serve a few mulattoes and the surrounding natives. To the south-west of the Zambezi lay Portuguese estates. They were fertile, and produced much cotton, for instance, and timber fit for the construction of the largest coches. Further up the river ivory was obtained. Lands to the north-east of the

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1
Conceição, para. 4-11; Assunção, op. cit.; Antonio Ferreira to V., 12/8/ 1698, Ajuda 51-IX-3, fol.47v.-8v.

-188-

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