A History of Sierra Leone, 1400-1787

A History of Sierra Leone, 1400-1787

A History of Sierra Leone, 1400-1787

A History of Sierra Leone, 1400-1787

Excerpt

Serra Leoa was tranquil and the inhabitants were satisfied because the Negros considered it a good country rich in everything; therefore men who went to Guiné were not highly thought of if they had not been there in the same way as we [in Portugal ] think poorly of anyone who has not been to France or Italy. People who subdued those parts were not esteemed unless they had travelled there also because, besides being lavishly supplied, it was the haven of many who arrived as nobody and came out as men.

European explorers had first sighted the coast of Sierra Leone in 1446 when a Portuguese expedition, commanded by Alvaro Fernandes, passed the river Casamance. Sixteen years later Pedro da Sintra -- so called because he came from a town in Portugal named Sintra -- bringing two armed carvels, mapped the capes, rivers and islands. Such maps were secret, and every nation -- every ship's captain almost -- as they arrived here tried to keep their knowledge to themselves; thus, throughout our period, every landfall was in a sense a new discovery. Even by 1800 books were still a luxury and what texts there were had been largely drawn -- usually without acknowledgement or textual criticism -- from older authors in translation. Thus legends and misrepresentations begun in the fifteenth century were still stated as facts in the eighteenth; but amongst these fantasies, as we can now see, lay a remarkable core of accurate information.

Pedro da Sintra, once a page to Henry the Navigator, was chosen by the king of Portugal to continue the work of his master who died in November 1460. When the expedition returned to Cape St Vincent, where Henry had built up what was virtually an academy of navigation, it so happened that an Italian from Venice, Alvise Cadamosto, who himself had sailed with Portuguese permission as far as the Casamance in 1456, was living at Lagos, a few miles from the port of St Vincent in Portugal. In 1507 he published an account of the west coast and, after describing his own adventures, told of the work of da Sintra and explained why the explorer named the prominent landmarks as he did; Sierra Leone . . .

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