Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Organizing Freedom: De Facto Independence on the Island of Ano Bom (Annobón) during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Academic journal article Afro - Hispanic Review

Organizing Freedom: De Facto Independence on the Island of Ano Bom (Annobón) during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

Article excerpt

Ano Bom (nowadays known as Annobón, and part of Equatorial Guinea) is a small volcanic island with a surface area of about 17.5 square kilometers, situated in the heart of the Gulf of Guinea, some 150 kilometers south of Sao Tomé. It currently has a population of about two thousand inhabitants, which is not very different from what its population would have been during the eighteenth century. The majority of the inhabitants speak a Portuguese Creole known as Fa d'Ambô, which is very similar to the Creole languages spoken in the archipelago of Sao Tomé and Principe (Hagemeijer, "As Linguas"). The island was deserted when the Portuguese first set foot on these shores. It is not known precisely when they arrived, but it would have been sometime between 1483 and 1501 (Caldeira, "A estrategia"). It was entrusted to a capitao-danatário ("donee captain") in 1503 and was colonized at a far slower pace than any of the other Portuguese Atlantic isles, although the same administrative and political solution had been adopted in all of these islands.1 There were various reasons for this apparent disinterest, primarily related to the island's peripheral position, its small size, mountainous terrain, and the limited fertile and cultivable land, coupled with a lack of safe anchorages. During the early sixteenth century the Portuguese attempted to install a slave-trading outpost here but the dearth of good ports was probably responsible for the fact that this first Portuguese project to occupy the island was hastily abandoned.2

With the exception of some prior, sporadic initiatives, the first concerted effort to populate the island took place only between 1543 and 1565, when a handful of Europeans and a reasonable number of African slave couples brought from Sao Tomé settled here (Caldeira, "Urna ilha" 100). Tradition has it that these slaves were originally from Angola; it is possible that most of them did, in fact, come from Western Central Africa, namely from the Kongo and N'dongo (Angola) areas. This contingent of slaves was irregularly renewed with the arrival of only small groups of Africans brought by the Europeans. Today, there is no doubt that at least the first contingent had been subjected, in Sao Tomé, to a more or less extensive process of acculturation and were already familiar with the Creole (or proto-Creole) that was spoken in Sao Tomé, in addition to having had some contact with Christianity.

In the meantime, some domestic animals and edible plants had also been introduced, especially manioc, yams, and fruit trees such as orange and lemon trees, which were essential for the survival of these early inhabitants. Unlike in Säo Tomé and Principe, no attempts were made to establish plantation agriculture based on sugarcane, and there is only a single, vague reference to such an attempt during the seventeenth century. Even the commodity that would prove to be the island's sole exportable raw material - cotton - was not cultivated on a large scale but was instead grown in small fields or was allowed to grow wild. The number of Europeans present on the island was always limited and, for long periods of time, only a single Portuguese man, the donee's factor or representative, who very often styled himself as the captain-major or governor, personified colonial power on the island. Even so, this representative managed to impose a series of obligations on the Africans, who were formally considered to be slaves, of which the most important was the requirement to hand over a quantity of cleaned cotton (which in some cases had already been woven into fabric), enough to load a ship every year, which constituted the island's main revenue for the donee captain.3 These cotton exports were virtually the only pretext for regular relations with the archipelago of Sao Tomé and Príncipe, which, apart from exceptional circumstances, rarely exceeded one voyage a year. Contacts with the outside world took place above all through passing ships, almost all of which were foreign vessels (English, French, Dutch, Danish) that had been obliged to divert from their habitual routes and needed to acquire fresh water and replenish supplies. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.