Academic journal article African Economic History

COUNTING PEOPLE AND HOMES IN URBAN MOZAMBIQUE IN THE 1820s: Population Structures and Household Size and Composition

Academic journal article African Economic History

COUNTING PEOPLE AND HOMES IN URBAN MOZAMBIQUE IN THE 1820s: Population Structures and Household Size and Composition

Article excerpt


More than forty years have passed since Peter Laslett and Richard Wall of the Cambridge Group of the History of Population and Social Structures published their seminal comparative volume on Household and Family in Past Time.1 Since then, important contributions have been made to improve our understanding of family structures worldwide, especially in early modern and modern Europe, Asia, and the Americas.2

Africa, in contrast, has received little attention. Since the early twentieth century, ethnographers and anthropologists have contributed important efforts to better our knowledge of family structures, kinship, and marriage systems based on surveys, field work, and interviews to collect oral traditions; however, these efforts resulted mainly in the production of outstanding qualitative scholarship. Demographic studies of the continent's population in the nineteenth and early twentieth century remain scarce, because statistical data prior to the mid-twentieth century are either rare or non-existent.

In this respect, the Portuguese-speaking African countries (Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Säo Tomé and Príncipe, Angola, and Mozambique) are exceptions, because as former territories of the Portuguese Empire, they were targeted by State efforts to count their subjects and other inhabitants living under the control or influence of Portugal, including free and enslaved Africans. As early as the 1770s, representatives of the Portuguese State-including civilian, military, and religious men-following directives from the central government based in Lisbon, took measures to count the population with the aim of extracting wealth and labor. These counting efforts resulted in the production of a precious corpus of population tables, covering Cape Verde, Säo Tomé and Príncipe, Angola, and Mozambique between the 1770s and 1890s.3

These materials are unique in various respects. Firstly, they are the first written population counts for the entire sub-Saharan African region produced during the pre-colonial period. Secondly, they cover territories in distinct regions of the continent, i.e. West Africa, West Central Africa and Southern/Eastern Africa. Thirdly, they precede by at least fifty years all other sources available for the study of African populations written in English, French, and German. For all of these reasons, they offer researchers a privileged window into the history of the continent's population prior to the modern colonial era, allowing for the reconstruction of population structures and movements, as well as household sizes, structures, and composition, among other demographic indicators. These elements are essential for a better understanding of the economic and social history of Africa.

Many of these sources have been studied in great detail by several scholars, in particular in the case of Angola and Mozambique. José C. Curto and Raymond R. Gervais, Mariana Candido, and more recently Paulo Teodoro de Matos and Jelmer Vos, and Daniel B. Domingues da Silva have made important contributions to the field of the demographic history of Angola and to the discussion of the methodological problems surrounding the use of early population statistics.4 In the case of Mozambique, several scholars, in particular Eugénia Rodrigues, have studied those population charts produced at the behest of the Portuguese Crown extensively in an attempt to provide a portrait of the territory's population and have discussed the problems they pose to the researcher.5 Despite all the methodological challenges posed by these source materials, they hold enormous potential for the study of the demography of certain regions of the African continent, and scholars should endeavor to maximize their use.6

In this article, I aim to do so through comparative analysis of microdata. Here, I examine household size, structure and composition in three main urban centers of Mozambique and their surrounding areas7 in the 1820s-Mozambique Island, Inhambane, and Tete-using population counts with disaggregated data at the household level. …

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