CHAPTER IV
EARLY EUROPEAN VOYAGES TO THE GOLD COAST

THE first European seamen to visit the Gold Coast were the Portuguese.1 At the beginning of the fifteenth century Prince Henry of Portugal, who won for himself the honourable nickname of 'the Navigator' for his interest in exploration, had conceived his plan of exploring the West African shore. The Western Sudan was known as the home of a civilized Mohammedan empire, and was rich in gold, ivory and pepper.2 There was no possibility of penetrating to the land of gold by the trade routes across the Sahara, and it may be that Prince Henry had hopes of tapping the gold supply near its source by finding a sea route. It seems certain, however, that love of exploring for its own sake and the desire to preach Christianity in pagan Africa were two strong motives in his life work.

It was in 1419 that Prince Henry established himself in his headquarters at Sagres and began his life work of organizing exploring expeditions along the West African coast. In 1418-20 Madeira was discovered, or rather rediscovered,3 and then Prince Henry set himself to explore the coast of the mainland. For a long time Cape Non had been regarded as the southerly limit of European and Arab knowledge, but a generation before Prince Henry's time Cape Bojador had become known to European geographers, though it was rarely visited. Cape Bojador was a formidable obstacle. It was protected by a dangerous reef and by heavy surf; it could only be passed by standing well out to sea. Land and sea alike beyond Cape Bojador, moreover, were well known to be inhabited by devils and utterly uninhabitable by men; and anyone who escaped the

____________________
1
The story of the exploring and trading ventures by French seamen in the fourteenth century (Claridge, I, 48-53) may now be considered as disproved: J. W. Blake, European Beginnings in West Africa, 2-3; R. H. Major, Prince Henry the Navigator, xxiv.-li., 117-33.
2
Not the pepper of the East Indies, but an indigenous species, called by early European traders Malaguetta pepper or grain of paradise. It is this crop that gave its name to the Grain Coast, now called Liberia.
3
It had been accidentally discovered by an Englishman some 75 years before and had not been altogether forgotten.

-64-

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