Exploring the history and experiences of mixed heritage persons and inter-racial relationships across the world


Map Of MaozambiqueLourenço Marques was a 16th century Portuguese trader and explorer and he explored the area that became known as Baía de Lourenço Marques, now Maputo Bay, in 1544. He was well known enough for the bay to be named after him by order of King John III. He eventually settled there with his African wife and mixed-race children for the rest of his life. He was, however, not the first of the famous Portuguese to have arrived and the earliest European record is, of course, that of Vasco da Gama in 1498.

Mozambique (Moçambique) was colonised by Portugal in 1505 even though the Swahili and Arabs had settlements all along the coast having been trading up and down the African coast for hundreds of years. In fact, the country is named after the Island of Mozambique, the name of which was derived from the name of a rich and powerful Arab trader who eventually lived on the island. The coastal Arab influence is one of the reasons why some early historians believed that the Great Zimbabwe ruins in Southern Zimbabwe were built with Arab influences but after further finds of similar structures throughout this region of the great African kingdom of Mwenemutapa (Monomatapa), it is now considered unlikely.

It is very likely that the earliest mixed race persons in the country as along the rest of the coast were of mixed Arab/African origin. For example, the Shirazi people of Zanzibar claim they are descended from merchant princes from Shiraz in Persia who settled along the Swahili Coast and a famous slave trader around the time was Hamed bin Mohammed, a Swahili Arab son of a trader, and grandson of an African slave. Around the 1530s, small groups of Portuguese traders and prospectors were exploring, gold hunting and trading mainly along the Zambezi river setting up trading posts at Sena and Tete on the Zambezi River and finally entering into direct relations with the Monomatapa empire in the 1560s.

Portuguese colonialism of Mozambique especially in the early days was problematic. Due to a complexity of a large empire, Lisbon delegated governance of Mozambique to its colonial government structures to its Indian jewel, Goa. Goa’s administration though headed by Europeans was largely run by Mestizos and Catholic Indians. That fact makes Mozambique quite unique in that the imposition of a European official language and culture was in fact perpetuated by a non-European administration though not very successfully because even today the majority of Mozambicans cannot speak Portuguese.

Ilha de Moçambique The Portuguese colonial administration introduced the ‘prazo’, a land allocation program where a colonialist would lease the land, paying in gold, in return for the privilege of claiming privileges of a traditional Monomatapa tribal chief. This resulted in local peasants continuing to work the land and the right to slave soldiers – known as Chikunda - to protect these little settlements. The Chikunda, originally a mix of slaves from various tribes, became recognised as a distinct tribe. Originally designed to encourage European settlement along the same lines as the Latifundio–minifundio system in Latin American, the European and Indian ‘prazeiros’ (chiefs) intermarried with Africans. This resulted in a mixed Indo-Portuguese-African elite that soon lost their European or Indian character, mirroring the Indo experience in Dutch Indonesia. The prazeiros became corrupt and sometimes cruel minor kingdoms from which many peasants sought to escape and they were not averse to challenging Portugal’s authority. Several minor wars, some lasting months, arose between the empire and these little chiefdoms.

In 1752, Goa’s administration was replaced by a military occupation colonial one under representatives from the Portugal possibly in response to the continued prazo defiance. The physical administration was only present in a small number of mainland towns along the Zambezi and on the island of Mozambique and the rest of Mozambique remained virtually unoccupied by the colonialists. The prazeiros and their descendants continued to dominate the political and economic landscape exemplified by the fact a mestizo, Joaquim José da Cruz and his son António Nicente, controlled trade along the lower Zambezi from about 1850 to the 1880s.

The rise of slavery further enriched the prazeiros, especially when Britain started to police the slave trade in the Atlantic from about 1808. Between 1808 and 1860 in the north and mid-Atlantic, the British seized approximately 1,600 slave ships and freed some 150,000 Africans. In 1815 British paid Portugal £750,000 to cease their slave trade north of the Equator followed 3 years later by a treaty to abolish slavery altogether. For those years and after Portugal abolished the transatlantic slave trade in 1836, the slave traders operated in the southern hemisphere continuing to extract slaves from the Mozambican coast for the Brazilian market and for the plantations on the island nations of Mauritius, Réunion and others in the region. The slave trade reduced the workforce and private armies weakening the prazos until in 1830s they were basically dismantled by the Nguni tribes migrating northwards from the Zulu kingdoms in South Africa. The decline of the prazos scattered the prazeiros and their descendants across the region resulting in them being incorporated into the ‘coloured’ (mixed race) communities in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe and one of the sources of Portuguese surnames in those communities.

Mozambique n2Slave trading continued despite the transatlantic ban and in 1842 a treaty between Britain and Portugal extended the enforcement of the ban to Portuguese ships sailing south of the Equator. Eventually in 1869, slavery was banned in Portugal’s African colonies.

In the 1880s the scramble for Africa started in earnest. Portugal despite not really being in control of Mozambique attempted to link it to Angola on the West coast by claiming bits of Malawi and Zambia. The British opposed this and plotted with Germany to divide Mozambique between them. Eventually Portugal relented with an 1891 treaty allowing the British to dream of a ‘Cape to Cairo’ British African empire as promoted by Cecil John Rhodes.

After this, the Portuguese sought to consolidate their power in the region using military force to subdue resistance from the Shangaan/Tsonga, a group of the Nguni peoples, the Kunda (Nyassa), the Yao and by 1917 administrative control was established. Portugal lacked the money to develop the country commercially and so leased about a third of it in the 1890s for 50 years to, funny enough, three British controlled companies; the Mozambique Company, the Zambezi Company and the Nyassa Company founded by Lisbon merchant and included some French interests. The companies turned out to be a disappointment and after Portugal’s 1926 revolution, they lost the right to administer their territories and the leases were not renewed when they ran out about 24 years later.

From the time of the revolution in 1926, Portugal tightened her grip on Mozambique and attempted to commercially exploit the territory by passing laws that forced Africans to work for European interests. During this period, in theory at least, assimilation to the status of assimilado became possible though, in practice, especially for ethnic African populations this happened rarely. Assimilados attained the same legal status as Portuguese citizens by being educated to some degree, being fluent in the Portuguese language and converting to Christianity. Most Africans had next to no access to education to the level required. However, mixed race people, especially those in urban areas and acknowledged by their European or Goan parent had a better chance of achieving that status. Assimilados still had to have identity cards which had been introduced to manage forced labour laws but these were different from those held by indigenas (natives).

Inharrime Responding to the changing environment ion the world especially the African independence movements, Portugal changed the status of Mozambique first in 1951 to ‘overseas province’ and again in 1972 to ‘self-governing state’. Between those two events, many changes were made to improve the lot of the ethnic African including the removal of the forced labour requirement and the de facto recognition as a Portuguese citizen if the person elected to be governed by civil laws. In reality, as with the assimilation, only small numbers chose or knew how to do so. Portugal remained in firm control of the country despite the outward display less central control.

The mixed race assimilados in Mozambique do not appear to have created a power base similar to the Angolan population. This may be due to the much smaller population. By 1974, only 3% of the countrywide population where of European descent and in the urban areas, Europeans made up only some 10 to 15% of the population as opposed to 50% or more in Angolan cities. Another factor may be that the Europeans in Mozambique were strongly influenced by South Africa, a big economic partner, and whose racial policies may have extended the influence to minimise any non-European advancement. The mixed race population, unlike their prazerio predecessors, played an insignificant in the next phase of the country’s history.

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