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

São Tomé and Príncipe

São Tomé and PríncipeIf there were any places that set the Portuguese in a good position for the soon to follow colonisation and slave trade, it is their discoveries of the islands of the coast of Africa which conveniently where unoccupied. Along with Cape Verde which we will cover in another chapter, the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe were natural bases for trade with what was then the inhospitable African continent. This established position meant that Portugal’s share of the planet as defined in the 1494 Tordesilhas Treaty with Spain included the more established routes round Africa and into the Indian Ocean. Luckily or dishonestly, they also got Brazil in the Americas that many historians believe Portugal knew about when the treaty was drawn up.

It is quite interesting that both Cape Verde and these islands where not occupied at the time of the Portuguese discoveries considering that the Canary Islands, off the coast of North Africa and just north of Cape Verde, and nearly all the islands of the coast of East Africa have recognisable aboriginal or native populations. The Canaries’ original pre-European population are likely to be descendants of Arab Berber populations. Noticeably on the east coast of Africa, the Seychelles, the only African country to have a smaller population in Africa than these islands, was claimed to be un-inhabited when sighted by the Portuguese explorer Vasco Da Gama.

Equator Sao Tome Considering the un-inhabited state of these islands when discovered in 1470, it not surprising that the whole of the current population are descendants of settlers, slaves and immigrants. The first settlement was on São Tomé and was established in 1493 and Príncipe was settled in 1500. Both settlements were in the form of a land grant made by the Portuguese crown. Early settlement was slow with the earliest settlers were classified "undesirables" sent from Portugal and this practice continued up until independence. In 1492 influenced by the Spanish Inquisition, Jews were regarded as undesirable and thousands were exiled to these islands and Cape Verde. However when the settlers started the growing sugar in the rich volcanic soils, it attracted other settlers and increased the importation of slaves from the African mainland, mainly from Benin, Gabon, and Congo. By the mid-1500s, the islands were a major exporter of sugar and were taken over and administered by the crown by 1573.

The early European settlers came without women and like elsewhere in the Portuguese empire, the settlers reproduced with the slave women. This led to a distinguishable mixed population, identified as mestizo or creole who at some point reached a tipping point to become the majority ethnic mix on the islands.

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