Portuguese contacts in Africa began with the earliest navigation beyond Cape Bojador in 1434. An early period of raiding was replaced after 1456 by more peaceful contacts with the African states of the coast. Factories were established at Arguin Island in 1448 and at Elmina (São Jorge de Mina) in 1482, and colonies were established on the uninhabited offshore islands of Cape Verde (1462) and São Tomé (1472). In 1498 the Portuguese reached Mozambique, where they encountered already well established centers of trade with ties to Arab communities. After the successful rounding of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 the Portuguese established posts at Sofala in 1505, Kilwa, and Mombasa.
The diplomatic efforts of Portuguese navigators and the later settlers of the offshore islands resulted in substantial influence on the adjacent coastline. Portugal established close relations with the African kingdoms of Jolof, Kongo, and Benin in the late fifteenth century. In Kongo especially these contacts resulted in the adoption of Christianity and literacy in Portuguese. The small Nigerian kingdom of Warri became Christian in 1580, and several small states in Sierra Leone also converted in the early seventeenth century.
Under King Sebastian, Portugal sought to develop a colonial presence on the coast, especially in areas where trade and diplomacy had been most successful. In the 1570s Portuguese forces established a colony in Angola and extended its control inland about 60 miles by 1620; at the same time Portuguese forces conducted a less successful series of operations in what would eventually become Mozambique against the kingdom of the Mwene Mutapa. The colonists of the Cape Verde Islands also sought to establish control on various posts along the coast of modern Guinea-Bissau, although these did not result in any significant territorial gains. After 1620 there were no more initiatives of this sort, although gains made by local initiative extended Angola slightly. In Mozambique local settlers managed to secure land grants from local rulers, which they registered as property of the Portuguese crown and received back as prazos (feudal estates), although in many ways they were more like independent petty rulers than Portuguese subjects.
A much more serious attempt to extend Portuguese control in Africa began in the 1850s and continued through the period of the "scramble for Africa," roughly from 1880 to 1920. The nuclei of the colonization were long-established groups of settlers or subjects in Angola, Mozambique, and the mainland across from the Cape Verde Islands, which became Guinea. These local settlers, the Afro-Portuguese, were a combination of mestizos and culturally Lusitanized Africans who owned land or held lower offices in the colony. Afro-Portuguese often pioneered the expansion, but metropolitan interests took over the resulting expanded colony in the late nineteenth century. As a result the holders of the Mozambican prazos had to be conquered by metropolitan armies, while the Angolan Afro-Portuguese protested in their press what became a significant loss of rights.
Portuguese colonial policy focused on making Angola a center for Portuguese colonization, and the central highlands region in particular received thousands of colonists. There was less colonization in Mozambique, which was given over to large concession companies or to supplying contracted labor for South African mines. In Guinea concessions obtained what little profit Portugal received from the small colony.
Officially, Portugal had a "civilizing mission" in Africa, and its policy stressed assimilation, whereby Africans would be granted the rights of Portuguese when they had absorbed Portuguese language and customs. However, the government provided little in the way of educational opportunities to make the assimilation policy effective. Most educational and social services were provided by underfinanced Catholic Church missions or foreign missionaries, who were often subject to persecution.
After 1926 the New State dictatorship sought to tie the colonies more closely to the needs of Portugal, envisioning the metropole and its colonies as a cooperative zone, but one that worked to the benefit of the Portuguese of the metropole and colonies. These trends became more effective after the Second World War, when a wave of settlers and foreign capital flooded into the colonies. By the 1950s a number of African dissident groups had developed, sometimes in alliance with local groups of Afro-Portuguese. Government repression led to revolt, and by 1965 there were strong anticolonial guerrilla movements in all three colonies. In 1974 a revolution in Portugal, provoked in large part by the military demands of the antiguerrilla activities in the colonies, overthrew the dictatorship and set in motion the process that resulted in the granting of independence to all the African colonies in 1974–1975.
Since African independence there has been increased contact between Lusophone Africa and Brazil that demonstrates the similarities between the African and Brazilian religions, as well as the African cultural identities that have survived in Brazil in varying degrees of purity. Most recently, the Portuguese presence in Africa received press coverage in the United States because Teresa Heinz, the wife of the Democratic Party's 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry, was born to Portuguese parents in Mozambique.
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Axelson, Eric. Portugal and the Scramble for Africa, 1875–1891. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1967.
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