Thursday, October 20, 2011

I could have been speaking Portuguese!

Bartolomeu Dias
South Africa is a member of the British Commonwealth, along with 53 other nations, surprisingly including two that have had no historical ties to Britain, namely Mozambique and Rwanda.  Before Whites settled, South Africa was inhabited by the KhoiSan and Black tribes (mainly in the north and east).  In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck settled at what is now Cape Town to establish a vegetable garden to supply the ships of the Dutch East India Company en route to the East for spices.
But it could have been different.

It could quite easily become Portuguese and a cousin to Brazil.I've always been surprised that it didn't.
In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias was the first known European to round the Cape - he called it Cabo das Tormentas.  King John II of Portugal later renamed it Cabo da Boa Esperança - Cape of Good Hope.
In 1497 Vasco da Gama also rounded the Cape and established that the route could be used to gain access to the spice producers of the East.  Until this time Venice had monopolized the spice trade through a combination of sea and overland through the Middle East.  This discovery led to a massive Portuguese influence in the East.

Dias routs around the Cape
It is unclear why the Portuguese did not establish a settlement at the Cape - the harbours were good and the climate excellent.  They established settlements in what is now Mozambique in 1505, on the Island of Mozambique among other places.  And it was only in 1575 that they created at settlement at Luanda in what is now Angola.  But they left the southern tip of Africa alone.

Vasco da Gama
One argument of why this happened is because of what happened to another famous Portuguese explorer and colonist - Francisco de Almeida.  In 1503 he was appointed Viceroy of India and left Portugal two years later with an impressive fleet.  He subdued most of the east coast of Africa, including Zanzibar, then accomplished the same in eastern and southern India.  By early 1509, the Portuguese had control over the area, with the Ottomans and Egyptians returning home.  This gave the Portuguese a monopoly over the spice trade for over 100 years.

Francesca de Almeida
In December 1509, De Almeida set sale for Portugal and stopped in Table Bay at the Cape for water and replenishment.  After some friendly trade with the local Khoi, De Almeida allowed some of his men to go to the Khoi encampment to steal cattle.  While this was happening, De Almeida and other men looked on.  Unfortunately at the same time the ships were moved to a point where they could get fresh water.  The Khoi sensed that the Portuguese had no way to return to the boats and attacked.  Eventually 64 seamen were killed including De Almeida.  He was buried at the Cape.

A carrack as used by De Almeida
After this slaughter, Portuguese seamen had a very negative attitude towards the Cape, this possibly being the reason why no further efforts were made to use the Cape as a refreshment station.  Nothing of importance happened at the Cape for nearly 150 years, when the Dutch established their gardens under Van Riebeeck.

And so, if it were not for De Almeida's stupid decision to allow his men to stea cattle, I would be writing this in Portuguese.


Stan - Quinta-feira


  1. You and Leighton already have enough to talk about in English.

    Interesting how it's so often the little things, like a decision to steal some cattle (or tape over a door's strike plate the wrong way) that changes the course of history.

    And your pieces always subtlely teach me something what's a carrack. I always thought it was a nau:).

  2. Or, South Africa could have remained in the hands of the African people, free of any colonizers!

  3. Or you could be drinking Portuguese. And their wines are very, very underrated.

  4. Dan: As Michael blogged recently, we enjoyed some very old Madeira recently. Superb. Kathy: Abosolutely - but of course the Black tribes from the north were colonizing too - the Khoisan were there long before them. Stan

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.