Mozambique: The slave trade and early colonialism (1700 - 1926)
Updated Jan 2008
The loss of their northern African coastal possession to the Omanis in 1699 led the Portuguese to focus on the little that remained to them, their holdings in Mozambique. The slave trade now became an increasingly important element in exploiting the territory and expanded rapidly from small beginnings over the century; the Prazos, the Yao, the Tsonga, Arabs and Swahili all participated in the export of humans from the interior as far afield as Zimbabwe, northern South Africa and Malawi through the Island of Mozambique, Quelimane, Inhambane and Lourenço Marques by Portuguese, Brazilian and French traders to Brazil, the sugar estates of the Indian Ocean Islands and Madagascar (IIASA 2001; Seatizen 2001).
The Prazos, increasingly Africanised, asserted their independence to the point of refusing to pay taxes to the Crown, while Yao, Arab, Swahili and Indian traders were able to act autonomously of the Portuguese (Crawfurd 2002; Stanford Undated; Seatizen 2001). In this period also the Portuguese introduced new valuable food crops such as cashew nuts, maize and cassava (Crawfurd 2002; Columbia Encyclopedia 2007).
In 1752 responsibility for the administration of Portuguese holdings in Mozambique was removed from Goa and it became a separate colony under a captain-general (Stanford Undated; Crawfurd 2002; Columbia Encyclopedia 2007). In 1787 Lourenço Marques was fortified and a town began to develop around the fort (Crawfurd 2002). By 1790 9000 people were being exported as slaves from the colony every year (Stanford Undated). After the British abolished the slave trade in 1807 efforts by the Royal Navy to suppress it in western Africa stimulated the trade in eastern Africa and the numbers exported rose dramatically, with approximately 1 million slaves exported from Mozambique during the 1800s (Stanford Undated; Crawfurd 2002). Thus violence and conflict wracked the interior, entire areas were depopulated, societies disintegrated and local economies collapsed (Crawfurd 2002). The independence of Brazil from Portugal in 1822 led to renewed interest on the part of the Portuguese in their African possessions (Macamo 2002).
A long lasting drought precipitated famine in the early 1830s and in 1831 the Island of Mozambique was forced to import food from outside Mozambique (Alpers 2001). The rise and expansion of the Zulu kingdom unleashed a series of migrating raiding groups across the sub-continent two of which penetrated Mozambique in the first three decades of the 19th Century; they killed and plundered as they passed through adding to the misery and economic chaos created by the slave trade and drought (Seatizen 2001; Columbia Encyclopedia 2007). One group under Zwangendaba swept through northwards, crossed the Zambezi and settled west of Mozambique while the other under Soshangane crossed the Limpopo eastwards and settled in southern Mozambique, creating the Gaza kingdom of the Shangaans (Seatizen 2001; Columbia Encyclopedia 2007). In 1833 the Shangaans captured the fort at Lourenço Marques (Stanford Undated). Succession struggles within the kingdom led to devastating civil wars (Seatizen 2001).
In the north Angoche still maintained independence from Portugal (an attempt by the Portuguese to take the city in 1860 failed) and its trade in rubber, ivory and slaves flourished while enterprises relocated there to escape Portuguese taxes and duties (Wikipedia 2006). To secure the supply of slaves in the reign of Sultan Hasani Usufu it expanded into the interior, setting up bases to control trade routes (Wikipedia 2006). It also emerged as a centre of Islamic expansion into the interior in the second part of the nineteenth century looking to Sultanates in Zanzibar and the Comoros for juridical guidance, the schooling of local scholars and support (Alpers 2001). The Yao, however, suffered as they lost their trade monopoly, were subjected to slave raids by the Lomwe-Makau and were ravaged by the migrating Ngoni forcing them to migrate from their homeland in large numbers and settle in Malawi (CMRM Undated, 2).
The Portuguese came under increasing pressure to abolish slavery, and in 1869 it was finally abolished in Portugal and India and in 1879 in the African territories; however it was not effectively suppressed until the early 20th century in the central and northern parts of the colony (Crawfurd 2002; Macamo 2002; Seatizen 2001). In the meanwhile the Portuguese lacked the resources to develop the areas that they claimed in Mozambique and they leased out territories to European (especially British) companies (Crawfurd 2002; Rupiya 1998). Attempts to develop cotton and sugar plantations and a textile industry were only partially successful and the colony was heavily dependent on remittances by migrant workers and transit goods (a railway line connecting Lourenço Marques to the goldfield in the Transvaal Republic had been built in 1886. Rupiya 1998; Crawfurd 2002).
In 1875 a simmering dispute between Britain over possession of southern territories came to a head and the matter was resolved in Portugal's favour (Stanford Undated). Nevertheless, as the European powers scrambled to carve up Africa amongst themselves accelerated, Portugal's hold on the territories it claimed remained tenuous, though these claims were recognized at the Berlin conference of 1884-85 (Columbia Encyclopedia 2007; ISS Undated; Stanford Undated). Attempts to gain recognition for claims to the territory between Mozambique and Angola did not succeed, but Portugal only gave up its claim to Masholaland in a treaty with Britain in 1891 which laid down what are largely the current borders (Crawfurd 2002; Stanford Undated; ISS Undated).
Achieving actual control over the territory was another matter. The Gaza kingdom of the Shangaan in the south, the Barue in the centre, the Prazos in the Zambezi valley and the Makua in the north as well as the Sultanate of Angoche rejected Portuguese claims and resisted attempts to enforce them so that it was not until the 1920s that Portuguese authority became effective over the territory (IIASA 2001; Columbia Encyclopedia 2007). The Shangaan were defeated in the 1895-1897 war, the Gaza kingdom subjugated and the King was exiled (IIASA 2001; Crawfurd 2002). The Nyanja were incorporated between 1897 and 1900, in 1910 Angoche was subdued and the Yao were conquered in 1912 (Columbia Encyclopedia 2007). In 1998 the capital was moved from the Island of Mozambique to Lourenço Marques and a royal commissioner was appointed to oversee the colony and the Island of Mozambique declined as an economic centre (ISS Undated; Ferreira 2007, 150).
Despite the fact that forced labour and slavery had been abolished the colonial authorities continued the practice (Macamo 2002). Migrant labour was unregulated and formed a way for many men to acquire the wealth necessary for social status; they preferred work on South African mines to work on Portuguese settler farms because working conditions and remuneration was better (Macamo 2002). In 1899 a new labour law was passed which aimed at mobilizing unpaid forced labour for the colonial authorities from those not engaged in wage labour elsewhere, and therefore could not pay taxes in cash (Macamo 2002). Agents recruiting migrant labour were also required to pay fees to the government to do so and later part of the salaries of these workers were remitted directly to the colonial government in gold (Macamo 2002). Macamo (2002) observes that:
Throughout Portuguese colonial rule Mozambique was nothing more than a labour reserve for neighbouring countries and Portuguese claims over the country relied almost entirely on the ability of its colonial administration to control the movement of labour. It was neither in the interest of South African mining capital nor Portuguese colonial administration to see the labour migrant develop into a proletarian.
Portuguese policy regarded colonial subjects as Portuguese, but to qualify for full citizenship it was necessary for them to become wholly assimilated to Portuguese culture and until then they were placed in a condition of tutelage (Macamo 2002). This was embodied in a law of 1914 that laid out what was required for full citizenship to be attained; the person would have to be able to read, write and speak Portuguese and children had to be raised as Portuguese, the person must adopt Christianity and abandon indigenous customs for western ones; in short, as Mondlane observed, one could only come to be regarded as a person by renouncing oneself (Macamo 2002). Meeting these criteria was extremely difficult and few could qualify (Macamo 2002; Columbia Encyclopedia 2007) The denial of full citizenship notwithstanding, the outbreak of the First World War saw Mozambican conscripted to fight resulting in a rebellion in Zambezi in 1917 (Stanford Undated; IIASA 2001).
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