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Portuguese Investigate Africa

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With the exploits of Prince Henry the Navigator in the 1400s, Portugal was the first European country to go beyond the known limits of northern Africa, exploring the lower west coast and returning to Portugal with captured slaves and other riches. In 1442, the Portuguese began a trade that would not end until the 1800s; producing gold and slaves for the country. However, the Portuguese did not invent slavery. It dates back to the ancient Greeks keeping slaves, and Moses leading the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt.

Vasco da Gama in 1498, reinforced Portugal’s control of the slave trade during a voyage that sailed around the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean. This epic discovery of a sea route to the east was soon followed by the establishment of Portuguese colonies on the continent’s coast that produced spiraling riches in the slave trade for Portugal. Rumors of wealth in this newly discovered region captured the interest of other European powers, including England, Spain, Holland, Denmark and France. Within a few years, Africa’s coastal regions became home to thousands of European colonists, traders and explorers who bought and plundered the valuable resources of the native inhabitants.

Serious exploration of the continent’s interior took place during the 18th and 19th centuries with such luminaries as James Bruce, Mungo Park, Martin Liechtenstein, Hugh Clapperton, Richard and John Lander, Heinrich Barth, Sir Richard Francis Burton, John Hanning Speke, James Augustus Grant, Sir Samuel White Baker, David Livingstone, and the hundreds of Christian missionaries who ventured inland to live among the natives.

With the founding of the African Association in 1788, many of these white explorers traveled throughout Africa under the auspices of this and other respected associations. The most famous and enduring of these illustrious explorers was the internationally renowned David Livingstone whose activities in the deepest regions of the continent proved invaluable in the mapping of Africa’s interior. His most famous recorded meeting, after the outside world had received no news of his whereabouts and feared for his safety, came when he was found by the American journalist/explorer Henry M. Stanley, whose infamous words on meeting Livingstone, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?," have immortalized both of them.

It was 1870, and Livingstone and Stanley explored the region together until Livingstone set out separately to reach the source of the Nile River. In 1871, he died in a native village, and, although his remains are interred in Westminster Cathedral, his followers, upon his death in Africa, buried his heart beneath a tree at the spot where he succumbed. He was greatly respected by African tribes for his devotion to Africa and its people, including his disgust of the slave trade that still permeated the continent even after it had been outlawed. Livingstone was considered one of the pioneers in its final demise.

The exploration of Africa allowed the world to view the abundance of natural resources that ultimately resulted in the conquest of its inhabitants and the colonization of its land by European settlers. The continent was literally carved up by the European nations, particularly England and France; establishing new country boundaries that foolishly disregarded tribal homeland perimeters, causing tribal wars, dissension, and anxieties that have perplexed Africans ever since.

Excerpted from a speech given by Reverend David Livingstone, L.L.D. in Edinburgh, Scotland, September, 1857.THEY PURCHASE SLAVES

"As it would not be much profit to have come home and made myself only a nine days' wonder, I wish to give you a little information, so that your sympathies may be drawn out more effectually to the land from which I have come. I am thankful to see so many assembled and to see the sympathy manifested to me as the representative of that land from which I have come. In going back to that country my object is to try and get a permanent path into the central region, from which most of the slaves have always been drawn. The native slave-drivers go into the centre of the country and carry our manufactures there and with a few yards of cloth they purchase slaves and then they take them to the sea coast. The people are so anxious to get a little of our manufactures that, in return for them, they part, not with their own children, but with children kidnapped from other tribes. Now, I hope to be able to make a path by the Zambesi into the central country, and then, if we can supply the people with our goods for lawful commerce, I think we have a fair prospect of putting a stop to the slave-trade in a very large tract of country."

'Black History' segment written in June, 1998 by David Lodge


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