The arrival of Europeans, mostly Portuguese, along the shores south of the Saharan desert in the 1440s, is a milestone in the history of both continents. What can we infer from the first interactions between Europeans and Africans and how they evolved over time? Due to centuries of struggles against ... (Show more)
The arrival of Europeans, mostly Portuguese, along the shores south of the Saharan desert in the 1440s, is a milestone in the history of both continents. What can we infer from the first interactions between Europeans and Africans and how they evolved over time? Due to centuries of struggles against Muslim polities, the Portuguese arrived war-bent and with a crusader mentality. Defeats by Senegambian warriors and their poisoned arrows forced key decision-makers, namely Prince Henry, to issue orders that, from 1448 onwards, all expeditions had to sail with peaceful and commercial intentions. How did everyone involved adapt to the new circumstances in an apparently disparate cultural environment? What was the importance of commerce in the European expansion along the Atlantic coast of Africa, from Arguin to Luanda? Considering that commerce also means social dealings between people, what was the specific role of Africans and their contribution to the definition of the rules of social interaction between all parties involved?
Based on data collected from all types of European narratives and documents produced in the first two centuries of Euro-African relations, we propose a new methodology. It is centered around an original typology of interactions and the use of a website created from scratch (to be online in a near future), that allows for a different approach to a well-known documentary library. More than an information repository, this website can also be used as an analysis tool, accepting the incorporation of data by other researchers, from different time periods, and from new geographic regions, if relevant and desired. This methodology facilitates the identification of possible trends in these interactions and helps contextualize their pertinence and evolution. It also allows a quantitative approach to a set of data to which qualitative analysis tools are normally applied. This research is conducted under a PhD project (SFRH/BD/139662/2018) funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT).
This presentation thoroughly explains this methodology and brings forth preliminary results of this research project, shedding a different light on the connection between Europe and Africa. It becomes evident that initially bellicose Europeans quickly adapted to profit from trade opportunities and Africans easily accommodated these newcomers to their age-long social, political, and economic structures, setting the stage for relationships with repercussions until today. Clearly the connecting variable between such different civilizations, commerce fostered mutual understandings and shared goals. This helped build trust, fueling an environment of mutual exchange that led to cultural pluralism and multiculturalism. Adaptation and incorporation are the key-concepts in these processes. The focus on African agency helped us understand that all this was not new, and that Europeans were just another piece that rapidly fitted into place in centuries-old puzzles of local connections and relationships of power. (Show less)