The African slave population of Portuguese India

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This article is primarily concerned with quantifying the African(-born) population in the early Portuguese settlements in India and defining its linguistic profile, as a means to understand the extent and limitations of its impact on the emerging Indo-Portuguese creoles. Apart from long-established commercial links (including the slave trade) between East Africa and India, which could have facilitated linguistic interchange between the two regions, Smith (1984) and Clements (2000) also consider that the long African sojourn of all those travelling the Cape Route may have transported an African-developed pidgin to Asia. In this article, I concentrate on population displacement brought about by the slave trade. Published sources and data uncovered during archival research permit a characterisation of the African population in terms of (a) their numbers (relative to the overall population), (b) their origin, and (c) their position within the colonial social scale. The scenario that emerges for most territories of Portuguese India is that of a significant slave population distributed over the colonial households in small numbers, in what is best described as a ‘homestead society’ (Chaudenson 1992, 2001). It is also made evident that there was a steady influx of slave imports well into the 19th century, and that the Bantu-speaking regions of modern-day Mozambique were the primary sources of slaves for the trade with Portuguese India.


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