Women During the Early Portuguese Expeditions to West Africa

Michał Tymowski

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/KH.2014.121.SI.1.02


The author’s aim is to describe and analyse the role of women in the early Portuguese expeditions to West Africa. Women did not participate in the first expeditions. For the first few decades the expeditions were the domain of young, risk-taking men. A small number of women appeared in Africa in the last quarter of the fifteenth century as the so-called degradadas began to be sent to São Jorge da Mina castle and St Tomé island. The author analyses chronicle accounts and legal regulations referring to women sent into exile in the Dark Continent. African women, in the period of armed raids and plunder,were carried away into captivity. Thus, in the early phase of the Portuguese expeditions, most women acted under coercion. This concerns both slave women as well as degradadas. Few women are mentioned by their names in historical sources. Most remain nameless, which proves that they were treated instrumentally. In the second half of the fifteenth century, as the relations with Africans stabilized and trade began to grow, women were given new social and economic roles to play in European-African contacts. Both free and slave African women entered into relationships with European newcomers. African wives, the so-called lançados, became quiteindependent.

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