Goans in Mozambique, by Frederick Noronha

NEWSFEATURE Goa: Goans in Mozambique


By Frederick Noronha

Goans migrated East Africa since a long back, played a pioneering 
role in countries like Mozambique, and did help to prop up the 
colonial structure in that country in a big way. One recent study 
on the subject also shows how people from Goa amassed 
considerable riches and undertook tasks the White man could not 
in that part of the globe. 

Goan pioneers played a role in different countries of the globe, 
and their involvement in Africa is well known. But less is heard 
of Portuguese-speaking Africa. Now, this study by the Mumbai-
based academic throws light on this aspect.

Dr Sharmila S. Karnik is a Documentation Officer at the 
University of Bombay's Centre for African Studies. Her study on 
'Goans in Mozambique' was published recently in the 'African 
Quarterly', a publication of the New Delhi-based Indian Council 
for Cultural Research. 

Even before the arrival of the Europeans in India, there were 
innumerable commercial and navigational contacts between the west 
coast of India and the east coast of Africa, which was in those 
days known as the Swahili Coast, says Karnik.

But when the Portuguese -- under Vasco da Gama -- became the 
first Europeans to learn of the sea-route to India, via 
Mozambique and Milinde, the socio-cultural interaction between 
Goa and Mozambique started to be "on a regular basis".

Migration of labour and the geographic mobility of goods and the 
"roaring business" in merchandise like wood, tea, coffee, spices 
and cinnamon between Goa, Mozambique and Lisbon became a "regular 
feature", according to the researcher.

"Goans found it quite advantageous to emigrate to Mozambique 
located on the East African coast across the Indian Ocean," says 
she. There were similarities between the regions, despite the 
distance. Climatic conditions were similar. The same 'firinghi' 
language prevailed in both Goa and Mozambique.  Due to their own 
harbour and environmental circumstances, Goans had become a band 
of sailors and generated a "bulk of dynamic emigrants".

Karnik says a cartographic map existing in the archives of the 
'Casa de Goa', a Goan institution in Mozambique. It reveals in 
"unmistakable terms" the emigration route from Goa to Mozambique 
in Portuguese Carreiras across the Indian Ocean. It also shows 
the several land routes of Goan penetration and inroads into the 
mainland of Mozambique.

Due to early scanty records and their damage by the heavy monsoon 
climate of the region "it is not possible to pinpoint exactly the 
name of the first Goan who migrated and settled in the colony of 
Mozambique", says Dr Karnik. 

But one early Goan was named Calisto, a companion of the 
missionary called Rev. Fr. Dom Gonsalo da Silva, who was killed 
in Mozambique in 1560 during his missionary errand to Monomotapa, 
a region in interior Mozambique.

In 1569, a military expedition sent to avenge the killing of the 
missionary, had some 650 troops, of which around 140 comprised of 
of natives and Goans commanded by Jeronimo da Andrade.

Says Karnik: "So when the military expedition led by Dom 
Francisco Barreto marched up to River Zambezi in July 1572, 
soldiers of Goan origin were smartly and proudly integrated in 
the battalion. This historic event confirms the fact that Goans 
were already inhabiting the wild regions of Mozambique from 
remote times."

Portuguese historian Alexandre Lobato opines that the 
administrative, cultural and social evolution of Mozambique had 
received a great impetus and it made dynamic progress owing to 
the constant and continuous presence of the Goan emigrants there 
despite many climatic hardships which they had to face. That's 
the Portuguese side of the story; one wonders how Mozambicans 
would have viewed the role of Goans. 

"Goan emigrants not only have left their footprints on the sands 
of time but also their imprints on the habits, customs and 
traditions of their descendents and on the natives who lived 
under their influence," notes the study. It points out that they 
were men and women of extraordinary physical resistance and had 
exceptionally strong temperament, for in those days to live in 
the regions of Zambezi river was a very risky venture.

Lobato argues that if the Portuguese possessed Alta Zambezia, 
they owed it in great part to the emigration policy, to which the 
Goans "contributed immensely". 

Mozambique's central region is irrigated by the vast river 
Zambezi and its tributaries. It is a very fertile region with 
luxuriant vegetation but with abundant mosquito larvae too. Local 
inhabitants lived in small huts made of sticks, and dry grass 
called 'palhotas'. In this region of high fever and poisonous 
snakes, the Goan emigrants lived and toiled and colonised the 
same, working shoulder to shoulder with the Portuguese.

Other Portuguese researchers argue that none could surpass the 
Goan emigrants of Mozambique in shrewdness in their commercial 
excursions, business transactions and in their labour output in 
the exploration of gold mines.

Prof Louis Fernando da Carvalho Dias says the Goan emigrants were 
"so courageous" that they continuously moved across the forests, 
opened new roads, faced great perils and kept up the commercial 
and economic connections with relations between Goa and 

"Such were the close links between the Goans and Mozambicans that 
even 'achars' (i.e. pickles of various kinds), caju feni and dry 
salted fish were regularly transported by ships from Goa to 
Mozambique to be consumed by the natives," notes the study.

By May 1570, Goan troops played a key role in the success of an 
armed penetration into the interior of Mozambique. Portuguese 
archival records point to the fact that Goan emigrants such as 
tailors, sailors, fishermen, clerks and even Goan mercenaries 
consolidated the administrative and bureaucratic machinery of 
Portugal in Mozambique. The entire Zambezi region was developed 
by Goan emigrants on behalf of the Portuguese government from the 
early days of the conquest.

Several Goans from early times played a pivotal role in 
Mozambique's life. Pedro Caetano Pereira, a humble Goan trader in 
the Zambezi region, acquired prestige among the locals. He ended 
up dominating the rich territory of Macanga. He became its 
chieftain and was given the title of Chamatowa (Destroyer) by the 

On the region of the left bank of the River Zambezi, the Zumbo 
region is situated some 330 kms from Tete and belonged to the old 
empire of King Monomotapa. The first coloniser was a Goan also 
surnamed Pereira. There were many other Goan emigrants who worked 
in the Zumbo gold mines and also were carrying on the ivory trade 
between Goa, Mozambique and Portugal.

Gonsalo Caetano, another Goan, migrated from Goa to the island of 
Sena. He carried on a lucrative gold mine extraction work.  He 
was known by locals as 'dombo-dombo' (Man of Terror). 

Karnik tells the story of another adventurous Goan emigrant, 
Senhor Rafael da Braganza. He settled at Manica, a region of 
thick dense forests. As poverty and debts dogged him, he migrated 
with his six black girlfriends into the interior of the jungle to 
avoid persecution. One discovered a gold-mine and Braganza became 
a rich man. After a rival merchant plotted his murder to acquire 
his wealth, his girl friends buried the gold in an unknown spot 
and refused to reveal the secret. Thus this gold was lost 
forever, or so the story goes.

"Emigration has been from time immemorial the safety valve of the 
Goan economy," notes Karnik. Regular mailing 'Carreiras' plied 
between Goa and Lisbon via Mozambique.  Trade and commerce 
between Goa and Mozambique was largely in the hands of Goans who 
outnumbered Portuguese traders. 

Some Goan businessmen who established themselves in that country 
were Jose Anselmo da Santana, Sebastiao Xavier, Francisco Ferrao 
from Aldona, Caetano Vas from Ambora, Antonio da Cunha and Inacio 
da Miranda from Margao. 

Goa on some occasions helped Mozambique when it was famine-
striken. Roque da Sequeira Nazareth played such a role. He lived 
with several bodyguards like a "petty feudal lord" in his 
palatial mansion with by native farmers ploughing his vast fields.

Colonel Manuel Antonio da Sousa of Mapusa was hailed by the 
natives as His Majesty King Barue. He was called "one of the most 
honourable heroes of pacification of Mozambique". 

Captain Anselmo Ferrao, born and bred in Africa of Goan origin, 
took some 2000 sepoys and conquered Bonga in Mozambique on behalf 
of the King of Portugal in 1887. 

Says Karnik: "It is mostly owing to the two Goans, Manuel Antonio 
da Sousa and Anselmo Ferrao, that insurgency in Mozambique 
against the Portuguese Crown by the local native chieftain 
Chatara was put down and the vast and rich region of Zambezia was 
brought under Portuguese control."

Jose Vincente da Gama, a native of Saligao, is believed to have 
been the author of the first book to be printed in Mozambique, 
published in 1859.

In colonial days, incidentally, Goa was the overseas headquarters 
of of the Portuguese Empire. Some regions of Mozambique were 
climatically quite inhospitable, and were called the "graveyard 
of Europeans". In these areas, Goan emigrants built their homes. 
They mingled and mixed with local inhabitants. There were also 
some who married local women. 

Oral history reports say descendents of pioneer Goan settlers in 
Ibo Island were, over the years, submerged almost beyond 
recognition in the African ethnic environment, leaving no traces 
of their ancestral Goan origin. 

Says Karnik: "As white collar professionals and even as 
labourers, fishermen and farmers, the Goan emigrants were very 
energetic, alert and very much disciplined." Goan expatriates 
help convert "an inhospitable coastland into a very prosperous, 
healthy and wealthy nation of East Africa", in her view. (ENDS)