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André Álvares de Almada: A Biography

Manya Seisay

In the 16th Century, the King of Portugal sent Captain André Alvares De Álmada to explore West Africa. There, he chronicled the traditions and economies of the precolonial nations he encountered during his expeditions. De Álmada’s observations became the first comprehensive European history of West Africa.

Captain André Álvares De Almada (b. 1555 – d. April 1650) was an Afro-Portuguese author, explorer and sea captain. In 1594, he wrote ‘The Short Treatise of the Rivers of Guinea of Cape Verde between the Senegal River and Baixos de Santa Ana and All the Black Nations on the Coast and its Clothing, Arms, Weapons and Wars’  (Tratado breve dos rios de Guine’ do Cabo Verde) an account of his experiences and observations during his travels. It remains one of the most important records of precolonial West African history.

The early life of André Álvares De Almada

André Álvares De Almada was born in 1555 in the Old Town of Santiago, Cape Verde. He was the son of Ciprião Álvares de Almada, a nobleman and a Knight of the Order of Santiago and his Afro-Portuguese wife.

His father served as the notary public of the Chamber of Riberio Grande and was later made responsible for the city’s legal archives.

His family was important and well established in Santiago and De Álmada reaped the rewards of his family’s social position. Through the privilege afforded him by their status and wealth, he became a cultured and well-educated man.

De Álmada joined the Portuguese military where opportunities were abundant for an ambitious man in his position. He served in the navy where he ascended through the ranks and eventually became a sea captain.

De Álmada’s 16th Century West African Expedition

De Álmada had a successful career in the navy. In 1580, he was elected emissary by the merchants of Santiago to propose that the Portuguese crown develop a plan for the conquest and colonization of Sierra Leone.

He and his crew set sail for West Africa. De Àlmada spent years exploring Sierra Leone and the rest of West Africa, including the interior of today’s Guinea Bisau. He navigated rivers, building ties with monarchs and traders along the way. He studied and recorded the geography, economies and cultures. He witnessed the rise and fall of kingdoms, migrations triggered by wars and the beginnings of the Transatlantic slave trade. De Álmada was the first person to chronicle some of the griot histories of West Africa. When De Álmada wrote The Short Treatise of the Rivers of Guinea of Cape Verde between the Senegal River and Baixos de Santa Ana and All the Black Nations on the Coast and its Clothing, Arms, Weapons and Wars’ in 1594, he became the first author of Afro-Portuguese ancestry.

De Álmada awarded Portugal’s highest honor

On 19 August 1598, De Almada was awarded Portugal’s highest and most important honor. He was made a Knight of the Order of Christ. It was highly unusual for anyone to receive such an honor and even more so for a mestizo. In fact, in the surviving documents from his initiation in to the order reveal that his African ancestry was characterized as a “defect”.

Nevertheless, in the eyes of the monarch, De Álmada’s services to the Portuguese navy, his defense of Cape Verde and the critical information and trade routes he established in West Africa superseded the prejudices of the day.

The same year he ran a company with his father.

De Álmada returns to Cape Verde

In 1601, De Álmada was back in Santiago where he was the City Representative.

In 1647, De Álmada returned to the island of Santiago in Cape Verde where he served as councilor of the Chamber of Ribeira Grande.

He was married twice. In his first marriage to Ana de Lemos, he had two daughters. The eldest, Paula, married Domingos Lourenço Roussado and had a daughter. The youngest, Ines, married Manuel Semedo Cardoso.

He was married a second time in Portugal to Francisca Monteiro de Quieroz. Their first child, Lourença, was born in 1600. A second child, Beatriz, followed in 1610.

De Àlmada had a natural son, Dinis Eanes de Afonseca, who began his career as a notary public like his grandfather and later became a judge in Santiago.

De Álmada died in April 1650 at the age of 95 in the town where he was born.

Cite this page

Seisay, Manya, “André Alvares de Almada: A Biography of the 16th Century Afro-Portuguese Explorer”. Published online on 17 March 2019 (https://www.manyaseisay.com/andre-alvares-de-almada/)

References

  1. Escravidão, mestiçagem e histórias comparadas by Eduardo França Paiva, Isnara Pereira Ivo, page 125
  2. André Álvares de Almada, http://www.barrosbrito.com/1746.html Retrieved 2 July 2018
  3. Various authors (1995), História Geral de Cabo Verde, volume II. página 522. IICT-Lisboa; INC-CV, página 515.
  4. João Nobre de Oliveira, A Imprensa Cabo-verdiana (1820-1975) (Edição da Fundação Macau – Direcção dos serviços de Educação e Juventude; Setembro de 1998, por ocasião da visita oficial a Cabo Verde do Governador de Macau, General Vasco Rocha Vieira. ISBN 972-658-017-X), p 689.
  5. 2016. Ribeiro, Francisco Aimara Carvalho, No rastro do viajante: Cabo verde e a Senegâmbia no Tratado Breve, de André Álvares de Almada (1550- 1625)
  6. Escravidão, mestiçagem e histórias comparadas by Eduardo França Paiva, Isnara Pereira Ivo, page 125