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History, Europeans Arrive

prazo system, Lundu, Shona people, important seaport, Sofala

In 1498 Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and stopped in Mozambique en route to becoming the first European to visit India by sea. His arrival initially made little impact on Mozambique, but soon afterward a small stream of European traders began to visit the coast of Mozambique. In 1505 the Portuguese occupied Sofala, establishing a fort and installing a friendly Arab ruler there. However, the gold trade was already in decline and Sofala was ill-suited as a port, so the Portuguese moved their base north to Mocambique Island. Over the ensuing years the island developed as an important seaport and way station on the route to India.

By the mid-16th century, European settlers had begun to penetrate the Mozambican interior, occasionally encountering stern resistance from inhabitants. In 1561, for example, Goncalo da Silveira, leader of the first Jesuit mission to eastern Africa, was killed by Shona people whom he had tried to convert. In response, the Portuguese sent a large army, which from 1569 to 1575 attempted to conquer the central African gold-mining region. Most of the soldiers died of disease, and little was achieved beyond the occupation of the lower Zambezi Valley and the establishment of two new bases on the Zambezi at Sena and Tete. Thus by the close of the 16th century, much of Mozambique was still beyond Portuguese control. In fact, despite Portuguese presence along the Zambezi, Maravi chiefs had established the powerful chiefdoms of Karonga, Undi, and Lundu in the region north of the river.

In 1607 and 1608 the Dutch twice tried to seize Mocambique Island from the Portuguese, failing both times. The assaults nonetheless made the Portuguese aware of their precarious hold on Mozambique and prompted them to try again to subdue the interior. This time the Portuguese used locally recruited armies and by 1632, after prolonged warfare, they occupied a wide swath of land from the Mozambican coast to the northern half of present-day Zimbabwe. Portugal maintained control of the region by ceding prazos (land grants) to European colonists. The prazos made their owners virtual lords of African fiefdoms, with nearly complete control over Mozambican labor and resources. In modified form the prazo system lasted until the 1930s. The Portuguese established fortified mining camps in the highlands of western Mozambique and northern Zimbabwe, but Portugal had difficulty attracting European settlers into the area. Partly as a result, the Rozwi chief Changamire was able to lead a revolt in 1693 that succeeded in expelling the Portuguese from most of the highlands.

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