Portuguese Mozambique or Portuguese East Africa (Moçambique or África Oriental Portuguesa) are the common terms by which Mozambique is designated when referring to the historic period when it was a Portuguese overseas territory. Portuguese Mozambique constituted a string of Portuguese colonies and later a single Portuguese overseas province along the south-east African coast, which now forms the Republic of Mozambique (República de Moçambique). It was a long coastal strip with Portuguese strongholds, from current day Tanzania and Kenya, to the south of current-day Mozambique.
Portuguese trading settlements and, later, colonies, were formed along the coast from 1498, when Vasco da Gama first reached the Mozambican coast. Lourenço Marques explored the area that is now Maputo Bay in 1544. He settled permanently in present-day Mozambique, where he spent most of his life, and his work was followed by other Portuguese explorers, sailors and traders. Some of these colonies were handed over in the late nineteenth century for rule by chartered companies such as the Mozambique Company (Companhia de Moçambique), which had the concession of the lands corresponding to the present-day provinces of Manica and Sofala, and the Niassa Company (Companhia do Niassa), which had controlled the lands of the modern provinces of Cabo Delgado and Niassa. In 1951, the colonies were combined into a single overseas province under the name Moçambique as an integral part of Portugal. Most of the original colonies have given their names to the modern provinces of Mozambique.
Mozambique, according to official policy, was not a colony at all but rather a part of the “pluricontinental and multiracial nation” of Portugal. Portugal sought in Mozambique, as it did in all its colonies, to Europeanize the local population and assimilate them into Portuguese culture. Lisbon also wanted to retain the colonies as trading partners and markets for its goods. African inhabitants of the colony were ultimately supposed to become full citizens with full political rights through a long development process. To that end, segregation in Mozambique was minimal compared to that in neighboring South Africa. However, paid forced labor, to which all Africans were liable if they failed to pay head tax, was not abolished until the early 1960s.
During its history, under Portuguese dominion, the present-day territory of Mozambique had the following formal designations:
- 1501–1569: Captaincy of Sofala (Capitania de Sofala)
- 1570–1676: Captaincy of Mozambique and Sofala (Capitania de Moçambique e Sofala)
- 1676–1836: Captaincy-General of Mozambique and Rivers of Sofala (Capitania-Geral de Moçambique e Rios de Sofala)
- 1836–1891: Province of Mozambique (Província de Moçambique)
- 1891–1893: State of Eastern Africa (Estado da África Oriental)
- 1893–1926: Province of Mozambique (Província de Moçambique)
- 1926–1951: Colony of Mozambique (Colónia de Moçambique)
- 1951–1972: Province of Mozambique (Província de Moçambique)
- 1972–1975: State of Mozambique (Estado de Moçambique)
After over four centuries of Portuguese rule, Mozambique gained independence in 1975, becoming the People’s Republic of Mozambique (República Popular de Moçambique) shortly thereafter. After only two years of independence, the country descended into an intense and protracted civil war lasting from 1977 to 1992. In 1994, Mozambique held its first multiparty elections and has remained a relatively stable presidential republic. However, since 2013, following more than 20 years of peace, a renewed insurgency by anti-Communist Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) rebel militias has been occurring.
When Portuguese explorers reached East Africa in 1498, Swahili commercial settlements had existed along the Swahili Coast and outlying islands for several centuries. From about 1500, Portuguese trading posts and forts became regular ports of call on the new route to the east.
The voyage of Vasco da Gama around the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean in 1498 marked the Portuguese entry into trade, politics, and society in the Indian Ocean world. The Portuguese gained control of the island of Mozambique and the port city of Sofala in the early sixteenth century. Vasco da Gama having visited Mombasa in 1498, was then successful in reaching India and this permitted the Portuguese to trade with the Far East directly by sea, thus challenging older trading networks of mixed land and sea routes, such as the spice trade routes that used the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and caravans to reach the eastern Mediterranean.
The Republic of Venice had gained control over much of the trade routes between Europe and Asia. After traditional land routes to India had been closed by the Ottoman Turks, Portugal hoped to use the sea route pioneered by da Gama to break the Venetian trading monopoly. Initially, Portuguese rule in East Africa focused mainly on a coastal strip centered in Mombasa. With voyages led by Vasco da Gama, Francisco de Almeida and Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese dominated much of southeast Africa’s coast, including Sofala and Kilwa, by 1515. Their main goal was to dominate trade with India. As the Portuguese settled along the coast, they made their way into the hinterland as sertanejos (backwoodsmen). These sertanejos lived alongside Swahili traders and even took up service among Shona kings as interpreters and political advisers. One such sertanejo managed to travel through almost all the Shona kingdoms, including the Mutapa Empire’s (Mwenemutapa) metropolitan district, between 1512 and 1516.
By the 1530s, small groups of Portuguese traders and prospectors penetrated the interior regions seeking gold, where they set up garrisons and trading posts at Sena and Tete on the Zambezi River and tried to gain exclusive control over the gold trade. The Portuguese finally entered into direct relations with the Mwenemutapa in the 1560s.
They recorded a wealth of information about the Mutapa kingdom as well as its predecessor, Great Zimbabwe. According to Swahili traders whose accounts were recorded by the Portuguese historian João de Barros, Great Zimbabwe was an ancient capital city built of stones of marvellous size without the use of mortar. And while the site was not within Mutapa’s borders, the Mwenemutapa kept noblemen and some of his wives there.
The Portuguese attempted to legitimate and consolidate their trade and settlement positions through the creation of prazos (land grants) tied to Portuguese settlement and administration. While prazos were originally developed to be held by Portuguese, through intermarriage they became African Portuguese or African Indian centers defended by large African slave armies known as Chikunda. Historically, within Mozambique, there was slavery. Human beings were bought and sold by African tribal chiefs, Arab traders, and the Portuguese. Many Mozambican slaves were supplied by tribal chiefs who raided warring tribes and sold their captives to the prazeiros.
Although Portuguese influence gradually expanded, its power was limited and exercised through individual settlers and officials who were granted extensive autonomy. The Portuguese were able to wrest much of the coastal trade from Arabs between 1500 and 1700, but, with the Arab seizure of Portugal’s key foothold at Fort Jesus on Mombasa Island (now in Kenya) in 1698, the pendulum began to swing in the other direction. As a result, investment lagged while Lisbon devoted itself to the more lucrative trade with India and the Far East and to the colonization of Brazil.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Mazrui and Omani Arabs reclaimed much of the Indian Ocean trade, forcing the Portuguese to retreat south. Many prazos had declined by the mid-nineteenth century, but several of them survived. During the nineteenth century, other European powers, particularly the British and the French, became increasingly involved in the trade and politics of the region. In the Island of Mozambique, the hospital, a majestic neo-classical building constructed in 1877 by the Portuguese, with a garden decorated with ponds and fountains, was for many years the biggest hospital south of the Sahara.
In 1900, the part of modern Mozambique northwest of the Zambezi and Shire Rivers was called Moçambique; the rest of it was Lourenço Marques. Various districts existed, and even issued stamps, during the first part of the century, including Inhambane, Lourenço Marques, Mozambique Colony, Mozambique Company, Nyassa Company, Quelimane, Tete, and Zambésia. The Nyassa Company territory is now Cabo Delgado and Niassa. On June 28, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles transferred the Kionga Triangle, a 390 square mile (1,000 km²) territory south of the Rovuma River from German East Africa to Mozambique.
By the early twentieth century, the Portuguese had shifted the administration of much of Mozambique to large private companies, like the Mozambique Company, the Zambezia Company and the Niassa Company, controlled and financed mostly by the British, which established, with the Portuguese, railroad lines to neighboring countries. The companies, granted a charter by the Portuguese government to foster economic development and maintain Portuguese control in the territory’s provinces, would lose their purpose when the territory was transferred to the control of the Portuguese colonial government between 1929 and 1942.
During World War II, the Charter of the Mozambique Company expired, on July 19, 1942; its territory, known as Manica and Sofala, became a district of Mozambique. Mozambique was constituted as four districts on January 1, 1943 — Manica and Sofala, Niassa, Sul do Save (South of the Save River), and Zambézia.
Although slavery had been legally abolished in Mozambique by the Portuguese authorities, at the end of the nineteenth century the Chartered companies enacted a forced labour policy and supplied cheap — often forced — African labor to the mines and plantations of the nearby British colonies and South Africa. The Zambezia Company, the most profitable chartered company, took over a number of smaller prazeiro holdings, and requested Portuguese military outposts to protect its property. The chartered companies and the Portuguese administration built roads and ports to bring their goods to market including a railroad linking present day Zimbabwe with the Mozambican port of Beira. However, the development’s administration gradually started to pass directly from the trading companies to the Portuguese government itself.
Because of their unsatisfactory performance and because of the shift, under the Estado Novo regime of Oliveira Salazar, towards a stronger Portuguese control of the Portuguese Empire’s economy, the companies’ concessions were not renewed when they ran out. This was what happened in 1942 with the Mozambique Company, which however continued to operate in the agricultural and commercial sectors as a corporation, and had already happened in 1929 with the termination of the Niassa Company’s concession.
In the 1950s, the Portuguese overseas colony was rebranded an overseas province of Portugal, and by the early 1970s it was officially upgraded to the status of Portuguese non-sovereign state, by which it would remain a Portuguese territory but with a wider administrative autonomy. The Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), initiated a guerrilla campaign against Portuguese rule in September 1964. This conflict, along with the two others already initiated in the other Portuguese colonies of Angola and Guinea, became part of the so-called Portuguese Colonial War (1961–74). From a military standpoint, the Portuguese regular army held the upper hand during all of the conflicts against the independentist guerrilla forces, which created favorable conditions for social development and economic growth until the end of the conflict in 1974.
After ten years of sporadic warfare and after Portugal’s return to democracy through a leftist military coup in Lisbon which replaced Portugal’s Estado Novo regime in favor of a military junta (the Carnation Revolution of April 1974), FRELIMO took control of the territory. The talks that led to an agreement on Mozambique’s independence, signed in Lusaka, were started. Within a year, almost all ethnic Portuguese population had left, many fleeing in fear (in mainland Portugal they were known as retornados); others were expelled by the ruling power of the newly independent territory. Mozambique became independent from Portugal on June 25, 1975.
The postal history of Mozambique began with the Portuguese trading posts established from the beginning of the sixteenth century.
Stamps date from 1877, with the same key type design of the Portuguese crown as used elsewhere in the Portuguese territories. The original nine values were followed up by color changes in 1881 and 1885. These were followed by the King Luiz issue in 1886.
In 1891 the Mozambique Company was chartered to administer the Manica and Sofala areas, for which they issued their own stamps until 1942. They were followed by the Nyassa Company in 1898, whose stamps continued until 1929.
In the 1890s, stamps were issued for Lourenço Marques, Inhambane, and Zambezia, for use in each area. In 1898, King Carlos I was the subject of a lengthy series, which by 1903 numbered 23 colors and denominations.
The 1910 revolution resulted in a variety of overprints reading REPUBLICA on both the existing stamps, and on previously-unissued stamps depicting Manuel II of Portugal.
In 1913, separate stamps were issued for the Quelimane and Tete areas, all areas sharing the same Ceres design. Issues for the areas ended in 1920, in favor of stamps valid throughout Mozambique.
Various expediencies required a variety of surcharged stamps throughout the 1920s. In 1933, the Lusiad issue became standard, followed by the Empire issue in 1938.
Postwar issues followed the general pattern for the Portuguese colonies. A definitive series of 1948 featured a variety of local scenery, while a 1951 series of 24 stamps depicted fish in full color. A 1953 series showed butterflies and moths, while the 1961 series included the coat of arms of various Mozambique cities. The 1963 series showed historic ships, while in 1967 the theme was soldiers.
The Lusaka Agreement of 1974 was marked in January 1975 with a philatelic design consisting of a stylized bird formed from Portugal’s and Mozambique’s flags. On June 25, 1975, many existing stamps, some going back as far as 1953, were issued with an overprint marking independence.
In 1938 and 1939, eight of Portugal’s colonies at the time — Angola, Cape Verde, Macao, Mozambique, Portuguese Guinea, Portuguese India, St. Thomas & Prince Islands, and Timor — participated in an 18-stamp omnibus series to mark the 440th anniversary of Vasco da Gama’s first voyage to India (1497–1499) which was the first to link Europe and Asia by an ocean route, connecting the Atlantic and the Indian oceans and, in this way, the West and the Orient. Mozambique’s set (Scott #270-287) were issued in August 1938, perforated 13½x13). Engraved on unwatermarked paper, Scott #284 is denominated 2 escudos, printed in brown carmine, and features Prince Henry the Navigator.
Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama was the first European to reach India by sea. His discovery of the sea route to India was significant and opened the way for an age of global imperialism and for the Portuguese to establish a long-lasting colonial empire in Asia. Traveling the ocean route allowed the Portuguese to avoid sailing across the highly disputed Mediterranean and traversing the dangerous Arabian Peninsula. The sum of the distances covered in the outward and return voyages made this expedition the longest ocean voyage ever made until then, far longer than a full voyage around the world by way of the Equator.
Infante D. Henrique of Portugal, Duke of Viseu, better known as Prince Henry the Navigator (Infante Dom Henrique, o Navegador), is regarded as the main initiator of what would be known as the Age of Discoveries. He was responsible for the early development of Portuguese exploration and maritime trade with other continents through the systematic exploration of Western Africa, the islands of the Atlantic Ocean, and the search for new routes. Henry is regarded as the patron of Portuguese exploration.
Henry sponsored voyages, collecting a 20% tax (o quinto) on the profits made by naval expeditions, which was the usual practice in the Iberian states of that time. The nearby port of Lagos provided a convenient harbor from which these expeditions left. The voyages were made in very small ships, mostly the caravel, a light and maneuverable vessel. The caravel used the lateen sail, the prevailing rig in Christian Mediterranean navigation since late antiquity. Most of the voyages sent out by Henry consisted of one or two ships that navigated by following the coast, stopping at night to tie up along some shore.
During Prince Henry’s time and after, the Portuguese navigators discovered and perfected the North Atlantic Volta do Mar (the “turn of the sea” or “return from the sea”). This was a major step in the history of navigation, when an understanding of oceanic wind patterns was crucial to Atlantic navigation, from Africa and the open ocean to Europe, and enabling the main route between the New World and Europe in the North Atlantic, in future voyages of discovery. Understanding the Atlantic gyre and the volta do mar enabled Portuguese mariners who sailed south and southwest towards the Canary Islands and West Africa to beat upwind to the Strait of Gibraltar and home. To do this, they first had to sail far to the west — that is, away from continental Portugal, and seemingly in the wrong direction. They could then turn northeast, to the area around the Azores islands, and finally east to Europe. This route would catch usable following winds. Christopher Columbus used it on his transatlantic voyages.
Until Henry’s time, Cape Bojador remained the most southerly point known to Europeans on the desert coast of Africa. Superstitious seafarers held that beyond the cape lay sea monsters and the edge of the world. In 1434, Gil Eanes, the commander of one of Henry’s expeditions, became the first European known to pass Cape Bojador.
Using the new ship type, the expeditions then pushed onwards. Nuno Tristão and Antão Gonçalves reached Cape Blanco in 1441. The Portuguese sighted the Bay of Arguin in 1443 and built an important fort there around the year 1448. Dinis Dias soon came across the Senegal River and rounded the peninsula of Cap-Vert in 1444. By this stage the explorers had passed the southern boundary of the desert, and from then on Henry had one of his wishes fulfilled: the Portuguese had circumvented the Muslim land-based trade routes across the western Sahara Desert, and slaves and gold began arriving in Portugal. By 1452, the influx of gold permitted the minting of Portugal’s first gold cruzado coins. A cruzado was equal to 400 reis at the time. From 1444 to 1446, as many as forty vessels sailed from Lagos on Henry’s behalf, and the first private mercantile expeditions began.
Alvise Cadamosto explored the Atlantic coast of Africa and discovered several islands of the Cape Verde archipelago between 1455 and 1456. In his first voyage, which started on March 22, 1455, he visited the Madeira Islands and the Canary Islands. On the second voyage, in 1456, Cadamosto became the first European to reach the Cape Verde Islands. António Noli later claimed the credit. By 1462, the Portuguese had explored the coast of Africa as far as present-day Sierra Leone. Twenty-eight years later, Bartolomeu Dias proved that Africa could be circumnavigated when he reached the southern tip of the continent, now known as the “Cape of Good Hope.”
On July 8, 1497, Vasco da Gama led a fleet of four ships with a crew of 170 men from Lisbon. The distance traveled in the journey around Africa to India and back was greater than around the equator. The navigators included Portugal’s most experienced, Pero de Alenquer, Pedro Escobar, João de Coimbra, and Afonso Gonçalves. It is not known for certain how many people were in each ship’s crew but approximately 55 returned, and two ships were lost. Two of the vessels were as naus or newly built for the voyage, possibly a caravel and a supply boat.
The expedition followed the route pioneered by earlier explorers along the coast of Africa via Tenerife and the Cape Verde Islands. After reaching the coast of present-day Sierra Leone, da Gama took a course south into the open ocean, crossing the Equator and seeking the South Atlantic westerlies that Bartolomeu Dias had discovered in 1487. This course proved successful and on November 4, 1497, the expedition made landfall on the African coast. For over three months the ships had sailed more than 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers) of open ocean, by far the longest journey out of sight of land made by that time.
By December 16, the fleet had passed the Great Fish River (Eastern Cape, South Africa) — where Dias had turned back — and sailed into waters previously unknown to Europeans. With Christmas pending, da Gama and his crew gave the coast they were passing the name Natal, which carried the connotation of “birth of Christ” in Portuguese.
Vasco da Gama spent March 2-29, 1498, in the vicinity of Mozambique Island. Arab-controlled territory on the East African coast was an integral part of the network of trade in the Indian Ocean. Fearing the local population would be hostile to Christians, da Gama impersonated a Muslim and gained audience with the Sultan of Mozambique. With the paltry trade goods he had to offer, the explorer was unable to provide a suitable gift to the ruler. Soon the local populace became suspicious of da Gama and his men. Forced by a hostile crowd to flee Mozambique, da Gama departed the harbor, firing his cannons into the city in retaliation.
In the vicinity of modern Kenya, the expedition resorted to piracy, looting Arab merchant ships that were generally unarmed trading vessels without heavy cannons. The Portuguese became the first known Europeans to visit the port of Mombasa from April 7-13, 1498, but were met with hostility and soon departed.
Vasco da Gama continued north, arriving on April 14, 1498. at the friendlier port of Malindi, whose leaders were having a conflict with those of Mombasa. There the expedition first noted evidence of Indian traders. Da Gama and his crew contracted the services of a pilot who used his knowledge of the monsoon winds to guide the expedition the rest of the way to Calicut, located on the southwest coast of India. Sources differ over the identity of the pilot, calling him variously a Christian, a Muslim, and a Gujarati. One traditional story describes the pilot as the famous Arab navigator Ibn Majid, but other contemporaneous accounts place Majid elsewhere, and he could not have been near the vicinity at the time. None of the Portuguese historians of the time mentions Ibn Majid. Vasco da Gama left Malindi for India on April 24, 1498.
The fleet arrived in Kappadu near Kozhikode (Calicut), in Malabar Coast (present day Kerala state of India), on May 20, 1498. The King of Calicut, the Samudiri (Zamorin), who was at that time staying in his second capital at Ponnani, returned to Calicut on hearing the news of the foreign fleets’s arrival. The navigator was received with traditional hospitality, including a grand procession of at least 3,000 armed Nairs, but an interview with the Zamorin failed to produce any concrete results. The presents that da Gama sent to the Zamorin as gifts from Dom Manuel — four cloaks of scarlet cloth, six hats, four branches of corals, twelve almasares, a box with seven brass vessels, a chest of sugar, two barrels of oil and a cask of honey — were trivial, and failed to impress. While Zamorin’s officials wondered at why there was no gold or silver, the Muslim merchants who considered da Gama their rival suggested that the latter was only an ordinary pirate and not a royal ambassador. Vasco da Gama’s request for permission to leave a factor behind him in charge of the merchandise he could not sell was turned down by the King, who insisted that da Gama pay customs duty — preferably in gold — like any other trader, which strained the relation between the two. Annoyed by this, da Gama carried a few Nairs and sixteen fishermen (mukkuva) off with him by force. Nevertheless, da Gama’s expedition was successful beyond all reasonable expectation, bringing in cargo that was worth sixty times the cost of the expedition.
Vasco da Gama left Calicut on August 29, 1498. Eager to set sail for home, he ignored the local knowledge of monsoon wind patterns that were still blowing onshore. The fleet initially inched north along the Indian coast, and then anchored in at Anjediva island for a spell. They finally struck out for their Indian Ocean crossing on October 3, 1498. But with the winter monsoon yet to set in, it was a harrowing journey. On the outgoing journey, sailing with the summer monsoon wind, da Gama’s fleet crossed the Indian Ocean in only 23 days; now, on the return trip, sailing against the wind, it took 132 days.
Da Gama saw land again only on January 2, 1499, passing before the coastal Somali city of Mogadishu, then under the influence of the Ajuran Empire in the Horn of Africa. The fleet did not make a stop, but passing before Mogadishu, the anonymous diarist of the expedition noted that it was a large city with houses of four or five storeys high and big palaces in its center and many mosques with cylindrical minarets.
Da Gama’s fleet finally arrived in Malindi on January 7, 1499, in a terrible state — approximately half of the crew had died during the crossing, and many of the rest were afflicted with scurvy. Not having enough crewmen left standing to manage three ships, da Gama ordered the São Rafael scuttled off the East African coast, and the crew re-distributed to the remaining two ships, the São Gabriel and the Berrio. Thereafter, the sailing was smoother. By early March, they had arrived in Mossel Bay, and crossed the Cape of Good Hope in the opposite direction on March 20, reaching the west African coast by April 25.
The diary record of the expedition ends abruptly here. Reconstructing from other sources, it seems they continued to Cape Verde, where Nicolau Coelho’s Berrio separated from Vasco da Gama’s São Gabriel and sailed on by itself. The Berrio arrived in Lisbon on July 10, 1499, and Nicolau Coelho personally delivered the news to King Manuel I and the royal court, then assembled in Sintra.
In the meantime, back in Cape Verde, da Gama’s brother, Paulo da Gama, had fallen grievously ill. Da Gama elected to stay by his side on Santiago island and handed the São Gabriel over to his clerk, João de Sá, to take home. The São Gabriel under Sá arrived in Lisbon sometime in late July or early August. Da Gama and his sickly brother eventually hitched a ride with a Guinea caravel returning to Portugal, but Paulo da Gama died en route. Da Gama got off at the Azores to bury his brother at the monastery of São Francisco in Angra do Heroismo, and he lingered there for a little while in mourning. He eventually took passage on an Azorean caravel and finally arrived in Lisbon on August 29, 1499 (according to Barros), or early September (8th or 18th, according to other sources).
Despite his melancholic mood, da Gama was given a hero’s welcome and showered with honors, including a triumphal procession and public festivities. King Manuel wrote two letters in which he described da Gama’s first voyage, in July and August 1499, soon after the return of the ships. Girolamo Sernigi also wrote three letters describing da Gama’s first voyage soon after the return of the expedition.
The expedition had exacted a large cost — one ship and over half the men had been lost. It had also failed in its principal mission of securing a commercial treaty with Calicut. Nonetheless, the spices brought back on the remaining two ships were sold at an enormous profit to the crown. Vasco da Gama was justly celebrated for opening a direct sea route to Asia. His path would be followed up thereafter by yearly Portuguese India Armadas.
The spice trade would prove to be a major asset to the Portuguese royal treasury, and other consequences soon followed. For example, da Gama’s voyage had made it clear that the east coast of Africa, the Contra Costa, was essential to Portuguese interests; its ports provided fresh water, provisions, timber, and harbors for repairs, and served as a refuge where ships could wait out unfavorable weather. One significant result was the colonization of Mozambique by the Portuguese Crown.