May 10, 2021

Peter Binose: Ralph Gonsalves, ancestry and the establishment of slavery.

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cutting-cane-antiguaBy Peter Binose

In the year 1418 three Portuguese sea captains and navigators Tristão Vaz Teixeira, Bartolomeu Perestrelo and João Gonçalves Zarco [John Gonsalves Zarco] sailing under the orders of the king of Portugal King John 1 were sailing the West African Saharan coast when they were overtaken by a huge storm and blown hundreds of miles off course into what was then unchartered and unknown seas.

These navigators having discovered the island of Porto Santo in 1418 eventually left for Lisbon capital city of Portugal. That small island which they originally sighted they called “Porto Seguro” (safe port), i.e. Porto Santo, as it saved João Gonçalves Zarco’s crew from a fateful destiny. In 1419 one year after the discovery of Porto Santo, they returned to the island of Madeira.

History demands that the trio of Portuguese navigators officially discovered the islands of Madeira and Porto Santo in 1419, but it is now well known it was in fact 1418.

The navigator João Gonçalves Zarco named Madeira when naming it the island of “Madeira” (the island of wood) due to its total forestation and abundance of wood.

Having noted the potential of the islands as well as their strategic importance, the colonization by order of King John I started around 1425. As of 1440 the regime of captaincy is established, naming captain Tristão Vaz Teixeira captain-donee of the Machico captaincy; six years later, Bartolomeu Perestrelo becomes captain-donee of the island Porto Santo and in 1450, João Gonçalves Zarco’s is named captain-donee of the Madeiran Funchal captaincy.

The first settlers were the three captain-donees Tristão Vaz Teixeira, Bartolomeu Perestrelo and João Gonçalves Zarco [John Gonsalves Zarco] and their families, a small group of people of the Portuguese gentry, some workers and labourers who were people of modest conditions and some former prison inmates of the Kingdom of mainland Portugal. To develop agriculture on the island, they had to chop and clear a piece of dense forest. At the same time they installed a large number of water channels called “levadas” cleverly engineered to carry water that abounded on the north coast, to the southern coast of the island. In the early days fish was the main subsistence of the villagers, as well as agricultural products.

João Gonçalves Zarco [John Gonsalves Zarco] was a Jew who had to hide his religious background to be able stay in favor of the King and later of the Kings son Prince Henry the Navigator.

A member of John Gonsalves family Antão Gonçalves [Anthony Gonsalves] became a leading 15th-century Portuguese explorer and slave trader when he snatched Africans from a beach in North West Africa. He is also known as the first European to buy Africans as slaves from black slave traders.

In 1441, Antão Gonçalves was sent by Prince Henry the Navigator to explore the West African coast in an expedition under the command of Nuno Tristão. As Anthony Gonsalves was considerably younger than Tristão, his duty was less exploration than it was hunting the Mediterranean monk seals that inhabit West Africa. After he had filled his small vessel with seal skins, Gonçalves, on his own initiative, decided to capture some Africans to return to Portugal. With nine of his crewmen, Gonçalves captured the Africans.

By this time, Tristão had arrived at the same place, and the two crews joined together for a purchasing trip, on which they bought 10 slaves, one of them an Azenegue chief. After this, Tristão continued exploration southwards while Gonçalves returned to Portugal.

He embarked on another expedition in 1442, taking the Azenegue chief he had bought the year before. Gonçalves hoped to barter the chief for a number of the Azenegues’ black slaves. He received 10 slaves, some gold dust and, curiously, a large number of ostrich eggs. However, this expedition contributed nothing to the cause of exploration; Anthony Gonsalves at this time had not even sailed as far as or past the Río de Oro.
[Not to be mistaken with another Antão Gonçalves, who coasted the Island of Madagascar at the beginnings of the 16th century]

At the beginning of the settlement of Madeira, some agricultural crops such as sugar cane were introduced, which quickly gave the city of Funchal significant economic prosperity. Thus, in the second half of the fifteenth century, the city of Funchal became a mandatory port of call for European trade routes. The Portuguese Crown and the island leaders began to devote themselves primarily to the cultivation of sugar cane and the export of “white gold” to all of Europe, using slaves to work in the sugar plantations and bringing mills from the Portuguese trading posts in Africa, which meant that they had set up in Funchal elements from the most important commercial cities of the Mediterranean and northern Europe.

The first slaves returned to Portugal by the Gonsalves were presented to the Catholic Pope as a present, who was so pleased that he bestowed a great treasure on the Portuguese Crown. The Pope divided the World and gave part to Spain and part to Portugal, with the instructions that any man they should find who was not a Christian could be made a slave.

The Gonsalves of Madeira owned and worked slaves on their agricultural holdings. But what they are most famous for is they along with the Portuguese Crown and the Pope of the Catholic Church must be held responsible for the Atlantic Slave trade. Because if those first black men were not captured and given to the Pope and the Pope rewarded the King, it is most unlikely the Atlantic slave trade would ever have progressed to what it developed into over some 400 years.

The bye product of all that was when Christopher Columbus married into the Madeiran Gonsalves family. Then was responsible for the death of almost every indigenous person in the Caribbean, cleaning the way for the introduction of African slavery.

So Vincentians if anyone owes the Caribbean Black People reparations it should start with Ralph Gonsalves, followed by Portugal and the Catholic Church. Let them start the reparations and I feel sure that others will follow. But let’s start at the very beginning with that group first.

Of course they will all say, starting with Gonsalves, we cannot be responsible for actions of our ancestors, which is exactly what the British and the Europeans are saying. But if Gonsalves can hold them responsible, then we must also hold Gonsalves responsible.

So Dr Ralph E. Gonsalves, pay up and look big [ger].

DISCLAIMER: The opinion, belief and viewpoint expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinion, belief and viewpoint of iNews Cayman/ or official policies of iNews Cayman/


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