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9— 'We are all Portuguese!' Challenging the Political Economy of Assimilation: Lourenco Marques, 1870–1933
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The Origins of the Black Elite—Trade and Influence

During the late nineteenth century establishing control over southern Mozambique's population was as frustrating an endeavour for Lisbon as controlling the area's trade. Throughout the century Portuguese soldiers and civilians, whether deported, contracted, cashiered, or assigned to duty in Lourenço Marques, frequently followed the flow of trade goods and opportunities along routes to the interior.[18] The European population drain from Lourenço Marques was so marked that in 1875 the Governor General of Mozambique prohibited further deportations to the town since those condemned to serve there quickly disappeared into the interior.[19]

Pockets of Portuguese, naturalized Portuguese and Portuguese Indian itinerant backwoods traders (sertanejos ) lived their adult lives hunting and trading in the Lourenço Marques-Inhambane-Transvaal triangle during the mid-nineteenth century.[20] From at least mid-century, Portuguese, Dutch, Ronga and Englishs-peaking traders, many of whom became quite successful and politically influential, also carried out long-distance trading throughout this area.

Most of the Lourenço Marques black elite of the early twentieth century derived from this earlier trading community. Their grandparents had been variously boatmen, caravan leaders, traders on a large or small scale, and clan-leaders. The leading mulatto members of the Grêmio Africano came from this background.[21] The city's wealthiest black women were similarly related to early traders.[22] Their status was originally based on their control and influence over people and property. According to historian Alexandre Lobato:

The social organization of the period . . . was one of a manor type house managed by a housekeeper, a capable Negro or mulatto woman and common law wife. The housekeepers of Lourenço Marques . . . were the native wives of the whites . . . famous mulattoes, mestiço descendants of the founders, powerful people in Mafumo with influential family in Mozambique city. Some were of royal blood, traced to former white alliances in the African interior, and were therefore capable at mercantile diplomacy.[23]

The continuing prosperity of these families, however, depended upon ecological, economic and political conditions in the trading hinterland and upon the changing politics and shifting terms of trade at the coastal entrepôt. Personal relations between hunter-traders and local authorities that developed over many years were the basis for trust and trade. The results of such diplomacy were vulnerable to both political disruption and population movement. From the 1860s onwards Lourenço Marques's itinerant traders and hunters were increasingly hampered by deteriorating conditions for their trade both in the interior and at the coast.[24]

The Gaza civil war (1861–1863) was the first of a number of setbacks for the hunter-traders based in Lourenço Marques. It forced them to take sides and thus compromised their ability to trade with everyone. The spread of famine, smallpox and cattle disease in the war's aftermath 'shattered the economy of the northern and central Delagoa Bay [Lourenço Marques] hinterland', dislocating thousands of people and severely undermining the production and marketing of trade


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commodities.[25] Even the large businesses of influential men suffered severely from the disruption.[26] Trade routes remained precarious into the late 1870s because of winter raids from the south by Swazi regiments taking advantage of the area's weakened and unstable political situation after the war.[27]

The Luso-Gaza wars of 1894–95 and 1897 forced remaining traders to take sides again. Traders who successfully rallied their African allies to Portugal's cause gained stature, while those who failed to do so lost face. Protestant missionaries, including highly esteemed local pastors, were suspected of sympathy with the Gaza elite and several were summarily deported. Portugal had long exploited existing inter-group hostilities in efforts to dominate the political economy of the region south of the Sabi river, but the patterns of loyalties struck during the hostilities of the 1890s continued to influence social relations amongst the area's peoples well into the twentieth century, partially because of the brutal impact of the war and the resulting socio-economic upheaval on the population.[28]

At the level of the international commodities market, conditions were also changing, and successful accommodation and anticipation were similarly important for local traders. In the last quarter of the century, as itinerant trade in ivory, skins and agricultural products became less profitable and more difficult for a number of reasons, the 'changing terms of trade made commoditization of labour power more profitable than commoditization of the product of labour'.[29] Labour recruitment, retail trade with returning miners, and the rental, sale or development of town properties to new or expanding businesses became increasingly lucrative alternatives to hunting, trading and porterage. The development of speculation in state concessions for services, industries and trade held similar promise.[30] While some potential alternative opportunities for the black elite developed as a result of Portugal's initiatives in the area south of the Sabi river, changing socio-economic conditions at both the local and international levels severely undermined the elite's position at the very time Portugal moved to strengthen its hold on the area.

Lisbon's interests lay in increasing the volume of trade in Mozambique and, if possible, increasing its participation in that trade. Its focuses, therefore, were the transit trade with the Transvaal and the circulation of migrant labour. Portugal was uninterested in the well established, but now weakened, itinerant trade. Aside from the burst of traffic accompanying the completion of the railway to the Transvaal in 1895, the realignment of economic interests between the local elite and the state was gradual. Hunter-traders, for example, were commonly involved in aspects of labour recruitment and brokerage long before the state harnessed and formalized labour recruitment.[31] The importance of retail trade with returning miners was similarly gradual in its growth. As early as 1866, the gold-based currency introduced to the country in the form of repatriated wages was acknowledged as an important factor in Lourenço Marques retail trade, and by the 1890s all administrative reports for the area emphasized the strong relationship betyween migrant savings and local retail trade.

From 1870 to 1900, then, Lourenço Marques changed from a quiet trading port exporting the various animal and vegetable products of its hinterland into a bustling commercial port increasingly involved in the interrelated and complementary movement of Mozambique's human resources and the Transvaal's mineral resources. Those people who prospered in the long distance and itinerant trade because of their ability to amass the necessary trade goods and porters, to negotiate safe and rapid passage, and to see to a profitable exchange of goods and services through their knowledge of local conditions were progressively displaced. State-sponsored modern transportation facilities rendered


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their routes uncompetitive and redundant and the nature of trade goods changed, increasingly moving from local to alien control.[32]

These changes in the area's economic patterns set the stage for a struggle as to who would dominate the new opportunities being opened up by the rapid transformation of Lourenço Marques. In the long run, Portuguese metropolitan and foreign interests triumphed and the established trading elite declined.


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