EARLY EUROPEAN CONTACT
In about 1432 the Portuguese accidentally landed on Madera island off the coast of north Africa. At about the same time Italian sugar producers extended their production to the island and later (1480) to the Canary islands. Italian merchants supplied the sugar planters with labour, selling to them “SLAVS” (hence the term slave), who were a European people from the Black sea regions of Europe. Of course the term slave came from the word “SLAV”. These Europeans being massively enslaved and sold to the countries of the Mediterranean region. Slavery was a phenomena that occurred in different societies at different times.
In 1440-44 one Portuguese named Diniz Dias landed in Upper Guinea (north west Africa). About the same time a group of Berbers and other Africans were ‘acquired’ or captured from the north/west coast and taken to Portugal as exhibits. Yes the trans-saharan trade in captives was in full swing at the time, and its effects on the degradation of African civilisation equalled if not passed that of the trans-Atlantic. This brutal trade started by the Arabs when they gained access to North Africa (700 AD approx.) did not stop until the 20th century. But it was from the period of the Portuguese arrival that the value of the African as a ‘commercial object’ to be bought and sold was recognised by some Europeans. And so the trade in captives begun. For the first half century (1450-1500), Europe itself was the main market for African captives. Large numbers of captives were brought to Spain and Portugal, where they performed the same duties that they were to perform in the Americas.
“..The enslavement of Africans by Europeans is traditionally held to have started in 1441. Antam Goncalves, a young Portuguese mariner, sailed to Rio De Oro on the coast of Southern Morocco. “O how fair a thing it would be” said Goncalves to his crew, “if we, who have come to this land for a cargo of such petty merchandise, were to meet with the good luck to bring the first captives before the face of our Prince.” Later joined on the coast by Nuno Tristao, “a youthful knight very valiant and ardent.” They kidnapped twelve Africans and gave them as a present to Prince Henry of Portugal. One of the captives, of noble birth, revealed particulars of the land from which he came to the Portuguese. With this intelligence, the Prince sent an embassy to Pope Martin V to state his plans for more conquests and enslavement. Welcoming the new crusade, the Pope offered to grant “to all of those who shall be engaged in the said war, complete forgiveness of all their sins”….. In 1443-4 Nuno Tristao sailed once more down the West African coast. His crew seized 29 men and women from canoes they were paddling near the shore. In Lisbon, the cargo of captives silenced critics who saw the expeditions as a waste of resources. A Portuguese account suggests: “their covetousness now began to wax greater. And as they saw the houses of others full to overflowing of male and female slaves, and their property increasing, they thought about the whole matter and began to talk among themselves”. The Portuguese agreed to fund six ships under Gil Eanes and Lancarote. Their campaign led to the initial capture of 165 men, women and children “besides those that perished and were killed.” Eventually they sailed home with 235 captives…..”
- The African Diaspora-Africans and Their Descendants in the Wider World to 1800 (1987), pp138-139.
- Walker R (2006) When We Ruled, p544
The Ijaws (Ijo, Izon) were the first people in the Nigeria Coast or Niger Delta Coast otherwise known as the Oil Rivers Coast and even the Slave Coast, to encounter the Europeans merchant traders and slave raiders and traders. This first contact was not always cordial. In 1480 the Ijo coastal town of Kula in the eastern delta was visited by a Portuguese merchant. The Portuguese received a hostile reception and turned back never to trade there again;
“…1480 The Portuguese are stated to have first landed at Kula, where they met with such a hostile reception that their visit to that neighbourhood was not repeated…”
In 1485 the Portuguese led by John Affonso D’ Aveiro passed Oporoza on their way to Benin city. In the same year of 1485 the Portuguese issued themselves a royal privilege; claiming for themselves the sole right to trade and acquire captives from the five River Niger outlets, which were Mahin, Benin, Escravos, Forcados and Ramos. Arriving in the Niger Delta, they observed the Ijos, of whom they made various comments such as;
“….Beyond these there are other Negroes called Jos [Ijo], who possess a large territory; they are warlike people…….”
- Talbot P A, (the Peoples of Southern Nigeria) , p238.
- Alagoa E J (1972) A History of the Niger Delta, p80.
- Hodgkin T (Nigerian Perspectives), p123
 The African Diaspora-Africans and Their Descendants in the Wider World to 1800 (1987), pp138-139.
 Walker R (2006) When We Ruled, p544.