'Brief Treatise on the Rivers of Guinea' (c.1594) by André Álvares de Almada1 is republished now. The full text is also available at the University of Wisconsin Digital Collection. The copy I am using for the transcription is offered me by the Library of the University of Liverpool, to be used for republishing this text and with friendly permission of Mrs. Hair, professor P.E.H. Hair's widow.
The first part ('Translated text') is available via a printed book or downloadable pdf (Lulu.com) - which I hope will be a much more pleasantly readable format than the available scans are now. Later I will also make the second part ('Notes') available in a separate publication.
Andreas Heuijerjans, 2010
1Brief biography of André Álvares de Almada (Portuguese) by Jorge Brito
The present edition
This is a makeshift version of an edition of André Álvares de Almada's Tratado breve dos Rios de Guiné do Cabo Verde (c.1595) planned by Avelino Teixeira da Mota but incomplete when he died in 1982. It consists of an English translation of the Portuguese text, and extensive annotation on the Senegambia and Sierra Leone sections of the account. The circumstances in which the work was planned I have described in a note in History in Africa (1982); and Teixeira da Mota gave an account of his long initial preparations for the series of editions of Portuguese texts on Guinea he planned, in his introduction to the first volume of the series, the tri-lingual edition of Donelha's Relaçao, published in 1977. To the Almada edition Teixeira da Mota would have contributed annotation on the Central section of the coast (Casamanse-Cape Verga), as well as a learned introduction on Álvares de Almada and the manuscripts and editions of his account. Now all we have on the subject of Almada from this outstanding and greatly respected Portuguese scholar is a sketch of Almada's life and achievement in a 1970 article, and a few pages of analysis of Almada's account in the course of the introduction to the Donelha edition. I quote from these below.
It was intended that, like the Donelha edition, the Almada edition should present the Portuguese text and, in separate volumes, translation and annotation in English, and translation and annotation in French. It is hoped that it will eventually prove possible for such an edition to be completed and that it can be published by the Centro de Estudos de Cartografia Antiga in Lisbon, the organisation of which Teixeira da Mota was director and under whose flag he published; and I am indebted to the present Director, Professor Luis de Albuquerque, for the sympathetic discussions he has had with me on the matter. However, it seemed wrong to deny scholars, for a further period of years, material which has been ready since 1975. Hence this interim and makeshift version. An incomplete edition, it has also been reproduced by the cheapest methods and has many consequent defects as a piece of reading matter. But it should still prove of some use to those scholars researching on the earlier history of the western Guinea coast into whose hands it falls.
Teixeira da Mota on Álvares de Almada
"Little is known about the life of André Álvares de Almada. His father, Cipriano Álvares de Almada, was an energetic commander (capitão) on Santiago Island. André was born there, and in 1599 was awarded the Habit of the Order of Christ for valiant services in the defence of the island against the assault of foreign enemy. At an earlier date, in 1581, he had travelled to Portugal and Spain on behalf of the island's inhabitants, in order to seek permission for them to settle in Sierra Leone, a permission which was refused because of the fear that the island would thereafter be totally abandoned. He made a number of voyages to the mainland of Guinea, especially in the 1570s, and he was still alive in 1603. He was twice married, and his descendants married into the leading families of the island. At least one son was well acquainted with the coast and waterways of Guinea, and is on record as claiming to hold the office of Captain of Cacheu." ('Dois escritores quinhentistas de Cabo Verde', pp.18-19).
"Donelha was in Guinea in roughly the same period as was André Álvares de Almada. Almada began his voyages to Guinea a little earlier, and he wrote one recension of his Tratado a little later, in 1594. He must have been born, however, some years before Donelha. Since they both lived on the Cape Verde Islands between the 1560s and the 1590s they almost certainly knew each other. It is possible that Donelha saw one of Almada's manuscripts, but we have not noted in Donelha's account any indication of borrowing. Since their acquaintance with Guinea covered the same period, it is not surprising that their writings contain a certain amount of common information. For instance, out of 99 toponyms in Donelha's account, 55 are also found in Almada's text (which contains a total of 148 toponyms). The more important natural features of the coast (e.g. Cape Verde, Serra Leoa) tend to be represented by toponyms common to both works. But for certain areas of the coast, there are differences in the toponyms which indicate that Donelha did not make use of Almada's writings. Thus, out of 34 toponyms which Donelha records for the Gambia district, only 6 are given by Almada (who records 17 altogether). The score of the two writers for the Beafada district is 14 to 6, and for Sierra Leone 16 to 10 ...
If we compare ethnonyms, Donelha records 40, Almada 37, and 23 are recorded by both ... Turning to African personal names, Donelha again does better than Almada, with 28 against 22, and only 10 in common. But if we count terms for titles of chiefs or social groups, Almada records 22, Donelha only 15, with 7 in common; and if we compare vernacular terms for physical objects, Almada records 25, Donelha only 10, with 5 in common. Almada is undoubtedly the richer source in references to commerce, particularly in the enumeration of products and trade-goods. Almada is also fuller with regard to ethnographic information, which he supplies in more detail and in relation to a wider area ... However, when it comes to the fauna, Donelha is the fuller source, since he specifies 39 items (giving vernacular names for 7), while Almada only mentions 11 (giving vernacular names for 5), of which 7 are in common. To a lesser extent, Donelha has the advantage with regard to the flora, giving the names of 35 items (including 25 vernacular terms), as compared with Almada's 29 (19 vernacular terms), of which 16 are in common." (Donelha, Descrição, pp.35, 49-50).
Almada's account of western Guinea
André Álvares de Almada was born in the Cape Verde Islands (= CVI), apparently c. 1550. The islands had been settled for almost a century. Almada's family was relatively well-to-do and therefore slave-owning. The islands are still today in general somewhat arid and offer few economic opportunities; hence a thin population of pioneering Portuguese settlers was soon outnumbered by African slaves and freedmen descendants, often of mixed extraction. The Almada family, like many others, made a living in part by trading to the mainland; and André's maternal grandmother appears to have been black. Thus, Almada was a member of an Afro-Portuguese society which, despite its claim to be merely 'Portuguese', had already generated a Luso-African group and was well placed to act as an intermediary between European and African cultures.
According to his own account, Almada was involved in trading to various points of the mainland between at least the 1560s and the 1580s. Mainly he seems to have traded in the 'Rivers of Guinea', that is, on the section of the West African coast between the Gambia River and the Sierra Leone River; but he also occasionally traded further North, on the Senegal coast, where the island traders were rapidly losing out to a combination of Luso-Africans, run-away Portuguese Jews, and non-Portuguese European shippers. As a patriot, but one who seemingly had no misgivings about the Philippine take-over of the Portuguese crown, Almada expressed horror at the decline of Portuguese influence caused by non-Iberian aggression, referring both to the situation in Senegal and to the distress in the islands caused by various Anglo-French assaults after 1580. The purpose of Almada's account seems to have been the common one of Iberian pamphleteers in the period, that of offering advice to the Crown on ways of stemming Iberian decline. Almada's account includes many references to the hostile activities - as he saw them - of the French and English, and to the need for the Portuguese to establish new bases on the Guinea mainland. While his loyalty to the Philippine regime and his Portuguese patriotism may have been very real, it must be remembered that he dedicated his account to the Crown's governors in Portugal and perhaps hoped that it would reach the monarch himself. There are good reasons why the CVI trading community must have had reservations about its marginal role in the trading system imposed by the metropolis and why it often took a more relaxed view of foreign traders, 'enemies' and 'heretics' though they might be. But we find nothing of this in Almada's account. Yet his loyalist stance may have been ineffective as far as the account was concerned. It was not published in his lifetime and it is conceivable that one reason was the reluctance of the authorities to have details of the Guinea coast publicised, lest foreigners be encouraged to trade there.
Almada's account is thus discreet about the European aspect of CVI culture and activities, not least the political element - the rivalries between metropolis and imperial periphery, the rivalries within the state, within the church, and between the two, the rivalries within the local government of the CVI. But it makes up for this by being outstandingly informative about the African aspect - the role of the CVI in the coastal economy, and the shape of the mainland societies with which the islanders were in contact. Being a trader, Almada first provides information about the commercial aspects of the European interaction with African trading networks, and hence about the internal economies of the African peoples involved. Since these commercial relations were conducted by means of fairly close contacts with at least the ruling orders, Almada further describes the political structures and rivalries among these African peoples- Finally, since the CVI traders regularly formed settlements on the mainland, temporary or permanent, individual or communal, informal or formal, legal or illegal, Almada is able to supply fairly detailed information on local African ethnography, including material culture and social structure.
Almada's information about the peoples of the western Guinea coast derived partly from personal experience and observation (and is therefore to be dated to the period 1560-1590) and partly from the accumulated experience and common knowledge of the CVI trading community (and may therefore be sometimes of earlier date). The balance between the two is difficult to judge. What is certain, and very important, is that Almada supplies information which may be described as entirely original - in the sense that there is hardly a trace in his account of material derived from earlier written sources, that is, in the main earlier printed sources. In this respect Almada is sharply distinguished from the vast majority of writers on Guinea between 1440 and 1800, these having borrowed heavily (and often unthinkingly and inaccurately) from their predecessors - in the case of later writers, especially from Almada. Almada's information may not be always correct, or comprehensive, or contextually sound, or free from a Eurocentric or other bias, but it is always fresh and undiluted by bibliographical pretension. He seems to have read no earlier accounts. Thus, as an original source on early Guinea Almada ranks with Cadamosto, and towers above virtually every other writer; and the region is fortunate to have been described by two Europeans possessing such relatively uncluttered minds.
This is not the place to attempt a detailed assessment of Almada's achievement, his outstanding contribution to our knowledge of the past of western Guinea. It must be sufficient to say that he is almost certainly the most important single source for the period before 1800, the claim being made for several reasons. First, because, unlike Cadamosto, Almada covers almost the whole stretch of the coast between Cape Verde and the Shoals of St. Ann. Secondly, because the sharp detail of his ethnographic description is impressive. And thirdly, because his account, unlike Donelha's, very greatly influenced later writers -though not always soundly. It is this third point I now discuss.
Almada's account was not published in his lifetime. As a separate full-length account by a named author it only appeared in print in 1733; and not until the 1840s was it fully in print and available, to any extent, in translation for non-Lusophone scholars. Nevertheless it exercised a profound influence on the developing historiography of West Africa. This came about because a manuscript copy of the text fell into the hands of the Jesuits when in 1604 they founded a mission station on the CVI and proposed to missionarise western Guinea. A copy or a summary was sent to Portugal, and in 1605, Father Fernão Guerreiro, preparing an edition of letters from Portuguese missionaries worldwide, with chapters on the newly-founded Cape Verde mission, included a chapter summarising Almada's ethnographic information. To put it simply, this chapter listed the ethnolinguistic units along the coast, giving them the names which in most cases have continued to be used up to the present day. Before Almada wrote, the fullest ethnographic information on this section of the Guinea coast was in the writings c.1500 of Duarte Pacheco Pereira and Valentim Fernandes, but these remained inaccessible in manuscript until the nineteenth century. Almada's ethnographic information was thus a revelation to contemporaries, even in the dredged-up form in which it appeared in the Jesuit publication. Moreover, the Jesuit publication was soon available, so that by 1625 a summary of the summary, translated from Latin, appeared even in English (in Purchas). The Jesuits did not name the author of the ethnographic material, and André Álvares de Almada was forgotten for some centuries. But the ethnographic information from his account, transmitted via Guerreira, echoes through almost all the writings on West Africa between 1605 and 1800, for instance, the compilations in French of Davity (1660), in Dutch of Dapper (1668), in English of Barbot (1732). Failure to sort out the Almada borrowings embedded in very much later sources, so that information on the sixteenth century is uncritically applied to the seventeenth, eighteenth or even nineteenth century, has been a regrettable feature of much of the recent historiography of West Africa.
Texts, editions and translations
No manuscript of the accounts written by Almada himself is now extant. According to a reliable contemporary source, an original manuscript, dedicated to the Governors of Portugal and licenced by Bishop Pedro Brandão of Cape Verde (references which indicate the 1590s), was still extant c.1700. What we now have are single-copies of each of two versions, apparently an earlier and a later redaction, the copies in different hands but neither, of them Almada's. Neither copy is dated but it seems that each was written not later than the early seventeenth century. The two copies are here termed the Lisbon version (being MS FG/297 of the Biblioteca Nacional, Lisbon) and the Porto version (being MS 603 of the Biblioteca Publica of Porto). The copy of the Lisbon version was written in Lisbon. The title page of the Porto version gives the date of the original account as 1594. Dates for the two redactions are not given, but, in the final chapter, '12-13 years ago' of the Lisbon version becomes in the Porto version '14 years ago', suggesting that the redactions are not more than a very few years apart. Hence the account as we have it can overall be dated 'c. 1595'. Differences between the two versions are many, but only a few are substantial in terms of information supplied. An abridgement, with a very few variants and additions (the latter in updating footnotes), also not in Almada' s hand, is extant in manuscript, in a late seventeenth century copy, and has been judged by Teixeira da Mota to date from c. 1596 and to be based on a version approximating to the Porto version. The summary of material from the account printed by Guerreiro in 1605 seems not to derive from the abridged version. However, comprehensive and detailed comparison of the three manuscript versions and the 1605 printed section, not undertaken by previous editors and proposed to be done by Teixeira da Mota, remains to be undertaken.
The summary printed by Guerreiro in 1605 consists of the ethnographic information throughout the accpunt extracted and stitched together, with very occasional additions and changes almost certainly from the hand of an updating Jesuit (it may have been Father Barreira, after his arrival in the Cape Verde Islands). The summary appears as part of the Jesuit letters from the Cape Verde mission; there is no indication that the material comes from an independent written source; therefore Almada is not named. Apart from this summary, the account remained in manuscript until 1733, when the abridged version was published (giving the author's name wrongly, as 'André Goncalves d'Almada'): the publication seems to have attracted very little attention. The full account was first published in 1841, the editor printing an eighteenth century copy of the Porto version and referring to the Lisbon version, yet making almost no use of the latter. Two modern editions have appeared, both with texts in modernized orthography. The 1946 edition follows the 1841 print of. the Porto version, but an appendix gives a number of variant passages from the Lisbon version (in the original orthography). The 1964 edition supplies a text transcribed direct from the manuscript of the Porto version; and many, but not all, Lisbon variants in footnotes. Both modern editions have useful introductions which include details of the texts and previous editions, and from which most of the information above has been obtained. However they are 'editions' only in the sense that they provide and discuss texts, both lacking fuller scholarly apparatus. The 1946 edition has no Africanist annotation, the 1984 edition very little - hence the need for a new edition.
The Portuguese text translated into English below was prepared by and for Teixeira da Mota, in modern orthography, from transcriptions of both the Porto and Lisbon versions, which it conflates, all omissions, additions and variants in each being signalled in footnotes. At the end of each chapter of the translation, I give the variant passages of evidential significance. But the other footnotes, indicating minor variants and their provenance, have been omitted. Since I also do not supply the Portuguese text, this arrangement has the disadvantage that readers who consult the 1946 or 1964 texts will find that my translation does not exactly match either of the versions, though of course the Teixeira da Mota text is not greatly different from either version. Teixeira da Mota prepared, in addition, a transcription of the abridged manuscript, which was to have formed an appendix to his edition. This I have not translated though I refer to it in my annotation. Two further brief appendices were to supply a small amount of additional material in the Lisbon version - a second version of the Prologue, and two long passages (ff. 103-109 v, in another hand) dealing with the abortive settlement of Sierra Leone and Antonio Carreira's attempted journey to Timbuktu. The passages must be translated but are not ready for this edition.
The Guerreiro summary was translated into many languages, as explained below. But the only previous translation out of Portuguese of the fuller texts appeared over a century ago. Santarem, the pioneer modern historian of the Portuguese 'Discoveries', published in Paris a note on Almada, and added an abridged French translation of the Tratado, prepared by the geo-bibliographer Ternaux-Compans. Published in 1842 in a limited edition, the work soon became rare. But (as Teixeira da Mota pointed out) the French translation provided material which was heavily borrowed by contemporary French geographers, to represent the ethnographic present in Senegambia and the recently-founded French colony of Guinee. Thus the referential use of Almada's account, though generally without his name being cited, was brought up into the present century.
Teixeira da Mota arranged for the text he had prepared to be translated into English by myself, and into French by Leon Bourdon. The latter translation was prepared first, and was ready by 1970; and I acknowledge the considerable assistance it gave me in the preparation of the English translation. My own knowledge of Portuguese being a good deal less than fully competent, a preliminary translation was checked by Mrs. Maria Teresa Rogers, then Tutor in Portuguese in the Department of Hispanic Studies, University of Liverpool; but faults in the final translation are entirely mine. The translation was supported by a grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation which is here gratefully acknowledged.
P.E.H. Hair, 1986