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Alvares, Manuel, 1526-1583, et al. / Ethiopia Minor and a geographical account of the Province of Sierra Leone : (c. 1615)

Chapter 9: The famous islands of the Bijagos heathen, the fertility of their soil, and the character and industry of their inhabitants,   pp. 1-6

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the Falupos, the Papels or Burames, the Balantas and the Nalus. To sum up,
those not aboard the Bijagos fleet cannot escape their claws. They them-
selves say that the sea has no king, just as they have no king, even on land.
When they go on these raids, their boats'are the sort called canoes,
which are constructed out of a single piece of timber. Canoes ride level
with the water, but it is the habit of the Bijagos to raise (the sides) with
two planks we call false-sides, fitted on top, so that the canoes can /f.34/
ride deeper and carry more robbers and loot. A canoe normally carries 22-24
men, each rowing; and as well as the men it carries their weapons. These
consist of a long spear, and some canhacos with iron points shaped like large
barbs and about the size of a small spit, which they hurl while keeping the
spear in their hand and using it like a sword, and also shields or bucklers
of thatch, larger than ours, through which only a shot can pass. They are
adroit that, using only the spear, they can protect themselves from stones
thrown by two or three men, without being hit by a single stone, and can
this up.  They also use bows and arrows but not very often, only when essent-
ial. The captain stands at the prow, flourishing his shield and spear, and
chanting (war-songs); and this soldiery of hell row to the rhythm of his
If they encounter two or three canoes from other points on the coast they
not avoid them, even if they are war-canoes, unless they are (overwhelmingly)
stronger.  Hence they say that all other nations on the sea are their chickens,
which is just what the French scum say nowadays of the Portuguese. For the
Bijagos, being followers of the French, tread in their footsteps in committing
Now that I have mentioned the French, I will report a facetious remark
made by one of them on the (Windward) Coast, concerning the wealth of the
Catholic rulers of Portugal. When a native of the Canary Islands said to
that he was not leading a good life and was therefore risking his salvation,
which is the true riches, the Frenchman replied : "What has this got
to do
with salvation? I am trying to look after myself, and I go to sea to do this
since I cannot on land. " Then he added : "For what reason should
I stop
doing this? " The islander replied that what he did was against the
commandment, 'thou shall not steal.?(c) The retort'was this fatuous comment.'
"Haven't we French and your king the same father, Adam?    And did Adam's
make the King of Portugal the only heir to gold, silver and everything else?
Did it deny us the whole lot, though we (too) are his legitimate children?
We go to sea to overturn any will giving such an unfair disposition, since
legitimate heir cannot be passed over and excluded by a genuine probate."l(d)
(c) Facetious saying of a French pirate on the Guinea coast.
(d)  Adam made all his heirs.   Ita   thus according to&7   Joam de Padilha,
familiaris tclose acquaintance 7 of the said Alvares.



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