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

Introduction,   pp. 1-7 ff.

Page 5

contemporary-European eyes. But when allowance has been made for all this,
Alvares is to be commended for telling us more in detail about certain aspects
of the cultures of Sierra Leone peoples, especially the Temne, than any earlier
Alvares is fond of quoting fran the Fathers of the Church and from contemporary
authorities on morals and doctrine (more so than Barreira), as well as fran
Scriptures - the hangover, no doubt, of his years as a lecturer. I have not
done my homework on these references, to identify and check them, hence same
the gaps in the translation. Did he take his academic books with him to Africa
or had he a good memory ?   He certainly had same books at Sierra Leone,
he received some, for in his 1613 report he directs the reader to the printed
edition of Jesuit letters by Guerreiro which included accounts of the Cape
mission up to 1610: this indicates a work of which the final volume appeared
1611 and which he therefore probably received in 1612. Alvares had therefore
available a printed account of the mission, with material on both Sierra
and the northern coasts, including Barreira's visit to Bena which Alvares
summnarises in one of the additional chapters, and Barreira's brief visit
to the
'Little Coast' of Senegal in 1608. But Guerreiro also includes a summary
of the
account of western Guinea by Andre Alvares de Almada, written in the early
1590s - still in manuscript, Almada's account was probably copied by Barreira
when in the Cape Verde Islands and summarised either by him, or else by
Guerreiro if Barreira sent the whole account home.  At a glance, Part   
  I of
Alvares' account draws on this summary of Almada in Guerreiro: closer research
may not only confirm this impression but show that some of Almada seeps into
Part II. It is doubtful, however, whether Alvares used any printed material
Guinea other than that in Guerreiro, and indeed there was very little in
at least in Portuguese, and especially on Sierra Leone, that he could have
What then were Alvares' other sources ? Apart from his own brief personal
observations at Bissau and Guinala, and his extended observations in Sierra
Leone, he no doubt obtained oral information from Barreira during the months
they spent together. He similarly obtained oral information from members
of the
Portuguese trading community in Sierra Leone, and from their mixed-raced
descendants or any other local Africans with whom he could communicate, in
Portuguese or the vernacular (the latter, one suspects, via an interpreter).
Since the African included a small number of 'evolu6(e)s', at least one of
had received intensive education and acculturation in the Cape Verde Islands
<19>, his reliance on African oral information was probably considerable.
This is not the place to attempt to assess Alvares' attitudes to Africans,
Moslems, and to woen - or for that matter, to the heretical English, whom
encountered in his latter days when they visited the estuary. Or to investigate
his extreme interest in the Devil and all his works. Perhaps the account
most valuable when it deals with the 'Mane invasions'. It supplies a mass
detail  on  the Manes.    Unfortunately the detail    is often unconnected
therefore puzzling, and perhaps   sometimes  garbled.   It must be    said
Alvares is not the clearest of writers, and his constant moralising at times
erodes the logical sequence of descriptive  passages.   Worst of all are
footnotes. As already stated, these are often scrappy and very difficult
follow. All in all, the account calls out for extensive annotation - I may
be able to tackle this. Perhaps the greatest weakness of Africanist annotation
is that it often displays a regrettable ignorance of the European background.
Alvares was a Portuguese Jesuit, and his thinking must have been permeated
the       thought-patterns of Portuguese Jesuitry.    Or, at the simplest
with knowledge of the Scriptures. For instance, the horror-stories Alvares
relates about the Mane invasions may echo some of Isaiah's fulminations against
Babylon - 'They coae fran a far country ... to destroy the whole   land.


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