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Mota, A. Teixeira da (Avelino Teixeira); Hair, P. E. H. (Paul Edward Hedley) / Jesuit documents on the Guinea of Cape Verde and the Cape Verde Islands, 1585-1617: in English translation

The Jesuit mission to Western Guinea



The Jesuit mission    to  western  Guinea - the stretch of the coast of West
Africa contemporaneously known to the Portuguese as  the   Guinea of Cape
Verde - was eventually in essence a two-man mission to Sierra Leone. From
the 1570s a mission to Guinea was discussed in Jesuit and Portuguese crown
circles - as explained in detail in an exemplary article by Thilmans and
Moraes.<l> But the first party of missionaries reached Santiago in
the Cape
Verde Islands, chosen as the base camp, only in   1604.   Cne man, Father
Baltasar Barreira, pressed on to the mainland. Barreira was an old hand at
mission activity in Black Africa, being skilled not least in handling the
often stormy relations between the mission and the Portuguese civil
authorities. After visiting the area of modern Guine'-Bissau and calling
a conquista of the Bissagos Islands, Barreira reached the Sierra Leone
estuary and worked in, and from, there during the next four years. During
this period he converted certain local rulers and participated in a proposed
cxnquista; he made a dramatic but unproductive sortie inland to the Susu
polity of Bena, North of the middle Scarcies River; and he wrote incessant
reports, letters  and discussion   papers.   (For Barreira 's role in the
proposed conquistas, see my recent article.<2>) In 1607 Barreira was
by a younger, inexperienced and more emotional man, Father Manuel Alvares,
who had also visited the Guine-Bissau area on his way to Sierra Leone.
Barreira 's plan for the extension of the Guinea mission in general and its
reinforcement at the heathendom face, in Sierra Leone, was frustrated by
almost instant deaths of new arrivals - subsequent parties of Jesuits doing
no better than the first party, and the deaths occurring mainly at Santiago
before the missionaries had had time to set foot on the mainland. In 1608
Barreira made his way back to Santiago, where he unprofitably spent the
remaining   years   before  his death   in  1612, trying  to organise   the
establishment of a seminary College and quarrelling with the governor.
Alvares continued at Sierra Leone, and made minor sorties up the Sierra
Leone and Scarcies rivers, until his death in situ in 1617. The younger man
had had to deal with the final episodes in the corxquista fiasco, and
consequently had had difficulty in living up to the early optimism of
Barreira. His reports received less attention from the mission authorities
than had Barreira's, and some were lost, while a very lengthy if rambling
account of the greater part of the 'Guinea of Cape Verde', very detailed
Sierra Leone, which he composed in his latter days, remains unpublished to
date. After his death, the Jesuit mission was represented at the Santiago
base by Father Sebastiao Gomes and Father Antonio Dias, who hung on for sane
twenty and same thirty years respectively, doing a certain amount of
teaching and trying to get the   finances straight.   Two Jesuits   of yet
another party of reinforcements reached the mainland in 1628, but the effort
soon petered out; and after 9lvares' death no further mission to Sierra
Leone was ever attempted. The Guinea mission was finally wound up in 1642.
Barreira's annual reports from Sierra Leone were published, together with
few additional reports from colleagues who managed to produce them before
they died.  These writings appeared, almost instantly,    in  the  biennial
volumes of a series     of letters   from  Portuguese  Jesuits in all exotic
missions, published between 1603 and 1611, and edited by a home member of
the  Society, Father Fernao Guerreiro. The Sierra Leone reports were little
doctored by the editor, but did not need to be, since Barreira well knew
to produce - as Jesuit missionaries were so instructed - edifying copy.
Given the enthusiasm and optimism of the early years of the mission, this


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