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Alvares, Manuel, 1526-1583, et al. / Ethiopia Minor and a geographical account of the Province of Sierra Leone : (c. 1615)
(1990)

Introduction,   pp. 1-7 ff.


Page 4

know whether these notes are actually footnotes or marginal notes; and in
tid
transcript same appear to be introduced at the wrong point. Many appear to
beC
mere reflective   jottings - hence peculiarly difficult to translate since
the!
meaning is often obscure - and these give the impression of having been add{,'
after the text was written.       Moreover cross-references in a number of
not1
refer to later chapters, so were added later, perhaps in an  intended revisioll'
But without closer study I cannot yet decide whether all the footnotes are
late,
additions to the account.
Alvares died in late 1616 or 1617, but since he appears to have been ill
in hi|
later years he may not have worked on his account after 1615, just as he
may not
have forwarded an annual report after 1614.  The failure to integrate the
  16131
report  into the account and the      scrappy nature of many of the footnote;
throughout the account suggest a work which was being revised and updated
     l
minor respects   up to   1615 and whose revision was never cnmpleted.<16>
mT
confirming the later camment on the first page of the  transcript.  We do
not
know - that is, I do not presently know - how the original manuscript reached
Portugal (or for that matter why the manuscript of the transcript was copied
al7'
how it found its way, separated from other Jesuit material, into a seculI
archive).   But it seems    likely  that Alvares never despatched a copy
of h
account to Portugal, and that his manuscript remained with him until his
death,
when it was rescued by a member of the Portuguese trading community in Sierra
Leone and sent to Lisbon.
The value of the text                                                   
     iI
Alvares' text is more original, as well as fuller, when dealing in Part II
with
Sierrra Leone (that is, an area bounded by  the  lower Scarcies River to
North, the   lower Port Loko Creek to the East, and the riverside of the
Sieri
Leone estuary to the South and West). His material on the northern   coasts
ar-i1
rivers  in Part I is partly derivative, and for the Cacheu-Bissau-Guinala
area,:
where he and fellow Jesuits had briefly worked, tends to be replete witt
missionary rhetoric   and pious   stories.<17>   Not that rhetoric
and piety ax
lacking in the account of Sierra Leone, but Alvares had spent years in SierrF
Leone compared with weeks further North, and his account therefore also contains
a large amount of personal observation, mainly of an ethnographic nature.
While'
too much   in  this direction   should  not be expected of a seventeenth-centurv
1i
missionary - and Alvares is not outstandingly perceptive - nevertheless his
|
account  is markedly   superior to the writings of Barreira in its reference
iD
local detail. Of course this was partly due to the difference between writing
edifying annual reports for home consumption and writing a 'geographical
account' - although one wonders what Alvares thought were the possibilities
  f
its   publication.<18>    But   the difference was also partly due
      to  th
personalities of the two men. The elderly Barreira was an old hand in BlacL
Africa and hence distinctly blase about the African background, whereas
Alvares, with no previous experience of alien cultures before      joining
 the
mission, was still sufficiently suffering from culture shock to want to record
and report what he found exotic around him. Yet the whole account is imbuejl
with a proper missionary spirit, necessarily in the style and understanding
or-
the time, so that the modern reader may find many passages irrelevant to
his/her
interest, boring, even irritating - not least of course when they  clash
 with.
not only   our better understanding    of African   societies, but also with
ou1
liberal and relativist prejudices.     The account contains a good deal ol
missionary rhetoric, sane allusive and far-fetched; and chapters 18-24 discus.
I
Christianity versus 'superstition' in such general and moralising terms that'
three chapters and most of a fourth, which include not a single specified
reference to Africa, have been omitted   from the   translation.   Further,
 thj I
African scene is seen through very critical, not to say blindly biassedi
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