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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 11: The Island of Bissau and the nature and characteristics of its inhabitants,   pp. 1-6 ff.

Page 1

Chapter 11

The island of Bissau and the nature and characteristics of its inhabitants
The land is healthy, and its situation is beautiful and pleasing because
of the variety of trees and the abundance of (flowing) water, which the island
has in sufficiency.   It is deserving of general adulation for it serves
who pass this way as a hostelry or inn for their refreshment. Here vessels
are provisioned with water, and with other essentials for the completion
their voyage; and these it has available since it abounds in foodstuffs of
different kinds, such as rice, local types of funde, beans, yams, etc. Also
pumpkins and much wine. There is no lack of cows, goats and hens. Everything
is low-priced but can be obtained even more cheaply because of the kindness
of certain Portuguese who live there. I pass over the buffalo, antelope and
wood-hens found in large numbers; also chocas, ducks, etc. The wild animals
include elephant, buffalo, leopards, wild-cats, sanchos and green parrots.
The supply of fish is as much as the land requires, and the same is true
oil. Everyone there is skilled in agriculture. There are many fairs on the
island, and to these the Balantas bring cows, goats and various foodstuffs,
which the Papels buy from them for iron, Santiago cloth and oil.
The education of their children calls for no comment since it is the
same as that among the other heathen. They all have many wives. No son
succeeds his father; succession to the kingdom is from uncle to nephew,
to a son of the dead uncle's oldest sister. Sons have only what they have
themselves acquired. The King of Bissau is an emperor; he bestows the
(royal insignia of the ) bow and cap on the King of Bussis. Their customs
are barbarous, for a man can have as his wives two sisters. They have
clean eating habits. In the winter season the poor go short in respect of
the necessities of life, but they manage on chaveo and tarafe. They are
all well-disposed and friendly towards the Portuguese, as what I said above
shows. Their system of justice contains great abuses-for they can enslave
a person for little.a) I shall give an instance. A woman asked for and
borrowed /f.38/ something not worth 10 reais from a man. She lost it. He
asked for it back b) She said: I have lost it but I will pay you for it.
(a) They employ 'red water' which they administer to a man as he is
standing up, with his private parts covered with banana leaves.
(b) When a debt is demanded, a hen is killed: where the body falls
indicates which party is guilty and he is condemned.


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