The Platform DAM – Digital African Memory in Portugal aims to research the history and influence of African presence in Portugal. By mapping and compiling disperse and concealed information on a set of public and private archives, DAM looks to historically accompany this absent presence, underlining its scientific, artistic, political, and socio-cultural contributions until today. And, as such, contributing to: i) memorialize historical processes, moments and places relevant for the history of African and black presence in Portugal; ii) encourage future research in various knowledge fields; iii) inform and amplify the scope of the tours held by Batoto Yetu Portugal in the spaces of memory of African and black presence in the country.
OUT OF AFRICA
The arrival of African populations is a constant in Portuguese history, first of all due to the proximity of the Iberian Peninsula to the north of the African continent through the Strait of Gibraltar – one of the first routes used by modern humans in migrating from Africa to Eurasia, that is estimated to have happened from the final stage of the Upper Paleolithic, about 45.000 years ago.[i] In Portugal, testimonies of the Paleolithic can be found today in the Côa Valley, with a set of rock engravings painted by then-black, blue-eyed populations. To be sure, recent debates have been pointing out for a pan-african theory of modern human development, arguing that the evolution of homo sapiens had been contemporary in the African continent – from Ethiopia to Congo, from Morocco to South Africa – to subsequently spread throughout the rest of the globe, via the straits of Bab-el-Mandeb, Sicily, Gibraltar and the Sinai Peninsula,[ii] in a process that became known as Out of Africa.[iii] Groups formed by seventy to ninety people, comprised by wise men in good physical condition, warriors, hunters, women in their fertile period, children capable of long distance traveling, is the number predicted as sustainable to succeed while migrating in search of new places to live and chasing large herbivore herds.
If this presence has led indelible genetic traces in the Iberian Peninsula, the later trade relations or passage and permanency of black people from north Africa and the Middle east such as Phoenicians (VIII b.c.) and Iberos (VI b.c.), Egyptians once governed by the pharaoh Taharqa (25th Dynasty) and Carthaginian headed by general Anibal or yet the romanization of the Iberian Peninsula – which brought strong African influences as well as armies with a large African contingent – testify the weight of these peoples and civilizations in the political organization, institutional architecture, technology, habits and writing in the Iberian Peninsula.[iv] Furthermore, the several moorish caliphates composed by arab, amazigh and islamized persons from the west of Africa – from areas such as Senegambia, between the VII and XV centuries – brought countless important technologic, agricole, medical, social-cultural and linguistic changes and advances, which are translated into present days.
Yet, these contributions remain often invisibilized. Indeed, only after 1492 (the year signaling the expulsion of jewish and islamic elites and parts of its communities from the Iberian Peninsula and the arrival of Cristovao Colombo to north America) can we start finding more consistent information on the history of african presence in Portugal. This happens as the disembarkation of enslaved persons in Portugal – which started in Lagos, in 1444 – increases, raising the number of enslaved and freed black populations in the country, and had a strong impact on the material and immaterial heritage (i.e., architecture, religiosity, music and dance, such as fado or fandango). While the exploitation of people’s lives was fundamental to the accumulation of wealth, black persons from diverse latitudes of the African continent would become a structuring element in the rural and urban living in Portuguese society. The African population in cities such as Braga or Lisbon rose to 10% across the fifteenth century.[v] If it is true that currently the absence of ethno-racial data collection makes it impossible to have an accurate portrait of the African and black population in Portugal, sociologists Pedro Abrantes and Cristina Roldão have estimated that, in 2019, people with nationality from African Portuguese-speaking Countries (PALOP) represented 0.9% of the Portuguese population.[vi] Yet, nowadays, we know that the African and black population is diverse in its origins and that its contributions stretch out to several areas and sectors, from the arts to knowledge production, medicine to gastronomy, construction industry to agriculture, music to writing, sports to water conservation, among many others.
The Platform DAM aims to be a repository of the testimonies of this/these history/histories, Articulating with a set of initiatives promoted by Batoto Yetu since 1996 aimed at the valorization of African cultural, artistic, social and political heritage in Portugal, such as artistic research – namely in the fields of music and dance -, the publication of books, the promotion and realization of visits to the spaces of memory of the African and black presence in the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon and in the Sado Valley or, more recently,the placement of statues and plaques that add the African and black presence to the toponymy of the city of Lisbon. All this aims to inscribe and celebrate the history of the African and black presence in Portugal.
[i] Alcaraz‑Castaño, 2021.
[ii] Padilla-Iglesias, 2023.
[iii] Tattersall, 2009; Wilshaw, 2018.
[iv] Moreira, 2013.
[v] Henriques, 2008.
[vi] However, the authors point out the limitations of their approach since an important part of the black population with Portuguese or Brazilian nationality is not covered by this estimate as well as that not all people with PALOP nationality are black (cf. Abrantes and Roldão, 2019).
ABRANTES, P. e ROLDÃO, C. (2019). The (mis)education of African descendants in Portugal: towards vocational traps?. Portuguese Journal of Social Sciences 18 (1): 27-55.
ALCARAZ‑CASTAÑO, M. (2021). First modern human settlement recorded in the Iberian hinterland occurred during Heinrich Stadial 2 within harsh environmental conditions, Scientific Reports 11 (1): 1-25.
HENRIQUES, I.C. (2009). A Herança Africana em Portugal. CTT Correios Portugal. Lisbon.
MOREIRA, A. R. (2013). “Desorientalização”, mestiçagem e autoctonia. O discurso historiográfico moderno sobre a nação periférica. In M. C. da Silva, Castelos a Bombordo. Etnografias de Patrimónios Africanos e Memórias Portuguesas. Lisboa: Etnográfica Press, pp. XX.
PADILLA-IGLESIAS, C. (2023). Did Humanity Really Arise in One Place?
TATTERSALL, I. (2009). Human origins: Out of Africa, PNAS 106 (38): 16018 –16021.
WILSHAW, A. (2018). Out of Africa hypothesis, in Wenda Trevathan (ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Biological Anthropology, pp. 1-7.