History of Mozambique

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Mozambique was a Portuguese colony, overseas province and then a member state of Portugal. It became independent from Portugal in 1975.


Pre-colonial history

The first inhabitants of what is now Mozambique were the San hunters and gatherers, ancestors of the Khoisani peoples. Between the 1st and 5th centuries AD, waves of Bantu-speaking peoples migrated from the north through the Zambezi River valley and then gradually into the plateau and coastal areas. The Bantu were farmers and ironworkers.

When Vasco da Gama, exploring for Portugal, reached the coast of Mozambique in 1498, Arab trading settlements had existed along the coast and outlying islands for several centuries, and political control of the coast was in the hands of a string of local sultans. Muslims had actually lived in the region for quite some time; the famous Arab historian and geographer, Al-Masudi, reported Muslims amongst Africans in the land of Sofa in 947 (modern day Mozambique, itself a derivative of the name of the Arab Shiekh who ruled the area at the time when the Portuguese arrived, Musa bin Ba'ik).[1] Most of the local people had embraced Islam. The region lay at the southernmost end of a traditional trading world that encompassed the Red Sea, the Hadhramaut coast of Arabia and the Indian coast, described in the 1st-century coasting guide that is called the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea.

Colonial history

From about 1500, Portuguese trading posts and forts became regular ports of call on the new route to the east. "Mozambique" first described a small coral island at the mouth of Mossuril Bay, then the fort and town on that island, São Sebastião de Moçambique, and later extended to the whole of the Portuguese colonies on the east coast of Africa. The square fort at the northern extremity of the island was built in 1510 entirely of ballast stone brought from Portugal.

With the decline of Portuguese power, especially during the period when the crown of Portugal was combined with the crown of Spain (1580–1640), the Portuguese coastal settlements were ignored and fell into a ruinous condition. Afterwards, investment lagged while Lisbon devoted itself to the more lucrative trade with India and the Far East and to the colonization of Brazil. Into the 19th century, a system prevailed of dividing the land into prazos (large agricultural estates) which the natives cultivated for the benefit of the European leaseholders, who were also tax-collector for each district and claimed the tax either in labour or produce, a system that kept the sharecropping farmers in a state of serfdom. Direct Portuguese influence was limited. On the coast between several native ports of call and Madagascar a large surreptitious trade in slaves was carried on until 1877, supplying slaves for Arabia and the Ottomans. European traders and prospectors barely penetrated the interior regions, until the Transvaal gold rush. The commercial and political importance of Mozambique was eclipsed by Lourenço Marques.

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