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«Social cleavages in the last Portuguese colonial empire Maria Eugénia Mata1 Abstract Social cohesion in the Portuguese colonial empire is approached ...»

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XIV International Economic History Congress, Helsinki 2006, Session 22

Social cleavages in the last Portuguese colonial empire

Maria Eugénia Mata1


Social cohesion in the Portuguese colonial empire is approached through the perspective of

interracial marriages for the 1940s and 1950s. The paper presents the institutional background and

Government philosophy on equality and non-prejudice within all of the territories under

Portuguese sovereignty, and tests if marriage and race were independent variables using annual data from Yearbooks regarding the colonies.

Conclusions demonstrate a social prejudice, particularly in the Asian colonies. The paper supports the belief that social divisions based on ethnicity must be added in explaining decolonization and independence.

Characters: 48476 Key Words: Colonialism, Inter-racial Marriage, Social Cleavages, Portuguese last colonial empire.

1 Associate Professor, Faculdade de Economia, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Campus de Campolide 1099- 032, Lisboa – Portugal, memata@fe.unl.pt. Text written for the Congress of the International Economic History Association, Helsinky, 2006. I thank Jürgen Nautz for his stimulus to approach social cleavages in the Portuguese colonial empire, Joseph Love, José Tavares and Nuno Valério for their bibliographical support and discussion. I thank John Huffstot for correcting my English. All the errors are of my responsibility.

1 The Government philosophy on cohesion for the last Portuguese Empire In the last phase of the Portuguese empire (1940s-1970s), the Government political philosophy for sociability in colonial territories was based on a large propaganda about the respectful relationship of the Portuguese with any other people in the colonial empire along the world. According to political speeches, Portugal was a vast and great nation. It stretched its domain and sovereignty over a vast and wide range of territory that was distributed along all the continents on the surface of the planet. This was a supreme mission to be accomplished, according to J. M. da Silva Cunha, a Salazar’ Secretary of State, later on appointed as Minister of the Overseas: “Providence led Portugal into the mission of bringing all peoples of Europe and other continents together, taking to them the Christian message along with European civilization”.1 It was an honorable nation, who discovered the whole world, departing from Portuguese coasts. This heritage was still present in the Portuguese Empire, made up of a mainland territory in Western Europe, four archipelagoes in the Atlantic (Madeira islands, Azores, Cape Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe), Angola and Mozambique in the African continent, several territories in India, a pearl near China, which was Macau, and the territory of Timor in the Pacific Ocean. So, the Portuguese territory was comprised of several provinces, beginning in the Northern mainland province of Minho (near the Spanish Galiza) and reaching all the way to the antipodes, in Timor.

Also according to the Governmental language, the Portuguese people were a cohesive nation, speaking the same language, Portuguese, sharing the same faith, Christianity, working under the same political rule, the Portuguese administration, taking pride in the same flag, the Portuguese flag, that was unfurled in all the national territory on every continent. There were no ethnic conflicts: “We arrived where we are now, more than five centuries ago, to spread Christianity and to remain”.2 School children were taught that all Portuguese were equal. Whatever might be their birth, their geographical origin, or the color of their skin, they all were equal. As Cunha, 1964 puts it: “So, since the beginning we considered Africans as our equals, in this way eliminating all racial discrimination”.3 The Portuguese culture was a single culture, it was said. Even considering that local conditions might be different, official ideology always stressed that although they might differ, there were no superior or inferior cultures. Miscegenation should be the rule, as nineteenth-century literature accused Portugal of a weakness for colonization stemming from miscegenation: “(…) 2 specialized literature of the nineteenth –century and beginning of the twentieth (…) accused us of a colonizing disability (as was said at the time), because we could not preserve the purity of our race”.4 So, the Portuguese nation, according to the government, was a multi-continental, multi-racial unit based on a Portuguese identity of moral and political elevation: “Portugal will go on being integral with her own features of a State and multi-continental Nation, made up of the most varied ethnicities”.5 Even scholars and academics shared a good deal of this vision. According to Boxer (1961) “It is to the credit of Portugal (…) she made no distinction of race and COLOR and that all her subjects, once they have become Catholics, were eligible for official posts.”6 Although abandoning the thesis of the unanimous religious faith, a Portuguese Professor of Economics could write in an academic work: “We created along five centuries – the most extraordinary, multi-racial, national community of all times, in which merit comes from the value of the human being and not from the color of the skin. (…) Historically and currently the Portuguese nation is, as a consequence, a mosaic of multi-continental, multi-racial populations with religious diversity”.7 Sometimes a “civilization” argument was added, and contradictions about the “non-superior character” of some cultures clearly appeared: “If the Portuguese policy for human relationships in the Overseas territories is impressive because of the vastness of the territories where it applies, it is most impressive because of the purpose of transforming aborigines into Portuguese, as Portuguese as anyone born in mainland Portugal, as it is moral and social elevation that takes them into a Lusitanity, for a complete integration in the Nation”.8 It is a fact that Portugal had one of the far-reaching set of colonies in world history and the Portuguese had a reputation for particularly integrative and intimate relations with the indigenous groups that were colonized. In order to unify all of the territories under the same juridical rule, with the same status, and to prove that they were considered as a homogeneous territory, each one of the colonies was designated as a province, an institutional status introduced in the constitutional reform of 1951.9 In this new institutional framework overseas provinces and mainland provinces were partners in the same empire. However, was this official dominant speech reflecting the truth?

Can we believe in this perspective for the Portuguese colonial empire in the period after the Second World War? The aim of this paper is to test the accuracy of the official language in political speeches during these decades, by observing how different kinds of local cultural cleavages led to different social experiences of inter-racial marriage among the territories.

3 Concerning culture, education and ethnicity, heterogamy and miscegenation were two main aspects to be observed in Portuguese colonial territories. This paper observes that social cleavages can help to explain how there was a lack of cohesion in the Portuguese Empire. Independence also makes much more interesting the study of ethnic and social cleavages in so many countries, having such different features and geographical locations, while sharing a common Portuguese colonial past. For all of them, the paper aims to shed some light for studying them today.

Fractionalization in Portuguese colonial societies (from the 1940s to the 1960s).

A small and thinly-spread white bureaucracy began ruling and representing the central power of the distant mother country along the first half of the twentieth century. Slow economic growth in Portugal could not provide enough financial resources for either the private or public sector to invest in the colonies. However, during World War II, when prices for colonial goods became rewarding again and the Portuguese economy picked up, the mother country moved towards sustainable economic modernization. As a result, relationships between the colonizers and those colonized blossomed into a closer sociability. From this perspective, it is possible to concentrate the analysis of the Portuguese peaceful administration of this last colonial empire in the period coming from the 1940s to the 1970s, which includes the faster economic growth experienced along the Golden Age until the first oil shock of 1974, and a general trend towards decolonization for all the other European colonizers.10 Because of the huge differences in location and size, each of the eight Portuguese colonies formed a separate administrative, economic and political unit, with its own laws, currency, taxes and customs. Although a common institutional framework existed for the whole empire to rule the territories from a juridical and political point of view, different social developments unfolded from the 1940s until decolonization in the 1970s. Splendid statistical information is available for this period. Three Censuses, from 1950, 1960 and 1970 contain long databases on the Portuguese colonial empire. Recall that during this period the ‘winds of change’ began to blow over Colonial Empires.11 The Portuguese response involved a constitutional change in 1951. References to Colonial Empire and colonies were formally dropped from official texts. Overseas provinces became the official terms to designate the non-European territories under Portuguese sovereignty12. At the same time, the economic situation of Portugal proper and its “overseas 4 provinces” improved, and the only loss was the occupation of two small Indian territories (Dadrá and Nagar-Aveli) by India in 1954.

Territories were quite different in size. Note that Angola, the largest territory, was fourteen times the area of mainland Portugal. Mozambique was about seven times the area of mainland Portugal. Guinea was about half the area of mainland Portugal while the other colonies were small spaces. Population and demographic density were also quite different, as Table 1 shows. In the same way, they were made of different cultures and peoples.

–  –  –

Fragmentation was quite evident in the Portuguese colonial empire of the twentieth-century, but it also was different from one territory to another. There was no legal discrimination by race in any place of the Portuguese Colonial Empire, but that did not mean that everybody had the same legal status. Although formal political speeches stressed that all citizens were equal, the available official statistical sources present data according to race and “civilization”, even if in a disguised way. Everywhere, except in Cape Verde, there was a distinction between citizens that lived according to standard Portuguese law and people that lived according to particular regimes. In the African colonies and Timor, this took the form of a distinction between civilized and indigenous inhabitants. People of European origin and literate natives working for the Portuguese administration or in the modern sector of the economy (the so-called assimilados, assimilated) enjoyed civilized status, corresponding to full citizenship. Illiterate natives, especially those still living in the framework of traditional tribal societies, were ruled according to the particular indigenous regimes.

5 The Statistical Yearbooks for the Colonial Empire consider “civilized”, “uncivilized” and “assimilated” categories and also distinguish ethnicity using the label “somatic groups” (grupos somáticos). Table 2 A and B present the data for 1950, according to both classifications, the largest categories indicated in boldface, while Table 2-C reports the weight of civilized. No definitions are presented to characterize these categories individually. This fact may mean that they were quite obvious at the time, and “understood”. Very probably, the color of the skin was the basis for this classification, because this is the most important reason for defection: “ethnic cleavages based on differences in skin color and other physical characteristics should be almost perfectly defection proof, as such physical differences offer very low-cost devices to detect infiltrators”.13 This interpretation was discussed for other Colonial Empires. For British India, for example, Alison Blunt writes that “although Anglo-Indians were “country-born” and domiciled in India, many imagined Britain as home and identified with British life in India. (…) I argue that ideas of Britain as home were intimately bound up with ideas of whiteness”.14 According to other literature, “conflict is more likely when the characteristics that distinguish the ethnicities are more difficult to change”.15 In fact, while differences in religion may be overcome through conversion, and differences in language may be improved through learning the language, differences in skin color are insurmountable, and may have underlay very difficult and costly attempts toward assimilation.

–  –  –

Source: Anuário Estatístico, Império Colonial, 1950.

Of course, some ideological background might exist in the definition of these categories and their identification for inclusion in Statistical Yearbooks. Cultural elements also were present, certainly, in defining marginal cases. As for the distribution of population by somatic groups, tables in Statistical yearbooks consider six classifications, in spite of the official rhetoric of the government: white people (brancos), mixed (mestiços), blacks (negros), yellows (amarelos), Indians (indianos), and Timorese (Timores).

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