Myth or legend? The Portuguese legacy in the Comoros.
Iain Walker (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg)
Paper short abstract:
This paper considers the mythical attributes of the Portuguese, their influence on perspectives on the past and their relevance to contemporary practices and expressions of identity in the Comoro Islands.
Paper long abstract:
Social memories of the Portuguese raise certain difficulties for those who wish to undertake an assessment of their historical role in the Comoros. Following the voyage of Vasco da Gama, for a hundred years the Portuguese were the only Europeans in the Indian Ocean, and their presence has deeply marked the Comorian worldview. Not only can people point to Portuguese tombs, forts and trading posts across the archipelago, the Portuguese appear both in myth and in genealogies: some myths have them as the first settlers of the islands while those claiming a deep belonging trace their ancestry back to Portuguese immigrants. Residing in the distant past - unlike the French or the English - the Portuguese have a special status in the Comorian historical memory that is manifested in different ways on different islands, but with similar results. This paper explores why they should have left a legacy disproportionate to the reality and what the implications are for claims to belonging based on descent from people who are, ultimately, kafiri - non-believers