Transformed slavery, dependency relationships in the Benguela society from 1850 to 1878

PhD Project

There is a void existing in the historiography of Angola in relation to the development of social and legal dependency relations in 19th-century Benguela society. Despite the publication of important works in recent years, the question still raises many doubts and controversies in different fields of knowledge, above all in the areas of history and the history of law.

Founded in 1617, Benguela became one of the six most important slave outlets on Africa's Atlantic coast. The specific characteristics of its location, a combination of favourable winds and ocean currents, made it even more important than Cabinda and Loango, both north of the Congo River. The slave trade was already Benguela's main economic activity in the 17th century, consolidating itself in the 1780s, after efforts to expand the colony, which were not always successful in increasing control over the 'sobas' in the interior, and consequently, increasing the collection of taxes in the form of slaves.

The scenario after the abolition of the slave trade (1836), characterised by social and economic changes, in some way influenced dependency relations throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. I hypothesise that such asymmetrical dependency relations in Benguela society from 1850 to 1878 had an important basis in the construction of the legal structure, reflected in the documentation produced by the colonial judiciary in the Benguela region. In the survey, we considered the possibility that existing relationships were constructed within a broader Atlantic environment, which included regions in Africa, America and Europe.

With this study, I intend to identify and analyse the dependency structures within the Benguela 'houses', based on the analysis of the inventory processes and freedom actions filed at the Benguela Court. The term 'house' is understood here in terms of a unit that is both familiar and productive – a concept that, moreover, legally structured Benguela society in the 19th century.

The Benguela Court serves as the main focus of my investigation, and the court comes from the old Benguela County, which was created during the colonial period. The collection under its care, collected over the course of more than 200 years, dates back to the first half of the 19th century and consists of several documents, such as lawsuits, newspapers, legal books and codes. Such documents constitute an important body of sources for the study of the history of Benguela and the neighboring regions (Dombe Grande, Quilengues, Caconda, Catumbela and Sumbe).

Main goal

 Identify the dependency structures within the Benguela 'houses', based on the analysis of the inventory processes filed at the Benguela Court.

Specific goal

Identify the composition (family, household, slaves, etc.) of Benguela 'houses'.

 Analyse the social roles, contexts, owners or 'employers' rights, limits on these rights, duration and working conditions and mechanisms for obtaining freedom in the 'houses' of Benguela.

 Understand the structuring of dependency relationships in the Benguela “houses” from different perspectives (local, regional and transatlantic).

Research question

 How were asymmetrical dependency relationships constructed in Benguelense society, starting from the 'house' as both a family unit and in a productive sense in the 19th century?

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