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Cross Cultural Encounter: The Europeans Influence In Africa

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The cross-cultural encounter between Europe and Africa began as Europe aggressively initiated an era of exploration of Africa south of the great savanna. Europe's curiosity, exploration and greed transformed the history of African people. In the study of the cultural history of Africa, much innovation has been attributed to outside origins and influences. Historians and archaeologists have learned a great deal about the developments that emerged from the European influence in Africa. The age of exploration commences as European powers began new pursuits in geographical determinism toward non-European lands and peoples. Against this background, begins the European discovery, exploration and expansion into Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Pacific basin. In accordance with this exploration, I will consider the impact of Europe aggression on a portion of the globe and how it changed forever the history of a continent: Portugal's impact on Africa.

Discovery and Exploration

Just a few short centuries after the country's birth, Portugal became the world's foremost naval power. Portuguese ships sailed all across the world, discovered new routes and started colonies. They influenced many countries worldwide during the height of their empire, but none like their colonies in West Africa. They brought both good and bad to West Africa, including their culture, Christianity, agriculture, and slavery.

European mariners were the agents of the encounters among the many peoples of Africa. To understand why the trans-oceanic voyages took place one must first understand Europe's economic growth, one must understand the rise of bureaucratic states, the pace of technological innovation, intellectual and religious turmoil and the continuing crusading tradition of the late medieval period.

European exploration, colonization and conquest was set in motion by the breakup of the Mongol empire and the growth of the Ottoman Empire which had blocked Europe's overland trade routes to the East. Our textbook's author, Gloria Fiero, states in Humanistic Tradition, Volume III, " In 1453 the formidable armies of the Ottoman Empire captured Constantinople, bringing a thousand years of Byzantine civilization to an end. At the height of Ottoman power, as the Turkish presence in Southwest Asia threatened threatened the safety of European overland caravans to the East, Western rulers explored offensive strategies: warfare against the Turks and the search for all Ð'-water routes to the east. Natural curiosity and greed for gold, slaves, and spices- the major commodities of Africa and Asia- also encouraged the emerging European nations to compete with Arab and Turkish traders for control of foreign markets and, thus, to seek faster and more efficient routes to East Asia." (2006, p.135) The search for new trade routes, the rise of merchant capitalism, and the desire to exploit the potential of a global economy initiated the European Age of Discovery.

Wikipedia states, " During the fifteenth century, Prince Henry Ð''the navigator', son of King John I, planned to acquire African territory for Portugal. Under his inspiration and direction, Portuguese navigators began a series of voyages of exploration which resulted in the circumnavigation of Africa and establishment of Portuguese sovereign rights wherever its navigators landed, but these were not exercised in the south of the continent." (2006)

The motivations for exploration were common to other European nations. The pursuit of economic gain by trade, the acquisition of land, fishing and the availability of timber and gold and silver served as the impetus for commercial expansion and an explosion of European capitalist enterprise. Wikipedia notes, "It was the Portuguese hope that the Islamic nations could be bypassed by trading directly with West Africa by sea. It was also hoped that south of the Sahara, the states would be Christian and potential allies against the Muslims and Maghreb. The Portuguese navigators made slow but steady progress, each year managing to push a few miles further south, and in 1434, the obstacle of Cape Bojador was overcome. Within two decades, the barrier of the Sahara had been overcome and trade in gold and slaves began in what is today Senegal. Progress continued as trading forts were built at Elmina and Sao Tome e Principe became the first sugar producing colony. In 1482, an expedition under Diogo Cao made contact with the Kingdom of Kongo. The crucial breakthrough was in 1487 when Batholomeu Dias rounded (and later named) the Cape of Good Hope and proved that access to the Indian Ocean was possible. In 1498, Vasco da Gama made good on this promise by reaching India." (2006)

Luciano Amaral writes, "The explorations along the African coast had two main objectives: to have a keener perception of how far south Islam's strength went, and to surround Morocco, both in order to attack Islam on a wider shore and to find alternative ways to reach Prester John. But the major navigational feat of this period was the passage of Cape Bojador in 1434, in the sequence of which the whole western coast of the African continent was opened for exploration and increasingly (and here is the novelty) commerce. As Africa revealed its riches, mostly gold and slaves, these ventures began acquiring a more strict economic meaning. And all this kept on fostering the Portuguese to go further south, and when they reached the southernmost tip of the African continent, to pass it and go east. And so they did. Bartolomeu Dias crossed the Cape of Good Hope in 1487 and ten years later Vasco da Gama would entirely circumnavigate Africa to reach India by sea. By the time of Vasco da Gama's journey, the autonomous economic importance of intercontinental trade was well established." (2006)

Expansion For Economic Gain

Portugal expanded its maritime efforts as a result of the threat to its commerce that had developed rapidly after the crusades, especially the trade in spices. With trade threatened by pirates and the Turks, who closed off most of the overland routes and subjected the spices to heavy taxes, the Portuguese led the way in this quest for a number of reasons: Portugal's location on southwestern edge of the European landmass placed the country at the maritime crossroads between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, Portugal, a small country led by military aristocracy, sought new fields of action overseas, Portuguese kings were motivated by a deeply held belief that their role in history was as the standard-bearers of Christianity against the Muslims, and finally, Portugal's kings encouraged maritime activities. They had formed a Portuguese navy and encouraged the

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