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Discovery of Benin  
1486 mission to Benin


1486 Ruy de Pina: Discovery of Benin - Tr. from J.W. Blake, Europeans in West Africa (London, 1942), 2 vols.; this part is from vol. 1, 78-9

In this year [1486] the land of Benin beyond Mina in the Rios dos Escravos was first discovered by Joham Affom da Aveiro, who died there. The first Guinee pepper came to Europe from that land, where it grows in great abundance. Samples of it were sent to Flanders and other places, and it was soon popular and selling for a high price.

The king of Benin sent as ambassador to King João one of his captains, a negro from a seaport town called Gwato, because he desired to learn more about Europe, whose people were regarded there as an unusual novelty. This ambassador was a man of good speech and natural wisdom. Great feasts were held in his honour, and he was shown many of the fine things of Europe. He returned to his land in one of the King's ships, who gave him on departing a gift of rich clothes for himself and his wife. Through him he also sent to the king of Benin a rich present of such things he knew the king would like very much. He also sent through the ambassador some holy and Catholic words of advice, with a praiseworthy appeal to embrace the Faith, rebuking him sternly for the heresies and gross idolatrous and fetish practices which are so common among the negroes of that land.


New commercial agents of King João went with the ambassador to reside in that land and buy pepper and other things of interest to the King's business. But because the land was later found to be very dangerous from sickness and not so profitable as had been hoped, the trade was abandoned.

1486 João de Barros: The Oba of Benin asks for missionaries - Tr. in G.R. Crone, The voyages of Cadamosto (London: Hakluyt Society, 1937), 124

Though the christianizing of these people of Congo progressed greatly to the glory of God, through the conversion of their king, little profit accrued from what the King did in the matter of the request of the king of Beny, whose kingdom lay between that of Congo and the Castle of S. Jorge da Mina. For at the time of Diogo Cam's first return from Congo, in the year fourteen hundred and eighty six, this king of Beny also sent to solicit the King to despatch thither priests who might instruct him in the Faith. This country had already been visited in the previous year by Fernão Po, who had discovered this coast and also an island near the land, now known by his name. On account of its size he called it Ilha Formosa - but it has lost this name and bears that of its discoverer. This emissary of the king of Beny came with João Affonso d'Aveiro, who had been sent to explore this coast by the King, and who brought back the first pepper from these parts of Guinea to theKingdom. This pepper is called by us de rabo (long tailed) because the stem on whihc it grows comes away with it to distinguish it from that obtained from India. The King sent some to Flanders, but it was never held in as high esteem as the Indian.

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1486 João de Barros: Pre-Protuguese Christian influence in Benin - Ibid., 126-7

Among the many things which the King D. João learnt from the ambassador of the king of Benin, and also from João Afonso d'Aveiro, of what they had been told by the inhabitants of these regions, was that to the east of Beny at twenty moons' journeywhich according to their account, and the short journeys they make, would be about two hundred and fifty of our leaugesthere lived the most powerful monarch of these parts, who was called Ogané. Among the pagan chiefs of the territories of Beny he was held in as great veneration as is the Supreme Pontif with us. In accordance with a very ancient custom, the king of Beny, on ascending the throne, sends ambassadors to him with rich gifts to announce that by the decease of his predecessor he has succeeded to the kingdom of Beny, and to requesst confirmation. To signify his assent, the prince Ogané sends the king a staff and a headpiece of shining brass, fashioned like a Spanish helmet, in place of a crown and sceptre. He also sends a cross, likewise of brass, to be worn round the neck, a holy and religious emblem similar to that worn by the Knights of the Order of Saint John. Without these emblems the people do not recognize him as lawful ruler, nor can he call himself truly king. All the time this ambassador is at the court of Ogané, he never sees the prince, but only the curtains of silk behind which he sits, for he is regarded as sacred. When the ambassador is leaving, he is shown a foot below the curtains as a sign that the prince is within and agrees to the matters that he has raised; this foot they reverence as though it were a sacred relic. As a kind of reward for the hardships of such a journey the ambassador receives a small cross, similar to that sent to the king, which is thrown round his neck to signify that he is free and exempt from all servitudes, and privileged in his native country, as the Knights are with us. I myself knew this, but in order to be able to write it with authority, (although the King D. João in his time had also enquired well into it) when in the year 1540 certain ambassadors of the king of Beny came to this Kingdom, among whom was a man about seventy years of age who was wearing one of these crosses, I asked him the reason, and he gave an explanation similar to the above. And as in the time of the King, D. João, whenever India was spoken of, reference was always made to a very powerful king called Priest John of the Indies, who was reputed to be a Christian, it seemed therefore to the King that it might be possible to enter India by way of this kingdom. For he had learnt from the Abexijs (Abyssinian) priests who came to these parts of Spain, and also from some friars who had been from this kingdom to Jerusalem and whom he had ordered to gather information about this Prince, that his country was in the land above Egypt whence it stretched to the southern sea. Wherefore the King and his cosmographers, taking into consideration Ptolemy's general map describing Africa and its kings on the coast, as was ascertained by his discoverers, and also the distance of two hundred and fifty leagues to the east where according to the people of Beny the country of prince Ogané lay, concluded that he must be Priest John, for both were hidden behind curtains of silk and held the emblem of the cross in great veneration. And it also appeared to him that if his ships continued along the coast they had discovered, they could not fail to reach the land where the plateau promontory was, which is the boundary of that country. Therefore taking into consideration all these facts which increased his ardour for the design of discovering India, he determined to send immediately in the year 1486 both ships by sea and men by land, in order to get to the root of this matter which inspired so much hope in him.

1494 Jerome Münzer: Native priests ordained

King João II sent some newly ordained black priests, whom he had educated from childhood in Lisbon, and appointed them as Christian teachers on the island of São Tomé. It is to be hoped that with time the greater part of Ethiopia will embrace the Christian religion.

Portuguese trade with Ijebu: Duarte Pacheco Pereira, written ca. 1508

The mouth of this river [Lago]... is a very small mouth, and the channel has two fathoms at high tide. And the entrance is very dangerous from the banks of sand, on which the sea breaks for the greater part of the year, so that the channel is hardly visible. And only small boats of thirty to thirty-five tons can enter there. Once inside the mouth, it forms a great lake, which is more than two leagues wide and as many long, and twelve or thirteen leagues above by this river is a great city, called Geebu, surrounded by a great ditch; and the king of this land in our days is called Agusale [=Awujale]; and the trade which can be done here is in slaves, who are sold for brass bracelets (manillas) at 12 or 13 bracelets each, and some elephants' teeth.
[Robin Law, "Early European sources on Ijebu," History in Africa, 13 (1986), p. 246, notes that the Portuguese "rio" (river) must be a confusion with "rey" (king).]


1514 mission to Benin

20-11-1514 King Manuel: to the Oba of Benin on sending priests

The powerful and noble King of Benin: We, Dom Manuel, by the grace of God King of Portugal, of the Algarves, at home and abroad, in Africa, Lord of Guinea and of the conquest, of the navigation and commerce of Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India. We inform you that we have learned from Dom Jorge, your embassador, all that you require of us. His coming to us has helped us very much to appreciate the good will you declare to have for the things of our service. We were very pleased with all that he told us about your good will.

Certainly, since we desire that all your affairs prosper, you are right in doing what helps our affairs and service, just as if they were your own. For never, thanks be God, I know of no king, whether in Guinea or India or more distant places, who has regretted having friendship with us; rather they have always continued and do continue to nourish it the more and preserve it themselves along with us, with the good actions which we do for them, just as we will be pleased to do with you, if with regard to our affairs you do what you should as a king who is a friend of ours, as we believe that your are, given the fact that in past years we have had different information and we saw it in action.

Yet it is never our will to refuse to receive our friends and servants into our friendship and service when they admit their errors with fidelity and truth and they turn to us, after the example of what our almighty Lord God always does to those who wander and go against him [....] We have sent our men and arms to other places much further away in order to serve God our Lord by spreading his holy Faith, which obliges us more than any other thing in this world, and by helping the souls of those who are deprived of knowledge of his holy Faith. For all those souls who do not receive the faith of Jesus Christ our Lord will be forever lost in the fire of Hell, whereas those who die with the knowledge of the Faith will live forever in glory and the happiness of Paradise.

Therefore with much good will we send you the priests that you sent for. They are bringing all the things that are necessary to teach you and your people the knowledge of our Faith. We hope that our Lord will give you his grace to understand it and be saved by it for the things of this world all pass away, while those of the other world last forever. I urge you strongly to continue to receive the teachings of the Faith of Chrisitians, as we count on you to do as a king who is our dear friend. For when we see that in the affairs of Christianity you act as a good and faithful Christian, there is nothing in our realms that we will not continue to put at your disposition, whether arms or canons or other instruments of war against your enemies, since we have so many such things, as your embassador Dom Jorge will tell you. We are not sending them now, although he requested them, because the law of God forbids giving them as long as you are [an unbeliever...]

We urge you strongly to keep your markets open and allow free trade, as has always been the case, and to let goods come in and out freely with their ships, as we expect of you and of your friendship. We will very willingly see to it that, as you do so, nothing will come to your or to your land except what is good and profitable. Our secretary, who is very devoted to our service, will always place all your requirements before us, and we will see that they are taken care of.

Written in Allmeirim, on 20 November 1514.

20-11-1514 King Manuel: to Ruy Leite, on sending vestments with the priests - In Blake, op. cit., 114-15

We, the king, command you Ruy Leite, Collector of the treasury of our court, and the clerk of your office to deliver to Bastiam de Vargas, Collector of the treasury of the Casa da Mina, two of the silk vestments, which are made in our treaury, with their albs and with all their appurtenances and complete in everything; and also one cloak of camlet of whatever colour you think fitting; and all this is to go to Beny, and the priests, whom we are sending there, shall take them. If these articles are not made in the treasury, we command you at once to cut them out and make them from such silks as you think suitable in price and colour and also from the camlet, and you shall deliver the whole to the said Bastiam de Bargas; and the bishop of Safi shall bless and consecrate the said vestments. We command you to do this quickly, because theship, in which the said priests are to go, is soon to depart. And by this order, together with the acknowledgement from the said Bastiam de Vargas, made by the clerk of his office, wherein he states that everything has been registered upon receipt, and signed by both, we command the accountants to set it to your account. Done at Lisbon, on 20 November 1514.

The secretary made this.          The King

Two complete vestments of silk and one cloak of camlet, which Ruy Leite has to deliver to Bastiam de Vargas, and which are to go to Beny.

I Bastiam de Vargas have received from Ruy Leite two vestments, namely, one of tawny satin with savastro (1) of black damask with all its appurtenances, lined with buckram and edged with white and red twisted silk, and with its alb; and the other of dyed damask with savastro of satin with all its appurtenances, lined with buckram and edged with twisted silk, and with its alb; and in addition one cloak of camlet with savastro of satin of Bruges, lined with buckram and edged with twisted silk of the said colours. These two vestments and thecloak are now registered by receip under the name of the said Bastiam de Vargas by me Joham de Ferreyra, clerk of his office in Lixboa, on 6 December 1514.

Bastiõ de Vargas
Johão de Ferreira


20-12-1514 King Manuel: to Ruy Leite, to give clothes to Benin ambassador

Ruy Leite. We command you to give to Pero Baroso, a black man who came to us with letters from the king of Benin a capuce and a cloth cape worth 200 reals a yard, red or of any other colour, as he prefers, trousers of heavy cloth worth 180 reals, and shorts of red camlet. Give him everything made and tailored to fit him, which we are having him given to wear. Do not wait for a bill, because it is an understanding between us. By this letter, which you are to show to the accountants, I command them to please pay for the cost.

Given in Almerim, on 20 December 1515. The Secretary wrote it. Also give him a red hat.

a) The King -

The said Pero Barroso received from Ruy Leyte all the clothing mentioned above, made and tailored, as well as a red hat on 22 January 1516.

a) Jorge + Correa.
a) P. + Barroso.

A hood and cape made cloth worth two reals a yard, a pair of trousers of heavy material worth 170 reals a yard, shorts of a red camlet and a red hat, to Baroso, who came with letters from the king of Benin, to your Higheness and Ruy Leite.

Received Y. da Fonseca.


20-10-1516 Duarte Pires to King Manuel, on reaction of Oba to mission

Most high and powerful King, the Prince, our Lord, whose royal status may God increase.

Lord, your Highness will know how Pero Baroso gave me a letter from your Highness, with which I much rejoiced because your Highness remembered such a poor man as I am. And now I give your Highness an account regarding the letter which you sent to me. Lord, regarding what you say that I am on very good terms with the king of Benin, it is very true, because the king of Benin was very happy with the good that I spoke of your Highness and wants to be your very close friend. He speaks of nothing else but of the affairs of our Lord and of yours and takes great pleasure in them, both he and his officials and his people. Your Highness should know how well the king of Benin has treated us for love of your Highness. He gives us every honour and places us at table to eat with his son; he hides nothing in his palace from us, but keeps all the doors open.

Lord, when these fathers reached Benin the pleasure of the king of Benin was too great to be told; the same for all his people. He sent for them at once and they stayed with him during a whole year of war. The fathers and we reminded him of the embassy of your Highness, and he answered that he was very satisfied with that, but, since he was at war, he could not do anything until he returned to Benin, because he needed to take his time to think of such a great mystery as this. As soon as he was in Benin he would fulfil what he promised your Highness and that he would act in a such a way as to give much pleasure to your Highness and to your whole kingdom. And so at the end of one year, in the month of August, the king gave his son and some of the greatest officials of his kingdom, so that they might become Christians. He also had a church built in Benin. The fathers made them Christians right away and taught them to read, which your Highness should know that they learn very well. Lord, the king of Benin hopes to finish his war this summer and we shall return to Benin and give your Highness an account of everything that happens.

Lord, I, Duarte Pirez and Johão Sobrynho, a resident of the island of Principe, and Gregorio Lourenço, a black man and formerlly the servant of Francysquo Lourenço, all remain in the service of your Highness and have made proposals on your behalf to the king of Benin, and have described to him what a great Lord your Highness is and how you can make him a great lord.

Written in this war, on 20 October 1516.
Duarte + Pirez.


1517 mission to Benin

24-8-1517 João Fialho to António Carneiro: three priests sent from São Tomé

Lord, Friar Diogo Bello arrived on this island the eve of Pentecost [=30 May] and he was received by all the clergy and and people in the island with great festivity, to conduct the holy crusade. He stayed there until today, which is the 24 of August, when he leaves for Benin on one of your ships called São Pedro, which I entirely renovated, not leaving a single plank untouched, after which this was its first voyage.

He was well received and kindly treated, as your Mercy commanded me. I gathered that he appropriated from the estates of people who died intestate a share of more than 100,000 reals in money and nearly 40 slaves. He left the money and the slaves on this island until his return from Benin.


Lord, he took three fathers with him, principally Jeronjmo Priez, of whom I wrote to your Mercy, whom he took as chaplain and curate, whom the people were expected from your Mercy because he was good and they had confidence in him; Priez went along to assist him. Also he took along Jeañes, a cleric who had come from Benin. Certainly he is going with the intention of making the king a Christian, even though the king does not rule alone but only through two other captains, since he is a boy and is under their power. So your Mercy should send a chaplain to preach to him and stay on the island, since I do not know when Diogo Bello will return.

I do not say more to your Mercy, but, only that this man, as a newcomer, intervened a little strongly in the affairs of the Church and maintained that no one had authority except himself and the bishop of Funchall, and other things which it is not necessary to repeat. At the present the church is being rebuilt with white wood and I ordered more than there was because, as I explained to your Mercy, all the red died wood which we had got burned. He took all the money which was left by the death of Catarina dAgujar, which your Mercy commanded to remain there, saying that, since she left all to be spend for her soul, it all belonged to the holy crusade. And I say not only this, but that what she left for our Lady he wishes to take, even though it was all established to be spent for the cause of our Lady and the spiritual well-being of this island.

Nigeria: Main Entrance


Written today, 23 August 1517

The servant of your Mercy,
a) Y.o Fialho.

On the back: from Joham Fialho, who came by way of Mina.
Address: For the very virtuous Lord, the Lord António Carneiro etc. secretary of the King our Lord.

27-8-1517 António Pires to António Carneiro

Leaving Sam Vicente, Friar Diogo Bello, Vicar of the Island of São Tomé, arrived with the crusade, as your Mercy should know, and he gave the cross to those he met by chance and did so much better to those who died with good wills and he did not meet. In this, Lord, he entered the farm of Joam dAguyar and it did me no good to say that it belonged to your Mercy and that the King had made you a gift of it. As for this, Lord, may your Mercy provide as you may please. Of all the slaves, he got nine with two children.

The outcome of the crusade was less than expected, even though the Vicar greatly desired to have two very good carpenters who are serving your Mercy. And so he got 10,000 reals of the money, which is a fifth part.

The Lord Vicar said that if your Mercy has any plan, you should say what it is and he will carry out everything, even though he is only waiting for a ship to appear from the Rios [Benin] coming to the island of São Tomé to despatch all these slaves. I take care that the number will not be less, going before his departure for Benin, even though this is very proximate. Therefore, Lord, it must be said that the São Pedro was in dry dock and was put to sea on the 15th of this August and will leave with the intention of pleasing God to the last. Therefore, Lord, it seems I should stay here until his return. Therefore, may your Mercy order what you want to be done, because otherwise the excommunications will be so many as to make most people afraid, unless your Mercy settles the matter and commands the slaves to be sent, who are now more than thirty and worth 9,000 reals.

Likewise, Lord, the ships are now going well equipped. One left Benin on the 8th of this August to Oliveyra with 170 slaves. So, Lord, I said to Joam Fyalho that your Mercy ordered him to buy all the ivory that he could, and he brought 180 tusks for 1,623 marks, which is a little less than the cost of a slave.


Failure of these missions

João de Barros: King not converted; slave trade banned, 124-5.

As this kingdom of Beny was near the Castle of S. Jorge da Mina and as the negroes who brought gold to that market place were ready to buy slaves to carry their merchandize, the King ordered the building of a factory in a port of Beny, called Gato, whither there were brought for sale a great number of those slaves who were bartered very profitably at Elmina, for the merchants of gold gave twice the value obtainable for them in the Kingdom.

But, as the king of Beny was very much under the influence of his idolatries, and sought the priests rather to make himself powerful against his neighbours with our favour than from a desire for baptism, he profited little from the ministrations of those sent thither. On this account they were recalled, and also the officers of the Factory, for the place was very unhealthy, and among the persons of note who died was this João Affonso d'Aveiro, the first to establish it.

However for a considerable time afterwards, both during the life of Dom João and of Dom Manuel, this sale of slaves continued from Beny to Elmina, for ordinarily the ships that left this Kingdom went to Beny to buy the slaves, and then carried them to Elmina, until this trade was altered on account of the great inconveniences which arose. A large caravel was wont to sail from the island of São Thomé, where the slaves of the coast of Beny joined those from the kingdom of Congo, because all the vessels that sailed to those parts called there, and this caravel carried them from the island to Elmina.

But the King, D. João the Third, our Lord, who was then reigning, perceived that these pagans who were in our power passed into the hands of infidels once more, so that they lost the merit of baptism, and their souls were damned eternally; accordingly as a very Christian prince, ever more mindful of the salvation of souls than of the profits of his treaury, he ordered the cessation of this trade, although he suffered great loss by this act. And by this means there were brought into the fold of the faithful more than a thousand souls, all of whom, a year before this holy precept, were in perpetual servitude to the devil, and either remained in their original condition or became Muslims when, through the barter between the Moors and the negroes of the province of Mandinga, they came under the power of the former. For this work, done in His praise, God immediately rewarded the King: because he had placed the salvation of these heathen souls above the gaining of much gold in the slave market, another mine was found below the city of S. Jorge from which have flowed great quantities of gold down to the present time, much exceeding what he would have obtained by the sale of slaves.


1538-9 mission to Benin

3-8-1539 Missionaries to João III

The Fathers, Master Miguel of the habit, Friar Antonio and Friar Francisco of the Order of St. Francis, whom your Highness sent to the king of Benin for information of conscience and matters of our holy Catholic Faith, have been there for more than a year and want to inform your Highness that they have no confidence at all in the pretended arguments of that king to be converted to Christianity, but he is now persevering more than ever in his human sacrifices, with idolatrous practices and diabolical invocations day and night, and in dedicating his people twice a day to the Enemy of man, which is the devil. Sometimes he sends for us while he is anointed with human blood and many other superstitions, abominations and errors that he keeps.

He did not receive us with much satisfaction, because he knew that we were not bringing him temporal advantages. Despising spiritual advantages, he never values them as he should were he to know them. The favour that your Highness did in sending him your letter, which, kissing and bowing our heads we gave him with much respect, he did not receive as he should have, but threw it into a basket or box which he had on his left and did not open it until three months later, and he then called us. He keeps us under guard as guests in houses of gentiles with many idols and fetiches, where all pass over us night and day. Because of the many disturbances, noise and lack of peace we cannot recite our daily office. All we had has been stolen and we have been badly treated and insulted by his men.

We preached to him concerning the affairs of the Faith and his dangerous situation, because of which he abhorred us so much that he has not seen us for a long time. And if we try to see him, he cuts us off by the root. And if we go out to walk he orders us to stay indoors, and, what is worse, if we don't know how he treats his own men, they shut the door in our face and sometimes beat us. Our life her is to sell all that we brought to save our lives from hunger, which is very rampant here because of the dryness of this year and because we receive little or no charitable help from anywhere, except from your Highness, and even of that the French robbed us of all that you sent us last year, which was to come to us in the commercial ships, which they robbed. For these and other reasons we asked him to let us depart with a reply to the letter of your Highness, but he refused and said that we could not leave this place without an ambassador of your Highness to carry his letter, and he wanted to say that we are his captives, which is true because of the guards that he keeps over us, and we cannot go out of the city. By these and other things and by the hunger which we suffer he is killing us little by little. We do not want to ask him for anything, since he knows our needs, and if we tell him that he robbed us, he tells us publicly before everybody that we are lying.

The letters of your Highness, which we offered him through his boys, he did not want to accept, but rather forbad their teacher, Afonso Añes, a Christian captive, to teach them with these letterssince they do not know the things of the Faith. He commanded Gregorio Lourenço, a native Christian, not to baptize his children and women, asking who had him permission to do so. The king asked for the cross and and image of our Lady, and these were taken to him with much pomp and the priests in their vestments. After seeing this, sitting on a throne on a three-step platform, he touched everything with his hands, and had the crucifix put on the step where he put his feet. He did this for Antonio, who had become a Christian in the island where he was before, for which reason we drew him to ourselves.

The king had been told something of the mystery of the cross, and here it was said that he had become a Christian with his other brothers through the Fathers who came in the past, but had turned back to idolatry. He is so tyranical and astute in diabolical things that these things cannot be removed from him, and he is not trustworthy in his promises and words. He is happy at all the evil that he sees happening to the Christians, because of which we are so badly treated and were in such grave suffering that it was a miracle that we escaped and and now, with the coming of these ships, we wanted to ask him permission, but he would not listen to us and sent us to his pilots, who insulted us much by words and deeds. So we turned back with much shame to our prison where we are closer to death than to life. Yet we rejoice in this if it bears fruit through Christ.

Since the said Fathers request of your Highness, by the wounds of Christ, to help them and to send an armada to that Rio through the French who come there, which its captain should lead as a regiment to rescue us from here, or by way of the island, if it can be done faster, since we are afraid that if his fetich tells him to sacrifice us he will do so. Although we can lose our bodies, let him not put us in the risk of losing our souls, because of the human weakness that we sense and the custom they have of badly treaing all the ambassadors of the kings that write to him, as he did to those of Labida and of Arda and many othersapart from the Christian kings that hold captives. your Highness can correct them all, since God has made you so victorious and triumphant in the affairs of our Catholic Faith. And now may he lengthen your life and royal estate for his service. Amen.

The 30th of August 1539.
From those requesting of your Highness
aa) Michael Magro. frey Amtonio. frey Francisco.

On the back: For the King, our Lord etc.
Sender: From the preacher of the kingdom of Benin.

Late 16th century, Anonymous Portuguese sea captain: The situation in Benin

To understand the negro traffic, one must know that over all the African coast facing west there are various countries and provinces, such as Guinea, the coast of Malageta, the kingdom of Benin, the kingdom of Manicongo, six degrees form the equator and towards the south pole. In the hinterland there are many tribes and negro kings here and also communities which are partly Muslim and partly idolaters. These are constantly making war among themselves. The kings are worshiped by their subjects, who believe that they come form heaven, and speak of them always with great reverence, at a distance and on bended knees.

Great ceremony surrounds them, and many of these kings never allow themselves to be seen eating, so as not to destroy the belief of their subjects that they can live without food. They worship the sun, and believe that spirits are immortal, and that after death they go to the sun.

Among others, there is in the kingdom of Benin an ancient custom, observed to the present day, that when a king dies, the peole all assemble in a large field, in the centre of which is a very deep well, wider at the bottom than at the mouth. They cast the body of the dead king into this well, and all his friends and servants gather round, and those who are judged to have been most dear to and favoured by the king (this includes not a few, as all are anxious for the honour) voluntarily go down to keep him company. When they have done so, the people place a great stone over the mouth of the well, and remain by it day and night. On the second day, a few deputies remove the stone, and ask those below what they know, and if any of them have already gone to serve the king; and the reply is, No. On the third day, the same question is asked, and someone then replies that so-and-so, mentioning a name, has been the first to go, and so-and-so the second. It is considered highly praiseworthy to be the first, and he is spoken of with the greatest admiration by all the people, and considered happy and blessed. After four or five days all these unfortunate people die. When this is apparent to those above, since none reply to their questions, they inform their new king, who causes a great fire to be lit near the well, where numerous animals are roasted. These are given to the people to eat, and he with great ceremony is declared to be the true king, and takes the oath to govern well.

The negros of Guinea and Benin are very irregular in their eating, because they never eat at fixed hours and eat four or five times a day. Their drink is water or palm wine.

They have no hair, but only some tufts on their heads which do not grow. The rest of their bodies has no hair at all.

They live long, even to 100 years, always in good shape and except at certain times of the year, when they feel ill, as when they have fever. Then they have themselves bled and they get well, since blood is the major factor in their treatment.

In the interior there are some superstitious negros who worship the first thing they see in the day.

There grows on this coast a spice called malagueta, very much like Italian millet, but with a strong taste like pepper. Another species of very strong pepper grows there, twice as strong as that of Calcutta which we Portuguese are familiar with. That is because it has a seed that can be preserved when dry; we call it cauda pepper; it is much like the cúbebas in appearance, but its taste is so strong that one ounce of it has the same effect as a pound of ordinary pepper. Although its export from the coast is forbidden under the most severe penalties, it is smuggled out and sold in England at double the price of ordinary pepper. This prohibition stems from the fear of the King our Lord that this plant might displace the large quantity of pepper coming every year from Calcutta; so he decided to take some step to regulate the trade. There is another tree that produces long pods like those of beans, with some seeds inside, which have no taste, but when chewed they have a delicate taste like that of ginger. The negroes call it unias, and they use it as seasoning, together with the said pepper, when they eat fish, which they are so very fond of.

Likewise the king has forbidden making soap from ash and palm oil. That product is strong in making the hands white; it likewise makes linen cloth twice as white as ordinary soap.


1571-4 mission to Warri

1620 Pedro da Cunho: Ad limina report

Besides these three islands, there is a town of Christians on the continent in the kingdom of Warri, called St. Augustine, because its people first received the Faith from religious of the Hermits of St. Augustine. One of them, called Brother Franciscus a Matre Dei, baptized the present king at the time he was still a prince and successor designate. He gave him the name Sebastian, after the then king of Portugal. That religious was a truly apostolic man, and had such authority over the barbaric people that in front of them, to the great amazement of all, he destroyed a tree that was very popular for incantations and diabolic superstitions among them. For they thought it would be impossible for their gods to put up with such an insult and that the religious himself who was the author of the insult could survive unpunished, as he did. After this religious went back, the bishops of that time agreed to sent a priest to the king to reside with him and exercise the work of pastor.

27-9-1584 Diogo da Encarnação: Appeal for priests

There is another king in Rio Forcado [= Warri] who is already Christian, but is calling for priests, because he has none in his kingdom.

14-12-1584 Diogo do SS. mo Sacramento: The same

There is another king of what is called Rio Forcado, which is in alliance with the Priester John and Congo, who is already Christian. He also calls for priests so that they can do baptisms in his kingdom.

28-9-1597 Consulta da Mesa da Consciencia e ordens: On report of Francisco de Vila Nova OFM, Bishop of São Tomé

In this Council of Conscience there was examined a letter from the bishop of São Tomé to your Majesty, which is attached to this, in which he reminds your Majesty of the Christianity of the kingdom of Warri and of the great harm it is suffering because of the lack of priests who can say Mass there and administer the holy sacraments. Because priests were not found who would accept to reside and stay in that kingdom because the land is very unhealthy and subject to the plague of mosquitos, which are very many and very harmfull, it is fitting, since there are no indigenous priests of that land, that the contractors who go to buy ivory from the kingdom of Benin should bring in the ships going for thast trade some priests for the kingdom of Warri for the purpose mentioned. Since the king of that kingdom is very poor, your Magesty should issue a decree of tax exemption for the slaves which the king customarily gives to his officials, paying the ordinary rights for them in the warehouse. Your Majesty should do this so that the Christianity of that kingdom may not be entirely lost for lack of ministers.

Since this letter was examined in this Council, we advise that your Majesty should be pleased to grand what the bishop asks for, since the spiritual fruit of souls is the principal thing you must consider, attend to and be interested in in the conquests of these kingdoms. That is the reason why these conquests were awarded to the kings of glorious memory for them, as can be clearly seen in the Apostolic Bull giving these concessions. So you should command that henceforth there always be priests who will continuously reside in that kingdom and work for the conversion of its people.

Lisbon, the 28th of Setembro 1597.