Strategies of Power: Luso-African Donas of Nineteenth-Century Luanda

Saturday, January 5, 2013: 9:40 AM
Chamber Ballroom II (Roosevelt New Orleans)
Vanessa S. Oliveira, York University
The slave trade led to a great deal of interaction between local and foreign people in the Western coast of Africa. The Portuguese colony of Angola was a place almost exclusively for foreign men: they were convicts, merchants, voluntarily immigrants, missionaries, and military and administrative personnel. These foreign men entered intimate relationship with local women who acted as traders and translators, providing exogenous traders with access to commercial networks, especially in the hinterland. These relationships played an important role in the emergence of a group of female entrepreneurs who engaged in business on their own or as commercial partners of foreign merchants, trading in goods and human beings in local, regional and international trade. The most successful of these free women, whether they were black, mulatto, or considered “white” because of their wealth, eventually acquired the Portuguese honorific title of Dona or Lady. This paper focuses on the trajectories of two Luso-African women to analyze the process through which some free local women became Donas. Through commercial and intimate strategies D. Anna Joaquina Santos Silva and D. Anna Ubertali became the two most prominent women in 19c Luanda.