Stephanie N. Hassell

Postdoctoral AssociateDuke University

Award Information

2011 IDRF Program

HistoryStanford University

African Slaves and the African Diaspora in Portuguese Asia, c. 1539-1750

Enslaved Africans toiled across early modern Portugal’s Asian imperial domains within the Estado da India, which stretched from southeastern Africa to China. While we know that these African slaves were integral to the functioning and survival of the Portuguese Empire in Asia, we still lack details about their daily lives. Africans were historical subjects in their own right: people who had histories and impacted the larger history of East Africa, the Portuguese Empire, and the Indian Ocean trading system of which they were a central part. Their personal testimonies in inquisition cases between 1539 and 1750, an understudied era of thriving Indian Ocean slave trafficking (Vernet 2009), provide evidence of their own life experiences and perspectives. I will utilize these inquisition cases along with other archival documents, examining religious practices, family structures, occupations, linguistic choices, and legal status – and how these changed over time – in order to probe the world in which these African slaves and their descendants lived. My work will explore creolization, syncretism, and cultural retentions – interrelated themes explored primarily in interdisciplinary Atlantic scholarship but also recently in Indian Ocean scholarship as well (Vaughan 2005, Larson 2009). In addition to probing the theme of creolization, I will also explore these Africans’ status as slaves along with their group identification (or lack thereof) as diaspora. Hence this project will contribute the debates on the nature of slavery in the Indian Ocean World as well as academic theories of diaspora. I am affiliated with the Instituto de Investigacao Cientifica Tropical (IICT).