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A settlement, and after that a town, on the right shore of the Zambezi River, in what is now the Tete Province, in Mozambique (16º 9'S, 33º 35' E). The district captaincy included the Tete district, which was under the rule of Cuama Rivers or Sena Rivers, dependent on the Mozambique captaincy. The Portuguese settled on the land of the Tonga people, linguistically defined by the nyungwe. The main political chieftaincy in the region was the Nyambanzou kingdom, under the rule of the Monomotapa in the 15th century. The eleven Tonga chieftains that accepted the authority of the mutapa (emperor) remained in power.

By the end of the 15th century, the region was part of the Muslim trading net linking the gold fairs of the Monomotapa with the Indian Ocean through the Zambezi River. It tried to gain primacy of the route leading to Sofala. That was exactly why the Portuguese were attracted to the region in the first place - because it played an active part in the gold trade. A gold fair had probably already been established there by the Muslims.

Notwithstanding some historians have traced the founding of the Portuguese settlement by 1530, it probably occurred on a later date. The first time it appears in the documents is in 1561. In 1572, Francisco Barreto, the governor and commander of the expedition sent by Lisbon in 1569 to capture Monomotapa, built there the Santiago fort. Reports show that the fort was a stone construction by 1590.

Negotiations between the Portuguese and the mutapa culminated in the latter's acceptance to grant to the fort captain the leadership over the eleven chieftains. The existence of the fort and of its respective captain enabled to include Tete within Portuguese rule.

During the 17th century, Tete was the uttermost northern Portuguese settlement in the Zambezi River and the best way to reach the Monomotapa fairs. The goods traded at the Sena trading post went by river to Tete and then moved on to the other gold fairs established in that century, such as Massapa, Luanze, Bokuto, Dambarare, Chipiriviri, Urupande, Matapfunya, Ongoé or Maramuca. The region was also an important diplomatic centre, the junction point where envoys leaving for Monomotapa and coming from it met. When the Portuguese were expelled from the Karanga plateau by the Butua changamira in the 1690s, and as military and political unrest advanced in the Monomotapa the following years, the Tete traders decided to redirect their activity toward the Marave territory, on the North of Zambezi. It was through the newly established Zumbo fair that African caravans continued to be sent to the trading posts south of the river. However, an increased tendency to explore gold mines and to trade within Marave territory (for example, using the Maxinga, Bive, Mano and Mixonga fairs) was noticeable.

The activity of those residing in Tete went beyond trading and mining. Either by resorting to force or through agreements with the African chieftains, they got to control large portions of land. The most representative of such agreements was the one celebrated in 1629 with mutapa Mavhura. In exchange for military assistance, this ruler became a vassal to the Portuguese Crown and handed over a vast territory to Portugal. The area of the district captaincy of Tete was limited on the East by the right shore of the Zambezi, between the Luenha river and southern Chicova. On the west, the frontier was less rigidly traced. It moved along the Luenha, Mazoe and Luia rivers towards the fairs. From 1590 on, these lands were granted to Portuguese subjects, according to the prazos da coroa regime (consisting of a contract lease spanning three generations). In the 18th century, a large part of the territory located on the northern and eastern borders of Tete was occupied by the ruling or the dissenting lineages of the Monomotapa, or was abandoned by the Portuguese in the aftermath of attacks launched against the armies. But as expansion progressed towards the Marave territory, the area of the district captaincy extended to the eastern bank of the Zambezi, between the Lulera river and the right shore of the Mavudzi river.

Because it gave an easy access to the Monomotapa fairs, Tete became one of the most important Portuguese establishments in the Sena Rivers and the second most populated one. By 1590, around 40 Portuguese lived there, in addition to native and Indian Christians. In the 1630s there were 50 Portuguese residents; thirty years after, the number shortened again to 40.

More that any other urban centre of the Zambezi, Tete was particularly vulnerable to the hostilities that came from the surrounding African chieftaincies. Between mid-sixteenth century and mid-seventeenth century, groups of Marave migrants trying to settle south of the river kept the population in fear. The main threat, though, originated in the Monomotapa and took the shape of several attacks against the Tete residents.

In the beginning of the 17th century, Tete was defended by the Santiago Maior fort built by Barreto and by a wall 1 fathom and a quarter high and almost 1 fathom thick. Mud and stone-built, it comprised six bastions with falconets and culverins. By 1686, when the conflicts with the Monomotapa and the Butua increased, the governor of Mozambique, Caetano de Melo e Castro, reinforced the defensive power of the region. Engineers and masons were sent from Goa. A mud wall was erected around the town, comprising three stone bulwarks. The Santiago fort probably incorporated this defensive wall. Two temporary fortifications were also built, a round one and a square one, in order to better protect the population. Some time after, when the Butua changamira threatened the Sena Rivers residents, this system of fortifications was rebuilt. Repair work undertaken in 1704, during the rule of Dom João Fernandes de Almeida, was run by an expert on mud construction who came from India, the engineer Francisco Pereira Valentão. The mortar used in all Tete buildings, including the military ones, did not include lime because it would easily be ruined by the rain. It was therefore necessary to repair the constructions on a regular basis, and to cover the walls with thatch during the rainy season. Located by the river, the fort was often damaged by the floods. The fort did not have a garrison before the 1760s. The district captain and judge or the constable were in charge of defending it. On moments of impending danger, the residents and the slaves were called to fight.

The settlement was on the foothill of a range of mountains, the best known of all being the Caroeira, on the south. The dwellers' houses were irregularly scattered along the hills. The houses were also built of stone and mud, and predominantly thatched; only a few had tiled roofs.

There were two churches: the main one was located in the convent of São Domingues; the other one, named Espírito Santo, was attached to the Jesuits' building. A third church belonging to the residence of the Marangue Jesuits, Nossa Senhora da Assunção, served a parish circa 18 miles away. Under the Jesuits' presence, in 1610, there were four more churches on the surrounding settlements: São Pedro, São Paulo, Madre de Deus, São Miguel, and Nossa Senhora dos Prazeres.

In the 1760s, Tete went through important administrative changes and the urban space became accordingly shaped. A royal order issued in 1761 gave Tete the status of town. On the 31st of May 1764, the city council was established. The district captain and judge was replaced by a commander. Shortly after, in 1767, the governor-general Baltazar Pereira do Lago transferred to Tete the seat of the Sena Rivers government, in order to resist the military pressure of the Karangas over the region prazos and the trade caravans connecting the town to the Zumbo fair. At the same time, the residents' interests were increasingly northward oriented, towards the Marave territory.

The town had its defensive scheme reinforced with two infantry regiments. In 1767, when the company of the garrison of the Sena fort was transferred to the new capital city, a company of Indian sepoys was created. The sepoys company gained new recruits among the natives and was reinforced with men from the Kingdom. It incorporated 40 to 60 men. The company tasked with transporting the annual gift to the mutapa had more than 20 men, and started to take part in the region conflicts.

The new administrative status fostered a number of construction work, especially after the governor-general Baltazar Pereira do Lago visited the region in 1771. The wall surrounding the town, in particular, was the object of a deep reconstruction work that year, one of the novelties being the two gates. The work started under the supervision of engineer António José de Melo, who was at the time the governor of Sena Rivers. By then, the fort, a parallelogram structure, had four differently shaped bastions, and housed the barracks as well as the storehouses built in 1785 by the Sena Rivers governor, António de Melo e Castro. Near the fort, another building, originally intended to house the sepoys, was used as hospital on the first floor while the trading post, the prison house and the warehouses were housed on the ground floor. Other facilities were also built, like the governor's house, the city council building and the armoury. The town population increased and reached the 789 Christians, children included, by 1794.

Due to the materials and techniques used in Tete, few buildings prior to the late 19th century (when lime was introduced in construction) survived into the present. Among them is the Santiago fort, rebuilt in 1942, even if its architecture was significantly changed in 1879. Two engraved stones testify to past events: one of them was found in 1935 and refers to the time when Caetano de Melo e Castro ordered the building of the bastion ("In 1686 was this bulwark erected on behalf of Saint Tiago"); the other one refers to António de Melo e Castro's governorship ("Being the governor of Rios de Senna, Antonio Manoel de Mello e Castro ordered the construction of these storehouses and barracks, in 1785").

ALBERTO, Manuel Simões, "A vila e praça de Tete", in Moçambique. Documentário Trimestral, nº 14, 1938; ALBERTO, Manuel Simões, "A evolução da construção civil em Tete", in Monumenta, nº 3, 1967; ANDRADE, A. A. Banha de (ed.), Relações de Moçambique Setecentista, Lisboa, AGU, 1955; MONTEZ, Caetano Carvalho, "Apontamentos para o roteiro dos monumentos militares portugueses. Praça de Santiago Maior", in Monumenta, nº 6, 1970; NEWITT, Malyn, A history of Mozambique, London, Hurst & Company, 1995.

Translated by: Leonor Sampaio da Silva.

Image credit
Eugénia Rodrigues
Image Legend
Plate marking the construction of the warehouses of Tete Fort in 1785, currently in the fortress of Maputo