Zumbo

Publication Date
2009
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A fair, then town, situated in the former captaincy of Mozambique. It first operated in the island of Meroa, on the Zambezi River, south from the confluence with the Aruangua (Luangwa) River. Before 1723, the merchants moved to the eastern bank of the Aruangua, where today's Zumbo is situated (15° 36' S; 30° 26' E), in the Tete Province, in Mozambique. Finally, in 1788, the fair was transferred to the Mucariva peninsula, at the junction of the western bank of the Aruangua with the northern bank of the Zambezi, a place later on known as Feira and, after the independence of Zambia, as Luangwa (15° 37' S; 30° 23' E).

The origins of the Portuguese fair date back to the turning of the 18th century. Subsequently to the expansion of the Rozwi Empire of Butua to the northeast of the Karanga plateau, changamira Dombo expelled the Portuguese merchants from Mutapa's gold fairs. Some of them established themselves in the vicinity of the Zambezi. The foundation of Zumbo, in order to seize the gold from the plateau, was credited either to Francisco Rodrigues or to Custodio Pereira, both from Goa and captains of the fair elected by the merchants. Custodio Pereira participated in the peace negotiations with the changamira, during the 1710's, and his reputation surpassed him as the forename Pereiras was given by the Africans to all captains that followed. The history of Zumbo was also linked to the Dominican Friar Pedro da Trindade who, during a famine in that same decade, fed all the Africans who worked in the building of a church. The friar became highly-reputed in that region, and he also became a captain until his death in 1751.

Although situated in a territory under the ruling of Senga chiefs, the fair was deeply dependent of Butua, the main power south of Zambezi. The changamira strongly opposed to the reopening of former fairs and to the presence of Portuguese merchants in the plateau. Nevertheless, they were committed in the Zumbo operation, which supplied them high-prestige goods like fabrics and beads, and whose district-governor paid a triennial tribute. From Zumbo left the caravans of the African agents (vashambadzi) of the merchants who travelled through the various trading routes. They headed south of the Zambezi to trade in Mukuranga, Muzezuru, Dande and Butua, the latter being the main supply market for gold. North of the river, they searched the ivory regions in the Senga, Orenge (Lenge) and Mamba territories. Associated to trade, merchants also dedicated themselves to gold prospection in the mines north of Zambezi, like Mixonga, Malima, Rungue, Pemba and Chicalango. The fair was supplied via Tete, with merchandise being transported by land until Chicova where it was transferred to the canoes that went up the Zambezi River.

Being the Portuguese enterprise situated the furthest inland in Africa, Zumbo became the main 1700's fair and an important urban centre. Its territory was acquired, just like many others, in return for military help to several chiefs. It included the island of Meroa (the first fair), the Mazansua land (by the foot of the mountain range by the same name) where the fair moved to, and the Mukaranga land, on the south bank of the Zambezi River, in Dande. Its prosperity attracted many new inhabitants, especially Goans, who moved to Zumbo with their families and slaves. By mid-century, there were 80 tenants, in a total of 478 Christians. Probably built in the second half of the century, some of the houses were made of stone and surrounded by large fenced gardens. The Dominicans were in charge of Nossa Senhora dos Remedios church and always had a big influence on the destiny of the settlement. Initially run by merchants, the fair became part of the Portuguese administration, during the government of Governor-general Antonio Cardim Frois (1726 - 1731), and its district-governors started being appointed by the governors of Mozambique from then on. On 21 June 1764, it was instituted the Town Hall's senate and the settlement was granted the status of town, according to the royal decree from 1761.

However, around that time, the fair was already facing some difficulties. The fights over the succession in the Kingdom of Mutapa, confined to the northern lands of the plateau after the expansion of the changamira, affected the business at Zumbo. In a context of great power fragmentation and emergence of new chiefs, several candidates to the crown settled nearby, in an attempt to reinforce power over the control of trade. Both the fair and the trading routes associated with it were frequently blocked and robbed, and the merchants killed. Besides taxes being paid to several chiefs, the merchants had to honour increasing extra payments. Simultaneously, the dissemination of trading agents, after free-commerce was established in the captaincy in 1757, led to the degradation of the value of imported goods and to the insolvency of credit granted to traders. Finally, the choice of non-resident district-governors, who transgressed the law, deepened divergences with the African powers. In situations of great instability, the inhabitants temporarily moved to the Zambezi Island or crossed the Aruangua. The fair became more dependent of the changamira whose armies were called to help. By then, gold trade with the south of the Zambezi was irremediably declining and the caravans were heading north, in search for ivory.

In 1788, the settlement was moved to the Mucariva peninsula, in the Lenge people region, which was a territory that had been donated by the Mburuma (then Chicumby) chief in 1768. The area limits had been set by his successor and the inhabitants' slaves cultivated some land there. But when the new inhabitants arrived, they had to face intermittent hostility from the Mburuma chiefs.

The town started being called Mucariva do Zumbo or Mucariva e Zumbo, a title which its district-captain also used. In the turning of the 19th century, the settlement only had 5 tenants, 80 free mestizos, 150 men slaves and 300 women slaves, several of which lived in the nearby chieftaincies. The town's territory included seven houses from the main tenants, one made of stone and the others of wood, the houses of free-men and slaves made of branches and straw, besides the stone church built in 1796. For the first time, the town was granted a regiment of 30 soldiers and, in 1802, the district-governor Jose Pedro Dinis had a defensive stone wall built around it. The fortification of the fair did not avoid its destruction by the Mburuma chief, in 1804, after which the district-governor fled. With discontinuous administration in the following years, the fair was officially abandoned in 1836 and delivered to Mburuma. Still, some merchants stayed there and continued to trade ivory and slaves. Finally, in 1861, district - governor Albino Pacheco was appointed to officially repossess the territory. By then, there was not much left from the original buildings. By the same time, explorer David Livingstone found the ruins of 8 to 10 stone houses, where today's town of Zumbo was built, and the church and defensive stone wall built in Mucariva, whose remnants were later on studied by Desmond Clark in 1960.

Bibliography:
CLARK, J. D., "The Portuguese Settlement at Feira", in Northern Rhodesia Journal, nº 6, 1965, p. 275-292. LIVINGSTONE, David, Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, New York, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1868. MUDENGE, S. I. G., "The Rozvi and the Feira of Zumbo", PHD Dissertation, University of London, 1972. MUDENGE, S. I. G., "The role of foreign trade in the rozvi empire: a reappraisal", in Journal of African History, XV, nº 3, 1974, p. 373-391. PACHECO, Albino, "Uma viagem de Tete ao Zumbo" (1864), in Boletim Oficial de Moçambique, nº 17 a 38, 1883.


Translated by: Marília Pavão