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  • "Crespo e Nuu e Negro":Gomes Eanes de Zurara and the Racialization of Non-Christians by Portuguese Authors
  • Marcelo E. Fuentes

In an often-quoted passage of the Crónica dos feitos notáveis que se passaram na conquista da Guiné, Gomes Eanes de Zurara describes a massive auction of African slaves that took place in Lagos, Portugal, in 1444.1 As Willie James Jennings clarifies, "this event did not mark the first time slaves had appeared at the port of Lagos"; however, "the newness of the event lay in the number of slaves, 235" and "in their place of origin, parts of Africa theretofore unvisited by the Portuguese."2 Additionally, according to Peter Russell, this auction and the following ones in Lagos and Lisbon showed the rest of Europe that "instead of having to depend for supplies of black slaves on the trans-Saharan caravan routes controlled by Islam, the Portuguese had established direct access by sea to the regions of Guinea where such slaves were available by barter in potentially whatever numbers their ships and their new slave markets at home were able to handle."3 In Zurara's account of the first auction in Lagos, two elements stand out: the variety of skin color of the people put on sale and the intense emotionality of the scene:

Os quaaes [catiuos] postos juntamẽte naquelle cãpo. era hũa marauilhosa cousa de veer. Ca antre elles auya alguũs de razoada brancura / fremosos e apostos. outros menos brancos que queryam semelhar pardos. outros tam negros come tiopios tã desafeiçoados assy nas caras como nos corpos que casy parecia aos homeẽs que os esguardauam que vyã as jmageẽs do jmjsperyo mais baixo. mas qual serya o coraçom por duro que seer podesse / que nom fosse pungido de piedoso sentimẽto / veẽdo assy aquella cõpanha / Ca huũs tijnham as caras baixas e os rostros lauados com lagrimas oolhando huũs contra os outros. outros estauam gemendo muy doorosamente esguardando a altura dos ceeos firmando os olhos em elles braadando altamente como se pedissem acorro ao padre da natureza. [. . .] Mas pera seu doo seer mais [End Page 17] acrecẽtado sobreueherom aquelles que tijnham carrego da partilha e começarom de os apartarem huũs dos outros afim de poerẽ seus quinhoões em jgualleza / onde cõuijnha de necessydade de sse apartarem os filhos dos padres e as molheres dos maridos e os huũs jrmaãos dos outros.

[And these (captives), placed all together in that field, were a marvelous sight; for amongst them were some white enough, fair to look upon, and well proportioned; others were less white like mulattoes; others again were as black as Ethiops, and so ugly, both in features and in body, as almost to appear (to those who saw them) the images of a lower hemisphere. But what heart could be so hard as not to be pierced with piteous feeling to see that company? For some kept their heads low and their faces bathed in tears, looking one upon another; others stood groaning very dolorously, looking up to the height of heaven, fixing their eyes upon it, crying out loudly, as if asking help of the Father of Nature (. . .) But to increase their sufferings still more, there now arrived those who had charge of the division of the captives, and who began to separate one from another, in order to make an equal partition of the fifths; and then was it needful to part fathers from sons, husbands from wives, brothers from brothers.]4

The attention to the slaves' distressed reactions towards the separation from their relatives could suggest Zurara's sympathy for them and his loathing of slavery, if the passage were read in isolation. In context, however, Zurara's views are more complex and challenging to a contemporary understanding: not despite, but precisely because he considers Africans as fully human and worthy of his sympathy, Zurara advocates for their slavery. Only as slaves can Africans be civilized and Christianized for their material and spiritual benefit, since in the past they were living in perdition of their souls, because "erã pagaãos" [they...


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