The history of West Africa which had hitherto been mainly events committed in West Africa by the West Africans themselves was forced to change course and pattern at the wake of the fifteenth century.
This change was to a large extent due to the sudden appearance of the Europeans, mainly of Portuguese origin, at the coasts of this part of the world. These unusual visits which started as a child-play at the beginning eventually changed the history of the people of the region of West Africa.
One may even wish to ask the questions why did these Europeans decide to visit West Africa? What effects did these visits have on the history of West Africa? First, let us examine the motives behind the visits.
Why Did the Europeans Visit West Africa?
Evidences have shown that the Portuguese who visited the coasts of West Africa in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, did so for a number of reasons. One of these, and perhaps the most important was the urge in Europe during this period to establish a sea-route, possibly along the coast of Africa, to India and the spice island. What brought about this urge was the inconveniences encountered by the European traders in these areas along the overland routes, these overland routes along the bank of the Mediterranean Sea ran through important towns like Milan, Florence, Genoa and Venice, in each of these towns traders from Europe often paid tolls for going through them.
In addition, some vagabonds had made these routes terribly unsafe to traders; in fact, they had converted them into a den of highway robbers. The end-result of these inconveniences was the sky-rocketing prices of article from, the Far East. Such articles like ginger, pepper and spices became luxurious articles for a significant number of people in Europe.
It was the uneven social situations caused by these high prices that inspired some people in Europe to look for an alternative route to India possibly along the coast of West Africa. If this route could be established, it was thought, the tedious trekking along the overland route, coupled with the paying of exorbitant customs duties, would disappear since the sea which was going to be the highway was nobody’s property.
Again, there was the intention to spread Christianity to what the Europeans described as the lost peoples of Africa. In the first instance, the crusade against the Turks in the thirteenth century encouraged the Christians in Europe to carry faith and salvation to the land of the heathens especially to Africa, where the work of evangelism had not been known. Added to the above was the urge in Europe during this period to look for the empire of a mighty African ruler called ‘Prester John’ who, they thought, could help them on their task of Christianising and civilising the ‘unfortunate’ and ‘primitive’ inhabitants of the ‘dark continent’. It was also thought that was his famous king would certainly be willing to begin with Europe a profitable trade, particularly in gold, gold-dust, diamond and other mineral deposits which were believed to exist in abundance in this place.
Finally, the European visits were motivated by the burning desire of some Europeans to collect more knowledge about the peoples of other lands as well as the types of life led by them. This urge became extremely great as a result of the invention of the compass and other sea-faring equipment.
These inventions, in no small measures, fired the inspirations of these academically hungry European biologists to get in touch with the “black monkeys” that inhabited the African continent in order to study their structural build-up properly. It can thus be summed up, therefore, that what brought the Europeans to the coasts of Africa in general, and West Africa in particular, were multifarious. These included the intention to establish an alternative sea-route to India and the Spice Islands, the urge to introduce Christianity to the lost peoples of other lands, to spread the European brand of civilisation to other peoples, to contract commerce through Prester John, with the rich peoples of West Africa; and to know more about the biological structure of the people who inhabited other lands, African continent inclusive.
Now, all these said and done, let us ask this question – “What were the consequences or these visits? “
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