Mariana Candido:

Demography, Epidemics, and Trade Routes: the Case of Caconda, 1830-1870


In West Central Africa historiography, climatic variations and their consequences are confirmed as one of the aspects which favoured the intensification of slave trade. Of particular importance were periods of severe drought in which local populations suffered from the spread of diseases, endemic or imported from abroad. Between 1830-1870, there was a significant variation in the population of the presídio of Caconda, in the Benguela interior. Initially this could be associated with the major outbreaks of epidemic disease which reached west central Africa in the 19th century. Caconda was a concrete manifestation of Portuguese efforts to control the interior, and especially the trade routes to the coast. It was an area of intense movement of caravans crossing the Benguela hinterland. Pombeiros and local traders not only carried commodities, including slaves, across the interior, they were also agents facilitating the spread of diseases.

The analysis of censuses, official correspondence and travellers’ accounts has uncovered a significant decrease in Caconda’s population during the first six years of the 1860’s. In this paper, I will explore the links between the decrease in the Caconda population and the outbreaks of disease in Angola, and the possible effects these events had for the geopolitics of the area. This case exemplifies the role of traders in spreading viruses into the hinterland. An outbreak of smallpox in Caconda might have led to a reduction of the volume of trade, between the interior and Benguela, since caravans and pombeiros used Caconda as a centre of commerce and supply. Caconda was not an isolated centre in the interior, events that disturbed this outpost could have powerful affects on the trade carried out throughout Benguela.

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