PORTUGAL-MOROCCO – ISLAMIC-CHRISTIAN RELATIONS / PORTUGUESE ENLIGHTENMENT / DIPLOMATIC HISTORY:
João de SOUSA (1734 – 1812).
Narração da arribada das princezas Africanas ao porto desta capital de Lisboa, seu desembarque para terra, alojamento no palacio das necessidades, hida para Quéluz, seu embarque, e volta para Tangere.
Lisbon: Officina da Academia Real das Sciencias, 1793.
Traditionally, Portugal had acrimonious relations with most Muslim powers, and Morocco in particular, ever since the Reconquista, when the country liberated itself from almost 500 years of Islamic occupation, a process that concluded in the 13th century. Buoyed by Christian zealotry and fear of the ‘other’, from the early 15th century, Portugal proceeded to fight a succession of wars against Morocco, occupying parts of the country (ex. Ceuta, Tangiers) at various times. Algerian pirates often attacked Portuguese ships and sometimes raided coastal villages, enslaving their captives. While many Portuguese traders and colonial officials posted overseas forged cordial relations with certain Muslim entities, overall, Portuguese-Islamic relations were typified by mutual antipathy and suspicion.
This all changed during the Portuguese Enlightenment, in the mid- to late 18th century, when a new ethic of open-mindedness and intellectual curiosity prevailed, at least amongst the upper and educated classes of Lisbon and Porto. Suspicion and fear gave way to constructive and respectful engagement.
The catalyst towards amicable Portuguese-Islamic relations, and forging friendly ties with Morocco especially, was João de Sousa (1734 – 1812), who was for many years was Portugal’s foremost Arabic scholar, tasked with handing sensitive diplomatic affairs with North Africa. Born in Damascus to parents from Portuguese India, he became fluent in Arabic while still a child, and soon also soon mastered French, Spanish, and Italian, in addition to Portuguese. In 1750, he was sent to Portugal, whereupon his superlative linguistic skills were appreciated by the academic elite. In 1758, he was appointed to the prestigious post of Secretary of the University of Coimbra. At the age of 40, he was ordained as a Franciscan priest and managed to perfectly master Latin after only a few months of study.
Appointed as an official in the Navy Ministry, Sousa served as the chief interpreter and a senior negotiator with regards to dealings with North African countries to secure the release of captured Portuguese nationals, a role in which he excelled. From 1773 to 1774, he travelled to Morocco where he leaned the Moroccan dialect of Arabic and made many valuable contacts.
Sousa played a critical role in changing the view of the Portuguese elite had towards the Arab world, and encouraged respectful, mutually beneficial dialogue and cooperation. He was instrumental in facilitating and negotiating the Portuguese-Moroccan Peace and Friendship Agreement (1774), a watershed accord that set relations upon a positive new course after centuries of acrimony.
Sousa authored two very important works, Vestigios da lingua arabica em portugal, ou lexicon etymologico das palavras, e nomes portuguezes, que tem origem arabica (Lisbon: Academia Real das Sciencias, 1789), on the influence of Arabic on the modern Portuguese language; and Documentos arabicos para a historia portugueza copiados dos originaes da Torre do Tombo (Lisbon: Academia Real das Sciencias, 1790), which translated key Arabic sources on Portuguese history.
In 1792, Sousa was appointed as the Professor of Arabic at the University of Lisbon. Initially, he was charged with teaching only fellow priests. However, he felt strongly that Arabic should be learned by a wider pool of Portuguese society for cultural, diplomatic and commercial purposes and, in 1795, his courses were opened to the public.
Sousa’s Account of Hosting the Surprise Moroccan Royal Visit to Portugal
In April 1793, amidst a dynastic struggle in Morocco, Prince ‘Abd al-Salam, the brother of Sultan Mawlay Sulayman (reigned 1792-1822) decided that he had to evacuate his wife, Princess Amina, his children and courtiers from Agadir, in the south, by ship to Salé, near Rabat, in the north. The vessel was, however, blown far out into the Atlantic by a storm, and eventually landed at Cascais, near Lisbon.
News of the unexpected arrival of the “the African Princesses”, as the Portuguese called the royal party, was greeted in Lisbon with much excitement and curiosity. The Portuguese Regent Dom João (later King Dom João VI) was determined to roll out the red carpet for the royal family of a nation that was a friend and ally. He dispatched João de Sousa to serve as the official guide and interpreter for the distinguished party. It helped that Sousa was long a friendly acquaintance of Prince ’Abd al-Salam, from the time that they both served as negotiators for the 1774 treaty.
Including Princess Amina, the Moroccan party consisted of 221 people, including 5 children of the prince; 9 concubines; other royals including the Widow of the late Sultan; Arraes, a Jew who had converted to Islam and served as the party’s organizer; a eunuch; 17 musicians; 30 male servants; 109 slaves; a Georgina woman and the daughter of a maverick Irishman (all the members of the party are listed on the final leaf of the present work).
Here is Sousa’s fascinating and engagingly written firsthand account of the impromptu Moroccan royal visit. Sousa, with the encouragement of the royal court, saw the Moroccan party housed in the Necessidades Palace, and the visitors were granted a lavish state reception by Dom João at the Queluz Palace, in addition to being given wondrous customized tours of the sights around Lisbon. Extreme efforts were made to respect the guests’ Islamic traditions, including the preparation of Halal food and special places to perform religious services. When two of the Moroccans died of illness during their stay, they were accorded Muslim burials under the protection of a cavalry regiment. The Moroccans were greeted with enthusiastic kindness and benevolent curiosity. After Princess Amina and her retinue returned to Morocco, aboard specially outfitted Portuguese men-of-war, in August 1793, their relations of their splendid experiences in Portugal ensured that ‘Abd al-Salam and the Moroccan state were profoundly grateful to Portugal, ensuring good relations between the two countries for many years.
Beyond being a clever diplomatic move on the part of Sousa and Dom João’s court, the experience of the Moroccan visit to Portugal showed the best side of the Portuguese Enlightenment, being an example of mutually respectful and positive cross-cultural exchange. It was instrumental in forming the basis of modern diplomacy and liberalism in Portugal, moving away from medieval prejudices towards more thoughtful and progressive discourses between Christian and Muslim civilizations.
A Note on Rarity
The present work is rare, especially on the market. We can trace examples held by 10 institutions, including the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal (4 examples); Biblioteca João Paulo II-Universidade Católica Portuguesa; British Library; Bodleian Library (Oxford University); Catholic University of America-Oliveira Lima Library; Harvard University (Houghton Library); Northwestern University; Indiana University; Bayerische Staatsbibliothek; and the Herzog August Bibliothek. The only sales listing for another example we can trace from recent times is for an example offered a few years ago by an American dealer.
References: Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal (4 examples): H.G. 2761//2 V., H.G. 6684//12 V., VAR. 1521//9, RES. 2939//4 P.; British Library: 9930.dd.17.; Bodleian Library (Oxford University): Arab. d.587 (1); Harvard University (Houghton Library): GEN *PC7.So851.793n; Bayerische Staatsbibliothek: 4 H.afr. 885; OCLC: 25947914, 503932794, 643867288, 11570503, 951325592; INNOCÊNCIO, vol. IV, p. 42; J.J. da COSTA RODRIGUES DA SILVA, “A ‘Arribada’ das princesas marroquinas a Lisboa em 1793”, Comemorando 230 Anos do Tratado Luso-Marroquino de 1774: Actas do xiv Colóquio de História Militar (Lisbon: Comissão Portuguesa de História Militar, 2005), pp. 55-60; Eva-Maria von KEMNITZ, ‘Envoys, Princesses, Seamen and Captives: The Muslim Presence in Portugal in the 18th and 19th Centuries’, Lusophonie, vol. XIV, no.1 (2007), pp. 105-113. Cf. Otto ZWARTJES, Portuguese Missionary Grammars in Asia, Africa and Brazil, 1550-1800 (2011), pp. 243-4.