ca. 1880 ‘Linguister’

In the period 1870-1890 José Augusto da Cunha Moraes photographed  European trading posts along the coastline of Congo and Angola. The Dutch National Museum of World Cultures holds several of these images in its collection.

José Augusto da Cunha Moraes , Portrait of a mafuka or linguister with his family, ca. 1880. Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, id.nr. A45-39.

Companies like the Nieuwe Afrikaansche Handels Vennootschap (NAHV) built premises, so-called ‘factories’, on plots of land that belonged to local rulers. In return, the companies were obliged to pay for the use of the land. Furthermore, local rulers provided each factory with a representative, or ‘mafuka’.  The mafuka, called ‘linguisters’ by the Europeans, were men of distinct families with in-depth knowledge of local law, politics, and the network of African traders. They negotiated prices between the trading companies and the African traders who brought agricultural produce; thus they were crucial for the profitability of European trade.

José Augusto da Cunha Moraes , Portrait of a mafuka or linguister, ca. 1880. Collection Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, id.nr. A45-38.

All trading companies depended on African labour for an array of tasks, these workers were managed by the linguister. 1 Men and women from the coastal region Cabinda in particular were recruited as canoe men, cooks, carpenters, and domestic servants. Appreciated by European trading agents, the Dutch NAHV-employee Onno Zwier van Sandick described the men and women from this region as ‘relatively developed’ and ‘with potential to be civilized’, claiming they learned their skills of British and Portuguese ships who patrolled the Congolese coast to prevent illegal transatlantic slave shipments.2.

José Augusto da Cunha Moraes, Man and woman from Cabinda, ca. 1870-1889. Collection Nederlands Fotomuseum, id.nr. WMR-902005
  1. Zachary Kingdon, ‘Subtracting the narrative. Trade, collecting, and forgetting in the Kongo Coast Friction Zone during the late nineteenth century’, Museum Worlds; advances in research 3 (2015) 18-36, 25-26.
  2. Onno Zwier van Sandick, Herinneringen van de Zuid-Westkust van Afrika. Eenige bladzijden uit mijn dagboek (Deventer 1881) http://www.vansandick.com/familie/archief/Herinneringen_van_de_Zuid-Westkust_van_Afrika/