In 1884 a ship named 'the India'
with 222 settlers to farm the southern part of Angola at the invitation of the Portuguese government (see settler guide of 1891, in Portuguese), who had held Angola for much of 400 years, during which time the Bantu tribes from the north started to move into southern Africa, displacing the original Bushmen and Hottentots. Until the 19th century this particular area was still largely uninhabited except for some South African Boers
who in the 19th century had moved into Huila, in the Angolan hinterland, away from British domination, first in the former Dutch Cape province and later Transvaal.
The Madeirans learned to farm the land, to hunt, and to build sturdy ox wagons from the Boers, who had adapted a not uncommon design from Holland, and who controlled the transport trade in southern Angola to the annoyance of the Portuguese authorites in Lisbon.
Grandfather Domingos Rodrigues got to know the Afrikaner Boers well, and spent over 50 years helping to open up the Angolan hinterland: he
played their Boer songs on the concertina, and spoke Afrikaans.The Boers left as they had come, in several waves during the next century (notably by the exodus of 1928 and of 1958), having been curtailed at every step of the way by the Portuguese authorities in their attempts to build a new life.
Unbeknown to the destitute Madeirans at the time,
they were used to lay claim to the land, with Germany encroaching from the recently acquired South West Africa to the south, until the Lisbon Boundary treaty of 1886 was signed between Germany and Portugal (this came shortly after the Berlin Conference of 1884 which agreed spheres of influence and sought to terminate slavery by black and Islamic powers in Africa)
The Madeirans were also used in a demographic experiment, to see if white man could survive in the African interior, which had proved an
early grave to many an explorer and settler (David Livingstone as recently as 1873, who earlier had passed through this country in 1854 on the first East-West crossing of Africa). The map of Africa still showed huge gaps in 1860
Because of rampant disease in Africa no white man had survived long in the interior.
Because of the remoteness and the arid climate, they were not expected to work hard, or to be successful at farming,
to stick to their faith, or even to survive. The Madeiran settlers were given little chance of success from the start, as described in this detailed Health study of early Madeiran settlers by Cristiana Barros (Univ. of Lisbon and Brown Univ).
However, the (equally curtailed) Protestant missions in central Angola made a big difference in the quality of their lives. These pages form a tribute to the success of their little told story: their sense of community, their back-breaking work, and their faith, which
saw them through.
Read the Madeira story (in English) with pictures from Nhamalanda site