Portuguese East Africa

Portuguese East Africa

Infobox Former Country
native_name = Provincía Ultramarina de Moçambique
conventional_long_name = Overseas Province of Mozambique
common_name = Mozambique
continent = Africa
region = East Africa
country = Mozambique
empire = Portugal
status = Colony
era = Imperialism
year_start = 1498
year_end = 1975
date_start =
date_end = 25 June
event_start =
event_end = Fall of Portuguese Empire
p1 = Mutapa Empire
flag_p1 =
s1 = Mozambique
flag_s1 = Flag of Mozambique (1975-1983).svg

image_map_caption = Portuguese East Africa
capital = Lourenço Marques
common_languages = Portuguese
title_leader = Head of state
leader1 = Manuel I of Portugal
year_leader1 = King
leader2 = Francisco da Costa Gomes
year_leader2 = President
title_representative = Governor-general
representative1 = Nunho Álvares Pereira
year_representative1 = 1609-11 (first)
representative2 = Vítor Crespo
year_representative2 = 1974-75 (last)
title_deputy = Captain-general
deputy1 = Francisco Barreto
year_deputy1 = 1569-73 (first)
deputy2 = Estévão de Ataíde
year_deputy2 = 1607-09 (last)
currency = Mozambican escudo
stat_year1 = 1967
stat_area1 = 784955
stat_pop1 = 7300000

Mozambique was a string of Portuguese overseas colonies and later a Portuguese overseas province along the south-east African coast, which now form the republic of Mozambique. Portuguese trading settlements and, later, colonies were formed along the coast from 1498, when Vasco da Gama first reached the Mozambican coast. Some of these colonies were handed over in the late nineteenth century for rule by chartered companies such as the Companhia de Moçambique. In 1951 the colonies were combined into a single overseas province under the name Moçambique as an integral part of Portugal. Most of the original colonies have given their names to the modern provinces of Mozambique.

Mozambique, according to official policy, was not a colony at all but rather a part of the "pluricontinental and multiracial nation" of Portugal. Portugal sought in Mozambique, as it did in all its colonies, to Europeanize the local population and assimilate them into Portuguese culture. Lisbon also wanted to retain the colonies as trading partners and markets for its goods. African inhabitants of the colony were ultimately supposed to become full citizens with full political rights through a long development process. To that end, segregation in Mozambique was minimal compared to that in neighbouring South Africa. However, forced labour, to which all Africans were liable if they failed to pay head taxes, was not abolished until the early 1960s.


Until the twentieth century the land and peoples of Mozambique were barely affected by the outsiders who came to its shores and penetrated its major rivers. As the Arab traders were displaced from their coastal centers and routes to the interior by the Portuguese, migrations of Bantu peoples continued and tribal federations formed and reformed as the relative power of local chiefs changed. For four centuries the Portuguese presence was meager. Coastal and river trading posts were built, abandoned, and built again. Governors sought personal profits to take back to Portugal, and colonists were not attracted to the distant area with its relatively unattractive climate; those who stayed were traders who married local women and successfully maintained relations with local chiefs.

In Portugal, however, Mozambique was considered to be a vital part of a world empire. Periodic recognition of the relative insignificance of the revenues it could produce was tempered by the mystique which developed regarding the mission of the Portuguese to bring their civilization to the African territory. It was believed that through missionary activity and other direct contact between Africans and Europeans, the Africans could be taught to appreciate and participate in Portuguese culture.

In the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth century, integration of Mozambique into the structure of the Portuguese nation was begun. After all of the area of the present province had been recognized by other European powers as belonging to Portugal, pacification of the tribes of the interior was completed and the traditional holders of political power were subordinated to the Portuguese. Civil administration was established throughout the area, the building of an infrastructure was begun, and agreements regarding the transit trade of Mozambique's land-locked neighbors to the west were made.

Portugal never had a racist policy or sanctioned discrimination based on race. Its concept of what it calls a multiracial society envisaged complete racial integration, including intermarriage, as well as cultural adaptation. The historically determined position of the Portuguese as conquerors and governors of the Africans, however, resulted in barriers to the formation of this ideal. The fact that most Africans were not cultivated in the Portuguese sense, and that many participate in what were considered by the Portuguese to be pagan beliefs an uncivilized behavior, tended to create a low opinion of Africans as a group. The uneducated Portuguese immigrant peasants in urban areas were frequently in direct competition with Africans for jobs and demonstrate jealousies and prejudices with racial overtones.

The society was divided into two peripherally interrelated sectors. The urban-based modern sector, comprising altogether between 2 and 2.5 percent of the population, consisting mostly of Europeans but including a few thousand Europeanized Africans, Indians, and Chinese, was dominant in the economic, political, and social realms. Communication between this sector and the large majority of rural Africans was limited; only a small proportion of the Africans could speak Portuguese, the language of the administration and the modern economic sector. Communication between members of the 10 different major ethnolinguistic groups was also difficult.

Economically and socially, all but a few educated and Europeanized Africans were at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the Europeans. Access to education above the primary level was limited by lack of means, by age limitations, or by lack of sufficient preparations. Access to economic opportunity was limited by lack of adequate training.

Between the modern urban and traditional rural sectors of the society was a steadily increasing group of Africans who were loosening their ties with the village and starting to participate in the money economy, to settle in suburbs, and to adopt new customs. This transitional group included individuals who had acquired a modicum of education or skills and some of the aspirations associated with a modern European way of life. Many of them, especially those who had an education beyond the primary level, were more alert politically than the majority of the population, who are either unaware of or uninterested in political issues. It was members of this group, allied with forward-looking European leaders and intellectuals, who had shown the greatest interest in reforms and benefits for the African population. Some among them left the country to become active participants in the independence movement.


When Portuguese explorers reached East Africa in 1498, Arab commercial and slave trading settlements had existed along the coast and outlying islands for several centuries. From about 1500, Portuguese trading posts and forts became regular ports of call on the new route to the east.The voyage of Vasco da Gama around the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean in 1498 marked the Portuguese entry into trade, politics, and society in the Indian Ocean world. The Portuguese gained control of the Island of Mozambique and the port city of Sofala in the early 16th century. Vasco da Gama having visited Mombasa in 1498, was then successful in reaching India and this permitted the Portuguese to trade with the Far East directly by sea, thus challenging older trading networks of mixed land and sea routes, such as the Spice trade routes that utilized the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and caravans to reach the eastern Mediterranean. The Republic of Venice had gained control over much of the trade routes between Europe and Asia. After traditional land routes to India had been closed by the Ottoman Turks, Portugal hoped to use the sea route pioneered by Gama to break the once Venetian trading monopoly. Initially, Portuguese rule in East Africa focused mainly on a coastal strip centred in Mombasa. The Portuguese dominated much of southeast Africa's coast, including Sofala and Kilwa, by 1515. [Oliver, page 206] Their main goal was to dominate the trade with India. As the Portuguese settled along the coast, they made their way into the hinerland as "sertanejos" (backwoodsmen). These sertanejos lived alongside Swahili traders and even took up service among Shona kings as interpreters and political advisors. One such "sertanejo" managed to travel through almost all the Shona kingdoms, including Mutapa Empire's (Mwenemutapa) metropolitican district, between 1512 and 1516. [Oliver, page 207] By the 1530s small groups of Portuguese traders and prospectors penetrated the interior regions seeking gold, where they set up garrisons and trading posts at Sena and Tete on the Zambezi River and tried to gain exclusive control over the gold trade. The Portuguese finally entered into direct relations with the Mwenemutapa in the 1560s. [Oliver, page 203] They recorded a wealth of information about the Mutapa kingdom as well as its predecessor, Great Zimbabwe. According to Swahili traders whose accounts were recorded by the Portuguese historian João de Barros, Great Zimbabwe was an ancient capital city built of stones of marvellous size without the use of mortar. And while the site was not within Mutapa's borders, the Mwenemutapa kept noblemen and some of his wives there. [Oliver, page 204] The Portuguese attempted to legitimate and consolidate their trade and settlement positions through the creation of "prazos" (land grants) tied to Portuguese settlement and administration. While "prazos" were originally developed to be held by Portuguese, through intermarriage they became African Portuguese or African Indian centres defended by large African slave armies known as "Chikunda". Historically within Mozambique there was slavery. Human beings were bought and sold by African tribal chiefs, Arab traders, and the Portuguese. Many Mozambican slaves were supplied by tribal chiefs who raided warring tribes and sold their captives to the "prazeiros". Although Portuguese influence gradually expanded, its power was limited and exercised through individual settlers and officials who were granted extensive autonomy. The Portuguese were able to wrest much of the coastal trade from Arabs between 1500 and 1700, but, with the Arab seizure of Portugal's key foothold at Fort Jesus on Mombasa Island (now in Kenya) in 1698, the pendulum began to swing in the other direction. As a result, investment lagged while Lisbon devoted itself to the more lucrative trade with India and the Far East and to the colonisation of Brazil. During the 18th and 19th centuries the Mazrui and Omani Arabs reclaimed much of the Indian Ocean trade, forcing the Portuguese to retreat south. Many "prazos" had declined by the mid-19th century, but several of them survived. During the 19th century other European powers, particularly the British and the French, became increasingly involved in the trade and politics of the region. By the early 20th century the Portuguese had shifted the administration of much of Mozambique to large private companies, like the Mozambique Company, the Zambezia Company and the Niassa Company, controlled and financed mostly by the British, which established with the Portuguese railroad lines to neighbouring countries. The companies, granted a charter by the Portuguese government to establish economic development and maintain Portuguese control in the territory's provinces, would lost their purpose when the territory was transferred to the control of the Portuguese colonial government between 1929 and 1942. Although slavery had been legally abolished in Mozambique by the Portuguese authorities, at the end of the 19th century the Chartered companies enacted a forced labor policy and supplied cheap – often forced – African labor to the mines and plantations of the nearby British colonies and South Africa. The Zambezia Company, the most profitable chartered company, took over a number of smaller "prazeiro" holdings, and requested Portuguese military outposts to protect its property. The chartered companies and the Portuguese administration built roads and ports to bring their goods to market including a railroad linking present day Zimbabwe with the Mozambican port of Beira. However, the development's administration gradually started to pass directly from the trading companies to the Portuguese government itself. Because of their unsatisfactory performance and because of the shift, under the Oliveira Salazar's Estado Novo regime, towards a stronger Portuguese control of Portuguese empire's economy, the companies' concessions were not renewed when they ran out. This was what happened in 1942 with the Mozambique Company, which however continued to operate in the agricultural and commercial sectors as a corporation, and had already happened in 1929 with the termination of the Niassa Company's concession. In the 1950s, the Portuguese overseas colony was rebranded an overseas province of Portugal, and by the early 1970s it was officialy upgraded to the status of Portuguese non-sovereign state, by which it would remain a Portuguese territory but with a wider administrative authonomy.


Legally, Mozambique was as much a part of Portugal as Lisbon but as an overseas province enjoyed special derogations to account for its distance from Europe. The province was also subject to the authoritarian Estado Novo regime that ruled Portugal from 1933 to 1974, till the military coup at Lisbon, known as the Carnation Revolution. Most members of the government of Mozambique were from Portugal, but a few were Africans. Nearly all members of the bureaucracy were from Portugal, as most Africans did not have the necessary qualifications to obtain positions.

The government of Mozambique, as it was in Portugal, was highly centralized. Power was concentrated in the executive branch, and all elections where they occurred were carried out using indirect methods. From the Prime Minister's office in Lisbon, authority extended down to the most remote posts and "regedorias" of Mozambique through a rigid chain of command. The authority of the government of Mozambique was residual, primarily limited to implementing policies already decided in Europe. In 1967, Mozambique also sent seven delegates to the National Assembly in Lisbon.

The highest official in the province was the governor-general, appointed by the Portuguese cabinet on recommendation of the Overseas Minister. The governor-general had both executive and legislative authority. A Government Council advised the governor-general in the running of the province. The functional cabinet consisted of five secretaries appointed by the Overseas Minister on the advice of the governor. A Legislative Council had limited powers and its main activity was approving the provincial budget. Finally, an Economic and Social Council had to be consulted on all draft legislation, and the governor-general had to justify his decision to Lisbon if he ignored its advice.

Mozambique was divided into nine districts, which were further subdivided into 61 municipalities ("concelhos") and 33 circumscriptions ("circunscrições"). Each subdivision was then made up of three or four individual posts, 166 in all with an average of 40,000 Africans in each. Each district, except Lourenço Marques which was run by the governor-general, was overseen by a governor. Most Africans only had contact with the Portuguese through the post administrator, who was required to visit each village in his domain at least once a year.

The lowest level of administration was the "regedoria", settlements inhabited by Africans living according to customary law. Each regedoria was run by a "regulo", an African or Portuguese official chosen on the recommendation of local residents. Under the regulos, each village had its own African headman.

Each level of government could also have an advisory board or council. They were established in municipalities with more than 500 electors, in smaller municipalities or circumscriptions with more than 300 electors, and in posts with more than 20 electors. Each district also had its own board as well.

Two legal systems were in force - Portuguese civil law and African customary law. As part of its policy of assmiliation, the Portuguese sought to break down the African legal system and did not study or codify much of it. Until 1961, Africans were considered to be "indígenas" or natives, rather than citizens. After 1961, the previous native laws were repealed and Africans gained "de facto" Portuguese citizenship. From then on, the status of Africans depended merely on whether or not they chose to be governed by civil law, and the number of Africans that made the choice was very small.


Portuguese East Africa was located in south-eastern Africa. It was a long coastal strip with Portuguese strongholds, from current day Tanzania and Kenya, to the south of current-day Mozambique. By the early 1970s, it was bordering the Mozambique Channel, bordering the countries of Malawi, Rhodesia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Zambia. Covering a total area of 801,590 sq km (slightly less than twice the size of California). With a tropical to subtropical climate, the Zambezi flows through the north-central and most fertile part of the country. Its coastline had 2,470 km, with 4,571 km of land boundaries, its highest point at Monte Binga (2,436 m).

The districts with its respective capitals were: Lourenço Marques - Lourenço Marques [ [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUuUybBmqDc&NR=1 Lourenço Marques "A cidade feitiço"] , a film of Lourenço Marques, Portuguese Mozambique in 1970.] [ [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NkVCcZ_OH0 Lourenco Marques] , a film of Lourenço Marques, Portuguese Mozambique.] ; Gaza - João Belo; Inhambane - Inhambane; Beira - Beira [ [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwNCk59J5Ig Cidade da Beira] A short film of Beira, Portuguese Mozambique.] [ [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9LR1FYj4m0 BEIRA-CENTENÁRIO-O MEU TRIBUTO] A film about Beira, Portuguese Mozambique, its Grande Hotel, and the railway station. Post-independence images of the city are shown, the film uses images of RTP 1's TV program "Grande Reportagem".] ; Vila Pery - Vila Pery [ [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFuqzi4skxo VILA PERY-CHIMOIO] , a film of Vila Pery, Portuguese Mozambique.] ; Tete - Tete; Zambézia - Quelimane; Moçambique - Nampula; Cabo Delgado - Porto Amélia [ [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sk4H6SQCGgY PORTO AMÉLIA-PEMBA] , a film of Porto Amélia, Portuguese Mozambique] ; Niassa - Vila Cabral. Other important urban centres included Sofala, António Enes, Island of Mozambique and Vila Junqueiro.


By 1970, the Portuguese Overseas Province of Mozambique had about 8,168,933 inhabitants. Nearly 300,000 were white ethnic Portuguese. There was a number of mulattos, from both European and African ancestry, living across the territory. However, the majority of the population belonged to local tribal groups which included the Makua-Lomwe, the Shona and the Tsonga. Other ethnic minorities included British, Greeks, Chinese and Indians. Most inhabitants were black indigenous Africans with a diversity of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, ranging from Shangaan and Makonde to Yao or Shona peoples. The Makua were the largest ethnic group in the north. The Sena and Shona (mostly Ndau) were prominent in the Zambezi valley, and the Shangaan (Tsonga) dominated in the south. In addition, several other minority groups lived a tribal lifestyle across the territory.


Since the 15th century, Portugal founded settlements, trading posts, forts and ports in the Sub-Saharan Africa's coast. Cities, towns and villages were founded all over East African territories by the Portuguese, especially since the 19th century, like Lourenço Marques, Beira, Vila Pery, Vila Junqueiro, Vila Cabral and Porto Amélia. Others were expanded and developed greatly under Portuguese rule, like Quelimane, Nampula and Sofala. By this time, Mozambique had become a Portuguese colony, but administration was left to the trading companies (like Mozambique Company and Niassa Company) who had received long-term leases from Lisbon. By the mid-1920s, the Portuguese succeeded in creating a highly exploitative and coercive settler economy, in which African natives were forced to work on the fertile lands taken over by Portuguese settlers. Indigenous African peasants mainly produced cash crops designated for sale in the markets of the colonial metropole (the center, i.e. Portugal). Major cash crops included cotton, cashews, tea and rice. This arrangement ended in 1932 after the takeover in Portugal by the new António de Oliveira Salazar's government - the Estado Novo. Thereafter, Mozambique, along with other Portuguese colonies, was put under the direct control of Lisbon. In 1951, it became an overseas province. The economy expanded rapidly during the 1950s and 1960s, attracting thousands of Portuguese settlers to the country. It was around this time that the first nationalist guerrilla groups began to form in Tanzania and other African countries. The strong industrial and agricultural development that did occur throughout the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s was based on Portuguese development plans, and also included British and South African investment.

In 1959-60, Mozambique's major exports included cotton, cashew nuts, tea, sugar, copra and sisal. The expanding economy of the Portuguese overseas province was fuelled by foreign direct investment, and public investment which included ambitious state-managed development plans. British capital owned two of the large sugar concessions (the third was Portuguese), including the famous Sena states. The Matola Oil Refinery, Procon, was controlled by England and the United States. In 1948 the petroleum concession was given to the Mozambique Gulf Oil Company. At Maotize coal was mined; the industry was chiefly financed by Belgian capital. 60% of the capital of the Compagnie de Charbons de Mozambique was held by the Societe Miniere et Geologique Belge, 30% by the Mozambique Company, and the remaining 10% by the Government of the territory. Three banks were in operation, the Banco Nacional Ultramarino, Portuguese, Barclays Bank, D.C.O., British, and the Standard Bank of South Africa. Nine out of the twenty-three insurance companies were Portuguese. 80% of life-insurance was in the hands of foreign companies which testifies the openess of the economy. The Portuguese overseas province of Mozambique was the first territory of Portugal, including the European mainland, to distribute Coca Cola. Lately the Lourenço Marques Oil Refinery was established by the Sociedade Nacional de Refinação de Petróleo (SONAREP) - a Franco-Portuguese syndicate. In the sisal plantations Swiss capital was invested, and in copra concerns, a combination of Portuguese, Swiss and French capital was invested. The large availability of capital from both Portuguese and international origin, allied to the wide range of natural resources and the growing urban population, lead to an impressive growth and development of the economy. From the late stages of this notable period of high growth and huge development effort started in the 1950s, was the construction of Cahora Bassa dam by the Portuguese, which started to fill in December 1974 after construction was commenced in 1969. At independence, Mozambique’s industrial base was well-developed by Sub-Saharan Africa standards, thanks to a boom in investment in the 1960s and early 1970s. Indeed, in 1973, value-added in manufacturing was the sixth highest in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Economically, Mozambique was a source of agricultural raw materials and an earner of foreign exchange. It also provided a market for Portuguese manufacturers which were protected from local competition. Transportation facilities had been developed to exploit the transit trade of South Africa, Swaziland, Rhodesia, Malawi, and Zambia, agricultural production for export purposes had been encouraged, and profitable arrangements for the export of labor had been made with neighboring countries. Industrial production had been relatively insignificant, but did begin to increase in the 1960s. The economic structure generally favored the taking of profits to Portugal rather than their reinvestment in Mozambique. The Portuguese interests which dominate in banking, industry, and agriculture, exerted a powerful influence on policy.


Mozambique's rural black populations were largely illiterate. However, a number of natives from diverse tribal backgrounds were educated in Portuguese language and history by several missionary schools established across the vast countryside areas. In mainland Portugal, the homeland of the colonial authorities which ruled Mozambique from the 16th century until 1975, by the end of the 19th century the illiteracy rates were at over 80 percent and higher education was reserved for a small percentage of the population. 68.1 percent of mainland Portugal's population was still classified as illiterate by the 1930 census. Mainland Portugal's literacy rate by the 1940s and early 1950s was low for North American and Western European standards at the time. Only in the mid-1960s did the country make public education available for all children between the ages of six and twelve, and the overseas territories in Africa profited from this new educational developments and change in policy at Lisbon. Starting in the early 1950s, the access to basic, secondary and technical education was expanded and its availability was being increasingly opened to both the African indigenes and the European Portuguese of the African territories. A comprehensive network of secondary schools (the "Liceus") and technical or vocational education schools were implemented across the cities and main towns of the territory. In 1962, the first Mozambican university was founded by the Portuguese authorities in the provincial capital, Lourenço Marques, the "Universidade de Lourenço Marques", awarding a wide range of degrees from engineering to medicine, [pt icon [http://www.geocities.com/athens/troy/4285/ensino52.html 52. UNIVERSIDADE DE LUANDA] ] during a time that in the European Portuguese mainland only four public universities were in operation.

Last days

Because policies and development plans were primarily designed by the ruling authorities for the benefit of Mozambique's Portuguese population, little attention was paid to Mozambique's tribal integration and the development of its native communities. This affected a majority of the indigenous population who suffered both state-sponsored discrimination and enormous social pressure. Many felt they had received too little opportunity or resources to upgrade their skills and improve their economic and social situation to a degree comparable to that of the Europeans.

The Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), headquartered in Tanzania, initiated a guerrilla campaign against Portuguese rule in September 1964. This conflict, along with the two others already initiated in the other Portuguese overseas territories of Angola and Guinea-Bissau, became part of the Portuguese Colonial War (1961–1974). Several African territories under European rule had achieved independence in recent decades. Oliveira Salazar attempted to resist this tide and maintain the integrity of the Portuguese empire. By 1970, the anti-guerrilla war in Africa was consuming an important part of the Portuguese budget and there was no sign of a final solution in sight. This year was marked by a large-scale military operation in northern Mozambique, the Gordian Knot Operation, which displaced the FRELIMO's bases and destroyed much of the guerrillas' military capacity. At a military level, a part of Guinea-Bissau was de facto independent since 1973, but the capital and the major towns were still under Portuguese control. In Angola and Mozambique, independence movements were only active in a few remote countryside areas from where the Portuguese Army had retreated. However, their impending presence and the fact that they wouldn't go away dominated public anxiety. A leftist military coup in Lisbon on 24th April 1974 by the "Movimento das Forças Armadas" (MFA), overthrow the Estado Novo regime headed by Prime-Minister Marcelo Caetano.

As one of the objectives of the MFA, all the Portuguese overseas territories in Africa were offered independence. FRELIMO took complete control of the Mozambican territory after a transition period, as agreed in the Lusaka Accord which recognized Mozambique's right to independence and the terms of the transfer of power. Within a year of the Portuguese military coup at Lisbon, almost all Portuguese population had left the African territory as refugees (in mainland Portugal they were known as "retornados") – some expelled by the new ruling power of Mozambique, some fleeing in fear. Portuguese population's rapid exodus left Mozambique with few skilled human resources, and, as a result, the Mozambican economy collapsed.


Herrick, Allison and others (1969). "Area Handbook for Mozambique", US Government Printing Office.

ee also

*History of Mozambique
*Portuguese West Africa

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