Jesuit in Mwene Mutapa

A history over which I have pored, the missionary enterprises entering the  landscape into which I was born, the Eastern Highlands districts of Manicaland, those valleys and steep mountainous regions where ChiManyika is spoken, in Zimbabwe.

That first pilgrim, bent on evangelisisation. The aristocrat and early Jesuit ( he joined the Society of Jesus in Coimbra after working as a Franciscan for some time) Gonçalo de Silveira, aged 30,  left for India  the year Jesuit founder Ignatius Loyala  died. Silveira  succeeded Francis Xavier but  was tactless in dealing with government officials and so his new provincial António Quadros sent him to the unexplored mission field of south-east Africa.

Landing at Sofala  on 11 March, 1560, he proceeded to Otongwe. There, during his stay of seven weeks, he instructed and baptized the Makaranga chief, Gamba and about 450 natives of his kraal. Towards the end of the year he started up the Zambesi on his expedition to the capital of the Mwene-Mutapa, meaning Lord of the Ravaged Lands. He reached Tete in November 1560 and went on to the Khami capital or N’Pande kraal, close by the M’Zingesi River, a southern tributary of the Zambezi, north-west of Motoko,near the Mazowe River. He arrived there on 26 December 1560, and remained until his death.

During this period he baptized the chief Negomo Mpunzagutu and a large number of his subjects. The portrait or statuette of the Virgin Mary spoke tenderly to the chief and his mother in a language they could not understand. The new converts were baptised as Don Sebastiaio and Dona Maria. Some Arabs from Mocambique agitated against the missionaries, telling the chief that the priest was a muroyi or magician,  and Silveira was strangled in his hut by order of the chief. His body was thrown into a confluence of the rivers.

The Jesuits, however, continued to be missionaries and an educational presence in the area until they were expelled from Portuguese territory in 1759; the Jesuit school at Sena, the depot established on the trade route between the coast and Tete, had to be closed, thus terminating the cultural ties the prazeros (originally Portuguese recipients of land leased from the Portuguese crown who later became Africanized) had with Portugal.

So we are looking at  Portuguese imperialism in a medieval African kingdom also known as Great Zimbabwe. But also the mystery of  conversion and martyrdom. Fr da Silveira said, ‘I am more ready to die than the Moors are to kill me. I forgive the king, who is young, and his mother because they have been deceived.’

He walked up and down praying and holding his crucifix. When he lay down on his  reed mat at midnight, seven men rushed in and strangled him, throwing his body into the river.




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