The term lançados is derived from the Portuguese verb “to throw out.” It refers to Portuguese settlers who came to the coast of West Africa as well as the nearby islands after being expelled from their home country. Many, but not all, were Jews who fled the Portuguese Inquisition in 1536. In a parallel development to the KiSwahili culture that emerged out of contact with Arab traders, a Crioulo culture emerged out of the contact between these Portuguese Jewish traders and the Africans in the islands and cost around Cape Verde and Guinea:
Thus, as early as the later 15th century and through the 16th and even 17th centuries, a Jewish coastal presence was deeply established. This brought on an important synthesis which was responsible for playing a central role in the creation of Crioulo culture. These Jews, both in the Cape Verde Islands and on the coast, were at the heart of the Afro-Portuguese merging which became Crioulo culture. The anti-Semitism of Spain and Portugal and the financial goals of the Portuguese Crown were constantly trying to restrict their success. The more successful, the more restrictions, but also the more deeply struck were the commerical and cultural roots of these people.
It seems that the Jews first arrived on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe even earlier, during the Spanish Inquisition, when many Spanish Jews had fled to Portugal:
King Manuel of Portugal had placed a huge head tax on the Jews there in order to finance his nation’s colonies. The king wished to colonize the small islands of Sao Tome and Principe but did not wish to risk too many Portuguese to do so. To punish the Jews who would not pay the head tax, King Manuel deported almost 2,000 of two to ten year old children to the islands. Only 600 were alive a year later.
Some of the surviving Jewish children retained some semblance of their parents’ religion. In the early 1600s the local bishop noted with disgust that there were still Jewish observances on the island and returned to Portugal because of his frustration with them. Observances had declined by the 18th century, but in the 19th and 20th centuries some Jewish traders arrived on the islands and seeded a new, small community.
One of the more depressing aspects of this story is that their unique position, and restrictions on engaging in other forms of trade, led to the involvement of Portuguese Jewish merchants in the African slave trade:
Clearly the Jewish and African slaver trader alliance was already of very great historical depth. This relationship was based upon several factors. On the one hand, the Portuguese Crown and its feitors and capitaos gained tremendous wealth from the slave trade and they did little to oppose it, however, they were pleased to have a social pariah group, like the lançados, be responsible for the front line operation of the trade. Meanwhile, the commercial skills, and higher level of literacy put the Jews in a strong position to have a critical role in an economy and society which otherwise shunned them. It should be made very clear that, by no means, were all Portuguese slavers Jewish, nor were all Portuguese involved in the slave trade; likewise the slave trade in the interior necessitated strategic African collaboration.