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The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]. 

We are what we are, with some exceptions. Some of us are descendant’s of black African slaves, some of us are descendants of Kru African free men, some of us are descendants of Irish people, some of us are descendants of Scots people, some of us are descendants of English people, some of us are descendants of indigenous Kalinago people, some of us are descendants of Portuguese from Madeira.

Many more, even most of us are a mixture of all of the above. But unlike us the Gonsalves family has a pretty straight and traceable pedigree. There are a few anomalies where the Gonsalves family mixed and bred with black folk. There are black people that carry the Gonsalves name. Even the beginning of the Vincentian black Gonsalves family is easily traceable to the exact Gonsalves man who impregnated that very black woman.

Why is it so easy to trace our backgrounds and the background of the Gonsalves family in particular? Because we are a small island with a small population and good births, christenings and death records. St. Vincent has a short history, that again makes things easier for traceability. The Portuguese, and Indians can find their ancestors names in the ships list’s, ships that arrived in the mid 1800s. Some of the Portuguese that settled here, came from Brazil, the offspring of settlers from there, that’s why their names do not appear in the logs. Others came from Madeira.

Madeira is a small island, and like St. Vincent it’s easy to trace backgrounds, and the background of the Gonsalves family in particular because they are a small island with a small population and good births, christenings and death records. Madeira has a short history, that again makes things easier for traceability.

I was somewhat surprised at the comments made by our Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, as reproted on page 3 of The News newspaper of Friday Sept. 6, 2013 in an article entitled “Don’t tell people I am the descendent of a Slave Trader”. His objection and what he said requires some interpretation, which I will attempt to do here. If I am wrong and Gonsalves would like to correct what I write with evidence of what he states, I and I am sure historians will welcome that.

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I have noticed over the years several references regarding Ralph Gonsalves being the descendant of a slave trader. In fact I have published in the past some of the Gonsalves lineage, never during the last 15 years has Ralph Gonsalves objected, made comment or sued anyone for making such a statement.

“Once you hate Ralph you hate reparations” — he means if any one questions his background, throws his ancestry into the arena, it means you hate him, and if you hate him, you hate reparations. I find that a strange statement and I would like him to explain exactly what he means and how he arrived at such view.

He further says, “for you to make it juicy on the Internet”. What exactly is he saying? Ralph, explain yourself better.

The Gonsalves family in Madeira all came from one man, I have his history. Unfortunately as time goes by some branches of family lose their fortune, whilst other branches of a family go on to greater things. It’s like those that become a poor section of the family are but chaff and the more affluent are the grain. Its most unfortunate that according to Gonsalves, the Gonsalves of St. Vincent are the remnants of the chaff. That does not make them any less part of the original ancestry. Now they have recovered their financial and intellectual status, now part of the grain once more, they should be paying reparations for the past actions of their ancestors, and apologising for the actions of the Portuguese government as the greatest volume of slave shippers in the world.

Now Gonsalves then went on to say “even if I were, what relevance is that, eh”? The relevance I think, is the same relevance that he considers relevant that the British should pay reparations. Isn’t it the same thing? What it appears to me, is that he is saying don’t blame me and my ancestors or the government of Portugal for something they did hundreds of years ago. That I find difficult to accept in the light that he should either apply that to the British, or pay up himself.

He never said his ancestors were not slave traders, slave shippers, he said “Don’t tell people I am the descendent of a Slave Trader”. Does that mean he wants to keep it a secret?

Antonio Gonsalves of Madeira, a sea captain, captured the first African men and manacled and enslaved them and took them to Portugal, where Prince Henrique the Navigator, gave them to the Pope as a gift. It was from there that the International Atlantic African Slave Trade developed. That is a fairly potted version, but there it is.

I have the whole history regarding this matter written and documented.

I do not write this with any spite or malice in my heart, I do not write here to annoy or aggravate. I write only because I believe what I write to be true, and in being true to attempt to correct the relevance of relevancivity, with the relevance to reparations.

Over to you Mr Gonsalves.

Just a little historical reminder.

1419 – Madeira Island:

John Gonsalves (João Gonçalves) discovers Madeira. João Gonçalves (John Gonsalves) a Jew (1392-1460). Gonsalves was also called O Zarco “the cross-eyed” settled Madeira island.

The John Gonsalves claimed the island of Madeira as Portuguese. As a reward for this, Prince Henry nominated him the first donee captain of Funchal. On Madeira, he named a certain area “Câmara de Lobos” due to a number of sea lions found in a cave there.

(Note: In Portuguese, sea lion is lobo marinho, which translates literally as sea wolf.)

1441 – Africa:

In 1441: Off the West African coast, an occurrence that later affected St. Vincent and the World this was the year that the international slave trade began with Prince Henry the Navigator of Portugal, when his sea captain Antão Gonçalves (written as Gonçalves but pronounced Gonsalves [Antonio or Anthony Gonsalves], in this recorded historical fact Antão can be found both as Gonsalves and Gonçalves, variations in the name due to anglicising, etc. Search the Internet under either spelling with the same results. Gonsalves is a recent phonetic spelling of the name Gonçalves, historically there was no such spelling as Gonsalves) kidnapped 10 Africans as slaves and delivered them to Prince Henrique (Henry) who gave them to the Pope as gifts.

Antão Gonçalves (Antonio or Anthony Gonsalves), intending to acquire a cargo of animal skins and oil to sell in Europe, landed on the shores of West Africa. The 10 Africans he abducted were almost an afterthought. Whilst trading glass beaded necklaces for skins with the Africans, he beckoned to them and said “vindo ao papa” (come to Papa), when they approached they were overpowered and manacled and taken aboard his ship. When he returned to Portugal, Gonsalves delivered the captives to Prince Henry, who in turn presented them as a gift to the Catholic Pope, then as much a powerful political figure as religious leader. The gesture so pleased the Catholic pontiff that he granted Prince Henry licence to a broad chunk of West African territory for slave taking. Hence the start of the African/European/Atlantic commercial slave trade. For some time thereafter, the Portuguese dominated the African/European slave trade with the continent of Africa and the peddling of its inhabitants. Long a part of history throughout much of the world, the practice often enslaving others now entered a new era, the so-called “Commercial Age.” Thousands of Africans during this period were herded into cramped, unsanitary quarters and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean for sale. Within two decades of Antão Gonsalves’ voyage, the African slave trade had become a highly profitable venture for the Portuguese.

Antão Gonçalves (Anthony Gonsalves) a Portuguese captain a son of João Gonçalves (John Gonsalves), abducted 10 Africans at Rio do Ouro on the West African coast. Antão Gonçalves (Portugal, dates unknown) 1441: Travels to Rio de Oro and brings the first cargo of African slaves to Portugal. In 1443, 1445, 1447, Anthony Gonsalves makes three more voyages to Rio de Oro.

The first shipment of African slaves were sent directly from Africa to Portugal. With the complicity and blessings of the Catholic Church the Portuguese would come to dominate the African gold, spice and slave trade for almost a century before other European nations became greatly involved.

Portugal: The Gonsalves (Gonçalves) family were Marranos [secret Jews because of Jewish persecution by the Catholic church] they played a leading role in introducing sugar cane cultivation to the Atlantic islands of Madeira

The start of the African slave trade as known in the Caribbean and Americas.

Later that year Portuguese captains Antão Gonçalves and Nuno Tristão capture 12 Africans in Cabo Branco (modern Mauritania) and take them to Portugal as slaves. Portuguese sailors entered the international slave trade, with African negroes at Cape Blanc.

African slaves were sold in the market at Lisbon. The slaves were taken to the market place and openly sold in the market at Lisbon.

Peter Binose
Self appointed keeper of the whistle

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

One reply on “We are what we are, with some exceptions”

  1. He also said in the papers, “They are playing into the hands of imperialism and colonialism” the problem is, he himself is a direct product of imperialism and colonialism.

    What is worse he joined SVG with a new colonialist and imperialist group when he joined us with ALBA without our express permission.

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