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Missing Places on World Maps

Capitão Avãgelho let me escape from Lisbon. The man was my owner for many years, and trained me to be a navigator and sailor. One day, he came stumbling back to the ship, carrying some new maps of the world. He laid hands on them in the city; I guessed the original owner did not want to part with them. They are beautifully drawn, with details we have sought for many years, and some terrors we hope to avoid. Parts of these world maps are missing; the gaps in the ocean fill me with dread, and a quiet hope. To think that we had charts of God’s entire earth was incredible; even my home on the gold dream coast of Africa is there.

They are all black lines and careful notes. How Avãgelho came upon them he will not say, but his knuckles are bloody.

***

I knew my life would be one of travel on the rough sea; my mission is to draw more of those missing places on those maps. I am willing to take great risks; any ship that brings me away from Portugal and gives me new luck to draw upon is welcome.

On land, people are cruel; life as a black African can be intolerable. We are called all kinds of names– moriscoBlack more, even infidell. We are treated as animals by monks and freedmen alike. On the ships, there is a different atmosphere; we are more often judged on our strength and willingness to step foot in dangerous ports overseas. As navigators, with maps and astrolabes, we can bring our ships to safe harbor in any kind of weather. We all trust this is enough.

Comparison

The Trade in Carved Ivory

Depictions of trade goods from Africa began appearing in European art around this time.

Dom Miguel de Castro’s servants with a decorated casket and ivory oliphant

Paintings of a Congolese Ambassador’s servants holding a decorated box and carved ivory oliphant.

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Carved Tusk/Oliphant

Carved ivory oliphant from pre-colonial Congo.

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