Chapter 2

My Voyages in the Atlantic and the African Coast

DaCosta's second set of entries. In this short chapter, he writes of the pain of slavery, and retells more of his Atlantic voyages. Of note are his observations of the African coast, and the use of trade beads to finance the slave trade.

Those trips between ports on the African coast…When did I pass my home? Was it one of the nameless, overgrown creeks? We hear people speak strange languages along the coast; I try to catch a word, a scrap, echoes of my mother’s tongue. It is always chatter.

All these things go through my head, but I remain stoic; inside, I cry out for a clue. Am I misremembering? Is my home just over a hill? Are they still waiting for me there? It would do no good to jump ship and abandon my crew just for the hope of a new memory of my first family. I know my sailors well, especially the Africans on board; they feel these same things, but as with all confessions, it is best kept unsaid. Our eyes graze the coastline, however, and we all know.


Some nights ago, I wondered to myself, then—was this my place to disappear? I wanted to quietly slip away into the forest and find my mother’s family there, just over a ridge. But I did not. I might say I was forced to stay, or tricked, but the truth is much simpler. That night, I sat at watch on the deck with some other men, talking quietly near the fire pits. Insects bit us constantly, and that low sleepy noise of the tropical night seemed all around. In that moment, I lost heart; I feared the loneliness beyond the light of the fires, in the black woods.

Yesterday, after a drink had been passed around, I confessed that agony to my men; I told them my thoughts of jumping ship. Black and white alike, they drew quiet looks at each other. Perhaps they were sympathetic, perhaps they were angry, seeing my discomfort. There is little room in their hearts for understanding. This is a dangerous, deadly life. My confession got nods and grunts, but not much else.


And so the sun rises and sets on the Gold Coast.


West Africa

A collection West African images, art, and artifacts from the Age of Exploration.

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My men and I collect fired glass beads on the trip along the African coast. I’m not entirely sure why I wanted them; they sit quietly gathered in my belongings.

I have taken the time to draw a few pictures of them on paper, but my pen and ink fail to capture the colorful and sturdy way they sit in the hand. They are used as barter for the slaves and are of great worth to the Africans. Sailors keep them as mementos. Some men gamble, and I’ve known those who lose string upon string in games of chance.

There are some creoles from São Tomé and the Kongo with us—they would not ever be truly welcome in Portugal, and perhaps the chance for escape was strong.


Forms of Currency

Comparing forms of currency in West Africa

Akan Gold Weights

Akan goldweights, or mrammou, are weights made of brass. They were used as a measuring system by the Akan people of West Africa, particularly for weighing gold dust, which was currency until replaced by paper money and coins.

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Glass Trade Beads

Another form of currency, glass trade beads were used as a durable and portable form of currency.

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I keep my interest in books a quiet happiness. Men and women I cannot name are able to acquire one or two for me, usually in exchange for some favor from the docks. A missing parcel here or there from the holds means I can read and write as I please.

It may seem strange to imagine an African writing in Portuguese, but there is nothing magical about it. My teaching began early; a kindly church member took it upon herself to show me how to read and write. Over the years, I stole books from the white Portuguese captains I visited, practiced my letters and drawing skills, and maintained a diary of my travels and experiences. The men and women who see me read are sometimes amazed, other times angry, but none doubt my ability.

Do what must be done, to thrive.


It was that love of reading that led The Lusiads to my desk. The first time I heard the poems spoken, I was enchanted. The words were at once a dream and a document, and I knew I must visit these places. de Sousa, my advisor and the ship’s soto-pilot, laid hands on a copy and gave it to me. I keep it with me wherever I can.

Chiampa there her fragrant coast extends,
There Cochin-China’s cultur’d land ascends:
From Anam Bay begins the ancient reign
Of China’s beauteous art-adorn’d domain;
Wide from the burning to the frozen skies,
O’erflow’d with wealth, the potent empire lies.


I’ll get the chance to see Asia, if the sea cooperates.


Cape Verde

On a short trade voyage, we have stopped to load food and water at Cape Verde.

This weather on this island reminds me of Lisbon in some small way: warm ocean breezes and an Atlantic sun that lingers on the horizon. What terrible beasts lurk in the waters south of here?