Afro-Portuguese are descendants of black Africans, Afro-Arabs, and Afro-Brazilians in Portugal. The number of blacks in Portugal is not reliable. Researchers have put the figure between 300,000-500,000. Others have put the figure higher. The government does not keep ethnic data, largely due to the notion of "luso-tropicalism", an ideology created by the Brazilian Gilberto Freyre in the 1950s, which spread the idea that the Portuguese were better colonisers than the French, British, Belgium, and Dutch.

Blacks brought to Portugal during the trans-atlantic slave period, never completely mixed with the broader Portuguese population and completely vanish, as in Spain. Portugal had a continuous black population from the fifteenth century to present. Portugal during her imperial age was unique in having the largest black population in Europe, from the 1500s to the 1800s. 

Brazilians form the largest immigrant community. Afro-Portuguese come from former African colonies- Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe. Because citizenship is transferred from parent to child, jus sanguinis (right of blood), Afro-Portuguese are never citizens, instead are viewed as nationalities living in Portugal, even if living in the country for generations and knowing only Portuguese culture. Portugal and Spain were the only countries in Europe to allow slavery on European soil during the trans-Atlantic slave period.


Early Period

Timeline of Afro-Portuguese History

237 bc Hamilcar Barca (father of Hannibal) begins conquest of 
            Iberia for Carthage
220 bc Iberia becomes part of the Carthaginian Empire
19    bc Iberia under Roman control
714   Arabs introduce sugarcane & cotton in al-Andaluse
720   Iberia under Arab control
1094 al-Andaluse incorporated in Almoravid Empire
1172 al-Andaluse incorporated in the Almohad Empire
1232 Muslims diminished in Spain only muslim Granada remains till   
1253 Kingdom of Portugal(Portucal/Algarve) emerges
1333 Marinid invades southern Spain
1404 First sugar mill(engenho) built in s. Portugal, learned 
from the Italians-Genoese were experts in sugar production
1444 First African trans-Atlantic slaves in Lisbon
1450 Hundreds of slaves entering Iberia
1452 Papal Bull condone slave raiding-crusade against heathens
1479 Treaty of Alcaçovas, no Spanish outpost in Africa 
1480 500 slaves per year imported, during the decade
1482 Elmina Fort (Sao Jorge da Mina) is built
         -Portugal makes contact with Kongo Kingdom
1483 Ambassador Caçuta from Kongo Kingdom in Portugal
1486 Bartholomew Diaz circum-navigate Cape of Good Hope
         -Portugal makes contact with Benin
1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, gave Africa to Portugal
1498 Portuguese on Swahili coast
1500s maize(corn) & cassava introduced in Africa by Portug.
1503 Kilwa, Mombasa, and Barawa attacked by Portuguese
1513 thirty Africans with Balboa when discover Pacific
1520 Ndongo sends representative to Portuguese court
1534 Mali sends ambassadors to Portugal
1543 Ethiopia request aid from Portugal, battle with Adal
1580 Spain and Portugal united to 1640
1640 Spain and Portugal union end, Portugal no longer slave source
1600s rise of Dutch trade, diminishes Portuguese dominance
1628 Mavura, a Portuguese puppet rules Mutapa
1684-1696 Portuguese expelled from Zimbabwe
1698 Portuguese expelled from Swahili Coast, by Pate & Oman
1822 Pedro I declares himself emperor of Brazil breaks from Portugal
1877 Portugal ends slavery
1888 the Golden Law(Lei Aurea) ends slavery in Brazil

Portugal has always had blacks since written history. They were with the Carthaginians. They were active in Roman society. They were with the invading soldiers and among the residence of the Afro-Arab invasion and occupation of Iberia, from 711 to 1250.


During the Afro-Arab/Berber( Cordobo Caliphate, AlmoravidAlmohad) conquest, Berbers were major components of the troops that occupied Spain. By 720, all of Iberia was under Islamic control. Cordoba became the capital of the Islamic regime. Al-Andaluse became a thriving, prosperous, and intellectually progressive region. It was one of the most cosmopolitan place in all of Europe. Individuals of many religions resided in the territory. Jews and Christians walked her streets. Slaves were of all races--White slaves from Frankish, Galic, and Slavic regions, Black slaves from Africa. Black and mulatto slave wives or djariyas existed. Some blacks made a name for themselves like Abu'l-Hasian Ali ibn Nafi or Ziryab(789-857). Ziryab made a name for himself as a trendsetter, introducing toothpaste and underarm deodorant, the wearing of seasonal clothing, hairstyles, the clean-shaven look. He introduced the eating of asparagus and Iraqi cuisine in al-Andaluse. Numerous recipes bear his name. He made the drinking of wine acceptable. Ishraq as-Suwaida, a black female, was well known for her knowledge of prosody and grammar. 

By 1094, al-Andaluse was incorporated in the Berber Almoravid Empire. The Almoravid army was constituted of many black troops. The Almoravid and later the Almohad printed a much recognized dinar supplied with gold from the Sahel. In 1212, the Christian Kingdom of Spain took much of Almohad territory.

Kingdom of Portugal 

The black population took off with the establishment of plantation slavery by Portugal in the Azores, Madeira, Brazil, Sao Tome Principe, and Cape Verde. In 1444, the Portuguese engage in slave raiding along the Senegal river, Guinea Coast, and Congo. They would later establish ports, to transport African victims to their colonies. Some slaves were destined to Portugal.

By the 1500s, the black population increased due to slavery. In 1600, the population of Lisbon and Algarve was reported at 10%. Blacks began to organize themselves into confraternities for self-help and to continue customs and traditions from Africa. During Portuguese festivals, africans would wear their traditional clothing, reflective of their ancestral homelands.


Every echeleon of Portuguese society owned slaves: clergy, aristocracy,  and commoner. Slaves were expensive and typically owned by the aristocracy. Only the government retained large numbers of slaves. It was rare to have commoners owning slaves.

Slaves were used for many purposes. The aristocracy used them as domestic servants. Some were hired out to perform duties for a fee. They were used for dangerous jobs, such as the hospitals, during epidemics.

Slaves could be set free. Some slaves bought their freedom via payments from their labor. Other slaves were set free by their masters. If a black woman birthed her owner's child, the child would typically be freed by the father. 

Escaped slaves were a rare thing, but sometimes slaves would successfully runaway. Some would escape to Seville, where they would receive assistance. Black slaves were especially trusted because of their black skin. North African slaves could hide and blend in, not a black slave. Slaves who runaway faced punishment of the pigamento,  the pouring of hot lard on the back. This was a rare punishment, since the slave was an expensive object, not to be damage. Punishment was typically lashes. Slaves could not trust the white population, who could return them to their master for a bounty.

Free Blacks

A free black population also existed. They were employed as sailors on ships that sailed along the African west coast. Free blacks were the majority of ferrymen on the Tagus River. Black women were street vendors, selling food. Although they were free, free blacks led a life almost the same as being in bondage. They were banned from most of the trade guilds, clergy, and competed with slaves and poor whites for jobs. With principles like limpeza de sangue( purity of blood), free blacks could be discriminated on anything, especially jobs.
African Territories 
Cape Verde
Equatorial Guinea
Guinea Bissua
Sao Tome & Principe 

In 1822, Portugal was pressured by Britain to end the slave trade. Out of pressure from slave holding regions like Alentejo and Algarve, slavery did not end until 1877. Portugal up to this time had the largest black population in Europe. With emancipation, the black population in Portugal became non-existent in the mind of the Portuguese government. A large under-class of black and mulatto occupied Lisbon. Black women were banned from selling their grocery and foodstuff from the local markets, a traditional source of income. Black immigration from Portugal was very restrictive, until the administration of Oliveira Salazaar gave equal status to Portuguese colonies. Migration from the colonies increased, but jobs and opportunities proved very scarce. Many blacks moved to other European countries.


Blacks left certain imprints on Portuguese culture. Black caricatures were used in theaters and a theatrical language called fala de negro (black talk) was utilized extensively in Portuguese theater and exported to Spain. Black comic caricatures were used during entremezes(intermissions between one Act). Blacks left imprints on the music of the Renaissance in Portugal and Spain, in terms of instrumentation, methodology, and rhythm. The fola an Afro-Brazilian dance was popular in Portugal. The Portuguese fado, the national musical composition of Portugal, was initially influenced by Afro-Brazilian music.

Current Status

Xenophobia in Portuguese society is very rampant. This has resulted in profiling of a lot black Portuguese. 

The issue of citizenship for Afro-Portuguese is a recurring theme, especially now with the Portuguese population looking towards Africa as a destination of opportunity. Portugal's citizenship laws are based on the jus sanguinis (right of blood), citizenship is transferred from parent to child. Many Afro-Portuguese, who have lived in the country for generations and only know Portuguese culture, are not viewed as citizens or even Portuguese, but viewed as the nationality of origin, Angolan, Brazilian, Cape-Verdean for example. They may speak with a Portuguese accent and not with an African or Brazilian accent, completely acculturated to Portuguese society and never viewed or be officially part of the society.  

Famous Afro-Portuguese

Sara Tavares

Works Cited

Henriques, Joana Gorjão. Portugal is race blind, but not for the right reasons. The Guardian. 12-Sept-2011

Mario de Queiroz. Second and Third Generation Foreigners. IPS News. 14-Sep-2005. retrieved 09-Jan-2012