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Dossiê Geografia portuguesa, trópicos e colonialismo tardio

Portuguese Geography, tropics and late colonialism

Proposal and results of a dossier
Francisco Roque de Oliveira e João Sarmento

Notas do autor

We are grateful to all colleagues who generously contributed to the making of this dossier on “Portuguese Geography, the Tropics and Late Colonialism”, as well as to the external evaluators, who enriched the submitted manuscripts with relevant comments and suggestions. Special recognition is due to the Services of the Documentation and Information Centre and the Communication Office of the Institute of Geography and Spatial Planning of the University of Lisbon, for the location, transfer and treatment of archival documents – textual, cartographic and photographic – used in various of these works. The last and also the biggest thank you goes to the Terra Brasilis journal team, both for challenging us to organize this dossier, and for the care with which they followed the different stages of its making.

Texto integral

1Despite some partial studies published in recent years, a comprehensive reading of Portuguese Geography has not yet been carried out in order to understand the role of geographic discourse in “colonial context” and the way in which this same discourse seems to have been reassessed, as the international climate around Portuguese colonial policy from the mid-1950s onwards aggravated (Pimenta et al., 2011; Oliveira and Paiva, 2019; Sarmento, 2019). Postcolonial theory teaches us that colonization not only transformed the colonized world, but also profoundly transformed colonizing societies, thus placing the question of colonialism at the heart of European modernity (Driver, 2006; Butlin, 2009). This means that we departed to this dossier pretending, as a fundamental aim, to gather a set of critical analyses on some of the most representative discourses and practices of Portuguese Geography of the time, on the “tropical world”. In doing so, we propose to contribute to the epistemological renewal of the discipline itself, which, in our view, and in line with Driver (2006), Bruneau (2008), Jazeel (2014), Clayton and Kumar (2019) and Clayton (2020), has not yet sufficiently reflected on this very complex moment in its history.

2We recognise that tropical geography was constituted as a relatively autonomous disciplinary field in Portugal from the mid-twentieth century. We also identify that, to a certain extent, and as a result of the context of dictatorship and the intransigence regarding decolonization, which lasted until 1974, the history of the late Portuguese colonial period constituted a specific reality in the European context (Pimenta et al., 2011; Almeida, 2014; Jerónimo and Pinto, 2015; Alexandre, 2017). With the end of the Portuguese colonial rule in Africa and, almost simultaneously, with the establishment of a democratic regime and the preference for European integration, Portuguese tropical geography nearly disappeared. In any case, our first concern was not to contribute to the delimitation of a supposed Portuguese exceptionalism, but rather to add to the expansion of the current knowledge on “imperial science” global history, by exploring a geography situated beyond the Anglophone and Francophone worlds, which are nearly hegemonic in the contemporary academic debate (Ferretti, 2020). Our drive was therefore mainly to advance arguments to the important ongoing debate on the role of Geography in the processes of colonization and decolonization (Clayton and Kumar, 2019; Clayton, 2020).

3When we proposed to gather original contributions focused on the analysis of scientific discourses and practices on the profile of the main agents, networks and institutions that forged Portuguese geographical knowledge about the tropics in the post-World War II period, we launched the challenge to work on two main topics. On the one hand, an analysis focused on the activity of the so-called “Lisbon School of Geography”, organized at the Centre for Geographical Studies of the University of Lisbon, mainly around the figure of Orlando Ribeiro, and on the work of the various research missions that Ribeiro coordinated in Africa, but also in Asia, without which this “School” could not be understood (Castelo, 2013). On the other hand, we encouraged research focused on other institutional areas which are relevant to the understanding of the object under study, namely those capable of looking closely at the intersections between political, economic and scientific practices, which are at the heart of the assertions of “imperial science” (Shepherd, 2005; Hersey et al., 2019). In this context, research that deepened the study of the international networks and partnerships of Portuguese tropical geography, which may have constituted a perhaps barely visible, but no less interesting part, of the intense international networks – and, in this case, to a large extent trans-imperial – that structure the geographies of science between “centre” and “peripheries” (Meusburger et al., 2010; Jazeel, 2014; Jöns et al., 2017; Sarmento, 2019).

4If these were the starting premises for this dossier, the texts submitted in the meantime confirm the centrality or relevance of several of these topics, as they ended up inquiring other ineluctably associated themes with the construction of geographic knowledge that accompanied the last breath of the Portuguese colonial empire. Using a simple chronological rule, the first question posed concerns the reflection on the “colonial unconscious” that has accompanied the practice of Portuguese institutional Geography since the first decades of the 20th century, thus articulating what would be the specific subject of colonial geography and what we commonly recognize as being specific to tropical geography.

5This is what is proposed by José Ramiro Pimenta in the text about Francisco Xavier da Silva Teles. His work underlines several points of identity between, on the one hand, the contribution lent to the delimitation of the disciplinary field of Geography by a person who was, simultaneously, secretary-general of the Lisbon Geographical Society, promoter of the National Colonial Congress (1901) and the first person responsible for teaching Geography at higher level in Portugal, in 1904, and, on the other hand, Orlando Ribeiro's commendable judgment of his legacy, both with regard to the introduction of a “strictly scientific method” into university education, as well as “in the somewhat vague domain of colonial studies” that Silva Teles had conceived under the strong tutelage of Climatology (Ribeiro, 1976). This bond launched between two central figures – who are also very different - of Portuguese Geography of the 20th century has an immediate meaning, as this same memory reverberates on the place of the colonial dimension in the academic development of Geography, that is to say, that also in the Portuguese case, the construction of tropical geography in the context of the second post-War period did not dispense an explicit return to its colonial origins (Zytnicki, 2008; Deprest, 2017).

6If there were any doubts about this, the fact that the main effort of the “Lisbon School of Geography”, supervised by Ribeiro – and executed especially by Ilídio do Amaral, Raquel Soeiro de Brito, Mariano Feio and Carlos Alberto Medeiros – focused on the same Southwest Angola that Silva Teles had anticipated as the space of choice for “European acclimatization” in the Portuguese colonies in Africa (Pimenta, 2020; Pereira, 2023), confirms this idea. It is this fact that allows to establish a link between the two works that, to a certain degree, signal the extreme points of this long cycle of works. The earlier corresponds to the Rapport sur la climatologie inter-tropicale et les climats des colonies portugaises that Silva Teles prepared to the Colonial Institute in Brussels in 1924; the later is A Colonização das Terras Altas da Huíla (Angola): estudo de Geografia Humana [The Colonization of Huíla Highlands: a study of Human Geography], that Carlos Alberto Medeiros presented as a doctoral thesis at the University of Lisbon, in 1976, and which Orlando Ribeiro did not hesitate to describe as a “work of colonial Geography (despite the outdated term, but perfectly justified)” (Ribeiro, 1981: 125).

7This cataloguing is present in A colonização de Angola e o seu fracasso [ The Colonization of Angola and its failure], a book written in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the African Empire and a work in which Ribeiro also discovers links between Silva Teles' anticipation of progress in tropical hygiene and medicine applied to the study of malaria in A colonização portuguesa nos climas tropicais (1891) [Portuguese colonization in tropical climates], and the ideas that Pierre Gourou put forward on the same subject, more than half a century later. That Gourou was “the greatest tropicalist of all time” in Ribeiro’s reading (1981: 26) closes the circle that articulates this essentially office knowledge that went by the name of colonial geography – that of Silva Teles – and the “Terrain geography” on the tropics that the “Lisbon School of Geography” applied from the “system of thought” of Pierre Gourou and the tropical geographers who Gourou influenced, following the publication of his thesis on the peasants of the Tonkin Delta, in 1936 (Gourou, 1936; Solotareff, 1996: 253; Ribeiro, 2017 [1968]; Oliveira, 2019).

8It is true that the experience of the terrain was not a sufficient condition to mark the shift, from an epistemological and academic dimension, between an office knowledge and eminently applied to the economic challenges of colonization that was typical of colonial geography and the tropical geography of “culturalist” nature and “ecological” reasoning – that is, focused on the study of the relationship between human organisms and the bioclimatic environment (Solotareff, 1996; D'Alessandro, 2003; Claval, 2007; Bouquet, 2008; Zytnicki, 2008; Deprest, 2017). It is also a fact that it was based on the new institutional and political conditions found in the second post-War period for the development of field research that the work of tropical geographers managed to transform the legacy of the old colonial geography into a distinct knowledge. Even if Orlando Ribeiro, as we have just seen, preferred to continue to call everything by the same name, he already had in mind the new paradigm when, in a colloquium promoted by the Junta de Investigações Coloniais [Colonial Research Board], in December 1949, he advocated the need to meet the conditions to conduct direct, prolonged and intensive research:

Only when there is a body of researchers with extensive experience of working in tropical regions, people always ready to leave, when some monographs have been written and there are good specialists in different subjects in Africa or Asia, will we have taken a decisive step forward on the path of colonial research. (Ribeiro, 1970: 144)

9Not by chance, his disciple Ilídio do Amaral took this passage as the theme of the long inventory he prepared on the writings of the “Lisbon School of Geography” concerning tropical regions produced between the beginning of the 1940s and the end of the 1970s (Amaral, 1979). This report systematizes the results of the successive fieldwork “missions” organized by the Centre for Geographical Studies of the University of Lisbon on behalf of the Junta das Missões Geográficas e de Investigações Coloniais/do Ultramar, with an emphasis on the Geography Mission to Guinea (1947), the Geography Mission to India (1955-1956), the Physical Geography Study Mission of Angola (1958-1961) and the Overseas Physical and Human Geography Mission (1961-1973). It is also not by chance that in this dossier this is a recurring topic, as is the case with the text in which João Sarmento investigates the place that Africa had in the set of Portuguese tropical geography missions in the second half of the 20th century. This is a text that benefits from the recent work that this researcher devoted to Orlando Ribeiro's field notebooks produced during the successive work trips he made to Angola between 1960 and 1969, as part of the Geography missions carried out in the service of the Junta das Missões Geográficas (Sarmento, 2022).

10Starting from the description of the unifying role played by Orlando Ribeiro in this process, Sarmento articulates the geographer’s role with the aims of “scientific occupation” of the overseas territories. This policy, outlined by the Portuguese Estado Novo, from the second half of the 20th century, when the establishment of self-determination of peoples within the UN encouraged a set of responses on the part of the colonial power that – among many other aspects – combined the reinvention of old practices of scientific nationalism with the intensification of trans-imperial technical and scientific cooperation (Castelo, 2013, 2022). Essentially, the aim was to produce a “strategic knowledge” (Lacoste, 1976), capable of resisting the wave of decolonization in progress, purposes in relation to which institutionalized Geography responded through successive missions dedicated to fieldwork, as earlier mentioned, as well as the creation of the Scientific Group for the Preparation of Geographers for the Overseas, which operated under the Faculty of Arts of the University of Lisbon between 1958 and 1973, and was established from a proposal addressed in 1956 by Ribeiro to the Overseas Research Board.

11Sarmento reconstructs the micro-history of these organisms based on documentation from the private archives of two of the main researchers involved in them, i.e., Orlando Ribeiro and Ilídio do Amaral, and – above all – through the processes related to the Geographical missions carried out from 1958 onwards and integrated in the documentation of the now-defunct Overseas Research Board, presently in the custody of the University of Lisbon. In this review, a reference to the launch, in 1966, of the first issue of the journal Finisterra is also included. Co-founded by Orlando Ribeiro, Suzanne Daveau and Ilídio do Amaral at the Centre for Geographical Studies of the University of Lisbon, this journal soon established itself as the main Portuguese journal of academic Geography. From its inception it was marked by the dissemination of research results concerning Africa – and, as Sarmento reminds us, it symptomatically opened the first issue with a theoretical-methodological article signed by Pierre Gourou (Gourou, 1966).

12This particular observation which frames the launch of Finisterra within the scope of the work of the Overseas Physical and Human Geography Mission finds a different treatment in the bibliometric study that Diogo Gaspar Silva presents on the evolution of the contents of this journal between 1966 and the present. To this end, Silva explored the line of continuity that it is possible to establish between explicitly colonial or tropical themes, in a first phase, and the progressive updating of this body of studies in accordance with the concerns and semantics of the “geography of development” and – even more recently – post-colonial approaches, centred on the deconstruction of colonial ideology associated with geographic knowledge and its representations (Clayton, 2008, 2020; Pimenta et al., 2011; Clavaron, 2021). This study also takes as a starting point recent surveys on the intersection of “tropicality” in Portuguese Geography journals, in this case focusing on Brazil and Brazilian Geography (Paiva et al., 2019; Paiva e Oliveira, 2021). As in Sarmento's article, the reading of the successive thematic and epistemological reconfigurations of this legacy, transmitted in the pages of Finisterra for over more than five decades, allows a detailed approach to the archaeology of this knowledge. Firstly, because it analysis the contribution made by individual protagonists; secondly, since it unveils the dissemination rhythms that do not coincide exactly with the generic chronology that we use for the operational validity of the Lisbon Tropical “School” of Geography. If most researchers interrupted fieldwork with the advent of African decolonization, the dissemination of this knowledge continued to be important for another decade, with all that followed in terms of methodological effectiveness and integration with the new international debates that meanwhile accompanied the development of Geography (Lacoste, 2008).

13Two specific fieldwork experiences, separated by little more than a decade and translated from the respective technical reports for the Overseas Research Board, formed the basis of two texts prepared for this dossier. In the first case, it is the study presented by Francisco Roque de Oliveira on the report which resulted from Francisco Tenreiro field study in São Tomé, in 1956. Based on textual, cartographic and photographic documents from the Centre for Geographical Studies of the University of Lisbon, to which Tenreiro was associated almost since its foundation, Oliveira reconstructs the conditions encountered and the options taken in situ by the geographer, under the circumstances in which he had the first contact with the object that would embody his doctoral thesis: Ilha de São Tomé: estudo geográfico (1961) [The Island of São Tomé: a geographic study] – seen in retrospective, one of the reference works of Portuguese tropical geography (Medeiros, 1996).

14In this case, archive research made possible to fill in the many gaps resulting from not having had access to a personal record instrument such as a field notebook, and ended up offering particularly relevant clues to the reconstitution of the institutional and political context which led to Tenreiro's progressive involvement in the project of West Africa studies designed by Orlando Ribeiro in the late 1940s. At that time, Tenreiro added to the work he had been carrying out in Cape Verde archipelago, the inquiries resulting from the Geography mission to Portuguese Guinea. Predictably, this project was linked to the plan for the “scientific occupation of overseas territories” designed by the corresponding bodies and agents of the Portuguese Ministry of Colonies/Overseas. It responded in a no less decisive way to international scientific cooperation programs structured either from London, through the London School of Economics and Political Sciences and the International African Institute, or from Dakar, in this case through the Institut Français d'Afrique Noire (IFAN) and the so-called International Conferences of West Africanists (CIAO), which would later operate under the auspices of the Commission for Technical Cooperation in Africa South of the Sahara (CCTA) and the Regional Scientific Council for Africa South of the Sahara (CSA). From this gradual approach to study plans that are no longer strictly “colonial”, but rather “Africanist” – again, because they are inseparable from a field experience, carried out by professional researchers who put into practice heuristic instruments applied to the study of African geography (D'Alessandro, 2003) –, to a large extent, the insertion of the disciplinary territory of Portuguese university geography in the tropical space will take place.

15The second text, which is based on an example of field work carried out by Portuguese geographers, is signed by Cláudia Castelo. It focuses on information produced by Raquel Soeiro de Brito, in 1968, concerning cattle raising and grazing in the districts of Moçâmedes and Huíla, Angola. Written within the scope of the Overseas Physical and Human Geography Mission, in which Soeiro de Brito was an assistant, this report allows us to carry out a partial reconstitution of the methodology and the main work instruments used. While the results are generally very close to what is inferred for the same subject from Francisco Tenreiro's report analysed in the previous article, Soeiro de Brito' report is an eloquent example of the execution of applied science in the attempt to solve the growing conflicts that were happening between the pastoralist and agro-pastoral peoples of southwest Angola and the white settlers, who benefited from the demarcation of concessions and the establishment of livestock companies. The fact that this was a confidential document, aimed at the leadership of the Overseas Research Board and, from there, transmitted to the general government of Angola and to different levels of the colony's administration, should not detract us from its value as a testimony of the viewpoints mismatch – and even of the tension – between colonization options and policies and the results of scientific work, in this case that of geographers.

16Raquel Soeiro de Brito published a “note” in Finisterra (Brito, 1970) in which she incorporated a substantive part of the observations carried out in Moçâmedes, as well as the fundamentals of her critical point of view. These relate to the conditions imposed to the "native populations" transhumance practices, result of an arbitrary zoning and the "progressive cornering in the worst conditions areas", and to the establishment prospect of "evolved and willing to employ capital that can be amortized in the long term" white concessionaires, as her 1968 report reads. It certainly says something about how such mismatches took place. This confounds a priori judgments that are sometimes tried, when undertaking a colonial/tropical geographic discourse critique, generalizing in excess and not taking into account the diversity and competition of discourses in colonial situation (Singaravélou, 2008; Deprest, 2017; Macagno, 2019).

17It is worth adding that this is not an isolated case. Orlando Ribeiro did much the same when he published some of the criticisms he had written in confidential reports about white settlements and explicit practices of racism, as it happened in the emblematic Colonato da Cela, in the district of Kuanza-Sul, Angola (Castelo, 2013, 2021a, 2021b, 2022). What seems to be inferred from cases like these is a relative liberty given to geographical discourse, in contrast to what we find in the surveillance that Portuguese colonial and dictatorial state exercised over other disciplinary knowledge co-participants of the colonial scientific system, namely in social sciences. Why is there such an apparent inequality of criteria? In addition to what could arise from the intellectual authority and institutional prestige of this or that scientist – and in Ribeiro’s case, both valences were combined –, most likely, because the established power found in this latter group of knowledge a political and ideological background that did not recognized in the discipline of Geography, that was still viewed as very marked by its physical matrix, which in turn was mainly subsidized by the internal overweight of Geomorphology. Other “neutral” disciplinary fields, such as Biology, Botany and Zoology, shared with Geography the advantages which resulted from this relative autonomy in relation to the interference that the Portuguese empire state did not refrain from exercising over other areas of colonial knowledge (Henriques, 2014).

18In the article he prepared for this dossier, Frederico Ágoas directly confronts this reading paradigm, applying to Portuguese Geography led by Orlando Ribeiro in Lisbon – and by Aristides de Amorim Girão in Coimbra – an analysis grid similar to that which Rui Mateus Pereira applied to Portuguese Anthropology. According to Pereira (2011), the international conjuncture in the immediate post-War period was a decisive factor for the older Physical Anthropology, which was oriented towards raciology, to have gradually opened space for the valorisation of Ethnology as a social science and applied colonial science (cf. Leal, 2021). In Ágoas' text, it is a matter of integrating what is perceived as the colonial/tropical drift of Portuguese Human Geography – and which will take place after the aforementioned Geography mission to Guinea, in 1947 – in the broader movement of social drift of science colonial power, both nationally and internationally. To this end, Ágoas highlights the framework and stimulus generated by Ribeiro's participation in the Social Sciences Committee of the Commission for Technical Cooperation in Africa South of the Sahara and in the Standing Committee of the International Conferences of West Africanists, bringing together a series of recent research dedicated to the history of social sciences in Portugal (Ágoas, 2013, 2020, 2022).

19As mentioned, these matters were partially addressed in the article that Francisco Roque de Oliveira dedicated to the parallel affirmation of Francisco Tenreiro as an “Africanist” and in which we find an equivalent appreciation of the role played by these instruments of trans-imperial cooperation in the epistemic and institutional orientation both of metropolitan science, as well as the science outlined in colonial research institutes based in Dakar and Bissau. Translating the terms used in Ágoas' reading of the case carried out by Ribeiro's group, by the terms that Yves Lacoste (2008) used to value the contribution lent by French colonial/tropical geographers vis-à-vis their “generalist” colleagues, it emerges that the urgency placed in the fight against emerging anti-colonialism, carried by African nationalisms and the creation of the UN, ended up dictating that Portuguese Geography had recovered the attention that it had generally failed to pay to political phenomena. This was a circumstance that, paradoxically or not, brought it closer to the developments of the social sciences and may well have facilitated their reconversion in the post-colonial period.

20If Frederico Ágoas introduced the sociologist's perspective to this broad reading of the foundations and results of Portuguese Geography in the context of late colonialism, Bernardo Pinto da Cruz added the necessary perspective of political science, this time crossing two contrasting views on the policy of strategic villages drawn by the Portuguese authorities in Angola during the Colonial War (1961-1974). One is the work of the then young American political scientist Gerard J. Bender, linked to the University of Southern California, and that of the South African geographer David L. Niddrie, who began his career in the 1930s at the University of Natal and joined the Department of Geography at the University of Florida in 1966, after sometime at the Universities of Manchester, Southern Illinois and Puerto Rico. From the outset, in this case, it is a matter of understanding how the same object of study – given by one of the most striking forms of “rural reorganization” and counter-insurrection carried out in the last quarter of Portuguese colonialism in Africa (Curto and Cruz, 2013; Curto et al., 2016; Cruz, 2019, 2020a, 2020b) – was shared and disputed by two international science agents from different generations and disciplinary fields (De Grassi, 2018). At the same time, it is a matter of assessing the extent to which access to colonial territories in a state of war, and classified information provided to foreign researchers was managed by the researchers themselves, resulting in work that, objectively, does not seem to be a simple reflection of the political, military and institutional interests that granted them this access, whether in Lisbon, Luanda or the United States. In a certain sense, these examples – especially that of Bender – allow us to confirm the same quality of tensions and negotiation that we discovered in other texts in this dossier that deal with those Portuguese geographers who responded as much to the pragmatic agenda of the funding institutes of colonial science, as they were able to add to them the mark of their own research and career projects – Ribeiro, Tenreiro and Soeiro de Brito as the most evident cases here.

21The exercise proposed by Bernardo Pinto da Cruz – namely to track down the contacts and surveillance exercised over Gerard Bender by the overseas and diplomatic services, by scientific control bodies such as the Overseas Research Board, by the Portuguese political police, but also by the CIA – makes extensive use of the archival documentation corresponding to the former Colonial Research Board and the Political Affairs Office of the extinct Ministry of Overseas, now part of the Diplomatic Archive of the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At the same time, it suggests that the selective access to production with geographical relevance from the colonial administration provided to foreign academics such as Bender and Niddrie is not disconnected from the public effectiveness achieved by a set of “quasi-academic” publications prepared by several international observers who made journalistic travels to Angola and neighbouring territories at the invitation of the Angolan liberation movements.

22At this point, the text by Bernardo Pinto da Cruz has immediate contact with the almost symmetrical reading that Federico Ferretti brings to us regarding the “subaltern diplomacy” promoted by the main independence political leaders of Portuguese Africa to gather support and sympathies at the international level. Starting from the consultation of a set of private collections – that of the French communist geographer Jean Suret-Canale integrated in the Departmental Archives of Seine-Saint Denis, in Bobigny, France, and the documentation of Amílcar Cabral and Mário Pinto de Andrade made available by the Mário Soares and Maria Barroso Foundation, in Lisbon, Portugal –, Ferretti attempts a reconstitution of this network of international solidarity, including names such as the historian Basil Davidson, the political economist Ronald H. Chilcote, the sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein and the writer Joyce Lussu, in addition to the French activists linked to the Comité National de Soutien de la Lutte de Libération dans les Colonies Portugaises, as was the case with Gil Tchernia and Maurice Gastaud (Barros, 2020; Ginsburger, 2021).

23In his article, Ferretti includes a pertinent reference to the project outlined by Amílcar Cabral in the early 1970s seeking UNESCO and the French publisher Présence Africaine for the printing of didactic books on Geography, with contents signed by Suret-Canale. They were intended for basic education in territories controlled by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), led by Cabral. Naturally, the terms in which the work of another international geographer such as David Niddrie took place – who, as Bernardo Pinto da Cruz reveals, at about the same time visited Guinea at the invitation of the Portuguese Association of Companies in the Overseas, in conjunction with the Portuguese Embassy in Washington, with a view to producing “scientific” content that would certify Portugal's control over that territory and disprove the information circulated by the PAIGC and the UN Special Commission on Decolonization –, could hardly contrast more with the results pursued by Amílcar Cabral in using the geographical summaries of Suret-Canale to build a “national anti-colonial consciousness” in Guinea Bissau. However, what both say about the instrumental value of geographical writing – whether to forge a spatial representation of a new society, in the case of Suret-Canale, or to capture political support on the foreign front for a beleaguered colonial cause, in the case of Niddrie – is, in substance, equivalent. The urgency placed in these as in any other analogous démarches, both colonial and anti-colonial, only reinforces their nature as images genetically linked to the “impure and mundane” rhetoric of the social power that charges them (Barnett, 1996, 1998; Laranjeiro, 2021).

24Borrowed from the criticism of Pierre Gourou's tropical geography that Aimé Césare had written in his Discours sur le colonialism (1953), these were precisely the terms used by Daniel Clayton to interpret, in a decolonial tone, the set of works on Tropical Geography by Pierre Gourou and Orlando Ribeiro, risking transposing the critique normally dedicated to “subaltern” actors and voices – as is largely done by Federico Ferretti – to two figures who embody the academic establishment of their time. This comparative exercise also benefits from a long journey dedicated to the contextualization of Pierre Gourou's geographical research, reviewing the terms in which the debate on tropicality had emerged in the English-speaking world by the hand of the historian David Arnold (2000), which was recently systematized in the book that Gavin Bowd and Daniel Clayton published on Gourou's work (Bruneau, 2008; Bowd and Clayton, 2019). The essay proposed by Clayton for this dossier recovers the image that Ranajit Guha invented in the essay “Not at Home in Empire” (1997), used to underline the limits of apprehension of colonial space, which finds an immediate analogy in the experience of dispossession and precariousness that postmodern canonical literature reviews, in cases such as the “landless” in Brazil (Young, 2003).

25Daniel Clayton's analysis covers nearly four decades. The earlier moment is the almost simultaneous preparation of the first drafts of Les Pays Tropicaux (1947) by Pierre Gourou and the establishment of the Lisbon Centre for Geographical Studies, by Ribeiro, in 1943. The latest moment, is the publication, also almost coinciding, of two composite books – a mix of autobiography, a reflection on the fate of tropical studies in Geography and a balance on colonial legacies – Terres de bonne esperance (1982) by Gourou and the aforementioned A colonização de Angola e o seu fracasso, which Ribeiro published in 1981. The latter was reviewed by Gourou in the following year, in Les Cahiers d'Outre-Mer, confirming a personal and scientific complicity dating back to the late 1930s. Based on the well-known technical-scientific advice that both Ribeiro and Gourou borrowed to the colonization enterprise, the supposed “duty of reserve” that one and the other would have known how to exercise in face of their respective institutional and political contexts, is explored. Similarities emerge with the text written by Cláudia Castelo and with what we mentioned earlier, about the concept of the apparent “neutrality” of Geography.

26As Daniel Clayton argues here, this deliberate ambiguity manifested itself both in the use of the “realistic illusion” claimed by the disciplinary paradigm of Vidalian matrix that Ribeiro and Gourou shared, and in the public distance that these two geographers manifested in relation to tangible achievements of social engineering and settlement in rural areas of Angola and Mozambique, for example. Ribeiro invited Gourou to take part in two of the fieldwork missions carried out by the group of geographers of the “Lisbon School of Geography” in these territories between 1962 and 1963. The French geographer highlighted a sense of accelerated degradation of “traditional” forms of the landscape and the commitment of the purposes inscribed in the Luso-Tropicalist script of harmonic “miscegenation” that had moved in part from Gilberto Freyre to Orlando Ribeiro and, from there, to Gourou himself, to the point where it became indistinguishable in any of them. It is interesting to note that Ilídio do Amaral, in his review of A colonização de Angola e o seu fracasso, published in Finisterra in 1983, regretted that Orlando Ribeiro did not take the opportunity to make a criticism of Luso-Tropicalism in such a fashion as that of Gerard Bender's Angola under the Portuguese. The Mith and the Reality (1978), a book published in Lisbon in 1980 in a Portuguese translation revised by the author (Amaral, 1983). It should be added that Ilídio do Amaral was not the only one of the geographers of Lisbon to be attentive to the paradigm transition: shortly before, Finisterra had already published a long review of Bender's book signed by António Costa (1981).

27Now in a literal sense, two other texts focuses on images – although deliberately very dissimilar to each other. Luís Miguel Moreira signs the first one, dedicated to the summary presentation of the conditions of production and reception of the monumental Atlas of Portugal Ultramarino [Atlas of Portugal Overseas], published by the Junta das Missões Geográficas e de Investigações Coloniais [Geographical Missions and Overseas Research Board] in 1948. This publication was preceded by a troubled editing process aimed at recovering the contents and the propagandistic message about the empire that the defunct Cartography Commission – created in 1883, in the midst of Scramble for Africa (Lobato, 2010) – had served more than 30 years earlier, when it published the Atlas Colonial Português [Portuguese Colonial Atlas] (1914). Like most similar works, the Atlas de Portugal Ultramarino aimed at providing the general public with access to geographical knowledge about the empire that was as up-to-date as possible, through geodesic, cartographic and hydrographic works, as well as through studies of the various natural and human sciences resulting from the various scientific missions that the Junta was sponsoring in the colonial territory. It was based on the experience of the Cartography Commission, of which it had been heir since 1936. An ostentatious work which was very marked by the way the Estado Novo coated politics and ideology to the “third Portuguese empire” (Clarence-Smith, 1990; Alexandre, 2004), this atlas highlights the cartography of African colonies. Used and scrutinised by academic geographers in the following years, it was criticised, starting with Orlando Ribeiro, who wrote his dissatisfaction, in an internal report to the Board, as early as 1949. The meaning of these criticisms also deserves special attention, first of all because it seems to focus on the technical quality and the thematic options followed, leaving aside any discussion about the project or the ideal of “imperial citizenship” pursued by the cartographic representations compiled in the Atlas of Portugal Ultramarino (Blaise et al., 2011; Avila, 2011; Edney, 2019).

28The proposal brought by Daniel Paiva offers an analysis in a reverse chronological situation. On the one hand, it is a matter of pointing out examples of study and re-appropriation of photographs taken during fieldwork in different spaces of the “tropical world” by Vidalian-based geographers linked to the “Lisbon School”, in a post-colonial context. Thus, this work includes a set of artistic objects recently created using photographic material held by the photo archive of the Centre for Geographical Studies of the University of Lisbon – e.g. books, exhibitions and films/documentaries –, which appeal to the urgent reflection on the presence (or absence), in these new objects, of revealing signs of an awareness of the colonial context in which the images were originally produced. On the other hand, this reading dedicated to the re-appropriation and resignification of photography typical of “classical” geographical science, through personal narratives that reintroduce subjectivity in observation, is accompanied by an alignment with some examples coming from literary studies that have explored, departing from cases such as that of the geographer-poet Francisco Tenreiro, the potential of the transit between the observation resulting from fieldwork in Geography and the poetic representation of the observed spaces – and eventually also captured by “photographic experience” (Éboli, 2010; Vancassel, 2021). In either case, it is largely a matter of repositioning objects extracted from a colonial context, thinking about and using them according to the personal dimension, subjectivities and hybridism of the post-colonial (Allain Bonilla, 2017; Ribeiro, 2017; Bancel, 2021; Siqueira, 2021, 2022).

29The personal photographic archive, together with the memory exercise that it raises, ended up being at the centre of the text that Maria Auxiliadora da Silva and André Nunes de Sousa prepared in turn of the IV International Colloquium of Luso-Brazilian Studies, promoted by the University of Bahia and UNESCO, and held in Salvador, Brazil, in August 1959. Participating in this event as a young researcher linked to the recently established Laboratory of Geomorphology and Regional Studies at the University of Bahia, led by Milton Santos, the first author of this text would later train in Agrarian Geography at the Centre for Geographical Studies of the University of Lisbon, in 1966, focusing her study in the case of Coruche, Portugal. At the time, Maria Auxiliadora da Silva received a scholarship from the Instituto de Alta Cultura (Portuguese Institute for the High Culture) and was welcomed by Orlando Ribeiro and the agronomist and geographer José Correia da Cunha, having shared a close relationship with her generational colleagues António de Brum Ferreira, Carlos Alberto Medeiros, Isabel Medeiros and Jorge Gaspar, among others (Geosul Magazine, 2014; Sousa, 2014). The scope of the research that brought her to Lisbon in the mid-1960s refers to the consolidated practice of the Lisbon School of Geography on the transformations brought about in rural areas by the introduction of modern irrigation works. While this theme escapes the immediate object of this dossier – and for this reason, the authors chose not to develop it here –, it is in the testimony given about the organization and development of the works of Section I “O Meio e o Homem” [The environment and Men] of the Luso-Brazilian Colloquium of Bahia (including here the unpublished photographs that illustrate it) that we find the focus of some of the main topics that crossed the entire dossier.

30These themes converge, once again, in the figure of Francisco Tenreiro, who, in the absence of Orlando Ribeiro, represented the Lisbon Centre for Geographical Studies in Bahia and was one of the rapporteurs for the sessions of the aforementioned section I. He was responsible for presenting his opinion on the majority of the urban geography works by the team of the Geomorphology and Regional Studies Laboratory of Bahia, including those signed by Maria Auxiliadora da Silva. In any case, we know that Tenreiro's participation in this Colloquium extended to the two meetings of the roundtable entitled “African problems of Portuguese-Brazilian interest” and that, both there and in all six sessions of Section I, he stressed his position regarding Portuguese colonization in Africa. The voice of the geographer, the voice of the member of the official Portuguese Delegation – chaired by the then Dean of the University of Lisbon and former Overseas Minister Marcelo Caetano – or even the voice of the deputy by São Tomé and Príncipe to the Portuguese National Assembly, as Tenreiro is also identified in these works (Ribeiro, 2002, 2010), were not easy to distinguish.

31It was in the context of this fundamental ambiguity that the idea of “ecological colonization” emerged in the discussion. Raised by the communication sent by Orlando Ribeiro, whose Freyrian arguments Tenreiro makes his own and clarifies in a moment of debate, explaining that this concept expressed “the transplantation of the Mediterranean culture to the tropics followed, therefore, by the tropicalization of the people” (Ribeiro, 2010: 181). In this case, following a communication by the geographer of the University of São Paulo, Antonio Rocha Penteado, who had carried out a comparative study between Bahia and Angola (Colóquio, 1959), the experience of Colonato da Cela will also be discussed, aligning once more Tenreiro for the record of those who considered it to be “a very original experience that is bearing fruit” (Ribeiro, 2010: 182). A year and a half away from the outbreak of the Colonial War, in Angola, the terms in which Portuguese Geography publicly approached colonial questions, indicates, to a large extent, everything we have been noticing about the omnipresent weight of circumstances, and the shadow which they shed over a certain way of thinking and doing science.

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Francisco Roque de Oliveira e João Sarmento, «Portuguese Geography, tropics and late colonialism»Terra Brasilis [Online], 17 | 2022, posto online no dia 30 junho 2022, consultado o 15 junho 2024. URL:; DOI:

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Francisco Roque de Oliveira

Centro de Estudos Geográficos, Instituto de Geografia e Ordenamento do Território, Universidade de Lisboa e Laboratório Associado TERRA, Portugal

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João Sarmento

Departamento de Geografia e Centro de Estudos em Comunicação e Sociedade – Universidade do Minho – Campus de Azurém

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