Paul Krause, UBC, History

Silencing Colonialism
& Slavery in Every Day Life

In Summer, 2016, I was in Spain, Morocco, and Portugal for a short time. Everywhere there are reminders of the layered history of the Mediterranean – of the complex interplay of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, and of the European rise to global hegemony to which Spain and Portugal had led the way. In Lisbon, I encountered a terrific young guide, Rafa, who recited Fernando Pessoa’s iconic poem of Portugal’s colonial ventures, “Portuguese Sea:”

O salty sea, so much of whose salt

Is Portugal’s tears! All the mothers

Who had to weep for us to cross you!

All the sons who prayed in vain!

All the brides-to-be who never

Married for you to be ours, O sea!

Was it worth doing? Everything’s worth doing

If the soul of the doer isn’t small.

Whoever would go beyond the Cape

Must go beyond sorrow.

God placed danger and the abyss in the sea,

But he also made it heaven’s mirror.

The young man who recited this had no sense of the tragic imbrication of modern slavery and of Portugal’s rise to power. In his eyes, slavery was incidental to the “greatness” that was Portugal.