Apreliminary remark on method should be made. The account which follows does not attempt to give an exhaustive description of the whole Portuguese colonial system. The method chosen is rather to select various key sectors which appear to be privileged expressions of the whole, and to show their rigorous coherence. An initial criterion guided the selection of the areas examined: they are those where a marked differential is evident between the Portuguese example and the normal colonial pattern. It is through the specific characteristics of Portuguese colonialism that a model of the whole will be suggested.

The most notorious single feature of the Portuguese African colonies is their systematic use of forced labour. It is this which immediately identifies the Portuguese variant of colonialism as against all others. Official statistics and statutes are sparser and more misleading in this area than in any other. A great deal of the evidence of the use of forced labour inevitably comes from foreign observers. However these, together with occasional involuntary official admissions and the open rationale of exploitation, combine to form a picture which is, within limits, precise and consistent.

Labour in the Portuguese colonies outside the African subsistence economy is divided into four categories: correctional, obligatory, contract and voluntary.

1. Correctional Labour. This is a legal penalty inflicted on Africans who infringe the Criminal or Labour Codes. It is also imposed in Mozambique for failure to pay the native head tax (in Angola the penalty is obligatory labour).

2. Obligatory Labour. This may be imposed by the government for public works, when voluntary workers are insufficient. The only groups formally exempted from it are those under 14 or over 60, the sick and the invalid, Africans already in employment, recognised chiefs, workers on their first six months home after contract work, sepoys (who are often in charge of the labour brigades)—and women. Obligatory labour is used mainly on port installations, railroads, sanitation works, and road-building and maintenance. All witnesses agree that despite the formal regulations, the use of women and children on local road-details is absolutely general in the colonies. Basil Davidson, visiting Angola in 1954, wrote:

“Rural roads are invariably built and maintained by the unpaid conscripted labour of the people of the area through which the road passes. These people have to furnish not only their labour but also their own food, and often enough their own tools. Since many men are absent on forced labour elsewhere, the local chief or herdman in whose hands responsibility for the road is left will frequently call up women and quite small children. That is why one sees women with babies on their backs, and pregnant women, and quite small girls, scraping at roads with primitive hoes and carrying cupfuls of earth in little bark containers on their heads, while their headman or his ‘responsible’ sits nearby moodily hugging his knees.”footnote.

Gwendolen Carter, who was in Angola in 1959, wrote in almost identical terms: