by José Miguel Ferreira, Matheus Serva Pereira, and Ricardo Roque (coord.)

Between 2019 and 2022 the INDICO research team worked on an archival survey of hitherto untapped indigenous African and Asian manuscripts from Angola, Mozambique, Portuguese India, and Timor, in the Arquivo Histórico Ultramarino (AHU – Overseas Historical Archive), in Lisbon. We offer open-access to the catalogue of this survey of indigenous African and Asian documents in the Conselho Ultramarino archives held by AHU. AHU is since the 1930s the main archival institution that safeguards manuscript records from the former Portuguese colonial empire from the sixteenth century onwards.  Our purpose was to unearth, identify and describe Angolan, Mozambican, Timorese, and Goanese indigenous-authored documents amidst the numerous papers of the series Avulsos do Fundo do Conselho Ultramarino – a vast and diverse documental trove of many thousands of records, covering a wide imperial chronology (circa 1642 to 1833), and a variety of colonial spaces. This collection encompasses a wide imperial geography. Yet, only the above mentioned four territories were selected for this survey because of their linkage to our INDICO case-study areas.  Our work has brought to light a complex and numerous array of indigenous voices and writings in Portuguese colonial archives, a literate world, we believe, that often remains invisible or submerged under current classificatory cataloging. With the tool below, the INDICO team aims to contribute to developing further research and critical reading of the catalogued archival materials.


Under the heuristic notion of “indigenous document”, we considered manuscripts that, in some way, bore the signature and/or authorial mark of indigenous African and Asian individuals or collectives. Of course, we acknowledge the manifold historical, sociological, and anthropological complexities and fluidities of the notions of indigenous/indígena and native/nativo. It is thus important to clarify that, from the beginning of the research, we adopted the category of ‘indigenous document’ as a heuristic research tool, not as an essentializing property of the document and its authors. The notion, once explored in relation to specific documents, demands further conceptual nuance and critical cautions with regard to their different usages and historical contexts. In any case, our use of this notion in the discovery and selection of indigenous documentation effectively makes visible and available for future research a multitude of African and Asian agents who were at the center of the authorship and production of written documentation circulating from Angola, Mozambique, Goa, and Timor to Portugal’s imperial centre, in Lisbon.

Through our open-access database of “indigenous documents” we thus aim at developing and facilitating future research into the significance of indigenous agency and initiatives in the Portuguese overseas colonial empire. This database does not provide access to photos or digital copies of the manuscripts. Instead, it offers an original catalogue with full archival reference to the actual documents at AHU. Users will find in the catalogue descriptive summaries of every document, which were produced by our survey team. These are original texts that cover blank spaces in archival description, or complement existing data in current inventories. Not only our content analyses fill gaps in data description (most especially in the largely uncatalogued documental series of India and Mozambique), as they also pave the way for novel research about the significance of African and Asian agency and literacy in Portuguese imperial history. Access to the original manuscripts catalogued herein can be obtained upon request in person, at the AHU facilities, in Lisbon.


We read and interpreted every single manuscript document catalogued herein. We then adopted a combination of criteria for the selection of ‘indigenous documents’ into our database, while also attending to context-specific aspects. A first criterion for inclusion concerned the use of vernacular (African or Asian) language(s) or alphabets, such as (a) the use of vernacular personal name(s) by the author(s) and/or signatories of documents; (b) the use of vernacular languages in the text itself. Yet, since many indigenous authors of these documents could also adopt a Portuguese-language name in their written transactions, we also paid close attention to the ways these writers presented themselves in the document through Portuguese terms suggestive of a self-categorization as “indigenous” of the African or Asian territories. This self-classification involved a variety of early modern self-classificatory identity markers and social categories – such as “natural da terra”, “filho do país”, “morador”; but also brâmane, baneane, mujojo, mouro, and so forth. The user of this database, therefore, will be able to get a glimpse of a fascinating range of modes of presenting oneself as “indigenous”, a vocabulary that the INDICO research team is also exploring and analyzing further.

Simple and advanced search

The online tool allows you to develop simple (by any term) and advanced types of search. Search results can be viewed online as a list; the user can also download the search results as a file (.xls format).

Besides conventional geographical and chronological search terms, the user will be able to explore the database by advanced analytical criteria prepared by our team, including a typology of documents and a differentiation of the entries according to place and geography as well as to the position of the document in the communication chain.

Note on the category “Relação” (relation) in “Agent” and “Geography” search terms

The advanced search includes the possibility of searching by pre-defined terms of “Agents” (i.e. names of persons or institutions) and of “Geography” (i.e. place names). All pre-defined terms that on the lists for “Agents” and “Geography” are from the documents themselves.

In addition, the option “Relação” (Relation), shown next to the search by “Agents” and “Geography”, allows you to relate the place- and personal names to the following possibilities.

a. The option “Relação” in “Agents” places the named person or institution within the communication chain and the circulation of papers in which it appears in the archival documentation:

Emissor / Issuer: who issued, produced or requested the Production of the document.

Receptor / Receiver: who received or was the ultimate recipient of the document.

Mencionado / Mentioned: name of someone mentioned in the document (neither the issuer nor recipient).

Corrente / Chain: individual or institution that circulates the document to someone else.

Instituição / Institution: when the main agent of production of the document is an institutional actor.

Vestígio / Trace: when the document at stake is not an ‘indigenous document’ itself but refers to another indigenous document that is not in the AHU archive.


b. The option “Relação” in “Geography” indicates when the place name is either the place of issue (Produzido em) or the place of reception (Recebido em), or when it is simply a place name mentioned (mencionado) in the text.

Note on spelling and language

As a rule, we have adopted contemporary spelling of Portuguese-language terms (names, places, and so on). When this is not possible, we have used the original or an approximate term; we indicate ( [ ]) when we use terms that we were unable to decipher with certainty.

Portuguese as well as African and Asian indigenous vernacular names and surnames could vary significantly over time and according to who produced or circulated the document. In the case of indigenous names, there is often inconsistent recording of names in the documents, as a result of different transliterations of names originally in languages other than Portuguese into Portuguese, or transliterations from non-Latin alphabets into Latin. In this regard, we kept the spelling of names in accordance with the way they appeared in the documents.

Archival survey at AHU in Lisbon coordinated by Ricardo Roque (INDICO Principal Investigator), and developed by José Miguel Ferreira and Matheus Serva Pereira. Inês Ponte and Luiza Tonon collaborated in data gathering and categorization. Laboratório de Humanidades Digitais (FCSH) NOVA developed the technical tools.

Because of the great quantity of documents, insertion of our cataloguing data concerning documentation from ‘Portuguese India’ is still in progress. We will be updating this information. Thanks for your understanding.

Lisbon, September 2022

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