Led by Catholic Spain and Portugal, and later joined by Protestant England and the Netherlands, the explosion of maritime exploration from the late fifteenth century made for a shift from land-based power to sea-based power. In the era before Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape in 1498, the dominant world powers had been land-based. After i500, the dominant powers were those with unchallenged suzerainty over the sea lanes, from Lisbon and Genoa, or Plymouth and Rotterdam, to Goa and Canton. Sea-based power brought into play a new mercantile class whose entrepreneurial spirit sent them looking for wealth and profit in hitherto unknown or unexplored lands. As one such adventurer expressed it, they crossed the seas 'to serve God and His majesty, to give light to those who were in darkness', but also most emphatically 'to grow rich, as all men desire to do'.1 Or, as Columbus expressed it, 'Gold, what an excellent product! It is from gold that riches come. He who has gold can do whatever he pleases in this world. With gold one can even bring souls into Paradise.'2 For these entrepreneurs, mission was not just necessary, it was profitable.
The first European sea-based power to colonize extensively in Africa was Portugal, a small monarchy that had arisen amid the twelfth-century Christian crusade against the Moors in the Iberian peninsula. Seeking gold and slaves, and perhaps the fabled Christian kingdom of Prester John, fifteenth-century Portuguese kings sent expedition after expedition to sail ever further southwards along the western African coast. These Portuguese maritime expeditions brought with them priests and some viewed the explorations as part of the Christian crusade. In the early 1480s, Portuguese expeditions reached the kingdom ofthe Kongo, a sophisticated African state alongthe River Zaire. Missionaries arrived in 1491, receiving a warm welcome and baptizing the king
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