Diogo Cão

(also known as Diogo Cam)

In 1482 King João II (= John II) of Portugal revived interest in the quest for a sea route around Africa to India, and the first of the newly commissioned voyages was that of Diogo Cão. He left Portugal in midsummer (?) 1482, and coasted West Africa as far as Elmina (in present Ghana) where he took on provisions. Crossing to the Central African coast at Santa Catarina he anchored first in the Bay of Loango, then continued south, placing a stone pillar (padroe) dedicated to St. George at São Antonio de Zaira (= Shark Point), on the southern bank of the mouth of the Rio Poderoso (= Congo, Zaire R.). He explored some distance up river (Aug 1482), sent some Christian negro messengers in search of the local ruler, then sailed south as far as Cabo do Lobo (= C. de Santa Maria, S. Agostinho) in 13°25'S where he erected a second padroe (now in Lisbon) dedicated to St. Augustine. Returning to the mouth of the R. Congo, and annoyed to find that his messengers had not returned, he seized four unsuspecting visitors to his ship (including Nsaku (also known as Cacuto, Cacuta), a man of some distinction) and returned to Portugal, arriving in April 1484. In recognition of his discoveries he was appointed a cavalier in the royal household, but very little else is known about him. Nsaku was baptised in Portugal by the name João da Silva, was entertained at the royal household, and returned to the Congo in 1490 with Gonçalo de Sousa.

On a second voyage, Cão left Portugal (some time after June 1485, although the date is uncertain) and, after calling at the mouth of the R. Congo to return his native hostages (but not Nsaku who stayed in Portugal) and collect the messengers he had left on his previous voyage, coasted even further south, establishing padroes at C. Monte Negro (near Cabo de Santa Maria) in 15°41'S and at Cabo Cruz (=C. Cross, Kaap Kruis) in 21°46'S (north of Walfish Bay). The latter is now in the Deutsche Historisches Museum, Berlin. On his return in 1486 (or at least before August 1487) he appears to have re-entered the Congo R., ascending it as far as the Yelala Falls where an inscription records the names of Diogo Cão, Pedro Annes and Pedro da Costa. It is probable that he died on this voyage, but documentation is sparse, the only references to it being a legend on the chart of Henricus Martellus Germanus (1489), and the "Parecer" of the Spanish pilots of 1525. In fact it is quite possible that the events described in this article took place during three, rather than two voyages.

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The material on this page was created by Ray Howgego, and publication was allowed by him to Discoverers Web. This page is an excerpt from a large amount of material that Ray has written, concerning voyages of discovery before 1800. He would like to have this work published, any publisher who is interested can contact him through email.