Creoles

In Africa, the term Creole refers to any people with some mix of African and non-African racial or cultural heritage. Creole populations can be found on most African islands and along many of the continent’s coasts, areas where Africans first mingled with Europeans and Arabs. From these contacts, six major Creole types emerged: Portuguese, black American, French, Dutch, British, and Arab.

Portuguese, Black American, British, and French Creoles

Portuguese Creoles were the first of the European Creoles. They emerged during the late 1400s when the Portuguese traded and settled along the west and east coasts of Africa. Creoles living in the islands of CAPE VERDE are offspring of Europeans and enslaved Africans from the mainland. They speak either Portuguese or a Creole language based on Portuguese. Creoles who live near the coast of ANGOLA trace their origin to mestizo, Brazilian, and African ancestors. They have considerable influence on the country’s affairs. Creoles in the area of MOZAMBIQUE disappeared during a series of wars between 1830 and 1911.

Black American Creoles are found in SIERRA LEONE, LIBERIA, and in scattered communities along the coast of GHANA. They are descendants of liberated slaves and, in Liberia, of free black Americans from the southern United States. The Creoles of Sierra Leone are descended from freed Africans who lived in Britain, Jamaica, and Nova Scotia.

The islands of MAURITIUS and SEYCHELLES as well as the French territory of RÉUNION are home to most of Africa’s French Creoles. They are the descendants of French settlers and slaves brought from east Africa and MADAGASCAR in the 1700s. They speak a French-based Creole language.

Dutch and British Creoles

More than 3 million Dutch Creoles, known as Coloureds or CAPE COLOURED PEOPLE, live in SOUTH AFRICA. There are also small populations in NAMIBIA and other southern African countries. They emerged during the 1600s and 1700s through a mixture of individuals of European and KHOISAN origin with Asians from Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and India, and enslaved Africans from Madagascar and southern Africa. Most are Christian, although there is a small Muslim minority known as Cape Malays. The vast majority of those living in South Africa speak Afrikaans, a Dutch-based language.

A few thousand British Creoles, known as Fernandinos, live in the island of Bioko in EQUATORIAL GUINEA. They are descendants of liberated slaves from Sierra Leone and Cuba who intermarried with settlers from CAMEROON, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and NIGERIA during British colonial rule. Their Creole offspring became cocoa planters.

Common Features of Creole Culture

Creole groups today have more in common with one another than they have with any African ethnic groups. On African islands, Creole languages predominate; on the mainland, Creole languages are national languages in Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and South Africa. In island societies, Creoles occupy a wide range of positions, from plantation workers to members of the wealthy and powerful upper class. On the coast of mainland Africa, Creoles were often given economic and political opportunities by foreign rulers. They developed a strong sense of identity and formed their own political parties. When African nations were struggling for independence in the mid-1900s, many Creoles supported colonial rule. Some Creoles fought for independence and afterward held positions of power. However, in most countries, Creoles gradually lost their political power to inland ethnic groups that were considered more African.

The Creole community of Africa has grown in several ways. On the islands, elements of Creole culture, including language and music, came to dominate popular culture. In Creole cities on the mainland, some non-Creoles tried to become part of Creole society, which often enjoyed special status. Most people seeking to join the Creole community converted to Christianity, the religion shared by nearly all Creoles except for Comoran Creoles and Cape Malays. (See also Ethnic Groups.)