|Lands over Seas: Property Rights in the Early Modern Portuguese Empire|
|In spite of the remarkable development it attained, the European rural historiography has not yet been able to overcome its dominant Eurocentric view. There is a clear deficit of “globalization” in this historiography, which is even more surprising when one considers that the European were responsible, under their colonial and imperial rule, for the development of agricultural models in all other continents. This is a situation that urges to be surpassed. The paper I am proposing steps in that direction.
It focuses on the agrarian structures of the Portuguese Empire (mainly in the early modern period, with some prospective extensions), addressing such fundamental questions as: how did the Portuguese manage the “land issue” – its appropriation, its (re-)distribution – in their Empire? How were key institutions like property rights of a Portuguese and European matrix transposed to several overseas contexts (e.g. India, Sri Lanka, Mozambique, Brazil, just to mention some)? How did they merge there with local traditions and institutions of such different cultures as the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, African or Amerindian ones? How were those institutions used for economic, political, sociological and ideological purposes? How did they survive the collapse of the Portuguese Empire and to what extent did those processes influence the post-colonial and present-day economies and societies of these countries? This is just a sample of the key questions I am intending to deal with.
The need to regulate the system of property rights (those institutions used for the property constitution and distribution, for the exploitation of land, for the transfer of rights between individuals or for the collect of rent) started often as a response to pressing circumstances. The occupation of free land or the problem of settlement, for instance, had to be solved, as well as the need to replace structures of power left empty by the transfer of sovereignty to Portuguese authorities. But that regulation of property rights soon became a powerful tool. Both the Crown and decentralized imperial authorities used it for political and social control, for securing sovereignty over a territory, for the payment of services, for the organization of economic activities or for tax collecting, among other purposes. On the other hand, seen “from below”, the reception and re-appropriation of those measures by the social agents in the field showed also a variety of tenors, degrees and goals.
The aim of this paper is precisely to discuss the diversity of the adopted solutions in dealing with the land issue across the Portuguese overseas empire, their sources, their purposes, their impacts and their reception.