Balthazar Barreira was a Portuguese Jesuit missionary in Angola and Sierra Leone. Barreira was the first missionary in Angola, arriving there in 1579. In a decade of mission work, he claimed 20,000 converts.
In 1605 he began work in Sierra Leone, where he staunchly opposed the slave trade. But he was also a sympathetic pastor for Portuguese settlers and members of the suppressed (military) Order of Christ who were engaged in commerce and building a local Christian community. Typically, he baptized a local potentate, “King” Philip of Sierra Leone, and family members, who then became evangelizers of the local people. He trekked north, contacting the Susu people, and always, in true Jesuit spirit, attempted to recruit and train local leadership. In 1606 he urged his superiors to support Sierra Leone as the most suitable place for Christianity in West Africa, although his effort to establish a seminary there was opposed by the king of Portugal, who wanted it in his own land.
Barreira’s approach shows mature signs of what today is called contextualization or enculturation: he established real local communities and treated peoples, languages and cultures with respect; he was a man of deep spirituality and empathy; and his was much more than a proselytizing zeal. Barreira remained in West Africa until old age, returning in 1609 to Lisbon.
Anthony J. Gittins, CSSp
M. Bane, Catholic Pioneers in West Africa (1956); A. Gittins, “Mende and Missionary” (Ph.D. thesis, Univ. of Edinburgh, 1977); M. Harney, The Jesuits in History (1941); A. P. Kup, “Jesuit and Capuchin Missions of the Seventeenth Century,” Sierra Leone Bulletin of Religion 5 (1963); W. Rodney, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast (1970).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.