Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Da Silveira, Gonçalo

Catholic Church

Portuguese missionary martyred by the Shona.

Born of Portuguese noble family, he entered the Society of Jesus in 1543. Later sent to Goa (1556), he earned a reputation as a successful proselytizer. In 1560 he went to Mozambique with the aim of reaching the Shona empire of the MUNHUMUTAPA in Zimbabwe. Along the coast he baptized hundreds of Tonga people before moving inland. By Christmas he reached the court of Munhumutapa NOGOMO, who received him warmly. Silveira impressed the Shona with his ascetic piety. Within twenty-five days he baptized Nogomo and Nogomo’s mother, and he began to baptize commoners en masse. Muslim traders, fearful of enhanced Portuguese commercial influence, told Nogomo that Silveira was a spy and that the rite of baptism was a malevolent charm. Nogomo then had Silveira killed. A decade later the Portuguese government used Silveira’s murder as a justification for an unsuccessful attempt to conquer the Munhumutapa. Silveira was later canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen


Rea, W. F. [“The Life of Gonçalo da Silveira, 1526-1560.”] Rhodesiana, 6 (1961): 1-40.

Axelson, Eric. Portuguese in South-East Africa, 1600-1700. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1960.

Abraham, Donald P. “The Early Political History of the Kingdom of Mwene Mutapa, 850-1589.” In Historians in Tropical Africa. Salisbury: Proceedings of the Leverhulme Inter-collegiate History Conference, 1962.

This article is reproduced, with permission, from Dictionary of African Historical Biography, 2nd edition, copyright © 1986, by Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California. All rights reserved.