n South African Journal of Cultural History - Preste João [Priester Jan] en die Portuguese omseiling van die suidpunt van Afrika




The Moslem threat in the Middle Ages led Europeans, especially the Portuguese, to search for the legendary Christian priest-king, Prester John, as an ally. Originally they believed his mighty empire to be somewhere in Central Asia, but gradually the search shifted to an indeterminate "India", and still later to north-east Africa, until eventually it was concentrated on Ethiopia [Abyssinia]. The myth of Prester John was of the utmost importance to the Portuguese monarchy, because it was necessary to convince the pious and gullible advisors, on religious grounds, that the voyages of discovery were meant to find Prester John, whereas in fact they were intended to discover a route to the spice-rich East. When no genuine Prester John could be found, the successive Christian rulers of Ethiopia were presented as such, right up to the 17th century. The myth had far-reaching consequences including the circumnavigation of the southern tip of Africa.

Die Moslem-bedreiging het die Middeleeuse Europeërs, en by name die Portugese, na 'n legendariese Christen priester-koning, Preste João, as bondgenoot laat soek. Aanvanklik is gemeen dat sy magtige ryk iewers in Sentraal-Asië geleë was, maar mettertyd het die soektog na hom na 'n onbepaalde "Indië" verskuif en nog later na noordoos-Afrika, totdat uiteindelik op Ethiopië (Abessinië) gekonsentreer is. Die mite van Preste João was vir die Portugese vorste van die allergrootste belang om hulle huiwerende, maar merendeels gelowige en liggelowige raadgewers op godsdienstige gronde te oortuig dat met die ontdekkingstogte na die Priesterkoning, maar eintlik na die speseryryke Ooste voortgegaan moes word. Toe 'n ware Preste João nie gevind kon word nie, is die opeenvolgende Christen-heersers van Ethiopië tot in die 17de eeu as sodanig voorgehou. Die mite het verreikende gevolge gehad en het onder meer tot die omseiling van die suidpunt van Afrika gelei.


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