Will Angola in Portuguese West Africa prove the dark horse among the corners of the earth which are put forth as likely for large scale Jewish colonization?
Persistent rumors to that effect have cropped up again. To be sure, League of Nations’ High Commissioner, James B. McDonald, who is in charge of settling ###? wish refugees, when approached, ###mptly disclaimed any knowledge of the existence of such a proposal. When a London daily further intimated that an American relief organization was prepared to contribute some $10,000,000 for such a project and the Joint Distribution Committee was asked about it, it retorted with an equally emphatic denial.
A report came from Paris referring to the departure of the Portuguese ambassador there with Lisbon his destination. He was to confer with his government on the proposition. It was said that sponsors of the plan are aiming at the ultimate establishment of a Jewish autonomous state in Angola under League protection and since Portugal objects to the League’s overlordship negotiations are afoot for removing such objections.
On a number of previous occasions Angola was prominently mentioned for the purposes of Jewish settlement. One of the most significant moves in this connection was made in 1912 when the ITO, Jewish Territorial Organization, then headed by Israel Zangwill, sent a commission and an expedition to Angola to examine the territory in question. ITO’s avowed aim was “to procure a territory upon an autonomous basis for those Jews who cannot or will not remain in the lands in which they at present live.”
A “HOPEFUL” COUNTRY
Headed by J. W. Gregory, professor of geology at the University of Glasgow, holder of numerous scientific degrees and distinguished for his scholarship the expedition returned in 1913 with a report on the country and conditions. As a supplement to the report, Dr. Gregory made a statement which in part said as follows:
“I have considered the suitability of Angola rather for refugees who wish to escape poverty and ill-treatment in their own countries and wish to remain in a Jewish community. I assume that such refugees would be willing to work with greater patience than ordinary commercial settlers. I thought the country more hopeful for refugee immigrants than for any other class. I see no reason why such settlers should not in time build up a colony for themselves.”
Regarding actual figures, Dr. Gregory said:
“I estimate that 5,000 square miles of moderately good land could be obtained in the one tract. How much more of the lands surrounding that area is suitable I cannot tell. ..I think it probable that the 5,000 square miles could be greatly extended.
“Each settler should have about 160 acres, or say, four families to the square mile. With an average of six per family that gives you a population of 120,000. In most agricultural countries, the urban population equals the agricultural. So that 5,000 square miles should support, say, fifty people to the square mile, or a quarter of a million.”
Elsewhere the head of the commission had stated “I should think the land in Angola is decidedly superior to the average in Palestine.” He also suggested that “in generations to come, as people have saved money and begun to live on unearned incomes, the country would carry many more” than fifty per square mile, and that “5,000 square miles is a small tract for a country and will not support a big population unless it has mining and manufacturing industries.”
Israel Zangwill first became interested in the possibilities of Angola when in June, 1911, he received a letter from a Jew occupying a responsible post in Rhodesia, who described Angola in glowing terms and said that “during the last couple of years many co-religionists have gone up to the Congo territory which is enormously rich.”
While more Jewish leaders were becoming interested but still hesitated, the Portuguese government made the first move. The Chamber of Deputies passed the Jewish Colonization Bill. But it dealt only with individual settlers. Zangwill himself was not so overenthusiastic about the proposal as not to acknowledge that Angola “was not the paradise which it has been represented in some quarters.” He admitted that “a good deal of the soil was poor.”
Authorities are agreed however that the high plateaus in the southern part are adapted to the white man and are sufficiently fertile to support him. Angola is the principal Portuguese colony in West Africa, and is wholly tropical. It covers an area of about 500,000 square miles with a total population of some 4,000,000, including probably less than 10,000 Europeans or persons of European descent. The plateau temperatures are moderate; frosts occur in winter. The nature of the climate may be judged by the crops grown-oranges, bananas, Indian corn. Coffee plants have been observed flourishing, as well as European vegetables, including potatoes of high quality.
The most serious climatic disadvantage is the extreme contrast between the dry and wet seasons, the letter being prolonged and succeeded by the parched conditions of the dry period.
When Dr. Gregory summed up his conclusions, he declared that the Benguella Plateau was “remarkably salubrious,” going on to say that its climate was pleasant and healthy, scenery beautiful, and it was free of insect pests, dangerous animals and vermin. He was much attracted by that region and felt that life there could be easily made comfortable.
He went so far as to assert that, considering the cost of clearing, the climate and the political conditions, he could not think of another area as suitable for the ITO aspirations.
“ALL THOSE AGAINST”
But there were other authorities who took a diametrically opposite stand. Sir Harry H. Johnston, writing on “Angola as a Land of Jewish Settlement,” insisted that “Frankly, from what I know of Angola-and it is, probably, as much as, if not more than what is known by any other non-Portuguese person at the present time-I do not think it offers any single continuous area of sufficient size suited for the establishment of a Jewish colony.”
Another expert, H. W. Nevinson, declared: “The project of the Portuguese government to settle Jews in Angola is one that requires cautious consideration.” He held that the Portuguese authorities enjoyed but little power and that voluntary labor was extremely difficult to obtain there.
Among other objections to Angola there has come to the fore from time to time the suspicion of the black population which, some say, is rather warlike. There are still native kings holding sway, medicine men indulge in their mysterious incantations and ritual, queer musical instruments issue forth weird music and some portions of the region readily convey the Occidental conception of the glamor of tropical Africa.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.