Vol 29 No 4 (2020): Nordic Journal of African Studies
Articles Culture

The uncanniness of religious encounters in colonial Angola: A brief cultural history of the awkward emotion (18th and 19th centuries)

João Figueiredo
Nova University of Lisbon Law School
Published December 15, 2020
  • Uncanny colonial encounters,
  • ambiguity and abjection,
  • Portuguese Empire,
  • Creole practices and the late Enlightenment


Analyses of British militarist colonialism often stress how feelings of horror and revulsion towards an idealized African ‘Other’ were promoted and exploited to justify Victorian era colonial aggression and land grabbing. By focusing on the Portuguese Empire, this article proposes to address the instrumentalization of two other emotions, ‘uncanniness’ and ‘abjection,’ arguing that, albeit mired with ambiguity, their discursive use served the same imperial purposes. It demonstrates that, due to a long-standing presence in West African shores, later-stage Portuguese settlers often found traces of their own influence in local cultures. Encounters with these hybrid signs were processed in a historically conditioned manner. The first section of this article focuses on the late Portuguese Enlightenment, probing the origins of the inferiority complex that came to frame these encounters, turning the ‘uncanny’ feelings they might have given rise to into border-reaffirming ‘abject’ reactions. The second focuses on how the Creole societies of the early nineteenth century dealt with the cultural dynamics they inherited from the Enlightenment. The third section concludes by showing how these dynamics were then repurposed during the late-colonial phase of military and settler colonial occupation with the help of new visual technologies.