Ambiguities of seduction: Photography and the “islamic” policy of portuguese colonialism

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In Guinea-Bissau—since the late 1950s—and in Mozambique—from the mid-1960s until the collapse of the dictatorship and end of the colonial wars—the Portuguese colonial administration developed a conciliatory approach to Muslim leadership with the purpose of co-opting them into the colonizer’s side of the war that was being waged against local nationalist movements. This manipulative strategy, based upon an idea of identity promotion, was not only documented in photographs but also used them in order to construct and expand its propaganda’s effects. Muslim chieftains and Islamic dignitaries in public ceremonies, or on their way to pilgrimages to Mecca sponsored by the Portuguese state, were pictured side by side with governors, ministers, and the President of the Republic. Such photos were tailored to stage those Muslims’ “proximity” to the core of colonial rule. Other photographs displayed them in historical sites in the metropolis, suggesting their full membership in an idealized Portuguese nation. Drawing on this sort of visual material and contrasting it with other sources, this article addresses the way photographs were strategically constructed to depict an idea of harmony between Muslims, particularly those from Guinea-Bissau and the Portuguese colonial regime. Its reading method will try to analyze the images beyond their manifest content, disclosing the embarrassment or annoyance of the authorities, the subtle suggestion of colonial hierarchies, as well as the framing and control of the colonized.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-132
Number of pages36
JournalAnthropological quarterly
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015


  • Colonial Islamic policies
  • Colonized Muslims
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Photography
  • Portuguese colonialism


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