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Abstract

Diseases such as malaria and the sleeping sickness jeopardized the feasibility of the European empires in the African continent in early twentieth century. Among the colonial potencies, there was Portugal, a country with limited economic and military resources, but with significant ultramarine domains. One of its most profitable colonies were the small islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, an important producer of cocoa, which cultivation was assured by shipments of slave workers coming mainly from Angola. The environmental conditions of the islands, as well as the circulation of people from endemic areas for the sleeping sickness, triggered a severe epidemic outbreak of this disease in Príncipe Island, which was also the setting of the anti-slavery campaign led by William Cadbury, a British chocolate maker, in 1908. In light of this setting, a campaign to eradicate the sleeping sickness vector – the tsetse fly – was initiated in 1911 and, in 1914, the island was considered to be free of the genus Glossina, but with significant social and environmental consequences. The purpose of this article is to discuss these consequences and the historical context that determined the creation of a campaign to fight the disease in a small, but relevant, Portuguese ultramarine territory by means of parliamentary documents, health reports and newspapers of that time.

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