Cape-Helena: An exploration of nostalgia and identity through the Cape Town - St. Helena migration nexus
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For an Island measuring merely 128 square kilometers, and in spite of its remote location in the mid-South Atlantic, St. Helena “punches way above its weight in history”, earning and occupying a privileged place in British scholarship of its imperial thalassocratic age. However, prior to this period in which the Island was indispensible to British Empire formation, it had passed through the hands of at least two former European naval nations before it was eventually laid claim to and effectively colonised by the British. The Portuguese, who were the first to stumble upon the uninhabited Island in 1502 - naming it St. Helena in honour of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great’s mother - managed to keep its existence a closely guarded secret for over eight years. For nearly a century, the Island was reserved for exclusive use by the Portuguese as a port for recuperation, replenishing and re-provisioning, which they usually visited on their homebound journey from trading (and conquering) in the East Indies. This Portuguese monopoly of use of the Island, however, ended during the last decade of the sixteenth century when other maritime nations, particularly Dutch and later English traders, became aware of and started frequenting the Island. The initial overlap period, constituting the first three decades of the seventeenth century when mostly the Dutch and Portuguese shared use of the Island, was cause for occasional hostile encounters between the two nations. Apparently, continued Dutch and English harassment of Portuguese (and Spanish) ships made visiting the Island untenable for the Portuguese who opted to avoid St. Helena and instead make use of a number of their other port ‘possessions’ along the West African coastline to replenish and repair their ships.