Diego Kan

Diego Kan

Country: Spain

  1. Biography of Diego Cão
  2. Introduction
  3. Exploration of the Gold Coast
  4. Discovery of the Congo River
  5. Further Exploration and Fate

Biography of Diego Cão


Diego Cão, a Portuguese navigator, is not widely known, but his achievements in exploring the African coast are significant. Although he may not have accomplished a feat that resonates through the centuries as a testament to the greatness of the human spirit, his discoveries are of immense value compared to the successes of his contemporaries sent by Prince Henry and King Alfonso V to the shores of West Africa to explore new lands.

Exploration of the Gold Coast

In late 1481, King John II sent a fleet led by Diogo d'Azambuja to the Gold Coast to establish a colony. D'Azambuja built the fort of São Jorge da Mina, also known as Mina or Elmina, where significant gold deposits were found. To develop the gold mining, a large number of slaves were needed, and ships were sent from Mina to the south in search of new areas for the slave trade. Diego Cão served as the captain of one of the caravels in D'Azambuja's expedition.

Discovery of the Congo River

In 1482, Diego Cão set sail from Mina and journeyed along the coast to the southeast for about 700 kilometers. He completed the discovery of the Gulf of Guinea, where the water color changed significantly and became fresh, leading him to conclude that he was near the mouth of a very large river. This marked the discovery of the Congo River. At 6° south latitude, Cão landed on the shore and erected a padrão, a stone pillar with the Portuguese coat of arms, the names of the king and the navigator, and the date of the discovery. He named the great river "Rio do Padrao," but the name is now associated only with the southern cape at the mouth of the Congo River, Punta do Padrao. Cão encountered the local inhabitants, who spoke a Bantu language, which was different from the languages of the Guinea people who served as translators for the Portuguese.

Further Exploration and Fate

Diego Cão sent several sailors upstream to establish relations with the local king. They returned with uncertain results, and Cão continued his voyage south, placing another padrão at approximately 13°30' south latitude on the coast of Angola. From there, he presumably turned back. By early 1484, he had already returned to Portugal.

Meanwhile, the Portuguese did not stop at their achievements. In 1484, King John II ordered the preparation of two well-equipped caravels to circumnavigate Africa. Diego Cão, also known as Jacob Cam, was appointed as the commander of one of the ships. Martin Behaim, a German from a noble Bohemian family, who had learned to use the astrolabe from the famous Regiomontanus, was also part of the expedition. The goal was to reach Ethiopia, known as the "African India," by advancing from the mouths of the West African rivers. The Portuguese believed they were close to the southern tip of Africa, but the search for a direct "sea route to India" was not yet a consideration.

The exact fate of Diego Cão is uncertain. Some sources suggest that he died in southwestern Africa, while others claim he returned to Portugal in 1486. Regardless, his expeditions, particularly his second voyage in 1485-1486, influenced the subsequent explorations of Bartolomeu Dias and Vasco da Gama, who finally achieved Prince Henry's objectives.

In conclusion, although Diego Cão's name is lesser-known, his contributions to the exploration of the African coast are noteworthy. His discoveries were significant in the context of his time and laid the foundation for further Portuguese exploration in Africa.