The team, from the Vänersborg museum in southwestern Sweden, headed to southern Africa on Tuesday as part of a three-week journey into the heart of Angola. There, researchers hope to find an answer to a puzzle that has not only plagued historians, but has been inaccessible due to years of civil war in Angola.
The unknown factor: What exactly happened to a colony of Swedes in Angola that was founded when a young Swedish man went looking for adventure, found it, then invited his fellow countrymen to join him and settle down there?
“The whole thing is a mystery,” Peter Johansson, director of the museum and the expedition, told The Local on the phone from Windhoek, Namibia. “We don’t know what happened to them, the last letters arrived in 1925 and there has been no more contact since.”
The Swedish colony settled in Angola after Charles John Andersson, the son of a Swedish woman and British nobleman Llewellyn Lloyd, pined for adventure and headed south from London on the advice of one of Charles Darwin’s cousins. The bevy of Swedes who later joined him integrated into the community and became farmers, traders, hunters, and explorers.
“Now that Angola is at peace we have our first chance to go there, look through archives, field questions, and find where their houses and farms were,” Johansson added.
Back in Sweden, Ann Charlotte Berg, the head of the collection at the museum, is also excited about what the team may uncover.
“Quite a few Swedes went down there from Vänersborg over 100 years ago, but also from elsewhere in country, and it’s these tracks we’re following, exploring for their remains, their gravestones, and looking for relatives. These people were pioneers,” she told The Local.
She explained that after the team had great success on a similar mission to Namibia, the researchers are salivating at the chance to make the same finds across the border.
The museum’s expedition is working together with the Royal Swedish Academy of Science, with help from the Swedish embassy in Angola.
But the biggest mystery remains as to what exactly happened after 1925, when the colony was last heard from. Could the researchers find a community of tall Swedes with blue-eyes and blonde hair, sipping on coffee and eating cinnamon buns?
“I don’t think so,” Berg said, with a hearty laugh. “But I can imagine the team will be quite excited about anything they find, the Swedes down there were quite active.”
Down in Namibia, Petersson is certain he’ll uncover no such community.
“The Swedes mixed with the local people totally, the letters they sent suggested that they got married to locals at the beginning of the 1900s. They were speaking Portuguese, in fact, none of them spoke English, Swedish, or German by the end,” he told The Local.
“Even the letters they sent were in Portuguese and needed to be translated. But we hope to find traces of them – whatever we find will be news, this is the first time there has been a Swedish expedition here in a long time.”
The expedition returns on August 23rd.