Mathieu da Costa was an interpreter and translator from the Benin Empire during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. The Benin Empire was "one of the oldest and most highly developed states in the coastal hinterland of West Africa, dating perhaps to the Eleventh century." The original people and founders of the Benin Empire were the Edo people. The first European travelers to reach Benin were Portuguese explorers in about 1485. A strong mercantile relationship developed, with the Edo trading tropical products such as ivory, pepper and palm oil with the Portuguese for European goods such as manila and guns.
There is little documentation about da Costa, but he is known to have been a freeman favoured by explorers for his multilingual talents. His portfolio of languages is thought to include Dutch, English, French, Portuguese and pidgin Basque, the dialect many Aboriginals used for trading purposes.
In Canada, he likely travelled up the St. Lawrence River and worked at various locations along the Canadian Atlantic Coast. There is controversy as to how he had learned to communicate with the Aboriginals, with one answer being that the North American cultural context was very similar to the African one