This article examines the main changes in the policies of the Portuguese state in relation to Mozambique and its labour force during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, stemming from political changes within the Portuguese Empire (i.e. the independence of Brazil in 1821), the European political scene (i.e. the Berlin Conference, 1884–1885), and the Southern African context (i.e. the growing British, French, and German presence). By becoming a principle mobilizer and employer of labour power in the territory, an allocator of labour to neighbouring colonial states, and by granting private companies authority to play identical roles, the Portuguese state brought about important shifts in labour relations in Mozambique. Slave and tributary labour were replaced by new forms of indentured labour (initially termed serviçais and latter contratados) and forced labour (compelidos). The period also saw an increase in commodified labour in the form of wage labour (voluntários), self-employment among peasant and settler farmers, and migrant labour to neighbouring colonies.