Monday, July 25, 2011


Sawubona is the inflight magazine of South African Airways. I always remember to take a copy with me when a leave the plane, or even to ask friends to bring me a copy if they are going on a trip. Along with articles about South Africa, there is usually a featured African country. This cover, from January, is for a story on Kenya, and is especially striking.

Sawubona is a greeting in Zulu that means something like «I see you» or «We see you» and is meant to show respect. Someone always says it over the intercom on flights. I really like SAA. They usually have good food and always serve South African wine and Amarula, and if you know me, you know how I feel about Amarula.

I wonder if Sawubona will ever feature Angola on its cover?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Images of Uíge

Uíge holds a celebration the first week of July to commemorate the foundation of the province. While I was there for work, I did get to enjoy one night of live music. I thought about going on the carnival ride, but I thought better of it.

Museu da Tentativa

Last week we took a trip to Caxito, about two hours north of Luanda. We visited the Museu da Tentativa. Tentativa was the name of a sugar plantation and the museum held a few artifacts from what life might have been like there about 100 years ago. There weren´t actually very many artifacts. There was a guide at the museum, who was actually very cool and led us through the rooms and told us what he could about the old photographs, tools, plantation uniforms and the history of the place. In some ways I found it strange, this Angolan talking about a colonial plantation in such an objective manner. He didn´t say anything negative about the Portuguese, or about how difficult things must have been for the Angolans forced to work on the plantation. Sugar farming is extremely labor-intensive and dangerous. Fire, machetes and cane presses do not make a safe environment for anyone.

We have plantation museums in the US. While the tours I´ve been on do discuss slavery, and no one tries to excuse it, they also contain a certain amount of nostalgia. An uncomfortable nostalgia. And I have never seen an African-American tour guide working on a plantation museum. I wondered if our tour guide at the Tentativa was holding back what he really thought because he didn´t trust that we would understand. But one had only to look at the pictures on the wall to understand. (I´m sorry the quality is so bad, there was a huge glare.)

Related Posts:

Slavery Museum
Posts on Museums

Field Trip: The Battle of Kifangondo

Last week, we took a trip to Caxito with some friends. Along the way, just outside of Luanda, we stopped at a monument to the Battle of Kifangondo.

The Angolan Civil war is extremely difficult to understand, so explaining this monument is difficult, but I will try to summarize. As the Portuguese were preparing to pull out of Angola in 1975, the three groups who had been fighting for independence, MPLA, UNITA and FNLA, began to fight each other for the right to control Angola. Each was supported by various foreign governments with shifting alliances over time: MPLA was supported by the Cubans and Soviets, UNITA by South Africa, the US and some Portuguese, FNLA, most confusingly was supported by China, the US, Zaire, Isreal at different points in its history. Eventually the FNLA was defeated completely and the rest of the civil war was fought between MPLA and UNITA.

While Angola served as a proxy for Cold War ideologies, the MPLA and UNITA refused to be pinned down. UNITA was not really looking for democracy and the MPLA was never anti-capitalist; during the war, Cuban troops were ordered to defend the interests of Chevron. I find that especially interesting. The MPLA maintained control of the government and eventually won the war in 2002, when UNITA´s leader was assassinated. The MPLA is still in power today.

The Battle of Kifangondo was fought in 1975, the day before independence from Portugal was celebrated in Luanda. The MPLA, along with Cuban troops, successfully prevented the FNLA from entering Luanda by fighting from a hill with a view of the road.

We were told FNLA troops used the road, even though it made them vulnerable, because they could not move their tanks through the surrounding swamps. It was an important victory for the MPLA, but unfortunately, it was just the beginning of the war.

The Crocodile of Caxito

Monument to the Crocodile of Caxito.

When African nations were colonized by the Portuguese, British and French, a system of taxation was imposed on the native populations to support the colonial system. At that time, most African economies were largely based on agriculture and the trading of goods. The use of currency, especially foreign currency, was limited. When the colonial governments demanded the people pay taxes, essentially to support their own suppression, it profoundly altered local economies. Instead of farming to feed families and communities, people were forced to farm cash crops - often at the expense of growing their own food. Men were forced to work in mines or on plantations to earn cash to pay taxes to a government that was not providing them with anything but a system of exploitation. This work took them away from their families and away from their traditional roles within their communities.

I have heard two stories about the crocodile of Caxito, the capital of Bengo Province. One was that the local people were so angry about having to pay taxes that they placed their payment in the mouth of crocodile and brought the live animal to the house of the Portuguese tax collector. He could extract the payment if he dared. Another was that there was a saying that the Portuguese even taxed the animals of Angola and that the crocodile emerged from the river to pay his taxes , carrying the payment in his mouth. In either story, there is anger over the absurdity of paying taxes to a foreign government. The monument then, is in honor of past resistance to colonialism.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Vintage Luanda: Postcards

Tyree and I found these postcards at an old bookstore on Avenida Salvador Allende. They looked like they had been there for a very long time. They are the only postcards for Angola we have seen so far - besides a few very expensive ones at the airport.

Fauna de Angola - Leão
Edição JOMAR C.P. 2213 - Luanda

This is a view of the Marginal at night. This is the most famous image of Luanda and from far away, it still looks much like this at night time. But now there are more skyscrapers and some of the older buildings need renovation. The Portuguese left in 1975. It´s possible these postcards have been in that very same spot since then, like little time capsules, collecting dust.