Website on global south and decolonial issues.

Angolan origin

Last month, one of my Brazilian friends wrote to me telling that she had been to the Literary Fair in Paraty and heard an Angolan writer whose presentation had been the greatest scoop of the event. The greatest surprise was when she told me the Angolan writer was Valter Hugo Mãe. I remember hearing about Valter Hugo Mãe for the first time in the late 90s, when I did an internship at Jornal de Letras in Lisbon, but I had never considered the fact that he was my fellow countryman. Finding out this made me think about what being Angolan is, or what Angolan identity is. Reflecting on this issue, I think, puts us in a privileged position for questioning the cultural legacy of colonialism. My concern is not to say who is and who is not Angolan. In Angola, as in any modern society, being Angolan is defined by the nationality law. I did not check it to write this text, but the idea I have is that our law is much more generous than the Portuguese one that allows (or at least allowed) people who were born in Angola in the colonial context to require the nationality. Portugal began to nationalize all the native of colonies during the colonial war (how else could the fact of Angola being an overseas province be justified?). Denationalizing them was among the first political acts of the government resulted from the 25th of April. Nobody has written more eloquently about the denationalization of the African people than António de Almeida Santos (Almost Memories, Vol. 1: 275-284). The basis for the definition of who is Portuguese rubs the purest racism (“He was a good black. The black are usually all good”, Vol. 1: 13). Almeida Santos does not even shy away from quoting Salazar: “Salazar himself admitted, at a certain point, that the African people were not part of the Portuguese Nation. How, then, could they be entitled to the nationality of a Nation which they did not belong to?” (278). Thus, the myth had been broken. Multi-continental Portugal never existed. It was pure opportunism for the maintenance of the colonial system, because the Portuguese do not distinguish between Portuguese “nation” and Portuguese nationality. However, it is interesting to notice that in many Portuguese environments, the same that make Almeida Santos’s thesis possible, Angola is not a “nation”, not even nationality, but simply “territory” or origin. And the reference to this origin acts in two ways: on one side it kicks out of the Portuguese “nation” those who are not culturally Portuguese (for example the black), but on the other hand it allows those who are culturally Portuguese to refer to a territory other than Portugal as their origin (Almeida Santos is Angolan).

After all, Africa was the ground of conquest where, according to the myth, the spirit of the great Portuguese, like Vasco da Gama and others, succeeded. Basically, it is as if the reference to the origin was the only way in which some categories of human beings could be considered Portuguese. It justifies the mixture of cultures, and customs and practices external to the Portuguese “nation”. Recently, when the musician and singer Angélico Vieira died in a brutal car accident, I read a lot of what had been written about him. What caught my attention was the fact that there was news referring to him as being of “Angolan” origin. Angélico Vieira is not white. But he is not of Angolan origin in the same way as Valter Hugo Mãe (who was born in Saurimo) is Angolan. Vieira was born in 1982 in Portugal, son of Angolan parents who have lived in Portugal for several decades. So, the words with which today we talk about origin are still those defined by colonialism. João Leal, a distinguished Portuguese anthropologist, wrote a book about the concerns of his discipline, during Estado Novo, with the studies of ethno-genesis. This means that Portuguese anthropology, with a whole unexplored Africa, was more focused on answering the question “what is being Portuguese?” All the myths surrounding the Portuguese “Nation” come from there. Things change and the perception of Angola has changed a lot in the latest years. As to the Portuguese concern with the ethno-genesis (how cannot we consider it as an influence of Nazism and fascism?), it could be well motivated by the concern about racial degeneration: such was the myth that Africa and the tropics corrupted the Portuguese. During the 30s, there were laws in Portugal that granted statutes of “Portuguese of second generation” to all those who were born in the tropics. This stigma came back, after decolonization, and a lot of Portuguese weren’t at ease professing their Angolan origin. This is no longer the case today. For those who will never bother to live as Angolans live, Angola is still a mythical territory: the land brought to civilization by the effort and the genius of the great Portuguese. I’m not saying that this is the case with anyone/someone in particular. What is interesting for me is to identify the existence of such a debate. And when, at times, we say we are Angolan, what we are doing is just occupying the space where such a debate about the origin is possible.


Chronicle originally published on Novo Jornal (11/08/2011).

Translation: Alice Girotto

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