In 1975 Sao Tome and Principe was granted its Independence from Portugal. Multi-party elections were first held in the early ’90’s. Yesterday we were priviledged to meet Henrique Pinto DE COSTA. He is not only a scholar, but also a wonderful orator who brings to life the history of Sao Tome and Principe and also keen insights into how that history deeply influences the country today. It is told in first person by someone who has lived through that history. We so often forget how deeply history impacts the present and future, and it is good to have scholars like Henrique who are passionate to not only understand such impacts but to also share their knowledge in any and all ways possible.
Prior to independence, Sao Tome was divided into a complex set of regions which supported plantations, with each plantation in a region owned by a different individual or corporation. Managers reported to the foreign owners; they had the power to decide who lived where and even who could travel and when. Workers on the plantation essentially lived isolated lives from those on other plantations. Their strongest identity was typically with their country of origin from which they were taken.
Today, national Sao Tomean identity remains limited. Travel from plantations to the main cities for commerce and also inter-marriages have begun to change that some. But there isn’t a clear vision for what it means to be Sao Tomean around which citizens can rally. Further, civil society often still awaits direction from the government in keeping with the hierarchical control of just a few decades ago.
Sao Tome’s birth as an independent nation is ongoing as efforts continue to establish a united national identity and to engage citizens to become more engaged as active participants in civil society. It is amazing to be present to see that happening and to be involed in very small ways.