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Resistance of the Enslaved, Forced Labor, and a Mestizo Identity: Sao Tome and Principe Independence Day

Jul 11, 2021 02:00PM ● By Oga Africa

(Forros children in Sao Tome. Image by IWRM AIO SIDS via Flickr )

Happy Independence day, Sao Tome and Principe! Today in 1975, this African country gained independence from the Portuguese. We are celebrating the country’s independence by exploring the island’s history of African resistance, forced labor after abolishing slavery, and Mestizo or Forros identity.

This central African country can be found on the Gulf of Guinea and is made up of two islands, Sao Tome and Principe, which are about 31 miles away from each other. The island country is close to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Prior to Portuguese settlement, Sao Tome was uninhabited by humans. When Portuguese settlers, composed of mainly exiles and convicts, were sent to Sao Tome, they bought enslaved Africans to work on sugar plantations.

This island has a long and multifaceted history of African resistance to slavery. On July 9th, 1595, an enslaved African named Rei Amador led a successful slave rebellion in Sao Tome, along with fellow enslaved men, Lazaro and Domingo. More and more slaves revolted on the island and threatened the Portuguese reign of the island. By July 29th, Portuguese colonialists proposed leniency for revolting slaves who would surrender, and around 400 surrendered. In the second week of August, one of Amador’s confidants betrayed him, and Amador was subsequently hanged, with his heart displayed on a pillow. Other enslaved Africans absconded to remote parts of the island, and established Maroon communities.

(A street in Sao Tome and Principe. David Stanley from Nanaimo, Canada, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Slavery was abolished in 1875. In the early 1900s, exiled Mozambicans and Angolans were sent to Sao Tome, where they were forced to labor for free, producing cocoa for the Sao Tome economy. In the 20th century, Sao Tome was the world’s leading cocoa exporter. In February of 1953, the Portuguese colonists wanted more laborers and attempted to force the formerly enslaved populations to work on the cocoa and coffee plantations. When they refused and protested, the Portuguese killed hundreds. This became known as the Batepá Massacre.

 (Forros children in Sao Tome and Principe. jmaximo from Lisboa, Portugal, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons )

The people of Sao Tome and Principe, who are a mixture of African and European descendants, are known as ‘Forros’, which translates to ‘free man’ in Portuguese. Forros, also known as the ‘Children of the Land’ or Mestizos, were 79% of the population in 2000, with 10% Fang tribe, a Bantu-speaking tribe from Equatorial Guinea, 7.5% Angolan immigrants, 1.9% Portuguese and 1% other. Some of the Angolan population are made of Angolares, a group of Angolans who in 1544, were shipwrecked on the coast, swam to the island and formed communities called Quilombos or Maroon settlements.

Learn more about Sao Tome and Principe as a travel destination here.

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