Angola: 45 years of cultural affirmation

  • Historical cemetery Nkulubimbi monument of Kongo kingdom
  • Grupo Carnavalesco Kilamba
  • António Agostinho Neto, Primeiro Presidente da república de Angola
LUANDA – When we undertake to make an assessment of the 45 years as an independent nation, what first comes to our mind is what has marked the country in the political, economic and social spheres. But there is a crucial sector that should not be left out of this global analysis: Culture.

 

 

 

By Venceslau Mateus, Angop editor

Angolan culture, that has become a relevant banner for the country across the borders, after the attainment of the national Independence, on 11 November 1975, has not always received its true values, especially from the colonial regime.

It is known that Angola, as the holder of a vast diversity of peoples, languages and traditions, has suffered, against the will of its native peoples, a hard process of negation of its origins.

In the face of this reality, imposed by the Portuguese authorities, which “inflicted” a rough policy of opposition to the habits and customs of the people, the country went divided (in terms of social stratification) for large decades, basically with two distinct groups: the assimilados and the gentios.

It was through this strategy that the Portuguese regime sought to dominate the various Angolan communities, through the imposition of a culture of negation among the children of the same motherland, placing the assimilados (those from the urban areas) and the gentios (those from the musseques – poor neighbourhoods) on diametrically opposite extremes.

It took Angolans years of struggle and determination to impose their ethnical and cultural matrixes, on a colonial regime that so fiercely banalised the promotion of the vernacular languages, leading the people into prejudices and stereotypes about its own culture.

However, it was also through the very same culture that many of the best children of the motherland, such as church people and politicians, created, in a clandestine way, true “throwing weapons” against the aims of the Portuguese authorities, through music, poetry and cinema, including clandestine religious activities of messianic movements, that fought through chants of strong patriotic intervention.

 

Who doesn’t remember, in this regard, the historical writings of the “top poet”, António Agostinho Neto, of the songs of exaltation of the Ngola Ritmos and Grupo Nzaji, of the tenacity of Kimpa Vita, Simão Toco, Gaspar de Almeida and Jesse Chiula Chipenda (only to mention a few), who resorted to culture, traditions and spirituality to fight the Portuguese regime, in the face of the scenario of deprivation and jail?

In fact, the Angolan culture played a relevant role in the attainment and materialisations of the dream of freedom and promotion of Angola in the World, after the 11 November, through the song, literature, cinema, dance, plastic arts and other artistic manifestations.

It is undeniable that culture has decisively contributed to, not only the attainment of independence, but also to the international recognition of the Nation.

In essence, Angola is a multi-cultural and cross-cultural state, which has been the home, since colonial days, to various cultures, languages, customs and origins.

One of the largest matrixes in the country is its linguistic diversity, with scholars pointing to the existence of 42 regional languages, in addition to the official language (Portuguese) being, in this particular, considered an exception within the African continent.

Although the national languages ​​are the mother tongues of the majority of the population, the Portuguese language is the first language for 30 percent of the Angolan population, estimated at more than 30 million inhabitants.

It was in this context of the affirmation of the native languages ​​that Angola faced the main obstacles in the colonial era, with traces that went from the first years of freedom to present days, demanding, from the Government, the adoption of more effective policies to promote local languages.

Despite the barriers that still persist in the promotion of culture, it must be recognised that, in a bit less than half a century of sovereignty, the country has seen its prestige rise in the international arena, and has witnessed, since the 1970s, a wide cultural movement, in the most various artistic categories.

 

One of the major milestones in the history of the cultural movement of the then People's Republic of Angola (present-day Republic of Angola) was, no doubt, the 1st National Culture Festival (FENACULT 89), which brought together dozens of artists and spectators, in the middle of an intense period of armed conflict. 
Held at Cidadela National Sports Stadium, in Luanda province, the event had a great international dimension, particularly due to the presence, for the first time, after the forced exile into Europe, of musician Alberto Teta Lando, one of the most expected in the festival.
Another striking point over the past 45 years was the first popular outdoor manifestation, organised by Angolans, in March 1978, that is, the so-called "Carnaval da Vitória".

 
The initiative arose from a vehement appeal launched by the first President of the Republic, António Agostinho Neto, during the proclamation of the national independence, on 11 November 1975, for an immediate return to the true traditions and roots of the Angolan people’s cultural values.

 
It was a remarkable moment of total breakaway with a culture imposed by the Portuguese colonisers, in a popular feast that took thousands of Angolans to the streets, euphoric for expressing their own way of being, dressing, singing and playing, through dance and music. 

 
It was an unprecedented cultural event, which, among other purposes, aimed to celebrate the expulsion of South African mercenaries who invaded Angola. Hence the name Carnaval da Vitória.

 

With this mega and spontaneous popular feasting, the groups evoked, through songs, allegories, flags, dances and theatricalisation, the scene of a won battle, recalling their art, the various armed conflicts, their habits and customs, politics, mourning and songs.

 
In addition to these two events, other important realisations have marked the country's cultural history throughout its 45 years as an independent nation, being celebrated on 11 November.

 
An instrument of affirmation in the colonial period and a factor of unity, Angolan culture has gained more international prominence in the 1970s, with the emergence of names that have become indispensable in Africa and in other corners of the world.

 
Inspired by the attainment of freedom, figures linked to letters, visual arts and music transformed the imaginary into a struggle for the affirmation of Angolans, making the national product appealing.
Considered "frontline combatants" in the strategy of promotion of Angola, figures such as Agostinho Neto, António Jacinto, José Luandino Vieira, Pepetela, Manuel Rui Monteiro, Vitex, Liceu Vieira Dias, Elias Dyakimuezu, Bonga, Alberto Teta Lando, and others, elevated the national flag to international levels since the dawn of independence.

 

Many of these references led to the creation of professorships at renowned European universities. 
Literature
In the field of literature, the name of Agostinho Neto is traditionally cited as the highest reference, although Angola has produced other important writers, who also fought for freedom and showed independent Angola with high quality writings.
One of the most notable landmarks in this domain was the creation of the Angolan Writers Union, in pursuit of an important movement of artists, between the 70’s and 80’s, despite the fact that Angola’s literature started to assert itself even before national independence.
Music 
Used during the struggle against the Portuguese colonialism, as a means of transmitting messages, the Angolan music continues to be one of the main cultural references of the country, as a result of the projection reached by its performers throughout the 45 years of independence.
With several names that marked the various decades and generations of the national songbook, the country had groups such as Ngola Ritmos (led by Liceu Vieira Dias), Duo Ouro Negro, Kissanguela, Os Jovens do Prenda, Os Kiezos and África Ritmo, as well as individual artists like Bonga, Teta Lando and Waldemar Bastos, some of the pillars displaying the country’s culture around the world.
In a combination between musicians of the new and old generations, the Angolan music is currently the bearer of the country's image, beating, in some respects, the political vector, as a result of the strong commitment of its agents to the internationalisation of the musical product.
With Bonga as one of the top figures, Angolan music has gained space in the world, over the last three decades, thanks to the talent of several artists of the old and new generations, including Paulo Flores, Eduardo Paim, Yuri da Cunha, Anselmo Ralph, Matias Damásio and other references.

 
As a result of the work of these and other artists, kizomba, semba and kuduro music styles, for example, smashed barriers and today are no longer for internal consumption alone.
In another direction, Angola has been winning prizes and joining the list of world heritage sites, as was the case of the recent inclusion of the Historic Centre of Mbanza Kongo on the UNESCO list.

 
Venice Biennale marks fine arts
In the field of plastic arts, which has “Vitex” as one of its main figures, Angola amazed the world by reaping the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, in Italy. 
Attending the event for the first time, Angola left the world in amazement with the project "Luanda, Encyclopedic City", focusing on painting and photography.

 

 

 
The display attracted the visiting public to the Angolan pavilion, seeking a close look and perceive the reason behind the organisation’s awarding the highest and much coveted prize.

 
Mbanza Kongo: national pride and the country’s cultural crown jewel, the centuries old city of Mbanza Kongo, the ancient capital of the Kongo Kingdom, became, in 2017, the shared pride of Angola and DR Congo, Congo and Gabon, with its registration on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Situated in northern Angola, the Mbanza Kongo Historic Centre has a classified area that includes a hill 570 metres above sea level, spanning across six corridors.
It includes ruins and spaces, that underwent excavations and archaeological studies, with the participation of local and foreign experts. 

 
Covering six provinces spanning over part of the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo, Angola and Gabon, the Kongo Kingdom harboured 12 churches, convents, schools, palaces and residences. 

 
Leila Lopes: Angolan beauty in the world 
If, in the field of arts, the names that gave and still give the best of themselves over for the affirmation of Angola are different, in the beauty pageant world, the country displayed the best of its grace through Leila Lopes as Miss Universe, in 2011, in one of the most expressive gains over the last 20 years.

 
In a contest mainly dominated by competitors from South and North American countries, the Angolan spread beauty, sympathy and intelligence, conquering a group of very “strict” judges in terms of classification criteria.

 

 

 

By Venceslau Mateus, Angop editor

Angolan culture, that has become a relevant banner for the country across the borders, after the attainment of the national Independence, on 11 November 1975, has not always received its true values, especially from the colonial regime.

It is known that Angola, as the holder of a vast diversity of peoples, languages and traditions, has suffered, against the will of its native peoples, a hard process of negation of its origins.

In the face of this reality, imposed by the Portuguese authorities, which “inflicted” a rough policy of opposition to the habits and customs of the people, the country went divided (in terms of social stratification) for large decades, basically with two distinct groups: the assimilados and the gentios.

It was through this strategy that the Portuguese regime sought to dominate the various Angolan communities, through the imposition of a culture of negation among the children of the same motherland, placing the assimilados (those from the urban areas) and the gentios (those from the musseques – poor neighbourhoods) on diametrically opposite extremes.

It took Angolans years of struggle and determination to impose their ethnical and cultural matrixes, on a colonial regime that so fiercely banalised the promotion of the vernacular languages, leading the people into prejudices and stereotypes about its own culture.

However, it was also through the very same culture that many of the best children of the motherland, such as church people and politicians, created, in a clandestine way, true “throwing weapons” against the aims of the Portuguese authorities, through music, poetry and cinema, including clandestine religious activities of messianic movements, that fought through chants of strong patriotic intervention.

 

Who doesn’t remember, in this regard, the historical writings of the “top poet”, António Agostinho Neto, of the songs of exaltation of the Ngola Ritmos and Grupo Nzaji, of the tenacity of Kimpa Vita, Simão Toco, Gaspar de Almeida and Jesse Chiula Chipenda (only to mention a few), who resorted to culture, traditions and spirituality to fight the Portuguese regime, in the face of the scenario of deprivation and jail?

In fact, the Angolan culture played a relevant role in the attainment and materialisations of the dream of freedom and promotion of Angola in the World, after the 11 November, through the song, literature, cinema, dance, plastic arts and other artistic manifestations.

It is undeniable that culture has decisively contributed to, not only the attainment of independence, but also to the international recognition of the Nation.

In essence, Angola is a multi-cultural and cross-cultural state, which has been the home, since colonial days, to various cultures, languages, customs and origins.

One of the largest matrixes in the country is its linguistic diversity, with scholars pointing to the existence of 42 regional languages, in addition to the official language (Portuguese) being, in this particular, considered an exception within the African continent.

Although the national languages ​​are the mother tongues of the majority of the population, the Portuguese language is the first language for 30 percent of the Angolan population, estimated at more than 30 million inhabitants.

It was in this context of the affirmation of the native languages ​​that Angola faced the main obstacles in the colonial era, with traces that went from the first years of freedom to present days, demanding, from the Government, the adoption of more effective policies to promote local languages.

Despite the barriers that still persist in the promotion of culture, it must be recognised that, in a bit less than half a century of sovereignty, the country has seen its prestige rise in the international arena, and has witnessed, since the 1970s, a wide cultural movement, in the most various artistic categories.

 

One of the major milestones in the history of the cultural movement of the then People's Republic of Angola (present-day Republic of Angola) was, no doubt, the 1st National Culture Festival (FENACULT 89), which brought together dozens of artists and spectators, in the middle of an intense period of armed conflict. 
Held at Cidadela National Sports Stadium, in Luanda province, the event had a great international dimension, particularly due to the presence, for the first time, after the forced exile into Europe, of musician Alberto Teta Lando, one of the most expected in the festival.
Another striking point over the past 45 years was the first popular outdoor manifestation, organised by Angolans, in March 1978, that is, the so-called "Carnaval da Vitória".

 
The initiative arose from a vehement appeal launched by the first President of the Republic, António Agostinho Neto, during the proclamation of the national independence, on 11 November 1975, for an immediate return to the true traditions and roots of the Angolan people’s cultural values.

 
It was a remarkable moment of total breakaway with a culture imposed by the Portuguese colonisers, in a popular feast that took thousands of Angolans to the streets, euphoric for expressing their own way of being, dressing, singing and playing, through dance and music. 

 
It was an unprecedented cultural event, which, among other purposes, aimed to celebrate the expulsion of South African mercenaries who invaded Angola. Hence the name Carnaval da Vitória.

 

With this mega and spontaneous popular feasting, the groups evoked, through songs, allegories, flags, dances and theatricalisation, the scene of a won battle, recalling their art, the various armed conflicts, their habits and customs, politics, mourning and songs.

 
In addition to these two events, other important realisations have marked the country's cultural history throughout its 45 years as an independent nation, being celebrated on 11 November.

 
An instrument of affirmation in the colonial period and a factor of unity, Angolan culture has gained more international prominence in the 1970s, with the emergence of names that have become indispensable in Africa and in other corners of the world.

 
Inspired by the attainment of freedom, figures linked to letters, visual arts and music transformed the imaginary into a struggle for the affirmation of Angolans, making the national product appealing.
Considered "frontline combatants" in the strategy of promotion of Angola, figures such as Agostinho Neto, António Jacinto, José Luandino Vieira, Pepetela, Manuel Rui Monteiro, Vitex, Liceu Vieira Dias, Elias Dyakimuezu, Bonga, Alberto Teta Lando, and others, elevated the national flag to international levels since the dawn of independence.

 

Many of these references led to the creation of professorships at renowned European universities. 
Literature
In the field of literature, the name of Agostinho Neto is traditionally cited as the highest reference, although Angola has produced other important writers, who also fought for freedom and showed independent Angola with high quality writings.
One of the most notable landmarks in this domain was the creation of the Angolan Writers Union, in pursuit of an important movement of artists, between the 70’s and 80’s, despite the fact that Angola’s literature started to assert itself even before national independence.
Music 
Used during the struggle against the Portuguese colonialism, as a means of transmitting messages, the Angolan music continues to be one of the main cultural references of the country, as a result of the projection reached by its performers throughout the 45 years of independence.
With several names that marked the various decades and generations of the national songbook, the country had groups such as Ngola Ritmos (led by Liceu Vieira Dias), Duo Ouro Negro, Kissanguela, Os Jovens do Prenda, Os Kiezos and África Ritmo, as well as individual artists like Bonga, Teta Lando and Waldemar Bastos, some of the pillars displaying the country’s culture around the world.
In a combination between musicians of the new and old generations, the Angolan music is currently the bearer of the country's image, beating, in some respects, the political vector, as a result of the strong commitment of its agents to the internationalisation of the musical product.
With Bonga as one of the top figures, Angolan music has gained space in the world, over the last three decades, thanks to the talent of several artists of the old and new generations, including Paulo Flores, Eduardo Paim, Yuri da Cunha, Anselmo Ralph, Matias Damásio and other references.

 
As a result of the work of these and other artists, kizomba, semba and kuduro music styles, for example, smashed barriers and today are no longer for internal consumption alone.
In another direction, Angola has been winning prizes and joining the list of world heritage sites, as was the case of the recent inclusion of the Historic Centre of Mbanza Kongo on the UNESCO list.

 
Venice Biennale marks fine arts
In the field of plastic arts, which has “Vitex” as one of its main figures, Angola amazed the world by reaping the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale, in Italy. 
Attending the event for the first time, Angola left the world in amazement with the project "Luanda, Encyclopedic City", focusing on painting and photography.

 

 

 
The display attracted the visiting public to the Angolan pavilion, seeking a close look and perceive the reason behind the organisation’s awarding the highest and much coveted prize.

 
Mbanza Kongo: national pride and the country’s cultural crown jewel, the centuries old city of Mbanza Kongo, the ancient capital of the Kongo Kingdom, became, in 2017, the shared pride of Angola and DR Congo, Congo and Gabon, with its registration on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Situated in northern Angola, the Mbanza Kongo Historic Centre has a classified area that includes a hill 570 metres above sea level, spanning across six corridors.
It includes ruins and spaces, that underwent excavations and archaeological studies, with the participation of local and foreign experts. 

 
Covering six provinces spanning over part of the present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo, Angola and Gabon, the Kongo Kingdom harboured 12 churches, convents, schools, palaces and residences. 

 
Leila Lopes: Angolan beauty in the world 
If, in the field of arts, the names that gave and still give the best of themselves over for the affirmation of Angola are different, in the beauty pageant world, the country displayed the best of its grace through Leila Lopes as Miss Universe, in 2011, in one of the most expressive gains over the last 20 years.

 
In a contest mainly dominated by competitors from South and North American countries, the Angolan spread beauty, sympathy and intelligence, conquering a group of very “strict” judges in terms of classification criteria.