Angolans still mistake Portugal for paradise

Elephant eye: Sousa Jamba says that 47 years after independence Angolans remain attached to things Portuguese — the food, the football teams, the media, sports and music.

In 1986 when I first went to Europe — on a scholarship to the United Kingdom — my first wish was to visit Portugal.

At the first opportunity I found myself on trains, buses, and even on the back of a donkey to explore the interior of Portugal. I was struck by how small the country was. I wondered why some Angolans thought of Portugal as being next to paradise.

I was born in 1966, six years after the war against the Portuguese started in 1960.

My parents named me Anibal José Ivão de Sousa Jamba; it was a grand name befitting the son of a school teacher. The Russian-sounding Ivão was dropped at the registry because a Portuguese citizen could not have a Communist name.

We were citizens of the overseas province (ultramar) of Portugal. My parents never acquired assimilado status — that was only granted to black African families that had completely done away with their indigenous ways such as eating traditional Angolan food.

I recall the effort families went to cook proper “cozida a Portuguesa” or Portuguese stew, a mixture of sausages, potatoes, greens and beans.

In 1975 Angola became independent and thousands of Portuguese returned to Portugal.

Over the years, thousands of Angolans fetched up in Portugal too; there are parts of the Portuguese capital Lisbon that are effectively an extension of the Angolan capital, Luanda.

When you talk of holidays in Angola the first country that comes to most people’s mind is Portugal; the route between Lisbon and Luanda is so busy that the Angolan national airline recently had to outsource some of its flight slots to another airline.

In Angola itself Portuguese culture has remained quite vibrant. In January last year I was in the coastal city of Namibe during the COVID pandemic; most businesses had closed save for the two most popular Portuguese restaurants.

The owner of one of the restaurants, an elderly Portuguese woman who had recently come to Angola, told me that she often had to hire extra cooks because there were government departments which regularly asked her to prepare Portuguese dishes.

Posh restaurants in Luanda are mainly owned by the Portuguese, and they can be absurdly expensive. On the fourth of February 2018 (I remember the exact date so shocking was the experience) I went with a friend to a restaurant in Luanda and the Portuguese owner said he was going to give us a plate that could only be had in the north of Portugal.

We had some fish, a salad and some rice; the bill came to about two hundred US dollars. I protested. The owner was surprised; any Angolan who complains about the bill in a Portuguese restaurant is just not supposed to be there! The owner told us that the fish came from Portugal, and so did the mineral water.

Those who were denied a visa to go to Portugal made do by going to restaurants or visiting bars which, apparently, are supposed to be exact replicas of the ones in Portugal.

Two years ago, I was in a village in the interior of Malange province when I noticed that many were truly sad because their favorite team in Portugal had lost to some team from Turkey; this is a place where people would be able to name every single member of the Portuguese soccer team and not the name of the governor of the province they were living in.

Portugal and Portuguese culture remains so vibrant in Angola partly due to satellite television. Last year CNN launched a station in Portugal; it has so many viewers in Angola that it has been called the fourth African channel. The Portuguese producers at this channel seem to have discovered the latest religion Angolans have taken to — politics!

In the past, many Angolans would be glued to Brazilian soap operas or television preachers asking viewers for money in return for cars, big houses, big promotions.

There was a very public falling out between Brazilian and Angolan pastors at the Universal Church which resulted in a ban of TV Record, a popular religious channel. Angolan pastors soon lost their Brazilian accents and all the church takings were converted into US dollars and smuggled out of the country in bibles.

In Portugal, older citizens who had been part of the colonial society, are too glad to point out the fondness that Angolans have for Portuguese culture.

If the Portuguese were that nasty, they insist, would Angolans themselves be crying out that some cities regain their old colonial names?

Norton De Matos, Silva Porto, Serpa Pinto were colonial explorers who truly believed condescendingly that they were on a civilizing mission.

Few Angolans are interested in the biographies of these colonial figures; they just insist that in the colonial days there was good food, wine, clothes and much else in the cities that were named after them. Some Angolans love to dream of not only Portugal but also of the colonial society now receding into a blurry past!