Thursday, January 27, 2011

African Folklore: The Day Jackal Fooled the King of Beasts

(A Zulu folk Tale)  One day long ago, Jackal was trotting through a narrow and rocky pass when he came face to face with Lion, who was coming in the opposite direction. Realizing that he was too near to escape, Jackal was afraid, for he had played many tricks on Lion in the past, and now Lion might take this opportunity to get his revenge.

In a flash, he thought of a plan.  He cowered down on the cliff path, looked above him and cried, "Help!"  Lion stopped short in surprise.  He indeed been just about to leap upon Jackal and give him the beating of his life.
"Help!" cried Jackal again. "The rocks are about to fall on us! We shall both be crushed! Do something, O mighty Lion!"

Lion looked up too, most alarmed, but before he had time to think, Jackal was begging him to use his great strength to hold up an overhanging rock.
"Hold on!" cried Jackal, "I'll run and fetch that log over there to prop under the rock, then we'll both be saved!"

Lion put his great shoulder to the rock and heaved.  While sneering, Jackal made his escape. Lion was left all alone to struggle under the weight of the unmoving rock.

How long he remained there before he realized that it had all been yet another trick, we will never know. But one thing is perfectly clear: Jackal had to twice as wary of Lion from that day forward.(Adapted from: When the Hippo was Hairy: And other tales from Africa.  By Nick Greaves, Rod Clement)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Marking Luanda's Birthday; The 'Paris of Africa'

Today, the city of Luanda celebrates its 435th anniversary of its founding in 1576.  Being the country's largest city and capital, Luanda is located on the Atlantic coast and is the main port and administrative center of Angola. It has a population now of over 5 million inhabitants (UN estimate 2008), making it the third largest city of the Lusophone world, behind São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro of Brazil.   

In 1575 the Portuguese captain, Paulo Dias de Novais, landed on Cape Island and established the first group of Portuguese settlers, some 700 people which included 350 armed men, clergy, merchants and civil servants. A year later (1576), recognizing the limitations of the small island, the group moved onshore to the mainland and founded the town of São Paulo da Assunção de Luanda and laid the foundation stone for a Catholic church dedicated to St. Sebastian, today the site of the Armed Forces Museum.

Luanda was Portuguese Angola's administrative centre from 1627, except during the Dutch rule of Luanda, from 1640 to 1648, as Fort Aardenburgh. The city served as the centre of a large slave trade to Brazil from c.1550 to 1836. The slave trade was conducted mostly with the Portuguese colony of Brazil; Brazilian ships were the most numerous in the ports of Luanda and Benguela.

A strong degree of Brazilian influence was noted in Luanda until the independence of Brazil in 1822. In the 19th century, still under Portuguese rule, Luanda experienced a major economic revolution. The slave trade was abolished in 1836, and in 1844 Angola's ports were opened to foreign shipping. By 1850, Luanda was one of the greatest and most developed Portuguese cities in the vast Portuguese Empire outside mainland Portugal full of trading companies, exporting palm and peanut oil, wax, copal, timber, ivory, cotton, coffee, and cocoa, among many other products. Maize, tobacco, dried meat and cassava flour also began to be produced locally. The Angolan bourgeoisie was born by this time.

In 1889 Governor Brito Capelo opened the gates of an aqueduct which supplied the city with water, a formerly scarce resource, laying the foundation for major growth. Like most of Portuguese Angola, the cosmopolitan city of Luanda was not affected by the Portuguese Colonial War (1961–1974); economic growth and development in the entire region reached record highs during this period. In 1972 a report called Luanda the 'Paris of Africa'. 

Angola, which is forecast by the World Bank and UN to be one of the world's fastest growing economies, has been undergoing a massive national reconstruction. The central government allocates funds to all regions of the country, but the capital region receives the bulk of these funds. Since the end of the Angolan Civil War (1975–2002), stability has been widespread in the country, and major reconstruction has been ongoing since 2002.

Around one-third of Angolans live in Luanda, 57% of whom live in poverty. Living conditions in Luanda are extremely poor, with essential services such as safe drinking water still in short supply. Luanda is one of the world's most expensive cities for overseas foreigners. (Angop, Wikipedia)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Historic City Series: M'Banza-Kongo

M'Banza-Kongo, formerly known as Sao Salvador is the capital of Angola's northwestern Zaire Province . The city was founded some time before the arrival of the Portuguese and was the capital of the historic Kongo Kingdom.  Geographically, its sits on top of an impressive flat-topped mountain, sometimes called Mongo a Kaila (mountain of division) because legends recall that the King created the clans of the kingdom and sent them out from there.

M'banza-Kongo was once the seat of power of the Manikongo, the ruler of the Kingdom of Kongo, from where he would appoint governors for the provinces and receive tribute from neighboring subjects. At its peak, the kingdom reached from southern Africa's Atlantic coast to the Nkisi River up in southern Nigeria; an enormous geographical area some 1,000 miles in length . The Jalankuwo, the Manikongo's judgement tree, can still be found in the downtown area of the city on the grounds of the royal palace and present day Royal Museum.
It is also known for the ruins of its 16th century cathedral (built in 1549), which many Angolans claim is the oldest church in sub-Saharan Africa. The church, known locally as nkulumbimbi, is now said to have been built by angels overnight. It was elevated to the status of cathedral in 1596. Pope John Paul II visited the site during his tour of Angola in 1992.

When the Portuguese arrived in the Kongo region, Mbanza-Kongo was already a large town, perhaps the largest in subequatorial Africa, as certified by Portuguese officials in 1491.   During the reign of King Afonso I of Kongo, stone buildings were added, including a palace and several churches. The town grew substantially as the kingdom of Kongo expanded and an ecclesiastical statement of the 1630s related that 4,000-5,000 baptisms were performed in the city and its immediate hinterland, the surrounding valleys, which is consistent with an overall population of 100,000 people. (Wikipedia:  Mbanza-Kongo)

A video showing the history and scenery of Mbanza-Kongo can be seen here:

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Preserving and Celebrating Culture

After almost thirty years of war, the Angolan cultural infrastructure was completely destroyed. Since the arrival of peace in 2002 the arts sector has concentrated on recovery.

Every year, on January 8, Angola celebrates the National Day of Culture which is held as a tribute to poet Agostinho Neto, Angola’s first president. On that day in 1979, he delivered a speech on national unity and described how he saw culture as the main connecting medium. But as a result of the war, the arts were not a priority any longer and the national museums, archives and cultural infrastructure declined. Recovery is now the main concern.

A few years ago, the stage of the National Theatre in Luanda resembled a moon landscape and its plush chairs were covered in dust. Now performances are held in this theatre again. The new cultural centre Agostinho Neto also opened its doors. And in Atlântico not only films are shown again, the cinema now also hosts a hiphop festival and the Miss Angola elections.

The provisional Angolan cultural policy, as presented by minster Boaventura Cardoso in March 2003, is aimed at making culture accessible for everybody. In addition, new technologies should improve the state of museums and archives. Tax benefits should boost investment in art. The government has recently commissioned an extensive research project into the history of Angolan literature. And since 2000, the National Culture Award has been granted annually in order to encourage the arts.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Replanting Angola

Angola is listed as having one of the largest areas of planted forest in Africa, composed for the most part of eucalyptus (85 percent), pine and, to a lesser extent, cypress.  The land considered forested covers about 53 million hectares, about 35% of the country's total land area. However, the area of forests considered economically productive is estimated at 2 373 000 ha, about 2% of the country's area.

Most of the plantations belong to private enterprises (mainly the Railways and the Cellulose Company), while the remainder are State property, managed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.  The Benguela Railway's eucalyptus plantations in the center of the country are some of the largest in all of Africa, originally planted to provide firewood for their steam locomotives.

Unfortunately, and conversely, Angola has an estimated deforestation rate of 5%, one of the highest rates in southern Africa. Zaire province in the north has the highest national rate of deforestation and few forested areas remain in that region. Most of the plantation areas have been degredated as a result of burning, felling for fuelwood and charcoal production, pest and disease problems, and soil degradation.

With an acknowledgement of the need to assess and address the forestry needs after many years of environmental distress from the civil war, the Angolan government recently invited the United States Forest Service (USFS) to Angola to provide forestry evaluations and technical assistance in rehabilitating the resource.  Tree planting campaigns have been initiated in schools and other municipal departments in efforts to replant and protect the forestry resources.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Foods: Using the Fruit of the Palms

Among the coastal and tropical regions of Angola, palm trees can be found in abundance.  Often locally called the Molala, these trees grow between 5 to 7 meters (15 -21 feet), but sometimes up to 15 meters (45 feet) in height.

Beyond the aesthetic views, rural Angolans value the tree for its fruit.  The fruits are small, oval and somewhat pear-shaped, ripening from green through orange to glossy dark brown. A thin layer of sweet-tasting, ginger-flavoured, spongy, fibrous pulp surrounds the seed. Fruits are produced in large quantities, up to 2000 per tree, each taking two years to mature and up to two further years to fall. 

A local and national dish called 'muamba' is made from the fruit. The palm nuts are boiled, pounded, mixed with water, sieved again and then boiled to become a 'sauce-like' consistency. It is usually served with funge, a manioc puree and is often served with fish on occasions.

Additionally, the fruit and sap of the palm tree is used to make wine and locally home-brewed beer, often called 'cuca'.