Wednesday, April 11, 2012


One of the most recognizable pieces of art styles in Angola is the native mask. There are different kinds of masks for different purposes, and of course different tribes have their own versions. There are masks for births, deaths, marriages, seasonal changes, and other milestone ceremonies. Most of these masks are made of different kinds of wood, ivory, ceramic, and other materials. Shields, drums, and small sculptures are also popular mediums as well. Some of these can be fairly elaborate. Some of the most common ones are from the Chokwe tribe. I thought some of them looked pretty scary, but my husband thought those were the best ones and wanted to cover the living room with them. He would think that.

Today there is also a lot of painting and sculpture of various mediums. Because a lot of cultural arts went by the wayside during the years of civil war and were highly censored as well, a lot of contemporary art portrays a pro-Africa and pro-Angola sentiment and many are a reflection of their social and political views.  Today there are many local and national art shows that display artwork from various Angolan artists. Other forms of art that are also quite popular are basket weaving and textiles. One of the identifying common threads I notice among Angolan paintings is the wide array of color and contrast. I think the use of contrast is important to Angolan art, showing one way of life that coexists with another way of life. This is also true in literature (keep reading!).

The art of story-telling goes back many generations, long before the ability to write down these stories. Of course, this is true for most areas, so Angola is no exception to this. But in recent times, one of the most widely known and prevalent poets is Angola’s first president Agostinho Neto. It was really hard to find some of his poems, but I finally searched “poemas de Agostinho Neto” and came up with a lot of websites in Portuguese. (See, it pays off to be bilingual, or trilingual, or well, I suppose I could probably call myself a quasi-polyglot.)

I did find out that I do have something in common with him: we are/were both part of interracial marriages. After he was studying in Portugal, he married a white Portuguese woman named Maria Eugénia da Silva the same day he graduated. 

One of his poems called “Fogo e ritmo” [“Fire and rhythm”] really struck me. I loosely translated it, more or less, to understand it better (although there were a couple words that didn’t quite make sense to me; perhaps there was a different meaning I don’t know of? Perhaps a difference between Angolan Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese perhaps? Perhaps just the result of not studying for a while?):

“Sounds of shackles in the streets/ Songs of birds/ Under the humid greenery of the forests/ Newness of a sweet symphony/ Of the coconut trees/ Fire/ Fire in the pasture/ Fire about the heat of the plates of Cayette/ Wide roads/ Full of people, full of people/ In exodus from all parts/ Wide roads for the horizons closed/ But roads/ Open roads above/ Of the impossibilities of the arms/ Bonfires/ Dance/ Tam tam/ Rhythm/ Rhythm in the light/ Rhythm in the color/ Rhythm in the movement/ Rhythm in the bloody cracks of bare feet/ Rhythm in the nails stripped/ More rhythm/ Rhythm/ The painful voices of Africa!”

To me, this represents the perseverance of Angolans. To me, this poems talks of the hardships of the people: those who are prisoners, those who are displaced, those who have lost loved ones, and their belief in a higher source to get them through all of this on their journey to finding peace and a better life. But there is the rhythm of life that keeps them moving. The use of rhythm as a musical term goes to show how music is also so engrained in the lives of Africans on a whole, sometimes to the point where they don’t even think of it as music, just a way of life. (Keep reading when I write about music next.) But his use of seemingly opposite comparisons and descriptions creates a dichotomy of Angolan life between its people and land (“Sounds of shackles in the streets/ Songs of birds” or “Newness of a sweet symphony/ of the coconut trees/ Fire/ Fire in the pasture”). It’s a glimpse at the fire of life that even though there are hardships of unbelievable depth, the rhythm of life keeps them together and keeps them pushing forward, that even though things are bad, you can still enjoy the beauty of the land, the notes of a song, the kindness of a smile.

Up next: music and dance


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