19 February 2017

Museu Nacional and CACAU

Final post from our August 2016 visit to São Tomé and Príncipe with two places of interest in São Tomé town!


São Tomé and Príncipe's Museu Nacional is in the former fort San Sebastiao, built by the Portuguese in 1576 to fend off attacks by the French and Dutch. Outside the museum are three statues dedicated to three founders and/or discoverers of São Tomé, who arrived in 1470. The historical consensus is that the islands were deserted when the Portuguese arrived, and people were enslaved and brought over from Angola to grow sugar.

Fort San Sebastiao, site of the Museu Nacional
of Sao Tome and Principe.
After sugar production declined in favour of cultivation in Brazil's richer soil, the colony was largely left alone for a time, and escaped or freed slaves and their descendants were able to live relatively independently. Once cacao was introduced in the early 19th century, Portuguese returned en masse and usurped the land of free São Toménse and imported more enslaved people from Portugal's other colonies and, once slavery officially ended in 1869, then roped freedmen into indentured servitude.

Interior buildings of the fort and museum.
We had an informative tour, particularly since the lady who showed us around spoke French. The museum included many liturgical artifacts, wooden furniture, images of the various plantations, and the turtle room displaying the several species that lay eggs on the islands as well as the threats they face. Set in the old fort, the museum also had nice views of the bay and São Tomé town.

The one with the Prince Valiant haircut is Pedro Escobar, among those who discovered
Sao Tome and Principe. Compared to most places that were "discovered," the
 islands actually seem to have been uninhabited when they arrived.
The most striking room of the museum was one devoted to the massacre of Batepa, reprisals in 1953 by the Portuguese against São Toménse who were protesting against forced labor on the plantations. As you can see from the pictures, photography was limited to outside the fort.

View of Ana Chaves Bay from the Museu Nacional.

We also visited CACAU, or Casa das Artes Criacao Ambiente Utopias (“House of Arts, Creation, Environment and Utopias”), an arts center that provides training, residences for artists, and exhibitions on the art, culture and history of São Tomé and Príncipe.


A principal exhibit during our visit focused on tchiloli, or “the tragedy,” which tells the tale of how Charlemagne's son Dom Carloto killed his best friend Valdevinos while they were out hunting as Carloto had designs on Valdevinos's wife Sibilla.

Further information on the tchiloli phenomenon in Sao Tome and Principe.

What apparently follows (we missed the main tchiloli peformance season by a few days) is a courtroom performance featuring many political intrigues amongst courtiers maneuvering for influence after the murder of Valdevinos.


The pictures on display at CACAU were of actors in tchiloli performances and their families. According to the exhibit, all characters are portrayed by men, in accordance with medieval tradition. It is a popular play in ST&P, and is performed by troupes on both islands.

The tchiloli roles are hereditary and passed down from one generation to the next.

1 comment:

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