My Years in Angola (1950-1970)
Andries Pieter van der Graaf
Besides food (Mozambique tea - chá licungo - , and cashew nuts should also be mentioned), drinks and textiles, there was an assortment of other articles, which pretty well matched the range of articles in the "mercearias" (general stores) in the interior and in the city. These were: storm lanterns, primus stoves, chopping knives, hoes, corrugated panels, plumbing, floor covering, sewing machines, iceboxes, bicycles. In the shop window was a graphic poster of a Raleigh bicycle, with a native on it, chased by a lion. Many Velosolex (motorized bicycles) were also imported, but more in Lobito than to Luanda, where the roads were too steep. In the first years, copper wire, beads and other decorative articles were important. Importing of beads was arranged through Amsterdam from Italy ("missangas"), and from Czechoslovakia ("contas").
poster of a Raleigh bicycle
Angola is generally a "price market," but Bacalhau is an exception to this rule. Bacalhau (dried cod) the way the Portuguese like it, is Clipfish, dried on rocks (Stockfish is dried hanging on wooden racks). Codfish came mainly from Norway, with occasional shipments from Iceland and Scotland. For dried cod, or "o fiel amigo" (the faithful friend) as the Portuguese call it, quality is the top requirement, since they are so fond of Bacalhau that no feast day may be celebrated without it, e.g., Christmas.
In the warehouse
What with one thing and another, the months of November and December were always exceptionally busy for anyone who had anything to do with the "armazém" (warehouse). During this period, a great deal of work was done by the native assistants in the warehouse, and when the bonuses were handed out, they were given extra consideration too. There were some very strong men among them, I especially remember "Maximbombo", the native word for "bus", commonly used in Angola. Many of the natives have Portuguese, or Portuguese-derived names, but there are exceptions to this. For example, Van Dunen harks back to the Dutch administrator Van Duinen; Fançoni to Van Zon, etc. One particularly good tribe came from the Bailundo area, who didn't speak Kimbundo, as they do in the North, but Umbundu. As employees, the natives were still very subservient, something which was to change a great deal in the next decade; they also had very few rights, notwithstanding the official policy of equality and assimilation. The economic colour barrier was enormous.
Luanda was still small. Behind the Avenida Brito Godins, where our "residencia" was situated, there were a few residential areas, but otherwise nothing very much yet. There was no Avenida Marginal, just a sandy shore to the bay, and not far from there was the market, where now the Banco Commercial rises up.
Luanda bay, before the Avenida Marginal was built
Luanda in the fifties
A residência, front garden. Circa 1952, with Joyce, Kees and Betty
Causeway to the Ilha
When I arrived in Luanda, the peak demand for foreign imported cotton prints had already passed. Around Sá da Bandeira you didn't see very much textile, for there the native people kept mostly to their traditional dress, a loincloth, some arm rings, beads and buttons. In this cattle-rich area, the women wore leather strips, onto which sawn-through cone shells had been added. These cost about "an ox" each, and from the number of these shells you could calculate the financial status of the native family.
Muhuila married women
In the surrounding area, Huila, and Cuanhama, there is still a great deal of traditional life to be seen. A trip into the Huila area stands out as the most interesting one in my memory. The native tribes provided the most picturesque spectacle. They were mostly Huilas and Mucubais, tribes that had resisted the trend to wearing European clothes - in contrast to Northern Angola. They kept to their own ways and it was marvellous to see their dark brown shining bodies, embellished by thick copper wire wound around their necks and legs, all sparkling in the sunlight. The women, with finery differing according to age or status, often wore strings of shells, cowrie and others, and beads. On their backs they wore cone shells, sawn in halves. These came all the way from the coast and were very expensive. I was told that one could tell how rich they were by the number of shells they wore. One of them was worth " an ox ". In their necklaces and bracelets, however, there were often small European objects, such as coins and safety pins and other shiny objects.
Muhuila women, with cut off cone shells, Joyce, Kees and Betty by the car
A.P. with Mumuhuila tribesmen
The travelling salesmen took as many samples with them as possible of everything that we sold. There was a good variety, and therefore our men were always welcomed by the clients. Still, they always had to keep in mind the custom of never being over hasty. The first day had to be seen as the lead up to the real business visit. First, time needed to be patiently spent on "cumprimentar" (greetings) and "conversa" (conversation). The next day was the day for business. Only then were the boxes of samples brought out from under the canvas of the carrinha (pick-up), and opened.
Trip to Nova Lisboa, 1965
The roads were appalling. Heading inland, there was asphalt only as far as Catete (60km), and on the way to Malange, around Zenza, there was a 30 km stretch of very fine sand, all very well for growing cotton, but not quite the right thing for a road. Driving through those 30 km would take a good three hours. But these trips also had a very attractive side as well. Astonishing vegetation: baobabs ("imbondeiro"), and candelabra-euphorbias along the road to Dondo, and further along perhaps coffee plants in bloom. Towards the south, instead, you would see different types of acacia, and then dry savannah.
The hotels along the way were pretty shabby, but they sometimes made good meals: feijoada (a bean stew), guisado (stewed meat and greens), churrasco (piri-piri chicken). Breakfast was "sem garfo" or "com garfo" (with or without a fork). "With" was with meat, almost a full meal, and "without" was coffee and a couple of rock-hard buns with very salty butter. For the lorry drivers there was still another "matabicho" (matar o bicho = to kill the animal; the official Portuguese word for breakfast is "pequeno almoço"): a strong cup of coffee with brandy upon departure at dawn, followed later in the morning with a "matabicho com garfo." Another delicacy of the "mato" was muamba (palmoil stew).
to be continued...
Andries Pieter van der Graaf Jan/Feb 1974
Translated by Elizabeth Davies (van der Graaf) 2012
The memoir of Andries Pieter van der Graaf is in two parts: Part 1 (written in English) starts in 1909 with his birth, and provides a vivid description of his early life in Krimpen aan de Lek, a small community near Rotterdam; of the effects of the Depression on the family; and of his experiences during the war. In Part 2 (written in Dutch, translation into English provided), he takes us from his first day in Angola, through his years learning how to run a Dutch trading company in Angola in colonial times, to his fascination with Angola and its peoples.
Album "Vintage Angola" on Flickr
Many thanks to Elizabeth Davies (van der Graaf) and her family for allowing me to adapt the text and to illustrate it by using photos from the family's collection.
Muito agradeço a Elizabeth Davies e sua família que autorizaram gentilmente a edição do texto para publicação neste blog e disponibilizaram fotografias do espólio do autor.