Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Across My Desk: Sacred Hope

When books intended for disposal cross my desk I try to be attentive to the foreign language editions, always wondering if I might find a Portuguese-language title. True, it seldom happens as the University does not have a great focus on that language, but occasionally something appears and I quickly offer a donation to rescue it from neglect. These books are eventually sent to my relations in Angola to help populate the ISTEL library. Obviously, simply because a book is printed in Portuguese it doesn't mean it's useful to them, but they have so many English-language donations in their library (despite many students there not knowing the language) that I assume giving them any book in Portuguese may have a benefit to someone at some point down the road. After all, among a million-person local population, they have the largest library (and that's still not saying much).

One day I was casually preparing a book for disposal when my eye glanced over the back cover. "Um aniversario," it said. I paused. "A birthday?" I wondered. I quickly flipped through the book; English. I checked the title; English. I checked the author; ...vaguely Portuguese. I checked the country of publication; Tanzania. "Tanzania? Pretty sure they don't speak Portuguese there!" My hand wavered on whether to dispose of the book.

Finally I discovered a neat trick - one you can use in your own home - I read an extract from the book. Suddenly it became clear - this was a collection of poetry by an Angolan author which had been translated into English. Angolan poetry! I came that close to getting rid of it! Happily, I rescued it for my own collection.

The book is Sacred Hope by Agostinho Neto, who ultimately became the leader of the MPLA and president of Angola. I had never actually tried to read books written by Angolans (books dealing with Angola are uncommon in this part of the world) so here was an opportunity for insight into Angolan culture (at least, culture circa 1974).

I can't say that these poems have done much to expand my knowledge of the culture. They are primarily a litany of frustration, expressions of sorrow and outrage at the Portuguese who were then in charge of the country. Neto's thoughts seemed consumed by the struggle he was in (the poems were written from the 50s to the 70s and are very much in a singular tone). Perhaps post-independence Angolan poets had something else to say about their nation but at this time - mostly anger. Perhaps the most surprising thing to note were the many references to slavery, despite it having been abolished well before then. Neto wrote of slavery as something which was, to him, still alive. That holds up with other accounts I've read about life in African colonials - that the colonizers behaved like slave-masters.

The poetry is interesting primarily in an academic fashion and the book - well, it will stand on a shelf with my all-too-few other tomes on Angola.

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