José Santos’ Thoughts on the Plantation Roça Água Izé

Roça Água Izé. Photo by José Santos

Roça Água Izé. Photo by José Santos

We were heading South of São Tomé island to see the sea turtles that visit Jalé Beach each year. Água Izé is just on the way, by the EN2 (National Road 2) and I was curious about the very plantation, where commercial cocoa production first started. They say it’s one of the biggest…

São Tomé Road South. Photo by Inna Moody

São Tomé Road South. Photo by Inna Moody

We parked the jeep close to what seemed to be some old factories, I couldn’t tell if they still functioned.

Bags of Cocoa at Roça Água Izé. Photo by Consulate of São Tomé & Principe in Marseille

Bags of Cocoa at Roça Água Izé. Photo by Consulate of São Tomé & Principe in Marseille

All was strangely quiet. I wanted to talk with some locals. To have an understanding of the what was going on in the village – yes, that’s what some of the old plantations became, villages.

We walked around a little bit until we found a young boy, about 15 or 16 years old, passing by.

I approached him and asked if he could show us around, he reluctantly accepted to do it, I think just to be polite as santomeans usually are. His name was Lúcio but people called him “Musculino” – he was very slim  so I assumed someone put him that nickname meaning he had small muscles…

He took us to some nearby cocoa plantations that are nowadays owned by private companies.

Woman in a Window at Roça Água Izé

Woman in a Window at Roça Água Izé. Photo by Isaac Afonso

As we walked up the brown roads, ladies would beg us for “a candy for the children” which was something not that common in other parts of the island.

People here looked different, no joy on their faces. As I heard them talking to each other, I could understand they spoke cape-verdean creole (many people from Cape-Verd were contracted(?) in the XIX century to work in the plantations) not the most common forro, the dominant dialect.

Gradually Musculino felt more comfortable and volunteered to show us the famous hospital of the plantation that, I learned after, dating from 1928.

Musculino. Photo by José Santos

Our guide Musculino. Photo by José Santos

Though, he wasn’t comfortable to walk around with us half-naked so he asked for a few minutes to run home and dress up properly.

When Musculino was ready, we went up the hill. It was a steep climb, I feared for my fragile rented Suziki Vitara.

Huts on the Lagoon at Agua Izé. Photo by Inna Moody

Huts on the Lagoon at Agua Izé. Photo by Inna Moody

When we got there, boy, what a wondrous feeling. A mix of emotions froze my body, they can’t really be translated into words.

As I faced this majestic colonial building, my mind was transported into other times. Staring at its lordliness, I could imagine how powerful one would have felt being in charge of that territory, managing it, making it work.

For a moment I was João Maria de Sousa e Almeida running all that, finding workers, building railways, running a profitable business for the Portuguese crown as a proper nobleman.

Then suddenly, I was a slave being forced to work those lands.Feeling the pain of having been taken away from my home town where I was a nobleman myself. I had been traded like an animal and now had to learn the language of those who I hated.

Like myself, others where being brought from many African nations to work here and make someone else prosper with our sweat and tears.

Back to the present. The old hospital looks terrible these days. People are splitting up its huge rooms to make tiny “apartments” out of them. No roof, the shingles seem to have been stolen. Everything dirty and smelly. It’s a sad view.

In the end I asked myself: wasn’t it better when it all worked ?

But how could it be better if it all was at the expenses of slavery and disrespect for the human race ?

Well, that brutality fed all those people, things worked up to the point of having the biggest production in the World.

Yeah, right, but people were forced to do it against their will.. I’m sure the surrounding landscape was much more beautiful those days… but now people are at least free; aren’t they?

José Santos is a Portuguese traveler and software developer. He visited São Tomé and Príncipe, including the Roça Água Ize plantation, in January 2009.