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Posts tagged ‘portuguese west africa’


Angolan Culture and Customs: Part 1 – An Introduction

Africa is huge. As the second largest continent, it is four times the size of the United States (excluding Alaska). Angola, in turn is also large, the seventh largest country in Africa. At about twice the size of the state of Texas, it covers more than 481,354 square miles spread across coastal lowlands, hills and mountains, and the great plateau. Angola is home to approximately 100 ethno – linguistic groups. The most prominent of these groups are the Ovimbundu, the Mbundu, the Bakongo, the Nganguela (Ganguela), and the Lunda-Chokwe. From such a large melting pot,and so many influences, it is only natural to expect much diversity in culture. Angola doesn’t disappoint!

Join me as I share with you my “unofficial guide” to the culture and customs of Angola. Over several installments I will deal with a distinct aspect of Angolan Culture: Art; Literature; Cuisine; Religion; Customs and Music.

To begin an exploration of Angola´s culture and customs we need look no further than Luanda, Angola’s largest city and main social and cultural center.

The sensuous dance, Semba, was born here. Semba gets its name from “Masemba”, meaning “a touch of the bellies”, the motion that characterizes this type of dancing. Semba music is capable of conveying a broad spectrum of emotions and, therefore is heard at a wide variety of Angolan social gatherings. In the late 80s producers began to mix traditional carnival music like zouk and soca from the Caribbean and semba around a fast beat, producing the “Kuduro” style. A very popular example of this style of music is the popular “Danza Kuduro” music video (by Lucenzo and Don Omar ) on YouTube,  which has over 300 million views! Perhaps you have seen it too?

Luanda´s cultural importance doesn’t end with music though.  It has much, much more to offer! Visitors can view impressive collections of African arts especially Chokwe masks and sculptures. To me Chokwe masks are particularly interesting. They symbolize various ancestral beliefs and were used during rites of passage circumcisions, fertility and puberty rites. Chokwe art much appreciated in many western countries and is often found on display in major art museums and galleries in Europe, the United States, and Japan.  In Luanda such pieces can be viewed are the Humbi-Humbi Gallery and; the Museu Nacional de Antropologia (National Anthropology Museum).

Other galleries in the city are Galeria Cenarius, Espelho da Moda, and Galeria SOSO-Arte Contemporânea. The Museu do Dundo (Dundo Museum), in the northeastern province of Lunda Norte, has been in existence since the colonial era. It houses one of the finest collections of Chokwe art found anywhere in the world. More contemporary museums located in Luanda include the Museu de Angola (Museum of Angola), the Centro Cultural Português (Portuguese Cultural Center), the Museu Nacional de História Natural (National Museum of Natural History), and the Military Museum (housed in a historic fortress).  Another popular museum, not dealing specifically with Art, is the Museu da Escravatura (Museum of Slavery). This museum, supposedly located at the very place where African captives were kept before being shipped to New World! The museum preserves the unfortunate history of the Atlantic slave trade on the Angolan coast.

In January 2005 the Minister of Culture, Boaventura Cardoso, called for special attention to the restoration of monuments and historic sites in Angola. This will ensure that Angola’s culture and customs will thus not be forgotten.

Join me soon, for Part 2 in which I will delve more deeply into Angolan Art and Architecture, focusing primarily on Chokwe influences.


The Beaches of Benguela: Angola´s best “Must Visit” seaside locations.

The beaches around Benguela have always been places where people go to relax and get away from it all. I am one of them because I love all that the region has to offer.  Benguela sits 700 kilometres south of Luanda, the Angolan capital. It was founded by the Portuguese in 1617 and is a former slave port. Having been spared the worst of a bloody civil war that reduced other inland towns to piles of smouldering rubble, Benguela is very picturesque. It has a charming mixture of low-rise apartment blocks on streets made beautiful by Benguela’s famous crimson acacia trees.

In Benguela, Angola’s cultural capital, African traditions are strong. The sense of history is palpable, but the real highlight of this diminutive regional capital is not its paint-peeled colonial architecture. It is the people. Benguelans are open and gregarious, with an infectious spirit.

Then there are the beaches: Praia Morena (Brunette Beach), Praia da Caota, Praia da Caotinha, Praia da Baía Azul (Blue Bay Beach) and Lobito. Each has its own flavour, and all are worth visiting.

Praia Morena (Brunette Beach) runs a length of more than 1000 kilometres and is a favourite of romantic couples. It begins its expanse in the lower part of the city, close to the government buildings and hotels.

Praia da Caota is a much smaller beach, extending only 400 meters. Lying only 10 kilometres from the city centre. Its terrain combines sand and rocky terrain. With waters that are very clear and calm, it is recommended spot for those interested in underwater fishing.

With a similar name Praia da Caotinha lies 26 kilometres from the city centre. With an even smaller expanse, a mere 150 meters, its seclusion makes it somewhat more private.

Praia da Baía Azul is a very picturesque location. This beach, adjacent to the Bay, gets its name (Blue Bay) from its blue waters . It runs for 3 kilometres and is considered the “mother” of beaches in the area of Baia Farta.

If you require a beach with extreme ease of access consider Lobito. Located right in the city, the beaches of Lobito are close to the residential areas. These include Restinga, Cabaia and Compão.

Wondering about where to stay? Consider visiting the Hotel Praia Morena. This 3 star Hotel has a very welcoming atmosphere. It offers its clients a variety of services including a gym, beauty salon, spa, two swimming pools (including the one for children). Rooms are very comfortable, with nice views of various parts of the city. It is located near the entrance to the city allowing easy access to the beaches and other locations of interest.

Can’t decide which beach to visit? Or do you want to “see the City” as well as spend time on the beach? Consider taking a Safari and combine both these interests! An 8 day Safari will allow you to visit the beaches at Luanda, Benguela and Lobito. During the Safari you can experience the following activities:

  • Tour the cities of Luanda, Lobito and Benguela;
  • Visit various adjacent beaches;
  • Travel along the nearby rivers;
  • Visit the the Cachoeiras (Waterfalls);
  • Experience the local lifestyles;
  • View the local wildlife;
  • Enjoy the finest seafood;
  • Go snorkelling and / or fishing.

As for me, when I can get away from work I like to take a barefoot walk along the beach while the sun sets. The setting sun is something I could watch every day. It is never quite the same.