I remember Luanda with longing. That city that the older ones called the Moon and that I didn’t know yet. It was not Luanda that I live in at great cost today. He had a beautiful face, unforgettable and without a twin city.
A long bay and contained by a marginal concave. There were postcards that announced the most beautiful of cities, the most beautiful, photographed from Cape Island, brought us the curvy front made of modern buildings closed at the ends by two superb sentries: the city port on the North side and the fortress of S. Miguel a Sul, completed in 1634. In fact, Fort Aardenburgh in the Dutch version, the first military fortress erected in Angola, by Paulo Dias de Novais, on Monte de S. Paulo, or Monte da Fortaleza, with dominion over the sea and the land.
The buildings on the waterfront were respectfully arranged in order to give a view of the hills of Maianga and, further away, that of Samba. In a single postcard you had the history of the city, you could even see the baroque of Miramar and a little bit of the Kinaxixi market, above the buildings on the waterfront. The younger ones who lower themselves, it is inexcusable to cover the eyes of the older ones. There was a sea to behold, an island to date with your eyes and a breeze to receive, full of love stories and new news from other worlds, from Brazil, Portugal, America, Holland. The waters of the bay were the beginning of the rest of the world.
But it was necessary to enter the city, in an act that had to be of love, passion, of wanting to discover every corner of the beloved body. There are stupendous townhouses in the Bairro dos Coqueiros, right at the foot of the fortress. A little further north, the Palace of Dona Ana Joaquina, a mulatto who adorned herself with gold and silver and who sold slaves, but not only, was the most brilliant Angolan businesswoman of the 19th century.
D. Ana Joaquina Santos Silva, born in Luanda, in 1789, daughter of Joaquim de Santa Ana Nobre dos Santos, Portuguese, and D. Teresa de Jesus, Angolan, had two marriages. Like another mulatto woman “Santos” two centuries later, she had business in various parts of Angola and abroad, Brazil, Portugal … history is always full of ironies and matreirices.
Luanda was always made to rise. From the palace of D. Ana Joaquina, who at that time knew how to write, something unusual for a woman and even more not white, you can climb the Morro da Maianga in search of water, from the king. Yes, the maianga (cacimba or well) was owned by the king. Luanda has historical problems with water. But there is another path, to the Northeast and beyond, in the 20th century, a huge cobblestone building, just outside Ingombota (bush) and up the Makulusso and Miramar plateau, extending to the São Paulo musseque : it was the Mercado do Kinaxixi, from the early fifties of the twentieth century (just built in 1958), the work of the municipal architect Vasco Vieira da Costa.
Next to it, on the face that was hidden from the sea, was the large Maria da Fonte, with a huge monument of initiative of the Portuguese Commission of the Standards of the Great War. The monument project is also signed: Henrique Moreira, sculptor. And it consisted of a granite pedestal, which symbolized the votive altar of the Motherland and featured a group of European and indigenous soldiers that surrounded Vitória. This I read on the Internet. But before I saw on that pedestal the statue of Queen Ana de Sousa Njinga Bande, from where it came out in 2008, the year of the death of the market recognized as a masterpiece of architecture adapted to the environment, some say that its design made it a device of air conditioning in the tropical heat of Luanda. But between the exaltation of the Portuguese victory and the glory of Queen Njinga Bandi, there had been time for the domination of a Soviet-made armored car.
And I stop here, in 2008, with the removal of the statue of the most famous queen, diplomat and warrior in Africa. It is now confined among the thick walls of the fortress of S. Miguel, built by the Portuguese that it fought, without any more use than being in the courtyard of a military museum, without a pedestal, without the glory and pride of a black woman who confronted the idea of racial and gender superiority of the renowned bloodthirsty governor João Correia de Sousa, the “Átila do Kongo”. The story is known: she came from her kingdom of the Ngola, Matamba, sent by her father King Ngola Bandi, around 1622, to negotiate peace, the Portuguese governor of Luanda received her in a room with an armchair and a rug in the floor. He sat in the armchair. He must have been thrilled with what happened next, so much so that the man was never the same and would eventually die later in a jail in Portugal after having his troops slaughtered in combat in Angola. Njinga did not need a word, a gesture, a subtle look was enough and one of his servants crouched down. She sat on the servant’s back.
“There is no man here before a woman; there is no boss in front of a servant, there is no upper white before a lower black; there is no colonizer before a people who resist. There are two equal people here who represent two kingdoms ”. That was the message. This was the moment that definitively dismantled the representative of the King of Portugal.
Today Luanda has a new face, the palace of D. Ana Joaquina, destroyed in 1999, it was rebuilt stone by stone, the fort of São Miguel has a wall plastered with cement and painted (work by a Portuguese company), it has frames and glazing. But Luanda is smart, and dignified, without the Kinaxixi market, without its monument next door, with its uncharacterized fortress, it made skyscrapers rise on the waterfront like a veil that hides its face, in a farewell from the sea, from the breeze , the world and history. The newest buildings, glazed, impose themselves, the hills preferred to preserve dignity in silence and sobriety. Now it is necessary to discover its face and stories. It is no longer ugly, it is more mysterious, more exciting.
Njinga fought for freedom, against slavery. And in these days of tearing down statues, there is no way not to think of hers, perhaps it would be a good time to return her to her place, at the top of the highest hill in Luanda.
*Journalist and Director of the newspaper O País in Angola