Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Angola's Annual 10K Race

The São Silvestre De Luanda 10K running race is one of the most celebrated and traditional athletic events held in Angola.  Occurring on December 31 each year in the Angolan capital, Luanda, the race is an international sporting event that promotes athletics in Angola in its purest essence. 

Patterned under the race of the same name in Brazil, the São Silvestre was first held in 1954 and featured only Angolan runners until 1964 when recognized world athletes were invited to participate.   Consisting a plot of 10 Kilometers, the initial aims of the race were to equally celebrate one of the Catholic's Holy Day's of Obligation as well as to prove international athletic character.

Recognized athletes from Ethiopia, Portugal, South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe annually participate in the running event. (Sao Silvestre website)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Celebrating Christmas in Angola

Angolans only began celebrating Christmas after the arrival of Christian Missionaries in the 15th century. Presently, after more than 500 years of Christianity and colonization followed by over 30 years of independence, the celebration of Christmas has undergone various influences – from traditional African culture, popular Catholic traditions from the previous Portuguese colonization and from other Christian sects as well as secularism.

Christmas for most of the people in the countryside is the most-awaited feast; the preparation is done both materially and spiritually. It’s always preceded by spiritual exercises and pilgrimages to the their local churches for the 'ceia'; church service. Materially, families usually save some money during the whole year to buy special foods for this feast – rice, pasta and other industrialized foods. In agricultural communities, some animals are reared to be slaughtered at Christmas – such as cows, goats, and chickens.

In the cities, Christmas preparations are more organized and better structured. Spiritually it is notable in the participation of the faithful in retreats and preparation for the baptism of children. More zealous Christians go to church services at midnight on December 24th and on Christmas Day.  Those who miss the chance to go to church, either because of work or perhaps over-indulgence in festivities, end up viewing the live telecast church services on the National Television Channel.

Since Christmas is also an occasion for a family feast, it is common to find homes filled with parents and grandparents, children and grand-children.  Like in the countryside, unexpected guests are most welcome. There is room for everybody; this comes from the deep-rooted African tradition of hospitality.

At the ceia church service at midnight on December 24th, urban Angolan families eat cozido de bacalhau, or cooked cold fish, with many vegetables. They also eat turkey with rice and drink table wine and other drinks. After the ceia they exchange gifts and eat handmade cakes and dried fruits, including grapes with which everybody makes wishes. 

Specifically, at Christmas urban Angolans celebrate the end of the year and the coming New Year with an Angolan Christmas tradition of the eating of ‘bolo-rei’(translated ‘king-cake’);  a sweet, Portuguese cake. (from La Salette website)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Uige: Historic Province Series

Uíge (pronounced: "Weej") is one of the eighteen provinces in Angola and is located in the northwestern part of the country. Its capital city is of the same name, Uige.

During the Middle Ages, the Uige Province was the heartland of the Kongo Kingdom. The kings lived in the city of Mbanza-Kongo which had a population of about 50,000 in the 16th century and ruled with great authority in the region for several centuries.

The knowledge of metallurgy among the Bakongo was renowned as they became famous as iron blacksmiths; their king was even called the “Blacksmith King”. The arrival of Portuguese priests who lived at the king’s court and taught religion as well as literacy first strengthened their reign; their relationship with the Portuguese strongholds of the region was rather cordial and peaceful. Things changed incisively when the Portuguese started in the 19th century to conquer and occupy the territory of what at present is Angola..

In the early part of 20th century the province was on a economic decline due to its inhospitable terrain and poor accessibility.  The situation changed entirely when the Portuguese discovered that soil and climate were favorable to coffee production. The Uíge province (then called "district") became Angola’s major center for coffee production in the 1950s. While part of the production came from European (mostly Portuguese) owned plantations, most producers were Bakongo smallholders. In times gone by, Uíge had the honour of being “the land of the red beans.” It was the leading coffee bean production area, when Angola was the fourth biggest producer in the world.  Its market centre of Uige town, the district capital, prospered and was designated a city in 1956.

To encourage the principle of national integration with Portugal, many towns in Angola were renamed during Portuguese colonial rule, including the provincial capital of Uíge town, which was renamed Vila Marechal Carmona ("Marshal Carmona Town") after Marshal Óscar Carmona, the former President of Portugal, later simplified as Carmona.

Beginning in October 2004 and continuing into 2005, Uige Province was the center of an outbreak of Marburg hemorrhagic fever, a disease closely related to Ebola. Now under control, there were 374 cases with 88 deaths.  According to the UN and was, at the time, the world's worst epidemic of any kind of hemorrhagic fever.

One of the natural beauty features of Uige is the Grutas do Nzenzo (the Nzenzo Grottos, one of the “7 Natural Wonders of Angola”). The Grutas are inside a strangely-shaped mountain with pointed stones that give it a somewhat solemn air. The term “Nzenzo” means “spring” or “source” of water since there is actually a spring inside the grottoes, flowing down from the cave roof at the large 'mouth' entrance.  The internal rocky labyrinth is composed of various layers of stone, each overlapping the one below, giving it unmistakable rare beauty due to its distinct emerald green colors. (TAAG Austral Magazine, Wikipedia)