Mario de Andrade (1928-1990), as a poet, critic, and political activist expressed the struggle of the people of Angola (and other Portuguese colonies) for independence from colonial rule.
Mario Coelho Pinto de Andrade was born on August 21, 1928, in the town of Galungo Alto, Angola (then a Portuguese colony) on the southwest coast of Africa. Through his writings and actions, de Andrade sought to help liberate Angola from Portuguese colonial control and to assist it in its struggle for nationhood. Interestingly, in Brazil, another Mario de Andrade played a similar role—though somewhat earlier (1893-1945). The Brazilian sought to unite the Amazonian past with its Latin American present in a composite Brazilian literature, while the Angolan worked for an independent Angola to avoid any future need for reconciling with a Portuguese present. However, Angola today as an independent nation maintains vestiges of Portuguese influence in a number of spheres including the use of Portuguese as Angola's official language.
Mario de Andrade was educated in Luanda, the capital city of Angola, through his early high school years. He continued his education in Mozambique and then went on to Lisbon, Portugal, where he studied philosophy. Next he pursued the study of sociology at the university level in Paris at the Sorbonne.
Even before de Andrade was born, there was an incipient nationalist organization in Angola in the form of the Liga Africana, which was set up in 1923. However, the colonial government maintained control over African organizations in its territories to minimize threats to its power. In December 1956, the Movimento Popular de Libertaçao de Angola (MPLA), with Mario de Andrade as a leader, was secretly founded with the goal of overt opposition to Portuguese colonialism. The MPLA remained a secret organization until 1959 when a number of its leaders, suspected of anti-Portuguese activities, were arrested by the Portuguese secret police. This move forced the MPLA to set up headquarters outside the country—first in Guinea and later, in 1961, in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa, Congo). In January 1961, while de Andrade was head of the MPLA, another organization was set up in Tunis with member groups from Guinea Bissau and Goa. This group was known as FRAIN (Frente Revolucionaria Africana para a Independencia das Colonies Portuguesas) —that is, the African Revolutionary Front for Independence of the Portuguese Colonies. Such joining together of groups fighting for freedom in the other Portuguese colonies led next to the formation of CONCP (the Conference of the Nationalist Organizations of Portuguese Colônies), which was also chaired by de Andrade. This organization involved all Portuguese colonies except for Maçao and Timor.
Led First Overt Rebellion
The liberation movement and ensuing armed struggle led by de Andrade in 1961 was the first overt rebellion in the Portuguese colonies. It was to be followed later by similar wars of liberation in Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique. Ironically, Angola was the last of these three colonies to achieve independence (1975) and its hard won independence came only in the wake of an army coup in Portugal in 1974. Still, the coup in Portugal was largely made possible by the fact that its dictatorship had been weakened by the colonial wars starting with the Angolan struggle in 1961.
Initially the MPLA sought a negotiated settlement of its quarrel with Portugal, but its overtures were met with an increase in the colonial military presence. In retaliation, the Santa Maria, a Portuguese luxury liner, was captured in January 1961. This incident triggered reprisals by Portuguese citizens against African political prisoners in Luanda, resulting in the death of 3,000 people. At that time de Andrade claimed that MPLA had a membership of 50,000.
A power shift in MPLA in 1962 saw de Andrade moved to the position of secretary of foreign affairs, while another poet (who was a physician as well), Agostinho Neto, became president. With Neto as MPLA's president, de Andrade removed himself from active participation in the organization, going eventually into exile in France. Neto went on to become independent Angola's first president under an MPLA government set up in 1976. Despite a vast amount of internal reshuffling and the death of Neto in 1979, the MPLA remained Angola's government.
De Andrade's exile resulted from rival nationalist groups fighting for Angolan independence, MPLA internal politics, and the fact that de Andrade's name appeared on a Portuguese list of "undesirables." In exile, he worked for the wellknown French language journal of African literature, Presence Africaine.
In addition to his political activism, de Andrade was well-known as a poet and a scholar. He helped organize the Conference of Negro Writers in Rome in 1958 and wrote a number of sociology articles published in Angola, Brazil, and Portugal.
Writings Don't Appear In English
A native speaker of Kimbundu, a Bantu language widely spoken in Angola, de Andrade wrote only in that language and in Portuguese. One of his best-known poems was written in Kimbundu and published in Portuguese in a special issue of Presence Africaine entitled New Sum of Poetry from the Negro World (1966, vol. 57). None of his writings have appeared in English. The poem "Song of Sabalu" from the New Sum volume was translated from Portuguese to English for this article by anthropologist James B. Watson and is presented here to provide a sense of de Andrade as activist and poet. (Aiue is a vernacular Portuguese exclamation. Saμo Tomé is an island off the Guinea coast with a prison colony on it. Prisoners were often shipped as slaves from there.)Song of Sabalu Our youngest child They sent him to Saμo Tomé He had no documents Aiue! Our youngest child wept Mama went crazy Aiue! They sent him to Saμo Tomé Our youngest child has gone They sent him off in the hold of their ship Aiue! They sent him to Saμo Tomé Our youngest child is thinking Of his land, of his home They sent him to hard labor They're watching him, watching him Mama, he will come back Ah, our luck must change Aiue! They sent him to Saμo Tomé Our youngest child did NOT return Death took him Aiue! They sent him to Saμo Tomé
Among de Andrade's other writings is an anthology of "Negro poetry expressed in Portuguese" published first in Lisbon but also clandestinely circulated in Angola and the other Portuguese colonies and a two-part volume on Portuguese African literature (poetry and prose) published in Algiers in 1967. Both the anthology and poetry/prose works were republished in 1970 by Kraus Reprint. The Laundan-based journal Messagem ("Message") has published de Andrade's story "Eme ngana, eme muene."
De Andrade died of a chronic disease in London in 1990 at the age of 62.
Further Reading on Mario de Andrade
None of de Andrade's writings have yet been officially translated into English. One may read about his work in both the political and literary spheres in the shortbiographical entry in Donald E. Herdeck's (ed.) African Authors, published by Black Orpheus press in 1973. The Portuguese version of "Song of Sabalu" translated into English here is published in Presence Africaine (1966). A book edited by John A. Davis and James K. Baker entitled Southern Africa in Transition (1966) has a chapter entitled "Nationalist Organizations in Angola: Status of the Revolt" by George M. Hauser which discusses de Andrade's role as a leader in the Angolan nationalist movement of the 1960s. His obituary appeared in the August 27, 1990 issues of the New York Times and the Boston Globe.