Alda Neves da Graça do Espírito Santo (1926-2010)
“Working, struggling, struggling and conquering,
We go ahead with giant steps
In the crusade of the African peoples
Raising the national flag.” – From Independência Total (national anthem of São Tomé e Principe)On the 30th of April 1926 in São Tomé city, São Tomé e Principe, a prominent Creole family welcomed a newborn baby girl. Her parents João Graça do Espírito Santo and Maria de Jesus Agostinho das Neves, well-known members of the local elites christened their child, Alda and probably never imagined what the future held for her.
After primary school in São Tomé, young Alda went to Portugal for her secondary school education in Porto, before training as a primary school teacher in Lisbon from 1948. While in Lisbon, she joined an association of students from Portuguese colonies known as Casa dos Estudantes, where she came in contact with future nationalist leaders of Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique.
In 1951, together with Mário Pinto de Andrade, Amilcar Cabral, Marcelino dos Santos, Agostinho Neto and other African students inspired by nationalism, Alda Neves da Graça do Espírito Santo founded the cultural association, Centro de Estudos Africanos.
Alda returned to São Tomé in January 1953, and started work as a primary school teacher. That same year, she assisted Palma Carlos, a Portuguese lawyer who was in São Tomé to investigate the atrocities committed by the colonial authorities during the Sao Tome massacre, in February barely a month after her return to the country.
When she visited Lisbon in December 1965, Alda was detained for two and half month with sixteen other São Tomé indigenes on the accusation of intent to create a subversive movement on the archipelago.
After the Portuguese revolution of April 25, 1974 which opened the way for the independence struggle within the islands, Alda became one of the leaders of Associação Civica pró-MLSTP, an offshoot of the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Principe (MLSTP), which organized political actions on the archipelago while leaders of the MLSTP remained in Libreville, Gabon.
On September 19, 1974 Alda Neves da Graça do Espírito Santo led a group of women clad in black in a demonstration in front of the governor’s palace against the alleged poisoning of salt and drinking water by the Portuguese. After Independence, September 19 was declared National Women’s Day.
Alda was appointed Minister of Education and Culture of the transitional government on December 21, 1974. She held other portfolios after independence between 1976 and 1980 and served as President of the National Assembly from 1980 to 1990. She retired from active politics in the mid-90s and served as a member of the executive committee of her party, MLSTP/PSD until her death.
The pre-independence poems of Alda Neves da Graça do Espírito Santo dealt with issues such as colonial oppression, anti-colonial struggles, local history and cultures, and life in the archipelago. The poems, first published in the ‘50s and ‘60s in various journals and anthologies, includes the “Onde Estão os Homens Caçados Neste Vento de Loucura” written about the February 1953 massacre.
Alda represented her country at several international writers’ conferences and was the president of UNEAS, the writers and artists association of São Tomé e Principe from its inception in 1987, until her death.
On March 9, 2010 Alda Neves da Graça do Espírito Santo died in a hospital in Luanda, Angola at the age of 83 years. Five days of national mourning was declared by the government of São Tomé e Principe on the same day for the poet, nationalist, politician and independence fighter.
Did You Know?
Alda Neves da Graça do Espírito Santo wrote the national anthem of São Tomé e Principe, Independência Total.
- She was born in São Tomé city on April 26, 1930.
- Her parents, João Graça do Espírito Santo and Maria de Jesus Agostinho das Neves, were Creoles and well-known members of the local elites.
- Alda had her education in São Tomé and Portugal.
- While attending teachers’ training in Lisbon, Portugal she met future nationalist leaders of some African countries when she joined an association of students from Portuguese colonies known as Casa dos Estudantes.
- Alda was a contemporary of great African nationalists like Mário Pinto de Andrade, Amilcar Cabral, Marcelino dos Santos, Agostinho Neto, Francisco Tenreiro, etc. with whom she formed the Centro de Estudos Africanos in 1951 in Lisbon.
- In January 1953, Alda returned to her fatherland and took up an appointment as a primary school teacher.
- In December 1965, she was among 17 São Tomé persons detained for two and half month in Lisbon by the Portuguese authorities on the accusation of the plot to establish a subversive movement in São Tomé.
- September 19 is celebrated as National Women’s Day in the country, and the origins go back to the actions of Alda Neves da Graça do Espírito Santo when she led a women’s demonstration in front of the governor’s palace against the alleged poisoning of salt and drinking water by the Portuguese.
- Her most famous poem: “Onde Estão os Homens Caçados Neste Vento de Loucura” was written about the February 1953 massacre.
- Alda served in several ministerial portfolios from the transitional period before independence and afterward from 1974 to 1980 and was president of the National Assembly from 1980 to 1990.
- She died at the age of 83 years in a hospital in Luanda, Angola on March 9, 2010.
Reference: Dictionary of African Biography, Vol 1 – 6 (by Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr, et al.)