Saudades, Lighthouses

By Jheri St. James

“Inside my empty bottle I was constructing a lighthouse
While all the others were making ships.” – Charles Simic

Angola Lighthouse

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“Around here, people ask, ‘will Angola rise from the ashes and be rebuilt again?’” reads the narrator in the 2005 Portuguese film, Angola Saudades from One Who Loves You, a film which takes the viewer on a journey across different realities of Angola. Between street boys and fashion models we encounter a kaleidoscope of characters and colors that turn around the striking contradictions of poverty and plenty in one of Africa’s largest producers of oil and diamonds. Produced by Neil Brandt and directed by Richard Pakleppa . . . “the film takes us on a gripping exploration of a shattered country, giving us an insight into what it means to live in an environment which has outrageous opulence derived from its abundant oil and diamond wealth, flagrantly displayed in an almost mocking fashion by the minority political and military elite, but where the man on the street must struggle to put a meal on the table for his children.” (Saudades is a Portuguese word which means homesickness, longing, regret, sorrow.) (

Copyright: Mugua Lau (ltxjjy) (20)

Real life in Angola has been no celluloid illusion for its remaining inhabitants. After 27 years of civil war, ending in 2002, the toll is up to 1.5 million lives lost and 4 million people displaced. And this is only recent history. The earliest inhabitants of the area were Khoisan hunter-gatherers, largely replaced by Bantu tribes. In 1483 at the river Congo, where the Kongo State, Ndongo and Lunda existed, Portuguese people settled. In 1575 Portugal established a colony at Luanda based on the slave trade, and the Portuguese gradually took control of the coastal strip throughout the 16th century by a series of treaties and wars forming the colony of Angola. The Dutch occupied Luanda from 1641-1648. And then the Dutch and Portuguese battled over dominion here, with Portugal taking administrative control in 1951. Then the Soviet Union and China got involved, with Cuban troops joining the fray later. Finally, on February 22, 2002, Jonas Savimbi was killed in combat and a cease-fire was reached.

Angola is a large nation of southwestern Africa, located south of the Congo and north of Namibia. Angola dissolved into civil war immediately upon independence in 1975. The long and bitter war was finally ended in 2002, but the country is still in recovery. Although the political situation of the country has begun to stabilize, President Dos Santos has so far refused to institute regular democratic processes. Among Angola’s major problems are a serious humanitarian crisis, the abundance of minefields, and the actions of guerrilla movements fighting for the independence of the northern enclave of Cabinda. In addition, Angola, like many sub-Saharan nations, is subject to periodic outbreaks of infectious diseases. In April 2005, Angola suffered an outbreak of the Marburg virus which rapidly became the worst outbreak of a haemorrhagic fever in recorded history, with over 237 deaths recorded out of 261 recorded cases and having spread to 7 out of the 18 provinces as of April 19, 2005. Saudades, indeed.

* * *

Angola Lighthouse

“Anything for the quick life, as the man said
when he took the situation at the lighthouse.”  Charles Dickens

* * *

Angola, National Slavery MuseumThe National Slavery Museum is found on the connection road from Luanda to Kwanza stream. Its head office is situated inside the chapel, c. 17th century, denominated "Big House Chapel" found on the "Morro da Cruz" (Cross's Mount) a suburb outside the city of Luanda. The Slavery Museum of Angola is one of the most highlighted institutions of Angola and it has been used to inform the essence of slavery history in Angola. The "Big House Chapel" where the Museum is located has great historic importance because it was the place where the slaves were baptized before they were sent away on the ships, taken away from their families to completely strange and far away countries where there they were then condemned to work under inhuman conditions.

* * *

Even the soil collection for Common Ground 191 was fraught with emotions resembling saudades. Countries like Angola are understandably difficult places from which to garner dirt. Few tourists visit; political instability makes it dangerous; the economy makes it seem beyond the purview of art projects. Gary Simpson, founder and artist, uses some of his creativity figuring out how to collect the soil from these last 80 or so countries, now that the “easy” ones are done, after all the friends have gone to the Caribbean, to Europe, or other exotic lands. He wracks his brain for ideas, creativity in this case not limited to the actual project itself, but also to garnering the medium through which the project will unfold.

We sent out a couple dozen letters to foreign embassies in Washington, D.C. (postage costs mounting…), hoping that people there would be excited about contributing soil from their home lands. Only one panned out: Delfina Nascimento, Second Secretary at the Embassy of the Republic of Angola in Washington, D.C. Not that other people did not make any effort, just that communication difficulties made it impossible in all but this one instance. Delfina was able to contact the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Angola and a good-hearted soul there sent the soil back to us—kind of. First there was a glitch where the soil shipment got switched to an airplane part, and a few weeks elapsed while that was straightened out at DHL, our shipping agent. Finally the Angolan soil arrived, three months after our first inquiry of Delfina. It had gone from Luanda, through Roissy, France; London, UK; New York, NY; back to London, UK; East Midlands, UK; Wilmington, Ohio and finally to Hawthorne, California, for sterilization and pickup. Whew! And with that big sigh of relief, Gary added that jar to the International Wall of Soils in his Laguna Beach, California, studio--now holding approximately 120 jars of precious soil.

* * *
“It is the one orderly product our middling race has produced.
It is the cry of a thousand sentinels, the echo from a thousand labyrinths;
It is the lighthouse which cannot be hidden
The best evidence we can give of our dignity” – E. M. Forster

Angola Lighthouse

* * *


When we think about the soil of Angola, we remember it as the organic platform holding a spectacular national park network. By 1974, a total of ten conservation areas could be distinguished in Angola. Six of these areas were national parks spread over the various provinces. Luando, home to the unique giant sable, was designated as a special reserve while Chimalavera was classed as a provincial reserve. Excluding the nature area at Namibe, the rest of the conservation areas consisted of the Cuando-Cubango’s public hunting reserves at Longa-Mavinga, Luiana, Luengue and Mucusso. By 1992, the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) report cited nine protected areas to be in existence in Angola. The six parks which comply with the IUCN’s definition of national parks are lona, Bicuar, Mupa, Quiçama, Cameia and Cangandala. Sadly, the wildlife in all the parks have been almost completely wiped out after the devastation wrought by decades of war.

The spectacular Duke de Braganza Falls, in the Luando Reserve
Angola, Duke de Braganza Falls

The Cuanza River forms the northern boundary of the Quicama National Park
Angola, Cuanza River

lona National Park: - The 1.6 million hectare lona National Park, which lies in the Namibe province, was proclaimed a national park on 2 October 1937. Its natural borders include the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the perennial Cunene in the south with the Curoca river forming both the northern and eastern borders. The topography ranges from sand dunes at sea level to the Tchamalinde mountains in the east. Large plains occur in the central area. Rainfall varies from 100 mm in the west to 500 mm in some areas in the east. Thirty-one natural fountains exist within the boundaries of the park, with eight of them providing fresh water. The Park contains three types of plant growth including annual grass plains, active dunes as well as a combined mosaic of xerofitic shrubland, annual grass plains and dwarf shrub plains. An impressive variety of game, including elephant, oryx, kudu, black rhino, cheetah, spotted hyena, several species of jackal and Damara Dik-Dik, formerly occurred in the park. The present status of animals are unknown and some species such as the black rhino could have been completely wiped out.

Bicuar National Park: - Bicuar National Park received its status as a national park on 26 December 1964. It lies in the Hulla province with the Cunene in the east as its only natural border. Bicuar covers an area of 790 000 hectares and consists of sandy hills with lower-lying drainage lines. Large differences occur between day and night temperatures. Two plant types occur namely a mosaic of huge shrub thicket, bushveld and incompletely drained savanna as well as a mosaic of open miombo bushveld and savanna. Mammals that previously occurred in the park, include eland, buffalo, cheetah, leopard, kudu, blue wildebeest, Deffasa waterbuck, steenbuck and reedbuck. A part of the Park was formerly used for artillery exercises and it is uncertain how much, if any, of the wildlife is left.

Mupa National Park: - Mupa National Park, which covers an area of 660 000 hectares and is situated in the Cunene province, was proclaimed a National Park on 26 December 1964. The Colui river forms the northern and northwestern border, while the Cunene constitutes the western border. The area is undulating with low-lying drainage lines between the hills. Mupa has an annual rainfall of 620 mm and an average temperature of 22,8° C. Both the Colul and Cunene are perennial rivers. Three different types of plant growth can be identified. Firstly a mosaic of large shrub thickets, bushveld and incompletely drained savanna. Secondly a mosaic of open miombo bushveld and savanna and lastly a mosaic of deciduous xenese bushveld and xeriese savanna. Even though the park was initially proclaimed to protect the giraffe sub-species, Giraffa camelopardalis angolensis, by 1974 none were left. Other mammals which occurred, include lion, leopard, wild dog and spotted hyena. As with the other parks, it is uncertain which, if any, of the animals have survived the war.

Cameia National Park: - Situated in the Moxico province with a surface area of I million hectare, Gamela was proclaimed as a national park in 1957. While the Zambezi river forms the eastern border, the Luena river constitutes the southern and western borders with a railway track as the northern border. High rainfall occurs at an annual average of 1 145mm with an average temperature of 20,8° C. The Zambezi, Luena and Chifumage rivers are all perennial and the flood plains are flooded seasonally. Two primary types of vegetation occur, namely high to medium high miombo bushveld and papirus swamps. Even before the war started, poachers drastically reduced the numbers of wildebeest, tsessebe, lechwe and reedbuck. Wart-hogs, lion, cheetah and leopard formerly inhabited the Park. The present status of the remaining animals, if any, are unknown.

Angola, Giraffes

“Giraffes!—a People who live between the earth and skies,
each in his lone religious steeple,
keeping a light-house with his eyes.” – Roy Campbell

Cangandala National Park: - Cangandala was declared a national park on 25 June 1970. The Park, which lies in the Malanje province and covers an area of 60 000 ha, consists of undulating sandlime hills with lowerlying drainage lines. The area receives about 1 350 mm rainfall per year with an average temperature of 21,5°C. No perennial rivers occur and drainage takes place via grass covered waterlanes. A mosaic of open miombo bushveld and savanna occur. Brachystegia-bushveld are found on the water partitions and open grasslands in the lower-lying drainage lanes. The Park was originally founded to protect the Giant sable which were discovered in 1963. At this stage it is unclear how many of them are left. The annual average rainfall amounts to 1 350 mm with an average temperature of 21,50°C. Both the Luando and Cuanza rivers are perennial. Two distinct types of plant growth occur in the reserve, namely high to medium high miombo bushveld on sandy earth and secondly a mosaic of open miombo bushveld and savanna. The reserve was originally created to preserve the Giant sable. Other unique species such as the puku, lechwe and sitatunga also occurred, but at this stage their numbers, if any, are unknown. Luando was also formerly known as a bird paradise.

Namibe and Carumbo Regional Nature Parks: - The Namibe was declared a Partial Reserve on 12 June 1957 and covers an area of 468 400 ha. The area consists of desert-like sand dunes, stretches of plains and rugged mountains. Rainfall is estimated at about 50 mm annually with an average temperature of 20,6° C. Mammals such as elephant, kudu, oryx, black rhino and Hartmanns’ mountain zebra previously occurred in the area. Their status at this stage is unsure. Wildebeest, elephant, sable, sitatunga, lechwe, impala, tsessebe, buffalo, giraffe and hippo are some of the mammals which formerly roamed the area. It was previously known as the area with the largest variety of antelope in Angola. The present status of the animals in both these regional parks, are unknown.

Angola Elephants

* * *

“I had been dreaming about a lighthouse.
It is such a potent image; practical, because lives depend on it,
And at the same time, utterly romantic,
This lonely building on the cusp of land and sea,
Sending out light into the darkness.” – Jeanette Winterson

Angola Lighthouse

* * *

This writer is homesick for Angola, one of the world’s poorest countries. What a sad devolution the work of Mother Nature has experienced . . . on much of our planet. Let us attempt to close this journal entry with a positive note: the lighthouses of Angola. From information taken from the Lighthouses of Angola website at, it appears that there are approximately 55 lighthouses in Angola. I could find no reference for one at the slave shipping point Morro da Cruz, but that is only fitting for this dark place of human endeavor.

* * *

Here are some more photos of lighthouses in Angola:
Angola Angola

“There seems to be so much sorrow on the planet. Can you work
within the framework of the test before you? Can you put on your
armor and shields of sacredness and walk through the sorrow, fear
and disappointment of what other Humans have done, without
judgment of them or without being discouraged? The more light you
carry, the more you will see that which is sorrowful on Earth. Only
the masters can ‘see’ these things as reasonable within the scheme
of why you're here. It is important that the Lighthouses are not
distracted by the storms as they shine their lights. Otherwise,
they become useless.” (From

“A fallen lighthouse is more dangerous than a reef.” – Navjot Singh Sidhu


* (Art Photographer’s Note: This photo was taken in one hotel at Matala during my visit to Huila. It is really shanty which I thought was the worst one in Angola, no tap water, no hot drink, and I just slept with my clothes on that night. But the second morning, I found these many genre paintings in the hall, the dining room and the gangway. Especially this one, with really vivid appearance and abstracted in art with passion, brilliance and brightness, violent inspiration. I was so excited with fulfillment and felicity after my photography, and the whole unhappiness last night disappeared that I’m sure it is because of the inspiration of art. This photo was cropped.)



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