“Go back to Africa!” And the stories of those who did (part 2)

“Tunuka, we’ve left, we’ve returned

and we’ve stayed here”

Tunuka by Orlando Pantera


“Go back to Africa!” and “Go back to your land” are phrases with racist undertones that are often used to ostracise and silence people of African ancestry.  They are permeated with the assumption that Africa is inherently inferior and that to go back to Africa would be some sort of punishment. But is it? And how do the people who returned to Africa assess their experience?

In part 1 of this article we explored the issue of racism in the western world, specifically in Portugal against people of PALOP (Portuguese speaking African country) ancestry.

We will now take a look at the immigration experiences of Francisco, Helena and Edson. They are three young people of PALOP ancestry who decided to move to Africa after spending a great part of their lives in Europe.

These are their stories.


Helena overlooks the Marginal de Luanda, Angola (2017)

1. Where were you born and why did you decide to move?

Francisco: I was born in Cape Verde and moved to Portugal to further my studies.  I  have a degree in Philosophy, a master degree in Political Science and will soon obtain a PhD in Political Science from the University of Lisbon.  In order to support my studies, I worked for a long time in Burger King. I have returned to Cape Verde in 2017 to find a job.

Helena: I was born and raised in Portugal, my parents are from Guine- Bissau and have also lived in Portugal for most of their lives. I was a volunteer firefighter and I got my nursing degree from Lisbon Superior School of Nursing. As I couldn’t find a job after the completion of my degree I moved to London and worked for 3 years for the NHS (National Healthcare Service). In 2015, I moved to Angola with my partner as he was offered a great job opportunity in Luanda.

Edson:  I originally moved to Portugal when I was 13 years old to be closer to my mother and brother who live there. I studied in Lisbon and got an African Studies degree from the University of Lisbon. After graduating, I moved back to Guine- Bissau to work as a Project Coordinator in a Portuguese NGO.


2. What were your expectations versus what you encountered?

Francisco: I found Cape Verde a bit more expensive than Portugal (as the purchasing power is lower) and it is far harder to find certain consumer items. I also benefitted from better access to healthcare and communications in Portugal.

Helena: Before moving to Angola I never lived outside the EU so I had a bit of a culture shock initially.  Everyone greets everyone. I know my neighbours by name. I feel completely welcomed. However, I was also shocked and saddened by the quantity of slums and poverty in Luanda (the capital of Angola). There is a lot of room for improvement in terms of health care  and education. The whole city is not like the Marginal de Luanda…

Edson:  When I moved back to Guine-Bissau, I was slightly disappointed with the development of the country. I feel that while I was abroad there were serious setbacks in the country, especially in terms of infrastructures and opportunities for the youth.



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Francisco giving a training about Ubunto and leadership in Bubaque, Guine Bissau (2018)

3. What were the benefits of  moving?

Francisco: It was easier to find a job in Cape Verde that matched my educational level.  In Portugal, I feel that people trusted me less than in my home country. So while it was easy to find work in restaurants,  I wasn’t able to secure work in the field of my studies.

Helena:  Finding a job was easy and I was able to grow immensely in my professional field.  I am now able to expand my professional knowledge (as a nurse) of tropical diseases.

Edson:  I was hired in Portugal to work in Guine- Bissau as an NGO Project Coordinator. In my work field, I clearly have more employment opportunities in Guine Bissau.


 4. Do you regret your decision to move?

Francisco:  No, I don’t regret coming back to Cape Verde. As the saying goes “If you are good in an other man’s land you can be better in yours”. I am home.

Helena:  No, I don’t regret moving here. It has bettered me as a person and a professional. Although, I am not Angolan no one as ever told me I didn’t belong. I feel at home.  Also, as a nurse, I feel a higher sense of purpose working in a country with more room for healthcare improvement.

Edson: Absolutely not. I’ve always wanted to return to Guine-Bissau and to contribute towards the development of my country. Returning was always the end goal for me.


5. Do you plan on migrating again? Why?

Francisco: Maybe. I now have a good job in Public Administration in Cape Verde.  However, if I find better opportunities abroad in the future, I will move. I like new challenges.

Helena: Yes. Unfortunately, I must eventually leave Angola. Although I  love living in Angola, I have small children who will start school in the next few years,  I would like them to go to a very good school and in Luanda those are extremely expensive.

Edson: No. I have no reasons to want to leave again. Guine- Bissau is my home.

“Go back to Africa!” and the stories of those who did. (part 1)                              


“Tunuka, we’ve left, we’ve returned

and we’ve stayed here”

Tunuka by Orlando Pantera


Hearing the phrase ‘Go back to (insert name of region or country)!” is enough to make any POC cringe. However, it is not uncommon.

“Go back to Africa!”; “Go back to your land” or all other variations of this hateful sentence are used as a way to ostracise a group of its own population that has foreign origins. The phrase can be used to silence foreigners and ethnic minorities in a country. It translates the sentiment “Either agree with the way we do things here or go back to your land”. As if dissonant voices were not an essential part of western democracy.  However, the phrase is also said as “Go back to Africa/ Go back to your land” as if that said land of real or imagined provenience is inherently inferior than western land. Almost as if going back to Africa is some sort of punishment for dissonance. But is it? And what do the people that “went back to Africa” actually have to say about it?  Humane Reflections has spoken to three young people with African ancestry who decided to return to Africa in order to collect their thoughts on the experience.

Modern migration between the PALOPS and Portugal is only natural.

During the last stretches of western colonisation of Africa, Portugal justified its colonial attitude by arguing that it was a multicontinental and multiracial country with legs in Europe and Africa. Under this optic PALOP (Portuguese speaking African Countries)- Portugal emigration and immigration was merely justified as migration between

Francisco, one of the interviwees, in a debate in the Summer University in Castelo de Vide, Portugal (2015)

Portuguese provinces (whether that was the province of Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Cape-Verde, etc…).  Interracial marriages were also allowed, which led to the general belief that Portuguese colonialism in Africa was far more benevolent that the English, Spanish or Dutch. Nowadays, Portugal has some of the best immigration policies in Europe and extensive anti-discrimination laws. Discriminatory practices based on ethnicity, race and gender are all illegal. And, it is even unconstitutional to collect data with regards to ethnicity or race.

All of these facts, without proper interpretation could lead to the assumption there is virtually no racism in Portugal, which is wrong.

Racism in Portugal seems be of the “most subtle variety”. There are not as many  mediates cases of institutional racism has in the US or France, however the UN has reported that Portugal’s people of African origins are underrepresented in politics and decision-making processes, Furthermore, they do not have equality of access to education, public services and employment.[1]

Moreover, in 2017 the European Data Service has conducted a survey that demonstrated that amongst 20 EU countries Portugal ranks the highest in biological racism (the belief that there are races/ethnicities that are biologically less intelligent or hardworking) and the fifth highest in cultural racism (the belief that there are better cultures than others).

In Portugal the expression “Go back to your land” is more common than the expression “go back to Africa”, this, likely due to the country’s colonial history.  Also, worth mention hearing the expression “go back to your land” is frankly common. As most  people of African ancestry in Portugal hail from the PALOPs, it is understood that “go back to your land” when directed at them is referring to either Angola, Cape Verde, Guine Bissau, Guine Conacri Mozambique or St. Tomas and Prince.

But, how is to ‘go back to the land’? Humane Reflections asked five questions to three young people of  PALOP ancestry who have recently moved to Africa to understand their experiences.

Francisco is a Cape Verdean PHD student who immigrated to Portugal, lived there for 11 years and returned to Cape Verde in 2017.  Helena is a nurse with Guinean roots, who was born and raised in Portugal and immigrated to Angola in 2015. Edson is a Guinean Project Coordinator in an  NGO who has studied in Portugal but has returned to Guine Bissau in 2017. In Part 2 of this article we will take a look at their answers.





The Art Center & Craftsmen’s Market: Angolan History through Its Art


“What about this one? I did this one. It represents some of the different traditional day-to-day instruments of Angola, including the ‘cabaça’ and the ‘moringa de barro’ which you also saw in the plastics art area…Do you like it? It is made using that glue technique…”
Pedro,  2018


The Art Center & Craftmen’s Market (Art Market) is located in Morro da Cruz. It sits on the right bank of the Estrada Nacional 1, on the Luanda-Lobito corridor. It is a windy road, which overlooks the ocean and the island of Mussulo on the right. This road also connects to the Kissama Safari Park and a collection of beach side resorts in Cabo Ledo. On both sides of the road leading up to the Art Market there are small neighbourhoods, many very poor, decreasing in frequency and size the further one drives away from the capital, Luanda. The Art Market is relatively isolated from any big neighbourhoods. It sits on a fairly large bit of terrain which it shares with the Slavery Museum and a collection of opportunistic small shack restaurants. From the entrance, one can spot the Art Market on the left, the Slavery Museum at the far back and the restaurants on the right.

At the back, almost touching the ocean, the Slavery Museum rises from a steep hill. In the 16th century, the Chapel, which the Museum adjoins, was used as a batism pitstop for enslaved africans about to board ships abroad. photo slavery museum

The location is heavily visited by Angolans and tourists alike. One could assume, visits to the the Museum are valuable lessons on the history of Angola and, that visits to the Art Market are valuable lessons on the culture of Angola. The thruth is each of the venues covers an important part of Angolan History. One covers the history of slave trade in Angola. The other covers part of the Angolan History which is often ignored internationally, including the history of the Ngolas (kings and queens).


The Paintings

Pedro is one of the market’s 3oo artists who exhibit and sell their work. He pays 350 kwanzas (roughly 1.37€ or £1.20) daily, for a small allotment in the market’s outdoors area. There he sells paintings authored either by him or a family member. He excitedly talks about the art, switching his gaze from one painting to another. He is walking across and between the rows of painting. Stopping, analysing and offering explanations about the themes and techniques used.

This painting was made by my younger brother, he used a glue technique with coloured ‘sands’. Yes, I taught my brother how to paint and I still teach other young people how to paint at the workshop in Kalemba 2” Pedro makes it clear that art is taught and reproduced amongst families and friends. “My grandfather, Singintima(?), taught me to paint. My aunt is a plastic artist; I started learning how to do wood sculptures but I prefered the paintings, so I went to my grandfather’s workshop to learn.” And who taught his grandfather? “My grandfather learned to paint in Congo. He learned some techniques there and brought them here. But Angolan art is better. We are more innovative. There, in Congo, there are also good artists but we have better art supplies.”

As Pedro discusses the paintings it becomes evident that the majority portray traditional scenes of everyday life in Angola.

Various paintings portray the utensils used by Angolans in the past to keep food fresh. Some of the other paintings are representations of traditional labour scenes including beautiful depictions of the silhouettes of the ‘Zungueiras’. The Zungueiras are the women street vendors who sell food and small items carried on top of their head. There are also portraits of traditional Angolan villages and also present day markets full of people and minibuses.


“This painting right here depicts a working man, he is a baggage carrier. That other one is of the “zungueiras”. The ones with the nature scenes represent our villages of the past where our grandfathers lived and the tools that they used for food storage”.

The back row of paintings leans against a modern white building. It is the building of the Art Center & Craftsmen’s market. The building holds a meeting room for artists and a vistors’ office. According to Pedro, all of the artists relocated from their old market which was located in the neighbourhood of Belas in Luanda in 2016.

On the sides of the building, there are two entrances that lead to the same hallway. That  hallway has small rooms which serve as storage units for the artists. Pedro eagerly showed off some of his new paintings and some painting utensils and supplies including the coloured sand.


The Sculptures

At the front of the white building there is the plastic art section of the market. This area displays an impressive number of wood, stone and iron sculptures.

As he has nothing to sell in this part of the market, Pedro, quickly assumes the role of tourist guide and personal guardian. Simultaneously, encouraging picture taking while shunning those artists who were more eager to pitch a sale. However, he is not in a rush. He greets most vendors by their first name and walks slowly, stopping often to explain the significance of each piece and sculpting technique.

There seems to be a subtle duality between the themes represented in the two different Art Market sections. The paintings focused on the representation of traditional Angolan life. On the other hand, the sculptures are focused on the history of Angola’s territory, kings, queens, villagers and warriors.statues

The artwork, in the plastic art section, represents traditional Angolan symbols. Angolan national symbols include the Embondeiro (known as the Baoba tree), “O pensador” a statue representing a thinking man, and the Palanca negra (an endangered yet beautiful giant antilope that only lives in a region of Angola).

“The Embundeiro and the Pensador are representations of Angolan History. In the past, kings and old men (who are thought of as wisemen) sat down beneath this tree to think and to talk to the people.” Pedro said while pointing at different statues.

It is virtually impossible not to see at least one depiction of Ngola (Queen) Zhinga or Ngola (King) A Kiluanji at any direction one looks at the market.

Ngola A Kiluanji (1515 – 1556) was responsible for the unification of  the territories which roughly correspond to modern day Angola. He also proclaimed Ndongo as an independent kingdom, whereas before Ndongo paid vassalage to the Kingdom of Congo. In fact, the only reason why Angola is not known as Ndongo today, was due to a misunderstanding by the Portuguese in the 15th century. The term ‘Ngola’ was a royal title akin to king in the language of Kimbundo, which is widely spoken in Angola. All queens and kings of Ndongo used the prefix Ngola: Ngola Kiluani, Ngola Mbadi, Ngola Zhinga, etc. However, when the Portuguese arrived to Angola they misunderstood this royal title for the name of the territory and proceeded to refer to Ndongo as both Ngola and Angola until it became commonplace.

Ngola Zhinga (1624-1663), known as Rainha Ginga in portuguese, is undoubtedly the most well known female political leader in Angolan History. A true feminist icon, she gained prominence by being a great military strategist and a phenomenal diplomatic leader. Her most celebrated life accomplishment was the achievement of an equal terms treaty with the Portuguese. This was after the defeat of her brother King Mbandi in a battle against the Portuguese in Ndongo’s capital. This treaty, a product of Ngola Zhinga’s diplomatic confidence and ability guaranteed that Ndongo was not to be considered a vassalage state to subordinate to Portugal. Ngola Zhinga also used her diplomatic abilities to form alliances with both the Portuguese and the Dutch, later using her military strategy to wage battles against them for the benefit and strengthening of Ndongo.

Granted, Pedro did not explain many of the details surrounding the lives of King Ngola A Kiluanji or Ngola Zhinga. He didn’t mention any dates or centuries, the outcomes of the diplomatic agreements, nor the reason behind Ngola Zhinga’s aptitude in political and military affairs. But, he said enough to educate and prompt listeners to research more about Angolan History. After passing a stand with bracelets made out of copper and green malachite, a type of stone which traditionally must be blessed by traditional tribal leaders, we completed the tour of the Art Market. We then returned to the starting point in front of his family’s allotment.

I asked some final questions, mainly concerning the family business.

Pedro proudly states that most of his clients are Angolans who appreciate the art and culture of Angola and not international visitors looking for a souvenir. He says while picking up one of the paintings “What about this one? I did this one, it represents some of the different traditional day-to-day instruments of Angola, including the ‘cabaça’ and the ‘moringa de barro’ which you also saw in the plastic art area… Do you like it? It is made using that glue technique” And, before I could answer “ Oh and it is fully washable”. Which pleseantly reminded me that Pedro, like any of the other 300 artists of the market, is as much of an artist, as he is a historian and a salesman.

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