Friday, February 5, 2010

Poetry Reflects Societal Values

Sao Tome and Principe have become a breeding ground for poetry and literature due to its unique culture and connections with both Portuguese and African roots that have produced multiple published authors. Because I did not have a poem to compare and contrast to, I will simply analyze the article and the differences between the authors and their purposes in writing their poems.

As the article by Noel Ortega states, there are two main types of literature that have come out of the Portuguese islands Sao Tome and Principe: literature written by white settlers and visitors, and literature written by natives dealing with social and racial protest. In “The Motherland in the Modern Poetry of Sao Tome and Principe” two major writers are discussed as being highly influential. Costa Alegre, the first of these writers, uses the sonnet and quatrain in a pessimistic form which describes the racial inferiority of blacks in his motherland. For example, his poem that describes blacks as rocks and whites as the tide foam presents the idea of power based on skin color. Alegre died before any of his poetry was published, but his work became famous immediately for its romantic style as well as important issues like racial inferiority and how beautiful his hometown is.

The white man saw Sao Tome and Principe a bit differently. Some authors portrayed the beauty the landscape of the islands, but other found it necessary to describe the people of the islands. This is where some turmoil gets mixed in with the literature because these people are not just Portuguese or African, causes slight confusion for the white writers. They still regard the natives as blacks, but do make notes that some have lighter skin and could even be considered a white man if not for the differences in hair and bone structure. Here is where Negritude and racism takes a part in the literature because there are so many different 'shades' of black that it formed a social hierarchy based on the color of one's skin.

Tenriero writes about his own heritage as well as focusing on injustices that are inflicting his people. One of his poems compares himself with a checkerboard, both white and black because he is a product of an interracial marriage, less heard of in the 1940's. He takes pride in his heritage and writing because he feels a racial superiority and blessing to have the advantages of both white and black. He also writes about how the white trade, while bringing goods and money, also caused problems for the natives because of the liquor they also brought to the islands. Tenriero writes a couple of poems about this problem, the first is about a white man's greed for power and money as he brings alcohol to a “thirsty island” - a great way to describe Sao Tome and Principe because of their arid dry weather and lack of alcoholic drinks. In another poem, Tenriero shows how alcohol can damage a family unit when a son drinks so much he goes to work at a winery just so he can drink more. This shows that the native people seem to not have much control when it comes to the influence of the white man on their culture and lives.

While Costa Alegre and Tenriero both write about their home in Sao Tome, their messages often coincide with each other on the issues of race and how the color of your skin is important indicator of success. In Alegre's “Maria” the speaker feels inferior due to his darker skin color. Similarly, Tenreiro's poem “The Ballad of Mista Silva Costa” describes the opposite side of the spectrum, where a white foreigner can come to Sao Tome with no money and become rich. This poem is fused with an ironic tone of voice making fun of the white man, but speaking a social truth as well. In conclusion, Alegre and Tenreiro both touch on the same social issues in their poems, but us different styles and ways of presenting their thoughts.


Poems from Sao Tome and Principe”

Ortega, Noel. "The Motherland in the Modern Poetry of Sao Tome e Principe." World Literature Today, Vol. 53, No. 1, The Thre Worlds of Lusophone Literature (Winter, 1979), pp. 53-56. University of Oklahoma. Web.

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