São Tomé / Príncipe: People

São Tomé and Príncipe is a place with a rich cultural heritage where people are happy to meet you. The lack of tribal, ethnic or religious conflict adds to the friendly “leve leve” (as the locals say, “easy-easy”) atmosphere.

Portuguese colonisation and slavery

The human history on São Tomé & Príncipe begins in 1470, when the Portuguese settlers came to the islands. No evidence is available that African settlers were there before that time, although this is likely.

Slaves from Creole descent where put to work in the sugar cane fields towards the end of the 15th century, who where freed approximately 20 years later. Their work and living conditions did not change much, however, until much later.

Sugar cultivation declined over the years, and by the mid-1600s, São Tomé was little more than a port of call for bunkering ships. In the early 1800s, two new cash crops, coffee and cocoa, were introduced. The rich volcanic soils proved well suited to the new cash crop industry, and soon extensive plantations (rocas), owned by Portuguese companies or absentee landlords, occupied almost all of the good farmland. By 1908, São Tomé had become the world’s largest producer of cocoa, still the country’s most important crop.

The rocas system, which gave the plantation managers a high degree of authority, led to abuses against the African farm workers. Although Portugal officially abolished slavery in 1875, the practice of forced paid labour continued.

After a period of transitional government, São Tomé and Príncipe achieved independence on July 12, 1975.

São Tomé & Príncipe today

Cape Verdeans form the largest group of foreigners, perhaps amounting to about 10 percent of the total population; many have adopted São Tomense nationality.

Portuguese, Angolans, and Mozambicans make up most of the rest of the foreign community. Like the Cape Verdeans, they are relatively well integrated with the other islanders, owing to a shared Portuguese cultural background. The Angolares, descended from slaves who survived a shipwreck in the 16th century, remained apart in the isolated southern zone of São Tomé island until the late 19th century, speaking a Bantu language. They have since spread throughout the country and have become largely assimilated.

Almost the entire population belongs to the Roman Catholic church, although there are a few small Protestant congregations. Traditional African religions are also practiced.

Portuguese is the official language and is understood by a majority of islanders.

São Tomé people

São Tomé cacao plant

São Tomé people 2

Nature

São Tomé and Príncipe is the second smallest African country – larger only than the Seychelles in terms of population. São Tomé is 50 kilometers (31 miles) long and 32 kilometers (20 miles) wide and the more mountainous of the two islands. Its highest peak reaches 2,024 meters (6,640 feet).

Wildlife

The geographic isolation from Africa has resulted in high levels of endemism. Overall, Sao Tome and Principe has 143 birds, 15 mammals, 14 reptiles, and 9 amphibians. The waters of Sao Tome and Principe are still largely unexplored. So far, 230 fish species have been distinguished of which many are endemic.

Climate

You can visit the islands of Sao Tome and Principe all year around. The climate is tropical with average yearly temperatures of about 27°C (80°F) and little daily variation. At the interior’s higher altitudes, the average yearly temperature is 20°C (68°F), and nights are generally cool.

People

São Tomé and Príncipe is a place with a rich cultural heritage where people are happy to meet you. The lack of tribal, ethnic or religious conflict adds to the friendly “leve leve” (as the locals say, “easy-easy”) atmosphere. The human history on São Tomé & Príncipe begins in 1470, when the Portuguese settlers came to the islands.