Olá, welcome to São Tomé and Principe, the amazing island world in the Gulf of Guinea.
The small island nation lies off the west African coast in the Gulf of Guinea. The country consists of two islands - represented in the two stars in the flag - and several isles. All together, the islands are barely larger than Berlin. With only 160 000 inhabitants, the island nation is very sparcely populated. They loom over the equator and emerged due to volcanic activity. The main islands lie 144km away from each other.
Due to their position on the equator, there is a tropical climate. Thick forests cover half the islands. A large portion of the island has been placed under protection due to the fact that there are many indigenous forests, mangrove swamps and savannas. The forests on the islands are so unique that they are counted by scientists as the second most important forests of Africa and one of the 200 most important ecological regions on earth. The largest diversity of plants and animals is found in the atlantic rainforest, the Obo.
Volcanooes formed the islands in primeval times. The Pico de São Tomé reaches 2024m and is ringed in by an impressive mountain range. The massive mountan range is overrun by untouched rainforest. The coast consists of sandy beaches and wide plateaus, where cocoa and coffee plantations have been planted. The rest of the country is still covered in tropical rainforest. The picturesque sandy beaches attract many tourists.
The capital city of the island world is São Tomé, an enchanting city from colonial times. With around 60 000 inhabitants, the capital isn't very big. The city seems like a Portuguese holiday destination. The houses are barely more than two stories high and have round windows and balconies. The walls are painted in pastel colours, like the presidential palace in the picture on the left. You can still recognise the colonial influence on these buildings. São Tomé is the economical and social centre of the island. The presidential palace, the fisher church and the cinema are all things worth seeing. The city is known for its fortifications and the national museum, which displays the lives of the slaves who worked on the sugar cane, coffee and cocoa plantations. It is also known for the Tchiloli game, a play which is only performed by men.
Peoples and Languages
The inhabitants are the desecendants of the Portuguese, of slaves from west Africa and of the natives. They form their own folk group, the Creole. The call themselves 'Sons of the earth' in Portuguese and have developed their own culture. Music and dance play a large role even today amoung the children and their families. Portuguese is the official language and is taught in school. Most of the people speak 'Forro', a mixture of Portuguese and the Bantu languages. The island's inhabitants live from fishing and tourism.
Schools and Education
All children should attend school for at least 4 years from the age of 8. But the population has grown drastically in the last few years and there are too few schools for all the children. Many have to work from a young age in the fields. According to UNICEF, child labour is a wide-spread evil – even small children have to help in construction or in the markets. This is why only three-quarters of the children attend school. As a result, there are few children who can read and write well. Due to the lack of teachers and schools, some schools have a shift system. According to age, the children attend school either in the morning, midday or afternoon.
Festivals and Celebrations
The largest celebration on the island is on the Day of Independence, the 12th July. The Tchiloli game is performed, a play which chosen men perform. The main roles are inherited from generation to generation. The performers wear African masks and European female clothing from the 16th century. They look very exotic. The actors enact a text and songs from the Renaissance and so join the European and African legacies together in a unique show. Many people from all over the world travel to watch this extraordinary show.
São Tomé and Principe is a paradies with its diversity of trees, flowers and blossoms. This unique diversity has attracted a natural wonder: 157 different bird species live here, 28 of those are endemic. This means that these bird species are only found on these islands. You can imagine how extraordinary this is, when you consider that there are usually only 1 or 2 endemic bird species on islands. On the right you can see an African grey parrot which is highly intelligent and is known for its ability to mimic human speech.
The History of São Tomé and Principe
The islands were discovered in 1471 by Portuguese sailors. It was the day of St. Thomas, which is why they called it "Sao Tomé". For decades, the islands were the main collection point of the transatlantic slave trade. In the 16th century, slaves were brought to the island to work on the sugar cane plantation. Later on, coffee and cacoa were also grown and the island rose to the largest cocoa exporter in the world around the beginning of the 20th century. This unique position was due to the slave economy. Slavery was only abolished in the 19th century. The once-slaves were employed as free workers, but in the beginning they didn't do much better than when they were slaves. They were paid badly and had to fight for equality. Sao Tomé and Principe gained its independence with the downfall of the Portuguese Empire in 1975. Then a communist government ruled for more than a decade until the worldwide downfall of communism forced the population to re-orientate themselves. In 1992, they voted with an overwhelming majority for a democratic system with several parties, similar to the democracy in Europe.
São Tomé and Principe Today
The island nation is a paradise for its inhabitants. The Creole are proud of their gorgeous landscape. They enjoy the freedom of their isolated island life. For the children, the island is a large playground to explore and discover on. Although the population is poor, the majority of them can live off fishing and farming. However, São Tomé and Principe has been dependent on development help. Many foodstuffs and fuels have to be imported, which is paid for with the export of cocoa. The poor state of the country could soon change- crude oil has been discovered off the coast. The news led to many tourists staying away. The exploration of the crude oil has yet to begin. This is good, as the damage to the environment could be gigantic, according to Greenpeace. They fear that the oil production near to the coast could destroy the natural paradise, as it has done in other countries. But many inhabitants of the island wish to gain independence from foreign aid through the oil. Hopefully they can find a way to produce oil in an enviromentally friendly way and still manage to protect the natural beauty of their islands.