As we almost reached the humid and luxuriant domains of the old Roça Saudade, we were distracted by a strange sight.
Both sides of the cobbled slope appeared there, like vegetable beds, made of a kind of tufts of cotton and yellow leaves, others, older, of a worn orange, all of them victims of an autumn that the equatorial Sao Tome don't know.
We open the doors of the Jimny to get a sense of touch. We are in this experience when two São Toméans appear from the bottom of the slope, walking on the said carpet.
One of them, the youngest, wears wellies, red shorts and a blue sports polo shirt, an alleged uniform of the Australian football team at Camp David.
By itself, the picture already proved to be unusual. As if that weren't enough, the boy has around his neck an MP3 radio player, portable and peculiar, branded by Somitec, Made in China, nor did we expect anything else.
We detected some surrealism in the scene. We strive to portray it. The boy holds the phone with both hands. It gives us a hint of a smile that goes well with the green foliage of the background.
He and the adult follow the velvet path. We stayed a moment longer to examine it.
When we resume the journey, we are struck by what would have resulted if, instead of us, it had been the multifaceted and restless Almada Negreiros to cross paths with such a picture, moreover, in his land.
While we were considering it, we surrendered to the evidence that, even in the short period he lived in the heart of the island, equatorial eccentricities would not have been lacking.
Sao Tome was in question.
Few islands hide the wild and end-of-the-world exoticism in the middle of the world that São Tomé and Príncipe preserve.
Arrival at Saudade and at the Almada Negreiros House-Museum
We complete the ramp. Shortly after, we come across the space of Roça Saudade.
It was bounded by three or four bamboo canes.
Opposite to a cut and black figure of Almada highlighted in a well-kept garden, front or back – the position of the figure seemed ambivalent to us – to the renovated building of the property.
We went to the other side of the facade. An L-shaped staircase leads us to the building's secular masonry base, now restored.
We unveiled the wall that sheltered the steps, illustrated with the famous beginning “Basta pum Basta!” from the Anti-Dantas Manifesto, supplemented with quotations from Negreiros:
“The people I admire the most are those who never end.” Civilization is a collective phenomenon. Culture is an individual phenomenon.” the latter, from “Cultura e Civilização” that the poet also inaugurated with “A table full of beans”.
Joaquin Victor. Son of Saudade, Mentor of the Almada Negreiros House-Museum
On the other side of the mural, a new staircase awaits us, this one made of wood. And, at the top, the young entrepreneur Joaquim Victor, also a son of Saudade.
It was Joaquim who was responsible for restoring the birthplace of Almada Negreiros, even if, at first, he did not know – as almost nobody knew in São Tomé and Príncipe – that the artist was from Roça Saudade.
Joaquim Victor, felt, by the hours that were and by our tired air, that we needed to recover energies. We sit at a table on the porch terrace, overlooking the mist-covered jungle that extends from there towards the Atlantic.
Joaquim Victor explains that the only document that describes the old Roça Saudade is the book “Almada Negreiros Africano” by Father António Ambrósio, a missionary in São Tomé, a writer dedicated to recording the ways and customs of the island, and who described it as follows:
"The house where Almada was born, at the headquarters of Roça Saudade, was suspended over a deep grotto and opened to the east by a tropical-style balcony, overlooking a sea of greenery that, after the first break, spread in an apparently gentle swell for several kilometers long, in the shape of a lace fan, to the ocean sea.”
At the table, instead of beans, Kim, as he is also known, serves a garfish, accompanied by sweet potato, eggplant and passion fruit. We savor the interior of São Tomé in a delight that competes with the beauty of the landscape on the edge of the enigmatic Ôbo Natural Park.
Roça Saudade, the Equatorial Cradle of Almada Negreiros
It is unknown to most Portuguese and even lovers of Almada Negreiros that the artist was born there. And that he lived the first years of his life in these chlorophylline confines of Ecuador.
Joaquim Victor explains that Almada Negreiros began to be discovered in São Tomé and Príncipe only in 2014, due to his intervention in Roça Saudade.
From then on, it became a kind of historical fashion that he has been promoting.
As a testament to her childhood in São Tomé, the wall surrounding the staircase still displays part of one of the poems in which Almada celebrated childhood and maternal affection.
"I'm going to learn the steps of our house by heart. Then I come and sit next to you…”
"Mom! Put your hand on my head! When you put your hand on my head it's all so true..."
The mother mentioned, Elvira Sobra de Almada Negreiros, was a wealthy Santomean mestizo. Her husband, Almada's father, was António Lobo de Almada Negreiros, born in Aljustrel, lieutenant in the Cavalry, journalist, writer, essayist and Freemason. Later, he was appointed administrator of the municipality of São Tomé.
The Presence of Father António Ambrósio in the Life of the Negreiros Family
Father António Ambrósio, whom we have already mentioned, in addition to being a kind of chronicler of São Tomé, was responsible for the sacraments in the interior of the island.
He carried out the baptism of the newborn Almada, in the Igreja da Trindade, today, capital of the district of Mé-Zóchi. And he narrated it like this in his book "Almada Negreiros African"
«On the twenty-fourth day of June in the year one thousand eight hundred and ninety-three, in this Parish Church of the Holy Trinity, Municipality of S. Thomé, Diocese of S. Thomé e Príncipe, I solemnly baptized a male individual, to whom I gave the name of – JOSÉ- and who was born in this parish, at Fazenda Saudade, at three o'clock in the morning of the seventh of the mcz d'April of the year of one thousand eight hundred and ninety-three, illegitimate son of the legitimate son of António Lobo d'Almada Negreiros, married, born in Portugal, owner, farmer and Dona Elvira Sobral de Almada Negreiros, married, born in this parish, owner, parishioners of this parish, residents of the aforementioned Farm, paternal grandson of Pedro d' Almada Pereira and Margarida Francisca de Almada Lobo Branco de Negreiros. It was godfather José António Freire Sobral, married, owner and farmer and godmother Dona Marianna Emília de Souza Sobral, married, owner and farmer, all of whom I know are their own. And for the record, I recorded this record in duplicate, which after being read and conferred before the godparents, they signed it with me.”
His father António Lobo, also a renowned author, insisted on dedicating a poem from his work “equatorial” to the shoot, on April 7, 1894, at one year of age.
One year! a kiss of light
On your face, child!
That blooms and seduces!
The bonanza never ends
That your forehead translates,
Like a kiss from Jesus
From the mother in virginea braid
The Tragedy and the Return of the Almada Negreiros to the Metropole
In 1895, just two years after giving birth to José Sobral de Almada Negreiros, Elvira Negreiros died. The death of his wife hurt António Lobo's “Suavíssima hope” and the courage to continue in São Tomé.
Helpless, the administrator decided to return to the Metropolis.
He lived, in the early days, in Lisbon. He committed José Sobral and his brother António to the Jesuit College in Campolide. Both remained there until 1910, when the Implantation of the Republic dictated the closure of the establishment.
The turning year for the XNUMXth century was going to have the unavoidable event of the Universal Exhibition in Paris. António Lobo was appointed responsible for the Pavilhão das Colónias with which Portugal boasted.
did not live in São Tomé.
José Sobral de Almada Negreiros, the predestined Almada, grew up in Roça Saudade only until he was two years old. It would be impossible to find any of his artistic legacy from Santome on the property.
Precious legacy of Roça Saudade
As Joaquim Victor points out, the reality proved to be different with regard to the family's experience in the countryside until the end of the XNUMXth century.
“Over time, the house has deteriorated a lot. It became a latent danger for the children who lived in and around Saudade, who ventured to explore it and play in its ruins.”
The restoration work managed by Kim started from the original foundations of the porch house. They were made by hand, with a lot of patience and with the rewarding discovery of hundreds of pieces from the times of Almada's parents and grandparents.
Part of them came from renowned Portuguese pottery factories such as Sacavém and Alcântara.
Joaquim, insisted on keeping them, with the intention of later exposing them.
We deviate, for a moment, from the Casa Museu Almada Negreiros, with the idea of taking a look at the nearby São Nicolau waterfall.
When we return, another group of students arrives in the former Roça Saudade, coming from the capital, of the many who now learn about Almada in schools.
And who, proud of their birthplace in São Tomé, travel to the heart of the island to visit it, in introspective incursions into São Tomé culture, in semi-orderly explorations of the island's equatorial civilization.