We are in Santo António de Príncipe. Mr. Armandinho leads the service pick up of the boss, the Secretary of State for Economy Silvino Palmer.
Drive along the red, winding road that plows through the lush jungle of prince's island between Santo António – the only city on the island – and the depths of the forest to the south.
After passing the Porto Real garden and the also decaying hamlet of São Joaquim, we point to Terreiro Velho. The property awakens old memories in Armando's mind.
Luckily for us, the former striker of the Santomean national team does not shy away from sharing them. “Well, so now we're on our way to Terreiro Velho. It has a fabulous view, you will see. It belonged to a Portuguese gentleman named Jerónimo Carneiro. Do you know how you got it? Cheating!”
“Cheating? But what kind of cheating?” we asked him, intrigued by the simplicity of the description. ”Armandinho is surprised by our ignorance: “Oh, what cheat do you think it was? To letters, of course! Don't ask me for details that I wasn't there but almost everyone in my generation knows that.”
Later, in conversation with Silvino Palmer, in his office, he is inclined to say that this was not the case. And yet, Armandinho had every reason to know the story, whether it was real or not.
Armandinho has always lived in the Sundy farm, which was once owned by the Jerónimo Carneiro family. His parents had arrived in the Prince in one of the waves of emigration from Cape Verde, coming from the island of Praia. "When? This is harder to say.
Well, I was born in 1953.” Let us know without hesitation. "I have an idea it was right after the war."
The Unannounced Visit to Terreiro Velho's Cocoa Farm
The road conquers a hill, opens into the raised clearing and reveals a gate. “We're already here, says Francisco Ambrósio, a former student from Castelo Branco and an aspiring European football star, tells us from the hangar, now a teacher at several schools in Príncipe.
Another young man in charge of keeping the fields opens the way for us and gives us permission to explore.
We left the questionnaire on Jerónimo Carneiro and the vehicle and set out to discover, guided by Armando, Francisco and Eduardo, a friend of the latter, who had gone all the way, outdoors, on top of the van's box.
We noticed the miniature railroad tracks that were once used to drive cocoa shipments from the plantations to the dryers. We admire the main building on the farm. "Look here!" Armando suggests that he talks to the property's foreman on the edge of the high ground.
We went even under the big trees that gave them to spare. From there, in your company, we discover a heart-shaped cove, filled with a turquoise Gulf of Guinea that gently rocks against the tropicality of the island.
The undergrowth, in particular, was so dense and invasive that it had taken over two nearby rocky ridges and the islet of Cap de Joquei, far away.
Fresh Cocoa To Quench Tropical Thirst
While we were enjoying the scenery, Francisco and Eduardo had descended to the plantation that stretched down the slope. After some time, they reappear and offer us cocoa pods already broken in half, ripe and succulent.
Half dehydrated by the mid-morning heat, we devoured them in three strokes. Thus, we have our first taste of the most profitable and notorious raw material in São Tomé and Príncipe: two wonderful cocoa, beautiful and yellow.
We realized, however, that, despite the Prince's small size, with the exception of the foreman – who had his second home in Terreiro Velho – it had been a long time since our cicerones went there.
It was with a shared interest but very little information on your part that we descended the stairs to the area of choice, drying and roasting, under sheet roofs.
It was Children's Day, a kind of holiday in Prince. We were also on the first farm we visited in the archipelago. The absence of workers didn't bother us out there.
On the contrary, the chocolatey aroma that radiated from the still warm deposits satiated our senses. At the same time, the certainty that we would have countless other cacao incursions soothed our curiosity and creative spirit.
Italian Claudio Corallo's Cocoa and Chocolate Barracks
A few days later, we flew to São Tomé. As is supposed, in the capital, we visited Claudio Corallo's house and factory. The chocolatier of the moment welcomes us willing to share much of his wisdom about cocoa and the art of transforming it.
We then realized that, without knowing it, we had taken the ideal route. Decades after the term of Jerónimo Carneiro, Terreiro Velho was now in the possession of that Italian expatriate. It had become a sacred cocoa domain.
As Cláudio explains to his successive visitors, until 1800 cocoa production was exclusive to South America. After the turn of the century, D. João VI realized that Portugal would be left without Brazil.
It ensured that cocoa from Bahia – one of the crown's main sources of income – would be transferred to São Tomé and Príncipe, its calmer colony with a more compatible climate.
In 1900, the archipelago remained the largest producer of cocoa in the world. However, in more recent times, the original cacao trees were replaced by others, hybrids, more productive but, as Claudio Corallo concluded, of inferior quality. Only the small, isolated island of Principe was safe from this blemish.
Claudio Corallo. After Old Zaire, the Sweet Life of São Tomé and Príncipe
After living and producing coffee in Zaire, Claudio Corallo was forced to leave the increasingly unstable Zaire of Mobutu Sese Seko.
In São Tomé and Príncipe, he embarked on a new demand for cocoa and the perfect chocolate. In the second of the islands, Claudio began by finding Terreiro Velho and ideal cocoa trees to combat the biggest problem of cocoa and chocolate for a long time: bitterness.
During the competition in which we participated in his small factory on the edge of São Tomé's coastal avenue, the first moments are dedicated to exemplifying how well-cultivated and processed cocoa – and, accordingly, the derived chocolate – are not bitter, unlike the that became popular. How bitterness is always the product of defects.
An Exhaustive Tasting of the World's Best Cocoa and Chocolate
Then Claudio gives us and the other participants a taste of cocoa and chocolate nuts with different percentages of cocoa and sugar combined with different kinds of coffee, raisins, ginger and others.
It does it in a tutorial way so that our sights, tastes and smells would lose the least amount of information. "Now bite everything at once!" he instructs us concerned that we might feel the explosive but short-lived taste of a certain Arabica coffee.
Among the various flavors and aromas of cocoa, coffee and chocolate, the experience proved to be delicious. It made us aware of how true chocolate is anything but what multinational brands put on store shelves and hypermarkets.
And for the pivotal role of São Tomé and Príncipe – the second smallest nation in Africa after Seychelles – in the world cocoa market.
Resuscitation of Cocoa Production in São Tomé and Príncipe
With this raw material showing increasing profits from the beginning of the XNUMXth century onwards, more Portuguese owners and companies invested in new cocoa plantations on both islands.
The labor was provided by workers brought from Angola, later from Cape Verde, as Cesária Évora sang in “Saudade” and even from Macau.
The small archipelago's cocoa production proved to be so fruitful that it thwarted British claims to lead this trade.
It increased London's pressure on what it called the slave labor, illegal because it obeys fictitious contracts and does not foresee the right of interruption or return to the place of origin, although, after the abolition of slavery in 1876, it started to include a payment.
Sao Tome and Principe and Cocoa Produced over Ecuador
This is how Miguel Sousa Tavares portrayed the theme in his famous 2003 best-seller, “Ecuador”, starring pinga-amor Luís Bernardo Valença.
In the novel, Luís Bernardo is appointed governor of São Tomé and Príncipe by King Dom Carlos. After a short period of adaptation to the equatorial exile, more than feeling compassion for the wronged farm workers, the governor lost his passion for the wife of the consul that Great Britain had dispatched from India with the mission of finding out about the failure of the Portuguese colonists.
It also earns the distrust and enmity of the community of owners and administrators.
After the turn of the XNUMXth century, cocoa production declined in São Tomé and Príncipe. It suffered some depletion of the soils. but above all the archipelago's lack of scale and international competition.
The Post-Independence Abandonment That Leads the Farms to Ruin
After the independence of Portugal, there was also the inability of the São Toméan governments to take advantage of the infrastructures – many of them exemplary – built by the largest owners, to continue with a production that was even recovering from 1945 to 1975.
The swiddens were almost abandoned, with their former workers inhabiting the sanzalas unable to ensure, by themselves, the maintenance of the owners' mansions, the work buildings or the hospitals that some of the swiddens had.
Cocoa in São Tomé and Príncipe declined. It has not disappeared.
Times have passed. Some communities now live on the farms with conditions only slightly better than those in which their more distant ancestors aged.
The specter of unemployment is so worrisome in the small African nation that the fact that a farm continues to produce and export cocoa is seen as a gift.
This, no matter how tedious and underpaid the work.
The Roça de Água Izé. And So Many Others Afterwards
That's what we found when, on the way to the south of São Tomé, we passed Água Izé, one of the oldest, largest and most inhabited in the archipelago.
There, in one of the various warehouses near the entrance, we find a team of choice in full operation. They were mainly São Toméan women of Cape Verdean or Angolan descent, with shiny skins and difficult smiles.
Gentle in removing the defective nuts from the large bowls, while two or three young men line up large sacks that are already full, identified with “Cocoa Fino. Izé water. Product of São Tomé & Principe”.
A swarm of curls appears out of nowhere. Inaugurates its inevitable collection of “doxi, doxi”, “pencil, pencil tree” with each mistake seeming to be four, as the curious Santomean accent dictates.
It may or may not have been the children's begging that inspired the older ones, but when the kids finally calm down, one of the workers inaugurates a high-pitched Creole chant.
In three times, the other women accompany her in a shared hymn that sounded to us with regret, as if we had gone back in the centuries to the local era of slavery or what followed.
During the time we were in São Tomé, we investigated the reality of several other farms.
In those of Porto Alegre, Bombay, Monte Café, Agostinho Neto, whatever they were, the decay of buildings was repeated as an inevitability of destiny.
In almost all of them, cocoa continued to feed an already centuries-old history of prosperity and survival.