Tribute Agostinho Mendes de Carvalho (1924-2014)

A face of the Generation of Silence

\\ Text Andreia Filipa Ferreira Maria Cruz \
\\ Photography D.R.

On August 29, 1924, the village of Calomboloca, in the municipality of Catete, about 100 km from Luanda, witnessed the birth of a brilliant mind. A politician and born writer. Man of the land. In the capital, he studied nursing, a profession he practised for many years and which enabled him to travel throughout the country. But from early on he was committed to the struggle for Angola's independence. At the side of António Agostinho Neto and of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), he outlined ideas that would lead to the liberation of the people. Nevertheless, his political dedication led to him losing 12 years of the freedom he pursued so avidly, making of Tarrafal prison, on the Island of Santiago, in Cape Verde, a source of inspiration. During these years, imprisoned by PIDE [Portuguese secret police] and involved in the infamous ?Trial of Fifty?, Agostinho Mendes de Carvalho shaped his personality as a writer. He was no longer a name of solely political importance, revealing to the world Uanhenga Xitu, the penname he started to use for his literary works, which was actually his proper name in the Kimbundu language.

Recognised by his penname Uanhenga Xitu, Agostinho Mendes de Carvalho is one of the symbols of Angolan literature

Considered a writer of the Generation of Silence ? the generation of the 1970s marked by the use of words concealed in works with powerful themes of combat, denouncement, rebellion, and indignation ?, the novelist was known for his ability to highlight the conflicts experienced in Angolan society, through a language encased in humour, turning even the most tragic of situations into comic moments. Mestre Tamoda (published in 1974), one of the author's most famous works and written during his time in prison (1962-1970), is an example of this style particular to Uanhenga Xitu, who used the Portuguese language and Kimbundo so well. The writer spoke on many occasions about this book, explaining that the context in which it was written wasn't easy and that he would never be able to replicate it to the same quality as the original version, which was confiscated in prison. «The published work of Mestre Tamoda, as I have sometimes explained to readers, was written in prison, where the guards and other prison bodies were constantly searching and watching us. In addition to family correspondence and documents, I and other companions saw literary works of great value confiscated, which we would never get back, and to manage to reproduce them in their exact state would be difficult,» said Uanhenga Xitu. It is said that the writer found inspiration for the characters in his works from the people he knew throughout his life. 

With real or merely fictional features, the characters appearing in Uanhenga's works never had their fate outlined from the outset. The writer once said: «the characters in my fictional world, initially just imagined, go on to create themselves, taking on their own face and, even when I pay them more attention, they become so independent within my narrative that the fate that I have in mind for them doesn't always end up taking place. I never knew beforehand the end each of them would have.» Allowing his characters to take on their own face and to live on, the writer unleashed the creation of a long line of literary works, which even earned him the National Culture and Arts Award in 2006. 

Go-getting and tough, he only ended his political career when his age no longer allowed him to have the same vigour

His works include:  Meu Discurso, Bola com Feitiço, Manana (1974), Vozes na Sanzala ? Kahitu (1976), Os Sobreviventes da Máquina Colonial Depõem (1980), Os Discursos de Mestre Tamoda (1984), Cultos Especiais (1997) and O Ministro (1989). The latter of these may have been inspired by Mendes de Carvalho's own career, who, following Angola's independence, served as commissioner (governor) of the Province of Luanda, Angolan Ambassador to Germany, MPLA deputy in the National Assembly and, as the title of the work says, health minister. Go-getting and tough, he only ended his political career when his age no longer allowed him to perform his duties with the same vigour. And this vigour was extinguished definitively a little over a year ago. Mendes de Carvalho died, at the age of 89, on February 13, 2014. Although this symbol of the modernisation of national literature has already left us, his work will remain eternal. Because even though time passes, his words will remain forever in the memory of Angolans.