Documentary

Os Meninos da Roça

© Theo Gould

An insight into the simple life in the little-known subtropic nation of São Tomé & Príncipe

Os Meninos da Roça

Boy Eating Mango - Fruit grows so plentifully in the volcanic soil in São Tomé that it rots, uneaten on the ground all over the islands.

São Tomé – December 2018. Boy Eating Mango – Fruit grows so plentifully in the volcanic soil in São Tomé that it rots, uneaten on the ground all over the islands.

Os Meninos da Roça

In the West, we live in a world filled with technologies and complexities aiming to simplify life. However, almost by definition they convolute and complicate. We also live in an age that has never been more connected, yet as humans we have never been so disconnected.

Most people have never heard of São Tomé & Príncipe and, in many ways, being in São Tomé is like stepping back in time. Mobile telephones are a luxury most people don’t need or want, and there certainly isn’t a television in the majority of people’s front room. Almost entirely cut off economically from the rest of the world, São Tomé feels a million miles away from the modern world we currently live in.

The few coins earned from cracking open a few coconuts allows them to buy what every kid wants: sweets.

São Tomé – December 2018. Coconut Salesmen – The few coins earned from cracking open a few coconuts allows them to buy what every kid wants: sweets.

Having both African and European roots myself, I have always been fascinated by former colonies and São Tomé was of particular interest to me due to the fact that the islands were uninhabited by humans before being spotted by Portuguese explorers around 1470. This makes São Tomé one of the most recently populated countries in the World, mostly populated with slaves brought over from present-day Angola to work on the sugar, cocoa and coffee plantations.

In keeping with the country’s youth, more than 60% of the population of Africa‘s second smallest state is under the age of 25. The median age in São Tomé 18.4 years old, which makes it the 19th youngest country in the world, and the youngest country that hasn’t been embroiled in civil war or struck by famine.

Vânia lives on the compound of the biggest plantation in São Tomé: Roça Agostinho Neto. She has a mental disability, and although no medical diagnosis has been given, she wasn't treated any differently to anyone else.

São Tomé – December 2018. Vânia – Vânia lives on the compound of the biggest plantation in São Tomé: Roça Agostinho Neto. She has a mental disability, and although no medical diagnosis has been given, she wasn’t treated any differently to anyone else.

“Os Meninos da Roça”, which translates as “The Kids from the Plantation”, is a series about the inhabitants of these quiet islands that grew up “poor” from a western perspective, yet they live a life desirous of nothing more than what they already have. Aiming to steer clear of the usual African stereotypes, for me it was a refreshing realisation that the best, but most elusive, luxury in life is the luxury of simplicity.

 

Roça Santa Margarida is so small that it's not on any maps. It has a small scale cocoa production, a few houses and this disused chapel where this mother and her kid were taking refuge from the rain outside.

São Tomé – December 2018. Mother and Kid – Roça Santa Margarida is so small that it’s not on any maps. It has a small scale cocoa production, a few houses and this disused chapel where this mother and her kid were taking refuge from the rain outside.

In stark contrast to Western Gen Z children, kids in São Tomé spend their childhoods outside, mostly at the beach.

São Tomé – December 2018. Fun and Games – In stark contrast to Western Gen Z children, kids in São Tomé spend their childhoods outside, mostly at the beach.

Taken at Roça Água Champagne where the water is said to taste so sweet that it was comparable to the alcoholic beverage.

São Tomé – December 2018. Curiosity – Taken at Roça Água Champagne where the water is said to taste so sweet that it was comparable to the alcoholic beverage.

The Casa Principal at Roça Boa Entrada

São Tomé – December 2018. Childs Play – The Casa Principal at Roça Boa Entrada

Beach Day - After church, lazy Sundays are spent lounging on the sand.

São Tomé – December 2018. Beach Day – After church, lazy Sundays are spent lounging on the sand.

Exotic Pet - Mikey the Monkey lives peacefully on a farm on Príncipe Island.

Príncipe – December 2018. Exotic Pet – Mikey the Monkey lives peacefully on a farm on Príncipe Island.

Home - São Tomé was a rich colony. In the 16th century was the Africa's biggest producer of sugarcane and, by 1908, it went on to be the world's biggest producer of cocoa. This shot, taken inside the Casa Principal at Roça Boa Entrada, with its large rooms and high-ceilings the former grandeur of the building is plain to see.

São Tomé – December 2018. Home – São Tomé was a rich colony. In the 16th century was the Africa’s biggest producer of sugarcane and, by 1908, it went on to be the world’s biggest producer of cocoa. This shot, taken inside the Casa Principal at Roça Boa Entrada, with its large rooms and high-ceilings the former grandeur of the building is plain to see.

Praia dos Tamarindos - Taking a break from the strong, sub-tropical sun under a tamarind tree.

São Tomé – December 2018. Praia dos Tamarindos – Taking a break from the strong, sub-tropical sun under a tamarind tree.

Freedom - Even though slavery was abolished by Portugal in 1876, the Roça system continued well into the 20th century. In 1904, Henry Woodd Nevinson discovered that the the death rate in adult slaves was 12-14% and 25% in children. On 12th July 1975, following the collapse of the Estado Novo party dictatorship in Portugal, São Tomé finally gained independence and the life expectancy has been rising steadily since 1960. It now stands at 66.62 years, the fourth highest in Africa.

São Tomé – December 2018. Freedom – Even though slavery was abolished by Portugal in 1876, the Roça system continued well into the 20th century. In 1904, Henry Woodd Nevinson discovered that the the death rate in adult slaves was 12-14% and 25% in children. On 12th July 1975, following the collapse of the Estado Novo party dictatorship in Portugal, São Tomé finally gained independence and the life expectancy has been rising steadily since 1960. It now stands at 66.62 years, the fourth highest in Africa.

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Theo Gould
the authorTheo Gould
A photograph by definition only captures a fleeting moment. A photographer too can only stay with their subject for a finite period of time. So, when I look back through my photographs I find myself questioning what series of events in the frame that led up to that precise moment when I clicked the shutter. Questions such as: why they were there; where they were going; why their expression is as it is; and what they were thinking about in that exact moment.
As a photographer my job is to capture moments of beauty, although I prefer to find those moments in unconventional places. My goal is to tell stories that transcend race, class and nationality that show similarities between seemingly different people rather than deepen the divisions in an already divided world, stories that respect humanity and cultures foreign to my own. Having a degree in Philosophy is useful in this respect as it helps to strip back all the immaterial parts until there is the one thing that we all share: the unavoidable truth that we are all human beings going about our daily lives.
Although I am English and grew up in London, I previously lived in Colombia and now reside in Portugal. My work has been commended in various prestigious awards and been published in a number of well-respected magazines and newspapers

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