How Sao Tome and Principe came to have its name

Nii Ntreh August 10, 2020
Sao Tome and Principe is one fot he smallest countries in the world by population. Photo Credit: Afrofuturism,.com

One of the most intriguing facts about the archipelagic nation of Sao Tome and Principe is that it is the only territory in Africa that we may correctly describe as having been founded (not discovered) by Europeans.

The point here is that when 15th-century Portuguese navigator Alvaro Caminha settled on the land that is now Sao Tome, he found it uninhabited. Caminho oversaw the primal population of the island.

This assertion has, as you may think, not gone without contest because after all, Christopher Columbus described the Americas as “uninhabited”.

But although Columbus’ propaganda has been easily quashed, the tentative truth here is that there is not yet empirical evidence of settled life on the equatorial island prior to 1470. We may, however, argue that the people of the nearby Kingdom of Kongo would probably have known of the island.

Sao Tome was a gift from the Portuguese crown to Caminha, although we may also rightly argue that it was not the crown’s to give. Caminha called his gift Sao Tome or Saint Thomas, the Catholic patron saint of masons, architects, builders among other craftsmen.

From about 1493, the Portuguese utilized Sao Tome for sugarcane plantations. Labor for this plantation came the only way the Portuguese knew how: enslaved Africans from mainland Africa.

Just about the time they laid claim to Sao Tome, the Portuguese found another island north of Sao Tome. They initially called this island Santo Antao or Saint Anthony.

But in 1502, Santo Antao was changed to Ilha de Principe, Prince’s Island, in celebration of Prince Afonso by his father, King John II of Portugal.

Employing slave labor too, Principe became a sort of twin island to Sao Tome for the purpose of sugarcane farming.

Slave rebellions were frequent on the islands as the sizes of these islands meant the Portuguese were not as committed to a stricter regime as they were in other parts of their empire. Between 1530 and the outlawing of slavery in the beginning of the mid-18th century, there were almost a hundred organized revolts on record in Sao Tome and Principe.

Over the course of 400 years, a population comprising descendants of African slaves, Portuguese and other Europeans was manufactured. The territories were granted independence in 1975 and today remains one of the smallest countries by population in the world.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: August 10, 2020


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