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Culture of SÃo TomÉ e PrÍncipe


São Tomé and Príncipe is an island country off the coast of Africa. Culturally, the people are African but have been highly influenced by the Portuguese rulers of the islands.



Pascoal Viegas Vilhete (Canarim) Almada Negreiros, and Vianna da Mota painted folk scenes with artistic and historical value. Artists today who combine traditional folk art themes with an abstract expressionist style exhibit at the Francisco Tenreiro Cultural Center or the National Museum.


São Toméans are known for ússua and socopé rhythms, while Principe is home to the dêxa beat. Portuguese ballroom dancing may have played an integral part in the development of these rhythms and their associated dances.

Tchiloli is a musical dance performance that tells a dramatic story. The danço-congo is similarly a combination of music, dance and theatre.


The cuisine is based on tropical root crops, plantains, and bananas, with fish as the most common source of protein. The vegetables that are eaten consist of gathered indigenous greens that are cooked in red palm oil. Production of these foodstuffs is inadequate as a result of the islands’ history as a plantation economy. Traditional palm oil stews are the national dish.

Corn is eaten as a snack food. The traditional food culture includes fruit bats and monkey meat. Asian fruits are well established, but New World fruits such as papayas and guavas are the most widespread and abundant. Citrus trees can be found in most houseyards. Since colonial times, the country’s reliance on food from abroad has begun to change the food culture. Imported rice and bread made of imported wheat flour are staple foods of urban dwellers.

Generally people eat a hot meal cooked before sunset. Breakfast consists of reheated food from the night before or tea and bread. People generally eat around the hearth, which in most dwellings is a separate structure made of wood or fronds.


The language is a Luso-African creole derived from the languages spoken by Africans brought by the Portuguese, with a great many words from Portuguese. This language was formed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when a significant number of white Portuguese resided in the country. Portuguese was widely spoken until the mid-seventeenth century, by which time most of the whites had left.

Portuguese is the official language and the language of education. São Tomeans refer to their creole language as Forro, lunga santome or dialecto. A mutually intelligible dialect of Forro called ling’le is spoken on Príncipe. 

In the south of São Toméa refugee community of Angolan slaves speaks a dialect called lunga ngola. Since independence, children learn Portuguese at an early age. Television broadcasts in Portuguese since the mid-1980s have eroded the use of the local languages.


Poetry is the most highly developed form of literary expression. Francisco Tenreiro and Alda Graça do Espiritu Santo are among the most noted published poets. Historical events are often the subject of local poetry. Tomas Ribas is among the better known writers of folktales and short stories.


Urban spaces were designed and built by the Portuguese colonial administration and include imposing cement administrative buildings, commercial houses, and the lodgings of the former colonial administrators and civil servants built in a Salazarist style known as luso-tropical. 

They were designed to evoke the grandeur and permanence of the Portuguese overseas empire. In the capital city and in the small towns, buildings are arranged in a centralized pattern with a Catholic church, the administrative building, postal and telecommunications offices, and a commercial house that formerly belonged to Portuguese overseas companies.

 Near these buildings are solid cement houses built for Europeans and now occupied by well-connected Forros. In São Tomé City, the streets follow a grid pattern. In small towns, concrete buildings are strung along the few roads that traverse the islands. Fort São Sebastião, built by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century to guard the entrance to the Bay of Ana Chaves and the port of São Tomé, houses the national museum.

Indigenous architecture consists of wooden houses raised on stilts that are surrounded by small patches of garden ( kintéh ). Most people in urban or rural spaces live in these small houses. There is no coordinated plan other than the continual subdivision of house plots as families grow and access to land in urban areas decreases.

 A variety of shanties and shelters can be attached to these houses as households engage in petty commerce and services. Footpaths that follow the contours of the smallholdings to reach the main roads connect these large and sprawling settlements. Public buildings are rare except for Christian meetinghouses. People on plantations are housed in large cement barracks and houses known as sanzalas above which loom the spacious houses of the plantation administrators.


Football (soccer) has always been the most popular sport in the country. The first local association was founded in 1931, and a national federation was created in 1977, two years after independence. In the late 1990s the country contained some two dozen clubs competing in two divisions. 

The clubs of the first division compete annually for the national championship, and there is also a national cup competition. Local competitions comprising all existing sports are held annually on March 12, the National Sports Festival Day. Sao Tome and Principe first participated in the Olympic Games in 1996, when the Summer Games were held in Atlanta.


Independence Day on 12 July commemorates independence from Portugal in 1975. It is an official holiday and the largest celebration on the islands. The Labor Day holiday is celebrated on 1 May.


Since independence, Cocoa has been the main contributor to the economy until recent declines in the industry. The economy growth in São Tomé and Príncipe is now driven by the service, transport, construction and retail sectors.

Further industry potential lies in tourism and development of petroleum resources.

Sao Tome and Principe has to import fuels, most manufactured goods, consumer goods, and a substantial amount of food with their primary import partners which include Portugal and Gabon. The primary exports are cocoa, copra, coffee, and palm oil, trading mainly with the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Nigeria, and the United States.