São Tomó and Príncipe
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São Tomó and Príncipe, officially the Democratic Republic of São Tomó and Príncipe, is an island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Africa. It consists of two islands: São Tomó and Príncipe, located about 140 kilometres apart and about 250 and 225 kilometres respectively, off of the northwestern coast of Gabon. Both islands are part of an extinct volcanic mountain range. São Tomó, the sizable southern island, is situated just north of the equator. It was named after Saint Thomas by Portuguese explorers who discovered the island on his feast day.
São Tomó and Príncipe is the second smallest (in terms of population) African country. It is the smallest country in the world that is not a former UK dependency, a former US trusteeship, or a European microstate. It is also the smallest Portuguese-speaking country in the world.
The islands of São Tomó and Príncipe were uninhabited before the arrival of the Portuguese sometime between 1469 and 1471. The islands were discovered by Fernão do Pó (pron. IPA [f??'n??u~ du p?]), also Fernão Pó, Fernando Pó, Fernando Poo (15th century) and bore his name until the 20th century. Portuguese navigators explored the islands and decided that they would be good locations for bases to trade with the mainland.
The first successful settlement of São Tomó was established in 1493 by Álvaro Caminha, who received the land as a grant from the crown. Príncipe was settled in 1500 under a similar arrangement. Attracting settlers proved difficult, however, and most of the earliest inhabitants were "undesirables" sent from Portugal, mostly Jews. In time these settlers found the excellent volcanic soil of the region suitable for agriculture, especially the growing of sugar.
The cultivation of sugar was a labour-intensive process and the Portuguese began to import large numbers of slaves from the mainland. By the mid-1500s the Portuguese settlers had turned the islands into Africa's foremost exporter of sugar. São Tomó and Príncipe were taken over and administered by the Portuguese crown in 1522 and 1573, respectively.
However, superior sugar colonies in the western hemisphere began to hurt the islands. The large slave population also proved difficult to control, with Portugal unable to invest many resources in the effort. Sugar cultivation thus declined over the next 100 years, and by the mid-1600s, the economy of São Tomó had changed. It was now primarily a transit point for ships engaged in the slave trade between the West and continental Africa.
In the early 1800s, two new cash crops, coffee and cocoa, were introduced. The rich volcanic soils proved well suited to the new cash crop industry, and soon extensive plantations (roças), owned by Portuguese companies or absentee landlords, occupied almost all of the good farmland. By 1908, São Tomó had become the world's largest producer of cocoa, which remains the country's most important crop.
The roças system, which gave the plantation managers a high degree of authority, led to abuses against the African farm workers. Although Portugal officially abolished slavery in 1876, the practice of forced paid labor continued. In the early 1900s, an internationally publicized controversy arose over charges that Angolan contract workers were being subjected to forced labor and unsatisfactory working conditions. Sporadic labor unrest and dissatisfaction continued well into the 20th century, culminating in an outbreak of riots in 1953 in which several hundred African laborers were killed in a clash with their Portuguese rulers. This "Batepá Massacre" remains a major event in the colonial history of the islands, and its anniversary is officially observed by the government.
By the late 1950s, when other emerging nations across the African Continent were demanding independence, a small group of São Tomóans had formed the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomó and Príncipe (MLSTP), which eventually established its base in nearby Gabon. Picking up momentum in the 1960s, events moved quickly after the overthrow of the Caetano dictatorship in Portugal in April 1974. The new Portuguese regime was committed to the dissolution of its overseas colonies; in November 1974, their representatives met with the MLSTP in Algiers and worked out an agreement for the transfer of sovereignty. After a period of transitional government, São Tomó and Príncipe achieved independence on July 12, 1975.
Sources: Wikipedia and CIA World Factbook
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