#100AfricanWomenWriters: 15. Alda Lara

by - 09:37

Alda Lara. Source: Alchetron

Women authors do not exist in Angola. That, at least, is the conclusion you would reach after reading the most seminal anthologies of Angolan writers. For example, no woman appears in Pires Laranjeira’s collection of pre-independence Angolan poetry, 'Antologia da Poesia Pré-Angolana (1948-1974)' (Porto: Afrontamento, 1976). Of the fifteen poets from Angola included in Manuel Ferreira’s 50 'Poetas Africanos' (Lisboa: Plátano, 1989), not one is a woman. In 'Balada dos Homens que Sonham' (Luanda: UAE, 2011), an anthology published by the Angolan Writers Union, all the authors are men.

The above is from Professor Phillip Rothwell at the University of Oxford on research which seeks to address this lack of Angolan women writers by 'drawing attention to and analysing the writings of Angolan women, from the 1940s to the present day'.

Born in 1930 in Benguela, Angola, poet, essayist, doctor and political activist Alda Ferreira Pires Bareto de Lara Albuquerque (Alda Lara) may have lived a very short life - she passed away at the age of 32 - but was a prolific writer. As Rothwell explains, she
... wrote extensively about freedom and justice, as well as the place of motherhood in a more equitable society. Her work demonstrates a tension between the demands of being a mother and national liberation — a tension the male elites of Angola would later exploit to downgrade the position of women as political agents in their own right.
Her writings, as further discussed in Dictionary of African Biography took on
... the spirit of the historical moment she lived and assumed multiple meanings [addressing] childhood, her national and racial identity, life as an Angolan exile in Portugal, her desires as a woman, mother and citizen, daily life struggles under colonialism, emotional ambitions, an life's joys and pleasures.
Lara attended a women's school in Sá da Bandeira (now Lubango) before moving to Portugal at the age of seventeen to finish secondary school, and studied medicine at a university in Lisbon and the University of Coimbra. In Portugal, Lara had ties to the Casa dos Estudantes do Imperio (CIE) (House of the Students of the Empire) - a political organisation composed of university students from the African Portuguese colonies (specifically Angola, Cape Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau).

According to a Wikipedia entry, Lara:
... had an active student life and began her writing career by publishing poetry in the literary journal 'Mensagem', a publication specifically for Africans ... and also wrote for several newspapers and magazines such as the 'Jornal de Benguela', the 'Jornal de Angola', and the 'ABC e Ciência'.
Writers publishing in Mensagem (the journal published by the students at CEI between 1948 and 1964) represented a new generation of African intellectuals who provided the foundation from which a modern Angolan literature emerged and organised a space for intellectuals to join and participate in Angola's independence movements. Heavy censorship, however, ensured there were only four publications of Mensagem. Still, many of the poems in Mensagem engage explicitly with the theme of presence. This is expressed, for example, in Alda Lara’s 1962 poem Presença, which used the metaphor Mae Africa (Mother of Africa) to reaffirm her identity as African and her connections to black populations as well as to her strength and resilience as a woman.

Excerpt in Portuguese, with English translation.

Lara married Mozambican-Portuguese doctor and writer Orlando de Albuquerque, and was the mother of four sons - some of who would become political activists in Angola's independence struggles.

Alda Lara with her husband and children. Source: Oxford University

After living in Portugal for 13 years, in 1961 Lara moved back to Mozambique, with the aim of providing medical care for her children, but died the year after (in 1962 from unknown medical complications). Her husband set about publishing her collected works posthumously, including Poemas in 1966 and Tempo da Chuva in 1973. Some of her poems published before her death where in the following books: Antologia de Poesias Angolanas (1958), A Mostrsa de Poesia in Estudos Ultramarinos (1959), Anthologia da Terra Portuguesa (1960/61).

Source: Tempo Caminhado

According to the Dictionary of African Biography,
Critics often exclude Lara's work from the category of 'revolutionary political-resistance poetry' used to describe the works of her male Angolan counterparts ... Lara was not a known member of a national liberation movement in Portugal or Angola. Furthermore, limited gender roles and racial categories, along with the themes of her poetry, precluded her inclusion in these 'revolutionary' types of poetry. However, her works were indeed political and exuded an acute social consciousness.
Lara wrote at a time when white, mixed-race and black Angolan authors were 'deploying their writings as part of an intellectual endeavour of both political resistance and nation-building', with her 'poetry's political dimensions' being shaped by 'her multi-national heritage, her marriage and her involvement in CEI'. Also, Policia Internacional de Defesa do Estado (PIDE) - the secret security arm of the colonial Portuguese government - maintained a file on her and her husband.

The Dictionary of African Biography further notes that
The early death of Lara, just as liberation movements in Portuguese Africa were gaining momentum, makes it impossible to measure the influence of her work on other liberation writers and its impact on involved populations. Her death in 1962 is also why there is so little known about her and why scholarship only mentions her in passing.
Yet, Lara's legacy is still present today. The government of the municipality of Sá da Bandeira set up a poetry prize - Alda Lara Prize for Poetry (Prémio Alda Lara para Poesia) in her honour. Lara's poetry can also be found in the works of Portuguese singers, including Paulo de Carvalho, who recorded Preludio/Mãe Negra (Prelude/Black Mother??) - a poem written by Alda Lara. There's also Aline Frazão, whose second album, Movimento, released in 2013 includes a poem by Alda Lara set to music. More of Alda Lara's poems in Portuguese can be found here.

Movimento Album Cover

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