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India and Its Relation with the Lusophone Countries

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India Lusophone Sao Tome
Photo Credit: Google Images

SAO TOME and Principe: The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe became one of the founding members of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) in 1996. The other founding member countries were Portugal, Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique. Timor-Leste and Equatorial Guinea joined the community later.

The CPLP, also known as the Lusophone Commonwealth, is an international organization and political association. Currently, the CPLP consists of nine member states 32 associate observers, and four organizations. India became an Associate Observer in July 2021.

The role of CPLP

So what brings these countries, separated by great distances and continents together? The CPLP was formed in Lisbon between the Lusophone nations across the world, who were former colonies of Portugal and where Portuguese is the official language.

Portuguese is a global language with more than 270 million speakers, including in India (Goa), which was also linked by a shared culture and history. The CPLP nations have a combined area of about 11 million km, which is larger than Canada and the European Union. 

CPLP started with three key areas of action: Political and Diplomatic Coordination, Cooperation in several areas, and promotion and dissemination of the Portuguese Language.

The community has grown beyond its mission of fostering cultural ties between the Portuguese language countries into facilitating trade and economic and political cooperation between its member countries.

Countries like Timor-Leste, Sao Tome, and Guinea-Bissau, which are so far apart geographically, have been brought together under this umbrella.

CPLP has increased its credibility and visibility, the proof of which lies in the number of countries that have increasingly intensified their institutional relations with the organization. Likewise, civil society has intensified its institutional dialogue with CPLP. Over 70 entities have already been granted the status of Consultative Observers. 

As a bloc, the CPLP has been active in confronting challenges faced by its member countries. For instance, CPLP was effective in resolving political upheavals in São Tomé and Príncipe and Guinea-Bissau, enabling them to stabilize and embark on economic and democratic reforms. It was also involved in peace-making efforts in Angola and Mozambique. 

Some of its other main initiatives included the HIV-Aids program designed to help the 5 African member states; establishment of the Center for the Development of Entrepreneurial Skills in Luanda; Center for the Development of Public Administration in Maputo; Emergency Project for the support of Institution rebuilding in Guinea-Bissau; Support to Sao Tome to fight Malaria and a host of projects to address poverty and starvation.

But a significant achievement is that these nine Portuguese-speaking nations signed agreements to facilitate cross-border movement of their citizens for any purpose and issue residency permits for all CPLP citizens in every one of the member countries.

However, their efforts fell short as they could not agree on the adoption of common citizenship for CPLP member countries.

Consequent to joining the CPLP as an Associate Observer in July 2021, Minister of State for External Affairs Mrs. Meenakshi Lekhi had remarked “sets a new platform for strengthening India’s historic bonds of friendship with Lusophone countries and pursuing cooperation in areas of mutual interest. The move will further enrich and strengthen India’s ties with the Portuguese speaking world”.

As an Associate Observer, India may participate, without the right to vote, in the summits. It will have access in the council of ministers to non-confidential documentation.

Significance for India

For India, associate membership will give a new impetus to historical bonds, deepen ties through a Lusophone Partnership and forge a strategic relationship.

Though the Indo-Portuguese relationship can be traced back to the arrival of the Portuguese in India about 500 years ago, bilateral diplomatic ties were only established in 1974-75. Since then, bilateral ties have progressed tremendously, both politically and culturally, but their economic and strategic aspects hold higher potential.

Both India and Portugal are looking for new partners. Driven by their political and strategic compulsions, India is looking West and Portugal is looking South. 

While India will continue to pursue formal bilateral engagements with the member countries individually and bilaterally, CPLP provides an opportunity to forge a Lusophone partnership – “Portuguese-speaking niche diplomacy” with the member countries. These regions are of growing importance to India, especially in places where new Indian resident missions have been opened. 

In the field of investments and trade, infrastructure and renewable energy are two sectors that carry tremendous potential for bilateral cooperation. India may have easier access to sectors where it enjoys a comparative advantage, such as pharmaceuticals, medical, solar energy, railways, biotechnology, information technology, tourism, and hospitality.

As CPLP is Africa-centric, cooperation with India in areas such as food security, capacity building, and tropical health, would be of immediate interest. Other possibilities are the development of people-to-people linkages and Track-II engagement.

Strengthening Strategic Relationship

CPLP will enable a much closer strategic relationship for India with the member countries. Four key areas hold good prospects for deeper cooperation: multilateral cooperation; combating terrorism, defense cooperation, and maritime collaboration.

Cooperation with third-member countries such as Brazil, South Africa, and Portugal offers exciting possibilities. Academicians have talked about Portuguese expertise and leverage, Brazilian technology, and Indian capital coming together. 

Also Read: Whale Watching in Sao Tome

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Whale Watching in Sao Tome

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whale watching in Sao Tome
Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

SAO TOME and PRINCIPE: Sao Tome’s biosphere reserve is home to great biodiversity in terrestrial as well as in marine ecosystems. Sao Tome and Principe archipelago seems to be an important marine area for cetaceans. The reasons could be probably due to abundance of prey (fish and marine life) and the existence of shallow and protected bays.

In the southern part of the island, near the warm waters of Ilhéu das Rolas, it is common to see small groups of whales with their calves.

In the Bom Bom Island Resort of Principe, local fishermen and community area residents routinely report sightings of humpback whales.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

The best time to see humpback whales around Sao Tome and Principe is between July and October. During this period, these whales come to breed and nurse in these warm shallow waters before they get on to their migratory routes. 

In Sao Tome, one can watch the whales from vantage points above the blue lagoon. If one is lucky, it is possible to see the whales from close to the shore –particularly from Roca Belo Monte and Bom Bom Eco Lodge in Principe, and Mucumbli in Sao Tome.  

Divers and swimmers can see humpbacks and dolphins and hear them frolicking, communicating and singing !

Experienced divers with snorkeling equipment dive underwater and enjoy watching and eavesdropping on dolphin chatter.

Conservation and management of whaling

The Gulf of Guinea used to be dangerous waters for whales. The area was subjected to heavy whaling from the 18th to the 20th century.

Though commercial whaling was banned in 1959, there has not been a coherent marine protection policy in Sao Tome and Principe. In 1999, the Government of Sao Tome passed a law to protect the marine wealth of the islands. But the law was vague and general.

In 2001, a law regulating the use of marine resources i.e. fishing was passed. In 2003, a law was passed to regulate petroleum exploration activities. 

But no marine protection areas have been established in the country, despite the fact that these islands and its waters are  important habitats to many species. Humpback whales use these calm, warm waters as a nursery for their calves and the spotted and bottlenose dolphins call these waters their home.

The enormous marine potential of Sao Tome and Principe soon became apparent to many countries. In 2007, Japanese companies approached the Government of Sao Tome and Principe, inviting them to join the International Whaling Commission (IMC) and permit commercial and licensed whaling in these waters.

To their credit, the Government of Sao Tome resisted the temptation of foreign exchange and rejected commercial whaling as a viable option. Instead, they chose to heed the arguments of national and international NGOs such as Greenpeace and Global Ocean and wisely pursued a policy of eco-tourism based on these beautiful mammals. 

Marine mammal conservation

Since 2011, Sao Tome has pursued a policy to implement concrete projects to promote whale conservation and domestic eco-tourism.

However, a major stumbling block is the lack of maritime or coastal monitoring of its exclusive economic zone to halt illegal fishing by foreign trawlers. Secondly, no research has been undertaken towards a scientific study of the whale migration, especially in Principe.

Nevertheless, local tourism operators are very interested in investing in eco-tourism ventures, based on whales and turtles. During the season, many private foreign tour companies organize 2 to 3 hours whale watching trips between July and October.

However, tourism and eco-tourism in the islands continue to be limited due to structural and economic constraints.

Even during normal times, Sao Tome was among the least visited countries. Despite being one of the most enchanting places on earth, Sao Tome is still too remote, thanks to poor physical connectivity. 

Photo Credit: traveltours

The last two pandemic-ravaged years have seen the number of tourists to Sao Tome and Principe plummet to under 6000 per year, which is five times less the number before.

But what cannot be doubted is the deep empathy and concern shown by the average person on these islands for the well-being of the whales and the turtles.

The average person in the island is convinced that the humpbacks, the bottle-nosed dolphins and the Olive Ridleys are very much part of their marine heritage. This realization among the younger generation is enough to promote eco-tourism based on these wonderful animals on these blessed islands.

Also Read: The Majestic Turtles of Sao Tome and Principe

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The Majestic Turtles of Sao Tome and Principe

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Turtles Sao Tome
The Archipelago of São Tomé and Príncipe is an important breeding and feeding area for five of the seven species of sea turtles in the world. Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

SAO TOME and PRINCIPE: The Archipelago of São Tomé and Príncipe is an important breeding place for five of the seven endangered species of sea turtles in the world- The Green Turtle,  Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Leatherback and the Loggerhead.

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

These five species not only play a crucial role in maintaining marine biodiversity in the Gulf of Guinea, but also attracts tourism on which the local economy depends. 

The critical nesting period

During the period between November and February each year, hundreds of Olive Ridley, Green and Hawksbill turtles can be seen emerging from the blue ocean and heading furiously towards the idyllic beaches of São Tomé and Príncipe. Their single most mission: To dig nests and lay eggs.

For tourists and nature lovers, this is the ideal time to witness this enchanting egg laying spectacle. During March, the newly hatched babies can be seen instinctively racing towards the blue seas to catch the salty waves for their very first time.

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

Scientists say that these turtles return to the same beach every three years. Sometimes, they  visit the same sites more than once in each season to lay eggs.  Turtles require quiet, clean and unhabited beaches to nest or else they can get disoriented.

Undisturbed beaches are becoming rare even in the desolate special islands of São Tomé and Principe. But the favourite traditional nesting or breeding grounds are  are Morro Peixe, Port Alegre  Bom Bom and Micolo.  The whole of Principe are good breeding grounds.

But the question is, how many mother turtles survive to lay their eggs, how many eggs actually hatch and how many baby turtles make it to freedom. 

In the absence of accurate statistics, it is hard to estimate the turtle population over the years on these islands. In 2014, according to a rough census by scientists, more than 2000 turtles were counted as making their way to lay eggs. But there is no regular census which can keep track of incoming turtles year on year.

But what is true is that this animal has been traditionally exploited for human consumption in the archipelago since the 15th century. 

Though turtle populations suffered during Portuguese colonization, the turtle’s vestigial role in the cuisine of modern São Tome also played a part in their endangerment. Turtle meat may not be a staple, but its meat and eggs do tend to figure on the dining tables in Sao Tome and Principe. It is not uncommon that some people celebrate special occasions by cooking a stew called calulu that includes sea-turtle meat. 

Law banning trade and consumption

In Sao Tome, sea turtles have been considered an exotic food and jewels source. These threats have led to a decline of sea turtle population in the region, reaching critical levels. Until 2015, it was possible for the people of Sao Tome to buy and sell turtle meat in open markets, just as they would buy fish. In the same year, the government promulgated a law banning possession and trading of turtle meat. But poor implementation and oversight created no impact. However, now, the mindsets are shifting on the remote island of Príncipe, where communities are joining the fight to protect sea turtles.

Conservation efforts from the grassroots levels 

Fortunately, in the last decade or so, there have been many instruments of social change and other voices in Sao Tome that have focused on turtle conservation.

Programa Tatô,  an NGO,  has been successful in involving local communities in its conservation efforts. It has been able to raise the consciousness of the people about the reasons for the endangered status of these turtles. This realization of the coastal communities at the grassroots level has helped bring about change consumption behavior and curb the local market for turtle meat.

Photo Credit: Programa Tatô

Programa Tatô approached Seria, a famous popstar in Sao Tome, who obliged by belting out a turtle friendly song  “Mem di Omali,” or “Mother of the Sea”. He sang “My people, let the sea turtle live. She was born in São Tomé, traveled throughout the world and returned to lay her eggs in this country.” The song was broadcast across the island’s state-run TV and radio and somehow managed to touch a tender chord among the younger generation in Sao Tome. Seria actually managed to take the turtle off the dinner table.

FTP’s efforts to protect marine turtles in the island

Fundação Príncipe Trust – FPT, another NGO, has been supporting the government and communities to ensure that the culture and bio-diversity of Príncipe is protected.FPT’s conservation project ensured strict patrolling of the island’s seas, (by boat and on land);  controlling poaching; collecting nesting data, tagging females and recording their behavior. 

In the north of São Tomé, at Morro Peixe and Micolo, all nests are carefully moved from nesting sites to hatcheries as this is the only way to protect them.

Beach and sea rangers, who were previously turtle fisherman, are now paid to protect the turtles and not fish them.

FPT also initiated an environmental awareness campaign called Zero Capture to disseminate understanding of the species’ threats and conservation to all of the islands’ schools and fishing communities. 

Another concrete initiative was that the money received from tourists at the nesting beaches and the Turtle Museum was allocated to a community fund. The communities that best illustrated sustainable and responsible behaviour, were awarded funds to improve their fishing gear and fix their community water fountain etc. 

In Príncipe, beach rangers on Praia Grande are supported by the Príncipe Trust and half of the money that the tourists spend goes directly to the trust.

Through such an approach, the communities realized that they were benefiting directly from their actions to protect and conserve the turtles. 

Photo Credit: Fundação Príncipe Trust – FPT

Such efforts have spawned a new generation in Sao Tome, which understands the key role that sea turtles play in the ecosystem. More importantly, the young Sao Tomean understands that the turtle is more valuable when alive than dead. 

The conservation and protection of marine turtles is one of the Islands’ flagship examples of integrated community work to protect a species.

The size of the sea turtles’ population and the variety of species in Sao Tome and Principe, makes turtle-based tourism attractive for international tourists. This kind of ecotourism maybe a sustainable solution for the promotion of the tourist potential of these islands.

Also Read: Obo Natural Park: Sao Tome’s Biologically Diverse Ecosystem

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The Roca Plantations of Sao Tome and Principe Provide a Poignant Sense of Their Colonial Past

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Roca plantations Sao Tome
During the 19th and 20th centuries, when São Tomé was an important producer of cocoa and coffee beans, there were up to 150 rocas in activity on the island. Photo Credit: Google Images

SAO TOME and PRINCIPE: The historical plantation estates ‘Rocas’ of Sao Tome and Principe are a world by itself. A walk into any plantation provides a captivating and poignant sense of the colonial past and their present.

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

Historically, Sao Tome has attracted foreign settlers due to its geographical location, fertile land and its potential to become a major agricultural base.

The Portuguese, who were the early settlers, established plantation estates across large swathes of green lands in the islands to grow sugarcane. They employed locals to work in the rocas.

A world of rocas

The word ‘Roca’ is pronounced as ‘raw sa’. During the 19th and 20th centuries, when Sao Tome was an important producer of cocoa and coffee beans, there were around 150 rocas in activity on the island.

The rocas were plantation estates with a centralized management, and dedicated to the production of crop only (sugar cane in 16th century, cocoa and coffee in 18th century).

The biggest rocas could employ few thousand people and had their own churches, hospitals, offices, processing shacks, train tracks etc. They were usually self sufficient in food production, and provided housing quarters to the workers.

Though these rocas were self-contained and self-sufficient entities, they mostly served the owners. The local laborers were practically used as slaves.

For a short period in the middle of the 16th century, Sao Tome and Principe managed to enjoy the status of the world’s largest producer of sugar. But due to better quality sugar produced by Brazil and its own inferior cane, sugar cane industry got destroyed in Sao Tome.

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

But after Brazil became free in 1822,  coffee and cacao cultivation were introduced in Sao Tome and Principe in early 19th century. During the first two decades of 20th century, Sao Tome again became famous as one of the world’s largest coffee and cacao producer.

Sao Tome’s prominence led to the sudden expansion of the plantations on these islands. However, this activity coincided with the abolition of slavery in 1875. The Portuguese plantation owners started recruiting “contract workers” from Angola and Cape Verde.

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

The hidden costs of forced labour on the cocoa plantations of São Tomé and Príncipe during the period 1875-1914 were soon exposed. The living and working conditions of these indentured laborers were so pathetic, that the enslaved workers either escaped bondage and fled to the mountains or raided the plantations.

It is clear that the Rocas were never run on scientific and commercial lines. Instead they were based on slavery and exploitation and therefore, were doomed for failure right from the beginning.

Around 1920s, there were over 150 large ill managed plantations growing coffee and cacao. But the first thing that Sao Tome did after becoming a free nation in 1975 was to nationalize these plantations.

Photo Credit: FAO

Due to the high nationalistic sentiments, this was a very popular decision at that time. The people of the country viewed the decision as a closure to a dark chapter of their past.

Nevertheless, when they inherited them, these plantations were valuable assets for Sao Tome at that time. They could have helped to kick start its nascent economy. Unfortunately, the free government’s inability to inject or attract investments into the plantations witnessed a steep drop in production. This led to gradual decay of these facilities.

As on date, very few of these estates are operating at optimum levels. Some of them have been converted into luxury hotels and resorts, which stand side-by-side with poor local communities living in the same  laborers’ quarters built years ago. Some of them lie in various stages of disrepair.

Photo Credit: Google Images

Roça Agostinho Neto is the biggest and most impressive plantation in São Tomé. The photo of this plantation was printed on the back of the old 5,000 Dobra note until 2018.  It was the largest producer of cocoa, coffee, coconut and bananas. This was also perhaps the best maintained estate. It gives us a fair idea as to how it was back then.

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

The old railway tracks are still there. There is an avenue which has old buildings on either side. One of them still houses a fruit processing unit. The sweeping views from the first floor of the ancient looking hospital building are to die for.

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

The Roça Água Izé Água Izé is by far the most visited and most photographed.  Only a half hour drive from the capital, this plantation is one of the largest. This is where commercial cocoa production first started in the mid-19th century. In 1884, Água Izé had 50km of internal railway lines running through its 80 km area. A specialty of this estate was that it then housed one of most modern hospitals in West Africa. A great view of the islands awaits the visitor from the hill top.

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

The Roça São João has been turned into an ecotourism culture hub. The ruins of Hospital da Criação lie desolately in a corner of the estate. Roça Uba Budo is where one can see the whole process of cocoa production.

Roça Nova Moca is perhaps the most active plantation in the island. Perched at an altitude of 1000m, Nova Moca plantation grows most of the island’s coffee for export. I was told that this estate was the venue for experimenting with new agricultural initiatives in the island. Claudio Corallo, an Italian entrepreneur, revived the coffee culture here.

Roça Sundy in Principe island, has a special place in scientific history. It was on this estate that Einstein’s theory was proven right. Sundy is the biggest plantation and was the only coffee-producing plantation on Príncipe. Roça Sundy has been converted into a resort.

Memorial in honor of experiments carried out here in 1919 to find empirical evidence for the theory of relativity during a solar eclipse. Photo Credit: Google Images

Roça Belo Monte was built in grand Portuguese style. The Casa Grande mansion is beautiful from an architectural viewpoint. The museum, with all its contents, is steeped in history and can give a nostalgic feeling.

During my visits to some of these iconic plantations, I felt a heavy sense of colonial history on me. Not only did they transport me mentally to an era of slavery and exploitation, they also gave me a poignant insight into the daily struggles of the plantation workers.

These rocas also presented great photographic moments, each of which has its own story to tell. Sao Tome can leverage the history and culture of the rocas to introduce elements of its cultural past into its tourism marketing strategy.

Also Read: Obo Natural Park: Sao Tome’s Biologically Diverse Ecosystem

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Obo Natural Park: Sao Tome’s Biologically Diverse Ecosystem

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obo national park
The Obo natural park is the second most important in terms of biological interest among 75 forests of Africa. Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

SAO TOME and PRINCIPE: Obo Natural Park, also known by its original name Parque Natural Ôbo, is a natural, national and very important park which is located in the southern part of the island of Sao Tome.

Not visiting the Obo Natural Park, in the islands of Sao Tome and Principe, is like skipping Taj Mahal when touring Agra or missing out on Disneyland when visiting Orlando. 

This 300 sq km natural park is so immense that it accounts for 30% of the entire area of the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe. It is located in the Southern part of the island.  

Obo Natural Park: Home to virgin rainforests

Spread across the two islands, this enchanting and wild wilderness is a hybrid of lush primary rainforests, self-washed mangroves, swamps, savannah grasslands, lowland and mountain forests. This unique eco-system also supports a secondary rainforest, known to locals as capoeira, which contains abandoned plantations. 

The Obo Natural Park occupies a special place not just in Sao Tome, but in the entire African continent. According to international scientists, of the 4 islands on the Gulf of Guinea, the Sao Tome archipelago contains the richest diversity of flora, with very high rates of endemism. 

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

In 1988 scientists classified the forests of Sao Tome and Principe as the second most important in terms of biological interest of the 75 forests of Africa. The flora in Obo Natural Park includes over 100 kinds of orchids, and over 700 species of flora overall. 

Naturally, such a diverse floral wealth supports a vibrant bird community. More than 230 bird species are found in the national park. Some of the birds in the park include sun birds, parrots, grey shrike, waxbill, Sao Tome Grosbeak, dwarf olive ibis, pigeons, Sao Tome Scoop owl, sun birds, waxbill etc. 

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

What is interesting is that half of the bird population is endemic to the Gulf of Guinea and 28 species to the islands of Sao Tome and Principe. This has intrigued scientists and ornithologists, who feel that this is an extraordinary number, considering the fact that small islands typically have just 1 to 2 endemic bird species. 

Photo Credit: Google Images

The high rate of endemicity in the forests of Sao Tome and Principe, prompted Birdlife International in the 1990s, to include it in the top 25 of “Endemic Bird Areas” (EBAs) of the world. These forests have since been included among the “Important Bird Area” (IBAs) of Africa. 

The Obo Natural Park is also home to 14 unique and endemic animals. Scientists have for long studied a rare species of shrew and three species of bats. Snakes, monkeys, turtles, wild cats and a wide variety of frogs. geckos make up the rest of the endemic animal species. 

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

The Obo Natural Park is about 3 hours from the city. The road to the park is interesting and a challenge in itself, going through the coffee farms and small villages. One will encounter some botanical gardens with a lot of plant species. 

After a few kilometers of amazing views of thick plantations, tourists are greeted by beautiful highlands and waterfalls. There are plenty of gorgeous features that Obo can offer visitors, especially the village of Bombaim, overlooked by the nation’s tallest summit, Bom Successo. 

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Bombaim is a couple of hours drive from the city centre. From Bombaim to Bom Successo is a 10 km trekking trail to the natural park. Though the trail is difficult primarily used for hiking and nature trips, it is still an excellent starting point to explore Obo.

A 6 km walk to the high altitude (1500 metres) crater lake of Lagoa Amelia can be highly educating, as the path is full of endemic plants and birds. 

Other points of interest on the descent of the trail are the high altitude primary forest, rivers, waterfalls, abandoned plantations and four dozen dwellers.

The Pico Cão Grande which is in the central part of the park is among the most well known landmarks. Also known as the Great Dog Peak, it is a solitary volcanic spire that rises high above the surrounding landscape. At 370 feet and looking like a natural skyscraper, it seems to rise eternally above the park area, which is surrounded by lush green forest. 

Pico Cão Grande. Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

The drive towards Pico Cao is smooth and the roads are empty enough to get amazing views of the Pico. However, to get to ground zero of the peak, it would require 6 to 8 hours hard trekking  across some thick vegetation. Climbing the peak is best left to professional climbers. 

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

The park is a perfect place for bird watchers and sturdy trekkers. The best season for both these activities is from October to March. Though the park initially attracted more interest among the scientific community, its’s designation as a nature reserve in 2006 sparked a touristic interest. 

All in all, the Obo Natural Park, with the iconic Pico Cao Grande in it, is a real treasure to be preserved and promoted, and which can put Sao Tome and Principe on the world tourist map.

Also Read: Five Traditional Houses Around the World That Are Perfect Embodiments of Individual Ethnic Cultures and Traditions

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Five Traditional Houses Around the World That Are Perfect Embodiments of Individual Ethnic Cultures and Traditions

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house
The Rumah gadang (“big house” in the Minangkabau language) is the traditional house of the Minangkabau ethnic group of Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo Credit: Pixabay

SAO TOME and PRINCIPE: From time immemorial, man had the primordial desire to protect himself from the elements. So, he created shelters using natural resources like stone boulders, trees and plants.

Even when living in a “natural primitive shelter” like a cave, he had the innate urge to express himself. So he drew animals, birds and other images on the rocks inside his shelter.

With the institution of marriage, kinship and tribe, homes became not just protection for family and material possessions, but importantly, symbols of identity of all kinds – tribal, tradition, culture, family and values. 

Just like the dresses, food habits, customs and languages, houses too became embodiments of culture and tradition. Culture and tradition influence the exterior appearance of a house and also the interior partitions.

In my sojourn in many parts of the world over the years, I had the privilege of sighting and visiting a bewildering variety of traditional houses made from different materials. 

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

Along with this, I got the privilege of learning about the stories surrounding many of them. So if you ever wondered what traditional houses look like in various countries, here are five of the interesting traditional houses from around the world.

The Yurt of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and Kyrgystan

The Kazakh Yurt is a traditional abode based on the nomad’s principle of communion with nature. That is why the nomadic Kazakhs built Yurts near-flat Steppes or high mountains or alpine meadows, so they can live in unison with nature. 

A traditional Yurt house. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Yurt is a portable hemispherical wooden structure draped tightly over by felt. Natural and renewable raw materials are used, along with leather materials. Both men and women make the exterior coverings and decorate the interiors with traditional zoomorphic, floral, or geometric patterns.

All festivities, ceremonies, births, weddings and funeral rituals are held inside a Yurt. Hence the yurt remains an abiding symbol of family and traditional hospitality, which are fundamental to the identity of the people of Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan.

Rumah Gadang House, Indonesia

The Rumah Gadang is the traditional house of the Minangkabau people”, living in West Sumatra, Indonesia. There are a few legends associated with the origin of this name, but the most compelling is a little folklore which is narrated to all visiting tourists.

According to the story, when the Minangkabau heartland was confronted by a small Javanese army, the Minangs cleverly persuaded the Javanese to hold a fight between their buffaloes
to decide the victor, instead  of getting into a real ground battle. So it that the Javanese would retreat if their buffalo lost and the Minangs would surrender if theirs lost.   

A  funniest and widely believed tale is that the Javanese fielded a giant buffalo while the Minangkabau deliberately chose a calf, that had been kept starving for some time. The Minangs also tied a sharp knife on the nose of the calf. So as the calf was set free, it made a natural dash to the female buffalo looking for milk. 

Rumah Gadang is a model of traditional house that is commonly found around Indonesia, this model is a reflection of local genius. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Not suspecting any danger from the calf, the giant buffalo’s motherly instinct allowed the calf to suckle, but in the process got knifed by the instrument tied to the calf’s nose. 

Thus the story of the victorious calf of MinangKabau. Even to this day, traditional houses in the region hoist a buffalo head at the top to signify a blessing to the visitor.

Batak house, Samosir Island, Indonesia

Batak architecture is a sight to behold. A traditional Batak house (‘Jabu” or Rumah bolon’) is a wooden construct made of special palm fiber. Made entirely without nails and anywhere between 40 to 60 feet tall, it has no doors and can only be entered using a ladder via a trapdoor through a raised floor or stilts. And No windows!

With sharp jutting rooftops, it is decorated with colorful mosaics and carvings of animals and birds (to denote fertility or protection of the
house). There is a water buffalo head looking down from the roof blessing visitors.

Batak house is known for its extraordinary roof section and its surface that is beautifully and meticulously decorated. Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

Communal Houses of Vietnam

Among the many types of traditional houses I found during my tenure in Vietnam, the Communal House was the most interesting. The Vietnamese are primarily agricultural. Unlike in nomadic cultures, they value their houses more than anything else.

The communal house simply oozes tradition and embodies the rich spiritual life of the Vietnamese. It serves an extended family comprising many generations or even a community.

A typical communal house has a large courtyard, the main house, and several sub-houses within the same property area. The Viet people have developed a style of architecture that incorporates natural features while being private, yet open.

The communal house is both the cradle of traditional arts and the village public house with many functions. Photo Credit: Google Images

Other common elements are a garden, a fish pond, a poultry and cattle breeding ground, and a drying yard, all secured by a gate. 


In essence, the communal house is highly self-sufficient and self-sustaining. Everything important in the lives of the Viets happens under this benevolent roof – births, marriages, festivals, feasts, deaths, and funerals. It is simply the soul of the Vietnamese commune.

The mud high rises of Hadramaut

Not many may have had the opportunity to visit Hadramaut as I did. Way back in 1990, I spent a few days admiring the muddy high-rise buildings of Mukalla city, which is the capital city of erstwhile South Yemen’s largest governorate, Hadhramaut.

Located in the Southern part of Yemen, off the Gulf of Aden, Hadramaut is renowned for its historical wall city comprising traditional Arab mud houses.

Some of the mud houses in the walled city were built in 300 CE.  The whole complex has been declared a heritage site by UNESCO. These mud houses are deemed to be excellent examples of sustainable architecture that fulfills the socio-economic needs of the community. 

Photo Credit: Salma Samar Damluji & Dawan Architecture Foundation

In all these countries, despite the onset of urbanization and modernization, the traditional houses have been preserved and introduced as part of tourist circuits.

Also Read: The Portuguese Connection between Indonesia, Goa and Republic of Sao Tome and Principe

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Nursultan is Central Asia’s Architectural Wonder

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Nursultan is Central Asia’s Architectural Wonder
Kazakhstan is the world's largest landlocked country, larger than Western Europe and 9th largest in the world | Photo Credit: Pixabay

KAZAKHSTAN: Nursultan, previously known as Astana, must surely rank as one of the world’s most astonishing cities. It rises like a phoenix out of a vast barren wilderness of the steppes of Central Asia’s Kazakhstan. After a three and half hour flight from New Delhi, little did I know that I would be accosted by startlingly alien surroundings in then Astana, 2013. The city looked incredibly clean and very sparsely populated (1 million).

Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country, larger than Western Europe and 9th largest in the world. For a country of its size, a population of 18 million is ridiculously low. The capital city of Kazakhstan was a small town meant as a prison camp for families of enemies of the erstwhile Soviet Union. In 1997, the former President Nursultan Nazarbayev shifted the capital away from the lively and cultural city of Almaty located on the eastern border with China. He then proceeded to build a greenfield capital to rival the best. Astana was renamed Nursultan after its former President in 2018.

Kazakhstan is so richly endowed with oil and mineral resources that one would expect everyone in the country to be a millionaire. But this middle-income country has poured billions of dollars into creating a capital city that is nothing short of a glittering marvel. Nursultan’s buildings are architecturally so futuristic that ‘The Guardian’ has called it the “space station in the steppes”, while others have used adjectives like “science fiction” or “weirdest capital, “bizarre” or “other-worldly”.

A tour of Kazakhstan

The Yessir river divides the city into the Right Bank and Left Bank. The Right Bank represents the old city where there are lingering traces of the charming old Soviet architecture and culture. The Left Side is where the modern glitter is. One of the most eye-popping buildings on the Left Bank is the Khan Shatyr, a giant tent-shaped super mall. Designed by British architect Norman Foster, it was built to resemble the traditional Kazakh nomadic house ‘yurt’.

The Khan Shatyr was constructed using the latest technology so that the building can maintain 20 to 25 degrees temperature inside, even though it is -20 or -40 outside, which is usually the case. With a monorail and a manmade beach on its top floor, it is quite a peculiar structure.

The Bayterek (meaning tall poplar tree) in the heart of the city is a monument as well as an observation tower. It embodies a folktale about a mythical tree of life and a magic bird of happiness. The bird, (Samruk) had laid its egg in the crevice between branches of a poplar tree.

The observation deck is 97m above ground level, corresponding to 1997, the year in which Astana became the capital. From its 2nd deck, the Bayterek offers a panoramic 360-degree view of Nursultan and beyond. A plaque invites visitors to place a hand in the imprint of a hand and make a wish.

The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, also known as the Pyramid, was built to host spiritual and other events. This was also designed by British architect Norman Foster. Nursultan has been hosting the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions with representatives from Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism & other faiths. Sri Sri Ravishankar had attended one such conference.

The Palace of Peace and Reconciliation. Photo Credit: amusingplanet

The boulevard leading up to the House of Ministries with two shiny golden towers on either side is another example of supreme architectural excellence. Though Nursultan is replete with flashy, unorthodox and grandiose buildings, it also reflects aspects of Kazakh culture. Examples of these are the Astana Music Hall and the Kazakh Concert Hall. The city’s gorgeous buildings provided ideal backdrops for holding several outdoor events, including the International Day of Yoga during summer.

The State Opera and Ballet Theatre “Astana Opera”, is the largest theatre in Central Asia. But what catapulted Nursultan on the world stage was its huge distinctive globe shaped “Nur Alem”, the Future Energy Musuem at the front of its Exposition Site. Nur Alem is the only building in the world in a form of a sphere, 100 meters tall and 80 meters in diameter. It houses eight floors, each dedicated to a different energy theme.

The State Opera and Ballet Theatre “Astana Opera” in Kazakhstan. Photo Credit: unsplash

The Nur Alem was designed by German architect Albert Speer Jr, who said that the building epitomizes the last drop of oil and the era when the humankind will switch to the future energy. Unlike in most other countries, there are no satellite or subsidiary towns surrounding Nursultan, that can provide support services. Instead the city limits lead to empty steppe grasslands, putting pressure on the city.

Nur Alem in Kazakhstan. Photo Credit: Google Images

Nursultan is the world’s second coldest city after Ulan Bator. For six months, the temperature hovers between -20/~40. In order to maintain sufficient and consistent heating and lighting to all its residents and establishments, enormous resources are invested, making it one of the most high-maintenance cities of the world. Despite its harshest of winters and its emptiness, the unique architecture and warmth of the residents of Nursultan (known as Astana during my 4 years in the city) has given me some of my warmest and enduring life memories.

Also Read: The Importance of Diversity and Inclusion to Improve Workplace Culture

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The Portuguese Connection between Indonesia, Goa and Republic of Sao Tome and Principe

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Sao Tome cocoa factory. Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

SAO TOME: Although Indonesia, Goa and Republic of Sao Tome are separated by several thousand miles and water bodies, these countries still share a ‘Portuguese’ connection between them. Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of São Tome and Principe (island nation off the Gulf of Guinea, West Africa), and the Indian state of Goa were Portuguese colonies in the past.

The three countries were ruled by the Portuguese rulers at almost the same time. The rulers gained dominance in Sao Tome in 1470, Parts of Indonesia in 1511 and Goa in 1511. Interestingly, all these countries got independence around the same time. Sao Tome gained independence in 1975, East Timor in 1975, and Goa in 1961.

The Portuguese were successful in Asia as they encountered little resistance from the Asian side. With their superior naval strength, they operated out of a network of fortified trading ports from Maluku to Malaka, Macau, Goa, the Persian Gulf, Mozambique, Angola, and Sao Tome.

While the Portuguese ruled Goa, their own country was ruled by Spain from the late 16th century for 60 years.

Portuguese invasion and its effects

The Portuguese entered Indonesia in 1511 thus becoming the first Europeans to do so. They arrived in Timor in around 1512 and 1522 and officially annexed the area as a Portuguese territory with the appointment of a Governor for Timor and Solor in 1702. 

The Portuguese continued to rule the country till the 1800s after getting ousted by the Dutch. However, they held on to East Timor until the latter declared freedom from Portuguese rule in 1975, thereby giving the Portuguese a 450-year reign in Indonesia.

Indonesia suffered serious disruption of trading routes and dislocation of commercial activities during the Portuguese reign.

On the other hand, Sao Tome became a hoarding place for the slave trade during the Portuguese reign. It suffered from social unrest leading to economic instability throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

Despite the abolition of slavery in the Portuguese colonies in 1876, Sao Tome continued to be subjected to forced paid labor, which led to deep dissatisfaction with the working conditions. The social upheaval caused by the native Forres heralded the freedom struggle for Sao Tome in 1975.

Goa, also shared a painful past as it underwent a religious conversion program by the colonizers on the native Goan population. Goa was taken over in 1511. The Portuguese rule in Goa lasted 450 years until they were driven away by the Indian army in 1961. This led to widespread misery, exploitation, deaths, and destruction.

Why did the Portuguese colonize?

The main motives behind the Asian voyage of Portuguese rulers were the search for spices and to spread the ideas of Christianity that were the guiding factors for Portuguese invasions in Goa and the East Indies. 

In Indonesia, the Portuguese were enamored by the exotic spices of the Maluku Islands, also known as the “Spice Islands”. In these islands, spices like nutmeg and cloves can still be found in abundance.

Cloves and powdered nutmeg. Photo Credit: Pixabay

As the first Europeans to arrive in the East Indies, the Portuguese were keen to dominate the sources of spices by curtailing the network of Muslim traders. The Portuguese were initially not successful as they got entangled in hostilities among indigenous kingdoms on Java. But they soon learned to work with the local traders and became successful in Moluccas, Ternate, Ambon, and Solor.

Author Merle Severy has addressed this in National Geographic: “After the discoverers became conquerors, they learned it was more profitable to regulate Muslim trade and tax it. The Portuguese took their biggest profit from inter-Asian trade—selling Arabia’s stallions to warring Indian princes, carrying cotton textiles around the Bay of Bengal and Timor’s sandalwood to China, and bartering China’s silk for Japan’s silver.”

In the case of Goa, when Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama discovered a direct sea route from Europe to Asia in 1497, it enabled the Portuguese to bypass the Middle East land and sea trade routes, which were controlled by Islamic states.

Goa was already the heart of the Portuguese Empire in the East with a huge spice trade. Within Asia, spices and other goods were exchanged for gold, silver, textiles, and rice. Portuguese ships plied their trade goods between Goa and Lisbon, Goa and Macao, and Goa and Nagasaki.

Basilica of Bom Jesus, a Portuguese architecture in Goa. Photo Credit: Pixabay

The Portuguese simply chanced upon the inhabited islands of Sao Tome and Principe in 1470. The Portuguese had already colonized Madeira (1420), the Azores (1439), and Cape Verde (1462) in the Atlantic off the coast of West Africa. These islands were very useful strategic points for Portuguese ships that crisscrossed their empire.

But they were keen for a base even closer to the lucrative trade markets in the southern part of West Africa. The two uninhabited islands of São Tomé and Principe became ideal candidates for such a base. After settlements, the Portuguese indulged in the slave trade and human exploitation for running the sugar and cacao plantations in Sao Tome and Principe.

The Portuguese were not just motivated by trade and the spread of Christian values. They were conscious of their strong military strength, highly skilled exploratory nature, and supreme maritime capabilities. These advantages enabled them to build many trading posts across the globe. This realization later led them to control trading routes, build new political structures and establish empires.

The Portuguese legacy

Though the number of years of Portuguese reign in all the three places has been more or less the same. But, its impact on each of them has been varied.

Portuguese influence has been most pronounced in the islands of Sao Tome and Principe even today. The entire population of Sao Tome speaks Portuguese and upto 95% of the population is Christian. The architecture found in the country is predominantly Portuguese.

One can find the city dotted with villas of colonial heritage hugging the city coastlines. The economy and society of SaoTome is even today closely intertwined with Portugal. People of  Sao Tome study and seek medical treatment in Portugal.

Sao Tome. Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

Goa has certainly been influenced by Portuguese culture –art, architecture, culture, food, ethnicity, music, literature, etc. Goa has diligently maintained the 17th-century Portuguese mansions, heritage houses, and churches. However, just 25% of the Goan population is Christian.

A house with a hint of Portuguese architecture in Goa. Photo Credit: Pixabay

It is important to note that Goa has been a multicultural society before and after Portuguese rule. Interestingly, till now, the older generation in Goa speaks Portuguese.

In the case of Indonesia, one might say that the height of Portuguese missionary activities occurred only in the latter half of the 16th century. By that time, the Portuguese had somewhat consolidated their position.

Consequently, their East Asian interest was shifting to their existing colonies in India, Sri Lanka, Japan, Macau, and China. Their sugar trade in Brazil and the Atlantic slave trade which extended up to Sao Tome, in turn further distracted their efforts in the East Indies. By 1575, the Portuguese presence in the East Indies was reduced to Solor, Flores, and Timor ( Portuguese Timor). 

Indonesian church. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Therefore, the Portuguese influence on Indonesian culture has been underwhelming, mostly limited to the romantic keroncong guitar ballads, some Indonesian words, and family names in Eastern Indonesia with Portuguese sounds. Christian influence too has been limited and restricted to communities in some Eastern islands.

Looking back at the exploratory voyages and subsequent conquests of the Portuguese, it would appear that globalization began with them. After 500 years of Portuguese rule, the Christian communities in all three places have continued to exist till today and contributed to a sense of shared interest with modern Portugal.

Also Read: The Enthralling Southern Trail of Sao Tome

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Einstein’s Theory Proven Right in Sao Tome and Principe

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Einstein
Representational Image. Photo Credit: Pixabay

SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE: The remote São Tomé and Príncipe on the West coast of Africa has much more than natural beauty, exotic flora and fauna, sun-kissed beaches, and dark chocolates. It is connected to Albert Einstein in a way most people might not imagine. Roca Sundy plantation in Principe island is a part of world scientific history.

Roca Sundy’s Einstein connection

Roca Sundy’s place in history was to take an unexpected turn when it became linked to one of the most important scientific discoveries of the last century.

It was in these coffee plantations north of the equator on the lovely island of Principe, where in May 1919, Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity was proven here by Sir Arthur Eddington, an English astronomer, and physicist, while observing a solar eclipse. His conclusions were based on the curvature of light rays, or the deflection of light, which proved that space and time were not absolute, as Newton had claimed.

This happened on 29th May 1919. When Albert Einstein published his Theory of Relativity in 1915 in Germany, he revolutionized the framework of knowledge of physics, overthrew existing notions of space and time, and upset Newton’s theory of gravitation.

Conflicting theories: Einstein vs Newton

One of the key tenets of general relativity is that space is not static.  The motions of objects can change the structure of space.

Einstein put forward a different view of gravity as opposed to that propounded by Sir Isaac Newton. As per Newton’s theory, all objects exert a force that attracts other objects. That universal law of gravitation predicts the motion of planets as well as objects on Earth. This law is being applied in space technology.

But Einstein’s theory proves that Newton’s view of gravity was unable to predict all things, like Mercury’s peculiar orbit around the sun. According to astrophysicists, the orbits of planets shift over time, and Mercury’s orbit shifted faster than Newton predicted.

Einstein propounded that instead of exerting an attractive force, each object curves the fabric of space and time around them, forming a sort of inner well that other objects, including beams of light, fall into.

He gave the analogy of the sun as a bowling ball on a mattress, which creates a depression that attracts the planets closer. His theory did show that when the sun curves, it distorts nearby objects like Mercury.

Arthur Stanley Eddington, an astronomer interested in Einstein’s theory decided to prove it. According to him, the best way to prove was to observe and detect deflections or bending of light that the gravity of the Sun might cause during a total solar eclipse. 

The total solar eclipse occurred 100 years ago in 1919. Eddington traveled to the island of Príncipe which was close to the equator to find the perfect location from which to view a predicted eclipse.

He expected to capture starlight being shifted by the sun’s gravity, thus proving Einstein’s model of physics over Newton’s. The eclipse was necessary as it would be the only time he could view the light unobscured from the sun. He found the perfect spot in Roça Sundy, Principe Island.

On May 29, 1919, during a total solar eclipse, Einstein’s theory of general relativity was confirmed to be correct.

The solar eclipse allowed the two teams of British astronomers, one on the island of Principe – Arthur Eddington and Andrew Crommelin in Sobral, Brazil– to prove the gravitational curving of light theory, proposed in 1915 by Albert Einstein.

The island of Principe in Sao Tome and the Brazilian locality of Sobral marked the centenary of the proof of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity on 29 May 2019.

In Sao Tome and Principe, during the centenary celebrations, the Sundy Science Space Centre was inaugurated at the very same Roça Sundy plantation where the eclipse was viewed in 1919. 

Today the Space Centre stands as a recognition of the scientific, cultural, and historical heritage of the island of Principe. However, the plantation itself lies in a derelict condition.

Photo Credit: Raghu Gururaj

Three books commemorate the centenary: No Shadow of a Doubt by physicist Daniel Kennefick, Gravity’s Century by science journalist Ron Cowen, and science historian Matthew Stanley’s Einstein’s War.

Also Read: The Enthralling Southern Trail of Sao Tome

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SaoTome Philately Honors Indian Personalities and Landmarks with Special Postage Stamps

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This stamp was released to mark the 70th death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately

SAO TOME AND PRINCIPE. Sao Tome: The Portuguese colony of Sao Tome and Principe gained independence on July 12, 1975. Since then, as a free Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe, the island nation has been issuing postage stamps in large numbers on a variety of themes and countries.

The first postage stamps made their appearance in Sao Tome and Principe in 1869. The stamps were basically colonial types that were issued by Portugal for its colonies. 

The country has also been issuing topically oriented, colourful and interesting stamps primarily for stamp collectors.

The themes of the stamps have a mind boggling range – flora & fauna, butterflies to prehistoric creatures, space to battlefields, natural wonders to music, cultures and customs to Japanese nude paintings, world personalities, milestones and commemorative events.

 Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately


The bilateral engagement between India and Sao Tome is growing. However, there is only a small Indian community (less than 30) in Sao Tome and Principe. Besides, India’s resident Mission was opened just a year ago. And yet, far away Sao Tome has issued more than 50 stamps in celebration of India’s culture, personalities, achievements and milestones.

It is no surprise that a universal personality like Mahatma Gandhi figures prominently in several special stamps issued by Sao Tome.

A stamp on the occasion of International Year of Peace was issued in 1986 featuring Mahatma Gandhi.

The international peace day stamp featuring Mahatma Gandhi. Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately


On the occasion of 60th and 70th anniversary of India’s Independence, Sao Tome issued four stamps – one each on Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Gautama Buddha and Indira Gandhi.

Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately

In 2008, four special stamps were issued under the International Year of Reconciliation, which featured Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi along with Pope and Dalai Lama.

 Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately


Gandhi was also included under their ‘Humanities Series’, along with Mother Teresa and other world figures.

 Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately


It is clear that Sao Tome holds Mother Teresa in high esteem. In 2019, Saotome issued a special stamp to commomerate the 40th anniversary of Mother Teresa receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

 Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately


A very interesting stamp series was issued in 2014 that portrayed Jawaharlal Nehru with other important world personalities like Mother Teressa, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi and Queen Elizabeth in separate stamp issues.

 Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately


The life and achievements of India’s first women Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi have also been honoured by Saotome in their 2007 issues.

 Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately

However, out of all the stamps, one of the most heart-warming commemorative stamp series issued was the one recognizing the success of the Indian space program, especially INSAT 1C.

 Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately


Another stamp glorified the achievements of noted Indian space scientists, including former President Abdul Kalam, Mahatma Gandhi, Vikram Sarabhai and Rakesh Sharma (Chandrayaan 2009).

 Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately


A 2019 stamp was dedicated to the Nobel Prize winners of 2019, which included Abhijit Banerjee.

 Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately


Another 2019 stamp highlighted the achievements of Chess Grandmasters which included Indian-origin Grandmaster Anish Giri.  Anish Giri is a Russian born Dutch Grandmaster with Indian roots.

 Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately


There is also a stamp commemorating the arrival of Vasco da Gama in Vasco and the Portuguese-Goa connection. Vasco da Gama often shortened to Vasco, is a city in Goa named after the Portuguese explorer.

Both Goa and Sao Tome being former Portuguese colonies, it was expected that Sao Tome Philately would underline that connection.

 Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately

It is also gratifying to note Sao Tome published two iconic stamps in 2013 to celebrate the success of Bollywood cinema featuring Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan, Veteran singer Asha Bhosle, Indian nightingale Lata Mangeshkar, Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, and some actresses.

 Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately
 Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately

The stamp series on Indian Railways is also significant as it is an acknowledgement of its contribution to Indian economy.

 Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately

But two special stamps might evoke immense interest among most Indian readers.

Perhaps an indication of international interest in the Indian festivals of Navratri and Durga Puja, Sao Tome issued a special stamp on 21 May, 2015 on Goddess Durga.

 Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately


The limited edition collectors’ stamp commemorates both Navratri and Durga Puja. The stamp depicts Goddess  Durga sitting atop a tiger and includes special features such as a velvet effect and Swarovski crystals. Only 1,500 copies of this odd shaped miniature sheet with a round stamp, were issued.

The stamp about the commemoration of 390th Anniversary of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj issued in 2011. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was the founder of the Maratha Empire in western India. He is considered to be one of the greatest warriors of India.

 Photo Credit: SaoTome Dept of Philately

It is inexplicable that several obvious themes and ideals that exemplify India’s soft power (Yoga, Ramayana, Diwali, Tea medicine, etc) have been overlooked.

But Sao Tome Philately has done well to publish some iconic stamp series that does capture important milestones and achievements of Independent India.

Also Read: The Ugly Secret of Sao Tome’s Chocolate Industry

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