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The poetry of Agonstinho Neto (1922-1979) was largely a product of the time and place in which he lived, not surprising for any writer, but for one who would grow up to found the independent nation of Angola out of the remains of the former Portuguese colony, his poems are an often sad ode to the misery of that land both during the period of colonialization and during the civil war that followed.
Angola during under Portuguese rule was a depressing place. Additionally, unlike the British, who at least bequethed their former colonies a functioning governmental structure including a trained civil service, the Portuguese showed no interest in developing their colonies' economies and governing institutions. When Portgugal granted Angola its independence in 1974, following a 13 year war for independence on the part of the indigenous tribes, the country was a veritable ruin. The civil war that followed independence, and which drew in the United States, Cuba, South Africa, and the Soviet bloc, exacerbated the levels of destruction and left behind thousands of unexploded land mines.
In the context of the extreme poverty and minimal prospects for hope in which Neto lived, his indictment of "western civilization," immortalized in his poem, probably could not read any other way. The following description of poverty and despair speaks for itself:
"Sheets of tin nailed to posts/driven in the ground/make up the house. Some rags complete the intimate landscape...after twelve hours of slave labour./breaking rock/shifting rock/breaking rock...Old age comes early/a mat on dark nights/is enough when he dies gratefully of hunger."
The hopelessness and despair reflected in "Western Civilization" leaves little room for interpretation. Life under the Portuguese had no place in a civilization characterized by the freedoms traditionally associated with the phrase "western civilization." What it took for an "advanced" civilization to treat the less fortunate the way the colonizers did was a little difficult for Africans to comprehend.
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