Discovered in 1475, the exotic São Toméan archipelago stands out as a beautiful and enchanting tropical paradise in the Atlantic Ocean off the West African coast. Portuguese influence from its colonial past is a dominant feature in its socio-cultural life, and it can be seen in its various celebrations.
Without a doubt, the most original popular culture of São Tomé revolves around its traditional plays known as Tchiloli. Combining drama, dance, and music, Tchiloli was inspired by the European medieval plays recounting the feats of Charlemagne. These plays were brought to São Tomé for the purpose of entertaining the Portuguese settlers but were subsequently copied by the slaves who added elements of the local traditional rites.
These Tchilolis are often staged in village squares and can last for up to six hours. They are free to attend and it usually involves audience participation. Sometimes, scenes are replayed. Written by a blind 16th century Madeiran poet, the Tragedy of the Marquis of Muntua and the Emperor Charlemagne is often considered the most important Tchiloli.
However, it is the annual Auto de Floripes held in mid-August that brings thousands of visitors to the archipelago. A genuine epic street theater, the Auto de Floripes or Feast of St Lawrence is the number one cultural attraction in Principe and it involves the entire population of the island in the re-enactment of the battle between Christians and Moors.
The story centers on the attempt by the Christians to recover the holy relics stolen by the Moors who demand that Emperor Charlemagne pays homage to the local gods or hang from a tower. The Emperor, in turn, sends an emissary to the Moors enjoining to convert to Christianity and return the stolen relics. The streets of Principe become the stage as the scenes unfold over a three-day period.
•By Mariam Chiazor
•Culled from www.afrotourism.com