The Batepá massacre began in São Tomé and Príncipe on February 3, 1953, when colonial administrators and Portuguese planters killed about 2000 forros, who are creoles of mixed African and Portuguese descent. Batepá was the town at the epicentre of the killings. In the time leading up to the massacre, unrest had been building up because the colonial government was instituting policies forcing forros to work on roças, which are cocoa plantations. Portuguese settlers arrived in São Tomé and Príncipe, islands off equatorial West Africa, in the late 15th century and started sugarcane plantations using slave labour from mainland Africa. After a slave revolt in 1595, the sugar industry in São Tomé declined and the islands became mainly a transit point for slave ships going to America. In the 1800s, Portuguese companies and farmers set up cocoa and coffee plantations.
By the early 1900s, São Tomé and Príncipe had become the world’s leading producer of cocoa, and there was a labour shortage on plantations. The forros refused to work on plantations because of the terrible working conditions. The colonial governor began to institute policies such as raising poll taxes and prohibiting the sale of palm wine, to impel forros to work on roças. At that time, rumours began to spread that the government was going to give the land of the forros to arriving Cape Verdeans and force the forros to be contract labourers. The forros began to protest and violence broke out when a police officer killed a forro. The colonial government blamed the unrest on communists and ordered the Portuguese colonists to protect themselves, which led to slaughtering of hundreds of forros, even though no communist plot was found after investigations by the Portuguese government. The Batepá massacre, however, sparked the rise of the independence movement in São Tomé and Príncipe. Furthermore, a holiday is celebrated every year on the islands on February 3 in memory of the victims of the massacre.
By Iyeyinka Kusi-Mensah
(Image: STP Press)