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War Spoils: the new documentaries about unsung heroes of the colonial war

War Spoils: the new documentaries about unsung heroes of the colonial war

It premieres this Saturday at OPTO and focuses on informants and fighters, but also those left behind.

More than 800,000 young people went to the war front.

It’s called “Despojos de Guerra” and is a new documentary series by journalist Sofia Pinto Coelho. Premiered on Opto, SIC’s streaming platform, this Saturday 19th February. There are four episodes in total, each about 50 minutes long.

The subject is the colonial war in Africa, which took place between 1961 and 1974 in the former Portuguese colonies and only ended with the revolution of April 25th. Through interviews and archival images, stories are explored of ordinary people who were in some way involved in the conflict and who represent different perspectives and aspects of this war.

The first episode focuses on Sebastiana Valadas. At the height of the war in Angola, this merchant woman and her husband notified the PIDE when the guerrillas went into the store to replenish supplies. The woman explains how everything worked and reveals how she became the victim of a reckoning during decolonization and was arrested.

“I met the character in the first episode in another report. And she started telling me her story. I realized that this woman’s story had to be told while she was alive,” Sofia Pinto tells Coelho NiT, explaining that this story was the starting point to tell others. “From then on, I became interested in the archives that were yet to be explored. It’s the usual conversation: How do Americans make so many films about Vietnam? We have some approaches, but there are other possible perspectives. The perspective that interested me was that of the common people, without academics, without politicians, without the military, without April 25th, they for themselves … relatively unknown.”

This second episode tells the story of former corporal Luís Silva. He was just one of thousands upon thousands of Africans – then Portuguese nationals – who fought for the national army against guerrillas and rebels. This phenomenon was not a rest, as Sofia Pinto Coelho explains.

“Almost a third of the war fighters were African. Everything that is discussed nowadays about racism and the nationality of the people who live here, many of them are children of these people who gave their bodies to the bullets for Portugal and the white Portuguese. In the final years of the war in Mozambique, more blacks than whites fought. Because most whites emigrated in the 1960s between half a million and a million young men of military age. To escape poverty or war, 200,000 to 300,000 simply deserted. In other words, we had no men to send into battle.”

He adds: “It is very depressing to see gentlemen who swore by the Portuguese flag, who took up Portuguese arms and who lost their nationality overnight with the 1975 amendment of the Nationality Act. And many, many are war wounded who have no idea they are entitled to disability benefits. Were abandoned, we turned around. There’s a kind of patriotic guilt.”

The third chapter of Spoils of War focuses on young people who have been sent to the front lines. This happened to around 800,000 young people in those years. In this case, the stories of pilot and aviator Miguel Pessoa and paratrooper nurse Giselda Antunes are told.

The fourth episode is about the “sons of the Tuga”, as they are often called in the former colonies. It is the mixed race, the result of relationships between Portuguese soldiers and African women left behind. Many of them are still trying to discover just over half of their DNA and identity, as in the case of brothers Elva and José Maria Indequi.

We asked Sofia Pinto Coelho why the colonial war is not a much-discussed topic in Portuguese society – in the US, for example, the conflicts in Vietnam or Korea have been widely reported in feature films and documentaries.

“There’s a kind of weird obliteration. Since this also coincides with April 25th, this has muted the theme of war. “We abolished that, let’s live democracy now”. And since then we have been living democracy in ecstasy. On the other hand, journalists, directors and authors also have a certain responsibility. The Spielbergs and the Coppolas could tell better stories than us. [risos]. Most people might think, “How awful, what a dry old thing.” And there is still a lot to be settled. It was an uncomfortable war. During World War II, the Allies sided with the righteous. The idea of ​​the brave and those who fought for a better world. This war turned out to be a war out of time. But when a person thinks of the children who were called and had to learn to kill and survive… Everything we see, from the sweats, the dramas, the loves, the disappointments, all the emotions are there. It counts them.”

Furthermore, all the discussions currently taking place in Portuguese society about racism and post-colonialism have to do with the way the colonial war took place. “That’s why it’s called ‘spoils of war’ because we inherited it. If we still have children and grandchildren of Africans who were Portuguese and some of them cannot get citizenship because they used a mobile phone or because they have registration. We forget that all of this is due to this war, which ended in an unexpected way, was not negotiated and then everything was resolved in a hurry.” This also contributed to many problems that the former colonies still have today as independent states.

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