The return of Portuguese colonists from Africa to Portugal in the 1970s
January 16, 2015 12:24 PM   Subscribe

This is a question about the return of hundreds of thousands of Portuguese colonists to Portugal after the African colonies became independent and the politics thereof.

In the mid-70s, Portugal's African colonies won their independence, after a long and drawn-out colonial war. In the aftermath of independence, hundreds of thousands of European colonists living in those African colonies left for Portugal. When I first read about this exodus, the first analogy that came to mind was the experience of the pieds-noirs in France, where many of the returnees bore a strong sense of bitterness over having to leave. They missed their former homelands and often felt estranged from mainstream French society.

Did something similar happen in Portugal after hundreds of thousands of Portuguese returned to Portugal from Africa in the 1970s? Were they as angry and disaffected? Did they form a group identity in Portugal the way that the pieds-noirs did in France? Or was the process of integration relatively painless?

Any thoughts?
posted by jason's_planet to Society & Culture (2 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The word you are looking for is "Retornados" (returnees) if you care to research it. I think there was a lot more of bitterness *against* them: they were perceived as racist and opportunistic (exploring colonies and colonised) and seen as an unfair burden on a very tight labor market. They were perceived as having a better, freer life than those living in Portugal under a tight, poverty apologist dictatorship.

I know a few "Retornados" who waxed lyrical about lost farmland and black servants but that was a minority. A lot of them will call themselves "Angolans". But, in general, I think, assimilation was quite straightforward even if there were prejudices. Many of them were recent transplants to Africa, encouraged by immigration policies in the early 60s. Many still had families and tight connections back in Portugal. I don't have numbers for you but a lot of those who didn't feel at home in the fatherland became immigrants in the US and Brazil.

Quite a few childhood friends had been born in Africa and their parents mostly missed a certain "tropical", careless, more "modern" way of life that the backwards, conservative little country of Portugal repressed. In fact, there was a stream of "Retornado" novels recently, memoirs about idyllic times, a bit too romanticised but still probably true in the general boasting of affluence, partying, drinking, sex. Usually claims are made of "being good" to the natives and there seems to be a mandatory declaration of non-racist sentiments.

It's all anecdata but I suppose there are some good sociology papers out there.

Funnily enough, with the recession and the booming economies of Angola and Mozambique, quite a few of these people went back to start businesses there. A few friends who had left Africa when they were 1 or 2 years old are working there and claim to feel at home.
posted by Marauding Ennui at 1:13 PM on January 16, 2015 [4 favorites]

Not an expert, but when I spent a month in Portugal in 1997 there were a lot of bars and restaurants around Porto that served as social meeting places for the displaced Portuguese from Africa. Also a lot of restaurants serving spicy chicken and playing African music. There was a general feeling of "saudade" - a peculiarly Portuguese morose sadness over loss - over the loss of colonies abruptly in the early 1970s, mixed with a feeling of relief that at least the abandonment of colonialism led to the end of fascism. There was a TV series playing at the time that focused on the experiences of ex-soldiers who had returned to a new Portugal after serving in the war in Mozambique.
posted by zaelic at 1:16 PM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

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