Monumental Relations: Connecting Memorials and Conversations in Rural and Urban Malanje, Angola

  • Aharon De Grassi San José State University


Angola’s staggering oil wealth and histories of conflict and inequality make for tempting
binary narratives of power and exploitation, which, however, suffice neither for
accuracy nor action. This article uses a relational geographical perspective to go beyond
simple binaries by jointly analysing the central 4 February Plaza in the heart of
Malanje City, and the proposed new rural memorial for the Baixa de Kassanje revolt
located east of the city in Kela Municipality. Drawing on news, ethnography and
historical records, I situate the 4 February Plaza in the city’s broader history of settler
colonialism and point to its current tensions, ironies and practical and political uses
in the city’s daily geography. The Kassanje memorial is relatively unknown and has
languished since a first pilot model village was announced by President Agostinho
Neto during a 1979 visit. I discuss plans and media coverage about building a
Kassanje village project and a new memorial and monument, as well as constructing
new housing and social infrastructure in the area. I also examine claims to reestablish
4 January as a national holiday for martyrs of colonial repression (including
in Kassanje) and to provide military pensions to people affected by the Kassanje
revolt. Analysis shows how such plans and discussion of the revolt reveal both diverse
voices in conversation as well as significant changes in dominant narratives about the
revolt. More generally, the Kassanje discussions points to rural geographies of nationalism
(and their accompanying monuments), which entail their own specificity
as well as connections with urban areas. Similarly, understanding both monuments
in their provincial contexts – and likewise their connections with Luanda – can provide
new perspectives to work that has focused on Luanda and larger cities.