Discover São Tomé Culture & Lifestyle

Explore the “Leve Leve” Lifestyle…

Why is life so surprisingly different in São Tomé? Various answers have been proposed, but none are definitive. Some claim it’s because one can hardly leave, while others attribute it to the centuries-long shaping of the people’s temperament with limited foreign influence. Generally speaking, “leve leve” means “go slowly” or “take it easy.” At a crossroad, you’ll find people gently waiting for the other car to pass first; “leve leve” embodies a “no stress” attitude.

A Tasteful and Original Gastronomy

What vegetables and exotic fruits are found in São Tomé? Thanks to abundant rains and incredibly fertile volcanic land, São Tomé is teeming with food. The Portuguese cleverly introduced fruits and vegetables from South America, Europe, and Africa, ensuring no shortages. At the local market, a variety of fish and exotic fruits await: peixe andala, fumo, voador, peixinho… cajamanga, corrosol, Chinese lemon, and amazing peaches. On the vegetable side, São Tomé boasts dozens of bananas and incredible green soccer balls hanging from high trees, providing the potato-like “breadfruit.” Don’t forget cassava, sweet potato, coconut, tropical almond, and the renowned coffee and chocolate, both 100% natural and globally appreciated!

Coffee, Cocoa, and Plantations

A big part of the population lives in rural areas (mostly mountainous) in plantations named “roça” (the equivalent of Fazenda in Brazil) and descends from workers in the cocoa and coffee plantations which were introduced in São Tomé in the mid-19th century. These people are usually friendly and welcoming to foreigners as they see an opportunity to make new friends and get close to European culture. The workers’ lives are rhythmed by plantation work in the morning, and other activities in the afternoon (some shops, personal vegetable gardens…). You’ll easily find fresh palm wine when you visit these villages, do not hesitate to give it a try!


Fishing Culture

How is the fishing culture? Are there many fishermen villages in São Tomé? The first fishermen’s village was established in the 20th century by a group of free men who had just escaped from a slave ship. Since then, São Tomé has a rich history of fishing. Santomean fishermen use nets, lines, and harpoons to bring in a great variety of fish daily, from “andala” (swordfish) to “voador” (flying fish), and also “choco” (cuttlefish) and “polvo” (octopus).

Culture, Religion, and Art

Due to Portuguese influence, the majority of Santomean people are Christian Catholics. Some adhere to new churches, and there is a small Muslim community, along with remnants of voodoo traditions. Most shops are closed on Sunday and Saturday afternoons. You can visit the famous Cathedral in the center, climb inside the bell tower, and get an interesting view of the city. Almost every city or village has a name derived from religious influence, and its patron saint is celebrated annually. São Tomé refers to Saint Thomas, Neves to “snow” (Our Lady of the Snows), Trinidad to the Holy Trinity, Guadalupe to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Santa Catarina to Saint Catherine, and so on. Nearly every weekend hosts a patron saint party somewhere on the island.

Meet the Santomean People

São Tomé is one of the friendliest countries in Africa. People are polite, well-educated, and very welcoming to foreign tourists. When passing by car in small villages, you’ll see people waving at you, and children asking for “doce,” meaning “candies.” In this regard, we encourage you not to adhere to the “tradition” of bringing candies to children. If you’d like to provide support, offer educational and recreational items like notebooks, colored pencils, or balls or contact a local Association (see our partner CACAE local Youth Education non profit Association)

Some of my friends once engaged in trading with the kids on the beach. “Here are some foreign snacks, what can you trade with me?” The kids rushed to the coconut trees and the fisherman’s boat, offering fresh coconuts and octopus in exchange for snacks, which we grilled and enjoyed on the spot.

Remember the famous saying: “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.”