Initiatives Urban Humanities and Their Publics

Hope the Pitanga Cherries Grow: An ethnographic look at Luanda

One young boy holding another younger child and smiling

On November 7th, Angolan filmmaker, poet, and writer, Ondjaki, spoke to students of NYU’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis about his documentary Hope the Pitanga Cherries Grow. Presenting a vivid portrait of Luanda, the capital city of Angola, and its many colorful inhabitants, Ondjaki explores a focus on the individual under the “weight” of a global city.
Hope the Pitanga Cherries Grow’s ambition is simple, yet subtly complex—an attempt to give voice to the Luandan people and each resident’s complicated relationship with the ever-moving city. In the discussion co-hosted by Professor Ricardo Cardoso after the screening, Ondjaki made the claim that his film is all about the “people, people, people.” He defined his objective as moving beyond the singular narratives of his award winning novels like Os transparentes (“The Transparent Ones”) that also explore his native birthplace.

Defining Luanda as both a “survival lab” yet also “the world’s biggest fun fair,” Ondjaki draws upon Luandan scholars, musicians, taxi drivers, and everyday citizens to express their intricate experiences in a city of struggle and hope, hardship but nonetheless, happiness. In many ways, this polarized narrative defines the eclectic Angolan city as a whole.

Through an ethnographic lens, the film initially depicts the chaos and confusion of the city, compounded by the lack of laws and infrastructure. Abandoned children and crime go hand-in-hand, exacerbated by years of civil war and displaced child soldiers. A colonial lineage followed by Cold War conflict destabilized the entire African region. Yet, despite it all, the film portrays the Luandan people as resilient, finding structure in music, sports, kinship, and the non-stop ebb and flow of the city. Through a series of interviews conducted over the course of a month, Ondjaki espouses the complex, almost contradictory distinctiveness of Luanda to the daily lives of its robust residents.

The documentary’s subjects speak naturally to the camera or to each other, framed with everyday shots of Luanda and the unfiltered buzz of its people. Rappers chat, resting their backs against the walls of their own homes, and unravel the lyrics and melodies of their favorite songs. Partiers dance and shout in the middle of bumper-to-bumper streets on the weekends. An ex-nun questions a young girl bouncing a baby on her lap about her parents. Hope the Pitanga Cherries Grow reminds its viewers that “forgetting” is Luandan. The economic inequality and injustice that affects the city is only one part of its fluid identity, defined much more by the experiences of its people triumphing over struggles. In fact, to be Luandan, is not only forgetting but also “constructing.”  It is to create an identity coupled with the strife of the city but also its vibrancy, life, and perpetuity.

— Monica Santos, NYU