The tale of an unknown revolutionary
CHRISTINE MACHADO | NT BUZZ
From times immemorial Goans and those of Goan origin have made their mark in different spheres of life. But while some have found much recognition, others, despite their valuable contributions sometimes remain obscured.
Frederick Noronha, of the publishing house 1556 happened to stumble across the name Sita Valles while he was researching on Portugal and Portuguese people. Intrigued by the Indian name, he dug up a little more and found that not only was she a revolutionary of Goan origin(with roots in Nerul and Sant Inez) but that a book Sita Valles: Revolucionaria Comunista Ate A Morte had been written by a Portuguese journalist Leonor Figueiredo back in 2014. Figueiredo was apparently asked to write a book on Valles by the latter’s old friend Zita Seabra, a fellow revolutionary.
Noronha then reached out to Dave Smith, who has been a translator since 2016, who decided it was definitely worth a translation.
From Houston in Texas, Smith learnt Portuguese at the Brazilian Cultural Centre and has previously translated two books around Goa authored by Orlando Costa and Laxman Rao Sardessai.
Sita Valles: Revolucionaria Comunista Ate A Morte, he says, took him about a year to work on.
“Sita’s parents were from Goa and migrated to Angola in 1949. Sita was born in 1951 and began studying medicine in Luanda in 1968. She later chose to continue her medical studies in Lisbon,” says Smith.
In Lisbon, she became involved in political activity and was the student leader of the Uniao Dos Estudantes Comunistas (Communist Student’s League). “The Portuguese Communist Party was an underground group but was probably the only real opposition to the Salazar regime,” believes Smith.
Following the overthrow of the Salazar regime, Valles returned to Angola in the summer of 1975. “The communist party did not want her to go back and meddle in Angola’s business but she cut off all ties with the party and went back,” says Smith.
While the MPLA was in power in Angola, there were various factions within the party which had a difference of opinion with each other and against the president Agostinho Neto. Valles was considered to be part of the ideologically more orthodox wing of the MPLA seen as pro Soviet which was directed by Nito Alves and Jose Van Dunem (Valles partner with whom she had a son). On May 27, 1977, a coup was launched which was said to have been masterminded by Valles. While the attempt was foiled with the support of the FAR (the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces) then stationed at Angola, following an attack on the life of Neto, there was a major retaliation where all his followers and sympathisers were arrested and killed.
“It is not clear whether the coup was the reason for the killing that followed or was just used as an excuse by the MPLA to get rid of the opposition. And while there is no official body count, it is said that 10,000-20,000 were killed,” says Smith.
And Valles’ family was not spared. Her elder brother was also arrested and killed on account of being her family. Her younger brother, Edgar Valles, a lawyer and former head of the Casa de Goa in Lisbon managed to escape as he happened to be in Portugal at the time.
Valles is said to have tried escaping via the Soviet embassy, although this was denied by the Soviet Union then. After she was caught and tortured, it is said that she remained rebellious until the last moment refusing to be blindfolded, forcing the snipers of the firing squad to meet her gaze before pulling the trigger.
“A lot of these details are murky including how she died. In fact there is no official statement of her death,” says Smith. Valles was 26 years old when she died. Her son who was three months old when she passed away is still alive.
(The book will be released on December 7, 2 p.m. at the Goa Arts and Literature Festival at the ICG. It is published by Goa 1556. The afterword has been written by Alina Saldanha, who is a first cousin)