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“They wanted
to build a company
of commandos
to bring the war
to an end”

Youth is eternal, frozen in time—“my time”. In “my time”, we are nearly always better looking, more tenacious, more fiery, we are nearly never scared, and we rarely think that our moment will pass. In remembering “his time”, Galé Jaló can’t help but talk about the years he spent in the Commandos. His eyes sparkle intensely and his smile, that starts as just a trace, quickly takes over his face: “I’ll never forget, not even now, how to present arms.

The Commandos weren’t just any troop, we were special, the most important men in Portuguese Guinea. We earned more than the common soldiers, we had money and prestige. Women would say: ‘Now here’s a real man’.”

Many men came back from the war in pieces, or never returned at all, but Galé Jaló, soldier of the Portuguese Guinea African Commandos 3rd Company, doesn’t focus on that: “The Commandos training was hard but, after three or four days, we got used to it and stopped being scared. We didn’t want any of the others to say ‘that one’s a coward’. Ah, I was in shape back then, just look at my logbook…” Youth is also about absolutes: you block out what you don’t want to remember and make it impossible for the present and future to equal its splendour.

Galé Jaló was working on the Saltinho Bridge construction, one of the big public works undertaken by the colonial administration in Portuguese Guinea, when a sergeant called him over and said: “You have to give your name to the Commandos or the Marines; if you don’t, you’re off to the Caravela island [one of the Bissagos Islands, where prisoners who defied State orders were held].”

In 1972, when the war was drawing its last breath, Galé went to Bissau to pick up his uniform and went on to the Fá Mandinga barracks, in the east of the country. There, the new recruits, now part of the Portuguese Armed Forces, came together and started their training to join the three companies of the Portuguese Guinea African Commandos Battalion—all of them hand-picked, on governor António de Spínola’s orders.

Source:

 

“Os comandos da Guiné”, Mama Sume — Revista da Associação de Comandos, n.º 75, Raul Folques

 

Paulo Rodrigues was another of those men. A captain pulled him from Rifle Company 6, where he was already conscripted, and took him to Fá Mandinga: “They chose Africans from various contingents, they wanted to build a company of commandos to bring the war to an end—this special troop was much better than the normal one, it was everywhere.”

Paulo remembers those times with a contagious joy, he speaks of himself and his brothers in arms as if they were real peacocks: “I was young, funny… At the time, girls would look at me and like what they saw. When we wore the Commando uniform and walked around Bissau, everyone would look at us. We would jump from moving cars and land on our feet.” He spent everything he earned on food and parties: “I wasn’t interested in anything else. I was young, I didn’t think of the future… When we had time off, I never went home, I went out with my cousin on the bike.”

The Portuguese Armed Forces needed strong, fearless men, able to cope with long stretches alone in the bush. Men who the military chiefs could trust blindly.

With a better knowledge of the land than the continental troops, the African Commandos were the trick up Spínola’s sleeve that he believed he could use to win the war. It was the only elite troop in the history of the Portuguese army composed exclusively, from top to bottom, of black men. They were the most athletic, the bravest and the boldest of all Portuguese Guinea—at least this is what they still boast today.

Source:

 

“African Troops in the Portuguese Colonial Army, 1961-1974: Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique”, João Paulo Borges Coelho

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