Before he was laid to rest Sunday, the Angolan man known as Pai Grande, or Big Dad, drew a crowd of at least 1,000 people – including most, if not all, of his 156 surviving children and 250 grandchildren – to pay their respects.
Mourners for Francisco Tchikuteny Sabalo embraced, wept, sang and stood shoulder to shoulder, despite calls for social distancing and a presidential ban on gatherings of 50 people or more during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tchikuteny, who was in his early 70s, died last Tuesday of prostate cancer, relatives told VOA’s Portuguese Service. He had sought treatment in Luanda and elsewhere more than a year ago, said one of his sons, Lumbaneny Sabalo, but decided to return home so that “if God called him, at least he would die beside the children and their mothers.”
He was “a complete human being” who prized family and championed education, one speaker said during the service, held beneath sun-screening canopies on arid Giraul do Meio, known locally as Mungongo Island, near the southern port city of Namibe.
Tchikuteny was a Christian who belonged to the New Ecclesiastic Order of Angola, a relative said. He was buried in a nearby cemetery newly dedicated to his family.
That family includes 42 current wives; another seven had left the family earlier, relatives said.
Angola law prohibits polygamy, but it is widely practiced in the predominantly Christian country.
First wife Eva Domingos Bartolomeu told VOA that she hoped to keep the family united, according to Tchikuteny’s wishes. “I will do anything to keep his children fed and OK,” she said.
The extended family primarily relies on farming, raising sheep, goats and cows, plus crops of tomatoes, cabbage, onions, peppers and corn. They sell the surplus at market.
In 2015, Tchikuteny told VOA that he prized education and spent more than $1,500 a year on school supplies.
He had expressed a desire for seeing some of his children trained in science and technology.
Three daughters currently are studying medical sciences and two sons are learning computer science, all at the high school level.
Lumbaneny Sabalo had volunteered as an elementary school teacher for five years.
At Sunday’s service, Gonçalves Hunandumbo, the director of the island’s school, praised Tchikuteny for supporting education and starting “a revolution against illiteracy. … He was a man and a complete human being.”
According to his family, Tchikuteny had fathered 281 children, but 125 predeceased him. He is survived by his wives, children, grandchildren and 67 great-grandchildren.
With Tchikuteny’s death, “We lost a father,” Lumbaneny Sabalo said. He asked journalists and others to continue to visit the island, “where the greatest in Angola lived, and he will remain alive in the history of this country.”