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Officially the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, São Tomé and Príncipe is a Portuguese-speaking island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Africa consisting of two islands about 87 mi apart and about 155 and 140 mi, respectively, off the NW coast of Gabon. The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe were uninhabited before the arrival around 1470 of Portuguese João de Santarém and Pedro Escobar. Portuguese navigators used the islands as bases for trade with the mainland.


In 1496 Portugal expelled its Jews three years after the Spanish Inquisition after the Spanish who had expelled Jews for not converting to Catholicism. Many of them had fled to Portugal. King Manuel of Portugal placed a huge head tax on Jews to finance his colonies. To colonize the small islands of Sao Tome and Principe and to punish the Jews who would not pay the head tax, King Manuel deported almost 2,000 of two to ten year-old Jewish children to the islands. Only 600 were alive a year later. Some of the surviving Jewish children retained some semblance of their parents' religion. In the early 1600s, the local bishop noted Jewish observances on the island. Observance declined by the 18th century. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Jewish traders arriving on the islands began a new, but small community. Today, no known practicing Jews remain. [August 2009]
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