Fair-skinned guerrilla Lt. Jose Candido Pimentel grew up as an outcast from the priviledged minority caste of Angolan mesticos , the Portuguese term for offspring of black and white parents, because he was raised by his African mother.

In the rigid and, at one time, legally imposed Portuguese colonial social structure of caste, class, race and color, Pimentel, 32, said he was raised among he was raised among his peasant mother's Kamusumbi people as a tribesman, but was rejected by town-dwelling mesticos as "an uncivilized black."

Their exclusion of him, he said, shaped his contempt for the urban elite of his mestico caste, led to strong emotional bonds with his mother's people, influenced his decision to joint guerrilla forces fighting the newly independent Angolan government and cuased an irreversible split with two of his brothers. They are popular military commanders in the government's army.

"My Portuguese father, Candido Pimentel, deserted us when I was five," Pimentel said bitterly, "and from that time our life was hard," growing up in the rural outskirts of Gabela. There were 11 children, six older black children from my mother's previous marriage and five young mestico children, including himself, from the period that his Portuguese father began to visit his mother, he said.

Pimentel, whom I interviewed just before beginning the last leg of my journey with the UNITA guerrillas, said that caste, class, race and color were important elements of Angolan colonial society. These distinctions have contributed to the fighting in independent Angola today, he said.

Pimentel was one of several mesticos, who make up about 10 per cent of the UNITA forces, I interviewed about their positions in Angolan society. He was the only one, however, who did not become nervous and evasive about the issue of the mulattos.

We became friendly during a week I spent recovering from crippling foot sores that had developed after the removal of 22 bitacaia parasites from the soles of my feet over a three-day period.

The bitacaia much like American chiggers, burrow into your feet unnoticed and then grow painfully large. They must be dug out, either with the pointed end of a safety needle, knife or sharp stick, before they lay enormous quantity of eggs. The eggs cause your feet to rot.

While I was recuperating Pimentel would stop by my hut in the mornings when he was relieved of all-night guard duty on the outskirts of the Bie Province guerrilla camp we were in. He started our first conversation with a description of how he had been jailed and demoted from a lieutenant after badly beating a Portuguese UNITA captain, who had been fighting alongside the guerrillas in the early stages of the civil war.

"He was always disappearing when the fighting started," Pimentel said. "After one fight, I was just angry and beat him and beat him. The soldiers didn't stop me. They agreed with me."

Pimentel was jailed for a month and broken to private. After his release from jail, he rose back up to lieutenant. "The captain ran away to the government's side," said pimentel. "He's just like all the Portuguese. A lot of talk and no work."

A subsequent conversation shifted to his role as a mestico. "I am more African than I am mestico because of the way I grew up," he said. "I grew up very poor with my mother's Kamusumbi tribe, which made me different from most mesticos.

"The mesticos who live in the town of Gabela considered us village mesticos as blacks because we were poor and weren't as educated as they were. They treated us and the blacks worse than the Portuguese colonialists did. The whites paid higher salaries than they did and treated the blacks better."

Until 1961, when Pimentel turned 16, Angolan colonial society was divided into four major castes whose relative positions were regulated by racial laws of economic segregation. In September of that year, the laws were abolished, about six months after anti-Portuguese guerrilla warfare had broken out among a small proportion of Angola's majority African population.

At the top of the caste system were the whites, the Portuguese civil administrators and settlers who numbered about half a million by 1975.

Directly under them were the 90,000 mesticos , 90 per cent of whom the town-dwellers, were granted automatic citizenship because they were "partly white." The remaining 10 per cent, like Pimentel were raised in African villages. They had to apply for citizenship after proving that they could read and write Portuguese.

The mesticos were further refined socially into six categories of genetic admixture, with the lighter-skinned ones being more acceptable than darker-skinned ones.

Pimentel is considered a mulatto, the child of one black of one black parent and one white parent. "Half-and-half," he self-consciously laughed.

The other five categories are cobrito, the child of a mulatto and a white; preto fulo, a child of a mulatto and a black; auro-Africano (gold-African), a child of cabrito and a white; caboclo, a copper-colored mestico with straight hair; and [WORD ILLEGIBLE], a dark-skinned mestico.

The African population was divided into two classes, assimilado and [WORD ILLEGIBLE] . The assimilodos [WORD ILLEGIBLE] were granted citizenship after shedding their African language and culture and completely adopting Portuguese language and culture. The indipenas ("natives"), who were and still are more than 90 per cent of the African peasant population, were those who remained "uncivilzed."

These ethnic and class cleavages still split Angola, a country already divided by eight major, generally mutually antagonistic tribal groupings. The tribes were never able to combine effectively against their colonial masters, although they rebelled separately at different times. The tribal divisions helped the Portuguese maintain their 400-year rule.

At the end of May this year, a black-nationalist faction within the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola tried to overthrow the country's Marxist president, Agostinho Neto, partly because of the large number of mesticos and Portuguese whites in the top ranks of the government and party.

It was the fourth time since the 1960s that a black-nationalist faction within the movement has tried to topple Neto over that issue. Neto is an assimilado who is married to a white woman, writes poetry in Portuguese and advocates a multiracial soceity for Angola.

In a country where tribal allegiance comes first, the attempted overthrow bodes ill for the beleaguered Neto and illustrates the depth of racial feeling among the black population.

The leaders of the coup attempt were former Interior Minister Nito Alves and the former chief of political commisar of the armed forces, Jose Van Junen - both of who are members of Neto's tribe, the Kimbundu. They had been considered staunch supporters of the Popular Movement government.

Reportedly, white and black Cuban soldiers (the latter considered mesticos in the Angolan context) helped Angola soldiers loyal to Neto put down the coup attempt. Neto's reliance on Cuban support against his own former followers could lead to further divisions in an already fractured country.

"The laws were changed, but nothing else changed," said Pimentel about colonial Angola in the 1960s. "The people didn't change and the poor weren't allowed to do anything but pay taxes after they sold the little they grew on their farms.

"The African indigenas who couldn't afford to pay the taxes were sent to the coffee plantations of the Portuguese to work until their taxes were paid," he added. "They didn't have a choice."

The top levels of white-colloar employment were reserved for the whites, middle-level managerial jobs were occupied by mesticos and the lowest levels for black assimilodos, he said.

At the age of nine, Pimentel said, he was enrolled in primary school and managed, with the support of his mother's assimilado brother, to graduate from high school in 1966. "I was 21 years old, but still very stupid," he said.

At first, Pimentel thought he had finally become a member of the urban mestico elite. "But they would always ask me where I was from, where was my father and then turn up their noses when I told them," he said.

Over the next nine years, through a series of jobs, an enjoyable stint in the Portuguese ary, several racialincidents and a trip to segregationist South Africa, Pimentel became more and more disenchanted with Angolan society.

For a year Pimentel taught at a high school in Cela. "I wanted to get away from Gabea so people would stop asking me about my background," he said.

At the Cela high school, he formed a close friendship with the only assimilado on the staff, Henrique Valssanha. "I was the only mestico, the rest of the teachers were Portuguese," he said.

One May night in 1967, Pimentel and Valssanha attended the town dance at the prep schol. "We were invited because were schoolteachers."

Valssanha brought a white girlfriend with him. Thus precipitated a racial incident, and both nonwhite teachers were beaten. "The Portuguese were always telling us they were not racists," Pimentel said, "but they are. There was no justice under them."

Pimentel said the girl's father slapped her, and when the black Valssanha tried to intervene, the father and his friends began to beat him. Pimentel then jumped into the fray and was also beaten, almost losing his left eye, he said.

The municipal judge dismissed charges that Pimentel and Valssanha brought against the girl's father and friends.

"He told us we were both no good drunken blacks who were creating confusion with good Portuguese people," Pimentel recalled angrily. "From that time I was very disgusted with everything. I quit teaching and went to Malange to work as a mechanic."

In November, the Portuguese secret police arrested him. "The liberation war was on and two of my brothers had joined the Popular Movement in Congo-Brazzaville," he said.

Off and on for three months, Pimentel said, he was interrogated by the police about the whereabouts of his brothers. "I really didn't know then, so I couldn't tell them," he said.

In January 1968, the police ordered him to join the army. He was put into an elite counter-insurgency commando company. "We were trained for nine months by South African, French and American officers."

"I knew I was going to fight my brothers, but I felt I would be killed by the Portuguese if I didn't," he said. "I said to myself, 'In order not to die, I must do it.'"

One of the brothers, Henrique Pimentel, 26, is also a mestico. The other, a half-brother, Bernardo Narcisco, 49, is black, he said.

"The distance between us was great," Pimentel continued. "Even Bernardo did not tell Henrique where they were going when he took him to Brazzaville. Bernardo was afraid Henrique might tell the Portuguese secret police because [Henrique] is mestico ."

Pimentel was in the Portuguese army for three years, fighting against the National Front in the north and UNITA in the east. "I killed many guerrillas and I enjoyed it," he said.

After army service in 1971, Pimentel got a job as a truckdriver with a diamond-mining company owned by American, Belgain, British and South African interests.

Before civil war erupted two years ago, diamond exports were Angola's third-largest foreign revenue-earner, after petroleum and coffee.

The following year, Pimentel said, he was sent to Johannesburg, South Africa, for 15 days to pick upheavy-duty mining machines and drive them back to Angola. "A company official warned me before I left not to be surprised by the situation there, but I liked it and I enjoyed myself," he said.

"At night, I stayed in the hotel for mesticos called "coloreds" in South. "The blacks there were living better than we were here, even if they were oppressed. There they had shops, large farms, hotels and their own cars.

"Here, in Angola, these things were only for the Portuguese," he said, "and the middle-class mesticos ."

On April 25, 1974, Portugal's army overthrew the country's political dictatorship after growing tired of 13 years of war against guerrillas in its three African colonies, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Angola. The Portuguese colonial empire quickly began to unravel.

"My two brothers returned to Luanda in September," Pimentel said, "and I met them there. I was driving seven days a week, earning $375 a year. They told me "Slavery is over," so I quit and joined the Popular Movement."

The Portuguese army allowed the three guerrilla movements to campaign throughout Angola for elections scheduled for October 1975. The elections, to be followed by independence on Nov. 11, were never held.

"I began to notice there were a lot of rich mesticos in the Popular Movement and a lot of mesticos who had been in the commandos with me," Pimentel said. "I didn't like them. They were abusing the black and robbing from the people."

He left Luanda with his two brothers and went back to Melange. "I wasn't doing much, just eating and drinking whiskey on the Popular Movement's money."

UNITA Maj. Matcus Katalayo arrived in Melange shortly after he did, Pimentel said, and began to hold rallies to drum up support for UNITA. "I saw they were really interested in the peasants and poor of Angola. I joined UNITA in May 1975 and showed my brothers my card."

His order brother, Bernard, the black half-brother, told him he had made a mistake. The Popular Movement "is the movement for mesticos, Pimentel said Bernard told him. His younger brother, Henrique, the mestico, "would walk out of my mother's house when I came there. He refused to eat with me or talk to me."

By June of that year, the tension between UNITA and the Popular Movement began to mount. "The National Front and the Popular Movement were already fighting," he said. "Many of the UNITA soldiers were helping the National Front soldiers without their officers' knowing it."

In the same month, one of his sisters got married. "I was drinking with Henrique and Bernardo and then we starting discussing politics," he said. "We argued and threw the safeties off our rifles, but my mother stepped between us, and the argument ended."

Bernard came to him after the wedding and tried to persuade him to return to the Popular Movement, Pimentel said. "I refused. He said, 'Well, now we must separate because the war will soon begin in earnest.'"

A month later, the Popular Movement soldiers were chased from Melange by National Front soldiers, Pimentel said, and the UNITA forces were ordered to evacuate the town and move south to Massinde.

Before the evacuation began, Pimentel said, he went to his mother's house to get her, his wife and two sons. "They were gone," he said sadly. "My brothers left a message that if I wanted my family I would have to rejoin the Popular Movement or leave them and stay with UNITA.

"My younger brother had told me before. 'When the war begins between the Popular Movement and UNITA, my first bullet is for you.'"

"My brothers are now commanders in the Popular Movement army," Pimentel said. "Sometimes I hear their names mentioned on the government's raadio. They must be popular. I will kill them if I see them."