Commemorating Cabo Verde’s 550 Years of Discovery and 35 Years of Independence: What Is Our True History?

This article was originally written and published on July 5, 2010 and is published here with some revisions and updates

 

I thought about writing a scholarly piece about this celebratory year in Cabo Verdean history with facts and figures, from a scholar’s perspective. I sat and contemplated on what angle I wanted to approach this article and what topics I wanted to reflect upon. I thought about Cabo Verde’s development in post independence times, colonialism and its effects and the revolutionaries and their contributions to the struggle. However, I found myself stuck quite a few times as I reflected on the direction I wanted to take because I realized our history, the history of Cabo Verde lacked a solid and sound reflection of the history of Cabo Verdean people. I write this article as a Cabo Verdean woman searching for her people’s true history.

 

TELLING OUR OWN STORIES

The existing scholarship, whether it is books, articles or short stories, has been vastly reactionary or linked to our colonial experience as well as to the independence struggle. This history excludes the stories of the masses and their daily affairs. There is a robust body of scholarship in Portuguese but not as much in English. There are a few publications by Cabo Verdean Americans such as the book,  A Portuguese Colonial in America by Belmira Nunes Lopes, Mike Costa’s documentary entitled “Proud to be Cape Verdean: A Look at Cape Verdeans in the Golden State, and Claire Andrade-Watkin’s story about Cabo Verdeans in Providence, RI, “Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican.”

 

What was the common person doing on any given island prior to and during Portuguese occupation and while the militants fought the war? Did they go to the market? Did they spend social time with friends? How about community birthday gatherings and religious celebrations? What did these look like? What is missing from the existing literature are the stories of the masses and their daily struggles to exist. We are missing the fascinating and inspirational stories of the everyday woman, man and child who managed to live a decent life despite colonial occupation. In pre and post independence times, from Santo Antão to Brava, Cabo Verdeans formed communities and supported each other in tough times. That is the history that I wonder about.

 

CONNECTING GENERATIONS

It is known that African people both in Africa and around the world have a history of oral traditions, meaning that their stories have been passed down from generation to generation via oral stories. There is a common perception that this tradition is slowly dying and younger generations are not connecting to the older generations. But with new technology and social media, this connection can be rekindled. I look at technological advancements not as “agents” of disconnect between the generations but rather as a new way to reconnect them. For example, I utilize the digital recorder that I normally use to capture my research interviews to also record conversations I have with my grandmother. I have asked her many questions about life during and after the colonial period. I have also asked her about her current daily affairs as well as others while she was growing up as a young girl, such as going to the market, gatherings with friends, family events, social and community events among other more personal family topics.  Through these informal conversations with my grandmother, I have learned a piece of my family’s history, which is also a piece of Cabo Verde’s history. Imagine if all of us recorded our elders with a recorder or a pen and a piece of paper? We would begin to write our own story, not in reaction to or as a result of colonialism. This is our story.

 

TIPS FOR WRITING OUR OWN UNIQUE HISTORY INTO EXISTENCE

  • Find out more about your own family history and document it via written accounts, videos and voice recordings. It doesn’t have to be in a published book although that would be cool if you can do it
  • Label pictures with names of people, dates, locations, and family connections such as uncle, aunt
  • Set up a separate email account to keep digital pictures and make sure more than one person has the credential information to sign in
  • Share your family stories with the children in your family so they can learn to appreciate the family history from early on
  • Celebrate the unique cultural experiences of your family and each island while not allowing cultural differences to cause inter-island divisions. 

 

WHAT IS YOUR CABO VERDEAN FAMILY STORY?

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