Poetry performance at Cidade Velha
I have just returned from Cape Verde where I attended a committee meeting and colloquium in my role as the UK representative of the UNESCO Slave Route project.
The committee is made up of a global mix of experts from disciplines such as anthropology, archaeology and history along with those of us who represent museums and research institutions. Interests are wide-ranging and all contribute to a greater understanding of the transatlantic slave trade and indeed other routes of enslavement such as the Indian Ocean.
Several committee members gave presentations on this region at the colloquium, which was held at the Universidade de Cabo Verde on the theme of ‘Scientific Research on Slavery and Challenges of the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024)’. Dr. Vijay Teelock (University of Mauritius) spoke on People of African descent in post–emancipation Mauritius and Dr. Abdulazziz Lodhi (Uppsala University) on the spread of the African diaspora in the coastal areas through the Swahili Culture.
Cape Verde has a fascinating and often troubled history. The Portuguese claimed the islands in the 15th century thus starting several centuries of involvement in the transatlantic slave-trade, the enslavement of Africans and colonial expansion. This was no passive relationship though and subsequently a notable liberation struggle was born.
Standing outside the National Library is a very large public memorial to one Amilcar Cabral, revolutionary, pan-Africanist thinker and a founder of PAIGC Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde). In 1926 Portugal had become a right-wing dictatorship, one that that was ruled by António de Oliveira Salazah from 1932-1968 who was determined to hold on to their African colonies (and established the infamous prison camp at Tarrafal on Cape Verde). As a result Cabral and many of his fellow Guinea-Bissauans and Cape Verdeans fought a long war of liberation, which long after much of the independence movements of the 1960s, eventually led to Cape Verde gaining independence from Portugal in 1975 and Guinea-Bissau in 1974. Cabral’s famous words ‘Claim no easy victories’ sadly ringing true as he was assassinated shortly before independence. Even so his brother Luis Cabral became the first President of Guinea-Bissau.
A lasting impression were the performances one evening in the town square of Cidade Velha – one of the oldest settlements - not far from where we were staying and some 10 km west of the capital Praia. There was capoeira, various Cape Verdean music and poetry. One might have expected a lull in the tempo but it was the opposite as several young Cape Verdean poets gave rousing performances, their passion palpable, and indeed heartening.