The island of Brava is located in the extreme Southeast of the leeward group of the Archipelago, with an elliptic configuration, it has a surface of 64 km2 and the maximum length of 9 km East-Westward. lt is 20 km away from the island of Fogo and from this viewpoint you can see four small islets where the fishermen go from time to time.
Brava is the smallest island of the Archipelago with the exception of the uninhabited Santa Luzia. lt is very mountainous and its highest point is Monte Fontainhas. Deep and abrupt valleys contrast with its high peaks. The coastline is very rugged, forming many bays such as: Furna, Ancião, Fajã d'Água and Sorno. Evidence of the volcanic past of the island can be seen in Fundo Grande; a crater preserved by time.
Due to its altitude, Brava is the dampest and the most lush of all the islands and due to and its abundance of flowers makes it known as "ilha das flores" (island of flowers). The medium temperature oscillates between 16 and 26°C
It was discovered in 1462 but the island began to become populated after 1680. Due to the eruption of the volcano of Pico, in the nearby island of Fogo, its inhabitants all relocated to Brava. By the end of the XVIII century the New Bedford and Rhode Island whaleboats started to use the island as a supply stop in the mid Atlantic. Little by little the men from Brava, with their fame for being excellent mariners, find work aboard these whaleboats. But because the living conditions on these boats were very hard, the Cabo-verdeans started to look for jobs on land, mainly in Massachusetts, thus commencing the emigration to the United States of America, where still today there is the greatest Cabo-verdean community abroad. Therefore, it is not by chance that in Brava, English is more widely spoken and the greater part of the commercialized products come from the United States.
Visiting the island of Brava
Smallness, beauty and color have never blended in such a harmonious manner as in this island. With a mere 64 km and an everlasting and characteristic fog, this is the island of beautiful women and birthplace of the author of the most beautiful Creole mornas – the poet Eugenio Tavares.
When visiting its main attraction, the village of Nova Sintra, considered the most beautiful city in the archipelago, its marvelous houses with flowered gardens will delight the visitor. The humidity and freshness that define the islands climate propitiate the development of diverse vegetation and, in consequences, the presence of small vegetable gardens in every house.
It is not by chance that Nova Sintra was the name chosen for this city, since it is similar to its Portuguese homonymous. The Eugenio Tavares central square is the perfect example of how the beauty of nature embellishes this region. As if it was never-ending party, the streets are always decorated with an infinite variety of flowers and trees.
Other interesting places to visit on the island are Furna, Fonte do Vinagre and Faja d'Agua.
In Furna, a traditional fishing village, you can find the islands port. The access to this small and peaceful fishing village used to be made through a very peculiar road. Today, the road is fully paved for a pleasant and enjoyable ride. The distance from Nova Sintra to this village is only of a few kilometers garnished with exactly 99 turns. However, this fact does not make the ride a torture, since the surrounding landscape and successive views of the majestic Fogo Island volcano, rock us in a mix of contemplation and relaxation.
Fonte do Vinagre (vinegar fountain) is, as the name indicates, a spring from which streams water with a very acid taste. Its taste and medicinal characteristics derive from a soil where a massive vein of metal is believed to exist. Notwithstanding its advantage as a mineral water, being the water used by the local populations, its effective in weakening tooth calcium is noticeable.
Faja d'Agua, a green area that contrasts with the blueness of the sea, is a bay known for harboring boats during storms, since it is sheltered from the North – East winds very common in this area. With unparalleled conditions for sport fishing, it represents a very important historical feature in the island since it was here that American whalers used to seek refuge. This fact was the onset to the beginning of the almost exclusive emigration to the United States of America. In fact, it is common to find, particularly in this island, references to this country not only in the everyday language but also in the products of the daily life.
Next to Faja d'Agua, to the Southwest, there is the place that holds the most modern access for those who visit Brava: the airport. It is a remarkable feature since in the entire archipelago it is the one which stands out due to its size and the place where it was built. Aircraft carrier is the perfect metaphor for this airport.
Generally, since this is an island with a luxuriant beauty, every place visited is a guarantee of constant joy in contemplation. Apart from the most relevant places, it should also be mentioned that the most hidden parts could also bring rare moments of pleasure.
Eugenio Tavares – a poet from the island of flowers
Commonly known as one of the best Cabo-verdean poets, Eugenio de Paula Tavares was born on October 18, 1867 on the island of Brava, where he died on June 1, 1930.
His father, Francisco de Paula Tavares was a native of Santarem (Portugal) and his mother, Eugenia Rodrigues Nozoliny, of Spain ancestry was a native of Fogo. Eugenio Tavares died in his house in Nova Sintra, in his rocking chair, where he in by gone days sung: "Oh, my old house! If only I spent here the rest of my life".
His funeral took place a few days after his death and therefore his body was found in a state of decomposition on the day's ceremony. The then authorities caused serious delays on the days of funeral. Everyone waited for them. Curiously, they were not present at this ceremony. Regarding this fact, some affirmed that they were not interested in taking part in Eugenio Tavares' funeral, which was and continues to be the first Cabo-verdean poet all the time, because he was a member of the Republican Party and influenced public opinion spreading his political beliefs both during meetings and in the press. This was at the origin of his persecution. Others said that they were not present on that day because of the lack of maritime links at that time.
A turbulent period of life
Eugenio Tavares often lived in an almost permanent state of turbulence. He managed to work as tax collector in Tarrafal, Santiago before he was appointed to a most responsible collector post in Brava, in 1890. On returning home, he married Guimnor Leca Tavares who didn't bear him a child, according to Felix Monteiro. Ten years later, he was wrongly accused of using money illegally and therefore escaped to North America. In his opinion, he didn't escape. It was simply a question of retiring. "Escaping is a cowardly behavior, retiring may be a tactic."
The process of embezzlement was taken to the municipality's court. The counsel for the defense, Mario Ferro, referred to the confusion in the accounts admitting that it was a question of political persecution, considering that the defendant was a supporter of the Republican Party. "The governor, Joao Cesario de Lacerda, due to the old and good relationship to Dr. Jose Martins Vera Cruz, wrote asking him if he could recommend the defendant to have more sense than to spread his political beliefs in the press." In 1914, as the traders did not agree on the way how Eugenio took control of the population basic needs, they withdrew the bail. Consequently, he was obliged to give himself up to prison, before the Judge of Law arrested him. While he was in prison from November 7th to 10th until the bail had been reviewed, he wrote, ironically, his adoptive mother. "I write from a new house that the men's kindness has prepared for me for 20 years and I have got a chance of being here today. I am in a small room where there is not enough light to see, with railed window and door". In 1921, the defendant was acquitted. The court case attracted large crowds that applauded him at the end of the trial. He was warmly congratulated by the then governor, Maia Magalhaes who followed the events with the greatest interest.
On July 11, 1900, Eugenio Tavares arrived at the city of New Bedford where thousands of Cabo-verdeans lived. He intended to publish a newspaper called "Alvorada" (Dawn) to better ensure his livelihood. The article entitled "Autonomia" (Autonomy) published in the first issue of this newspaper created political problems both in Cabo Verde and Africa. He ended this article with American revolutionary's famous phrase: "Africa belongs to African people". Obviously, this was not welcome by the then authorities; so was his collaboration in the magazine "Revista de Cabo Verde", in which he defended the idea that the capital of Cabo Verde which was Praia at that time had to move to city of Mindelo. This is because Sao Vicente began to develop thanks to the strategic position of Porto Grande situated on the routes of Atlantic.
Eugenio returned to Brava, being informed that he was released on bail until his trial. But he had to make his way to America to better ensure his family life. Felix Monteiro, according to his biographical notes about Eugenio Tavares, writes: "By the age of 15 and having learned solely the ABC of the primary school" he published his first literature work in the almanac of "Lembrances Luso-Brasileiro" presented by the poet Luis Medina Vasconselos who exalted his talent. Eugenio managed to study on his own, thanks to the vast quantities of books existing in his house. His mother died from childbirth and therefore his mother in law, Eugenia Medina Vera Cruz and her husband, Dr. Jose Martins Vera Cruz brought him up since his childhood.
His father died three to four years after he had moved to Guinea. By the age of 20, Eugenio got a job in a commercial center in Mindelo (S. Vicente) whose owner served as the US consul agent, thus enabling his contact to Americans on the island of Sao Vicente. A girl, with whom Eugenio Tavares had fallen in love, boarded at some point an American yacht and to whom he dedicated the following sonnet entitled "Kate" (the girl's name):
"Foi palida visao ante a qual um momento Minha alma se ajoelhou, tremente e subjugada; Foi roseo turbilhao, foi nuvem perfumada Que agrilhou sem do meu vario pensamento. Depois a bruma alem esconde a minha amada. E o triste olhar cravei no plumbeo Firmento".
Traditional New Year celebrations in Brava
Joao Jose Nunes was born in Brava, in 1885, to one of the best regarded families of that island. Very early on he began to write poetry and eventually became a protégé of Eugenio Tavares. His writings show the clear influence of classical Portuguese literature schools, as did all Cabo-verdean writers before the Claridade movement.
After the death of his mentor, Joao Jose Nunes assumed the literature leadership in Brava's social life. I remember well as a child the groups he led during several festivals during the year, especially during the festivities of Christmas and New Year. He composed some of the most beautiful marches to which the groups would sing while parading through the streets of Nova Sintra, accompanied by their chosen musicians. The well known Djedjinho was the one most sought after, followed closely by Josezinho and Ivo. The musicians would move from one group to the next as they progressed in age. There were several groups, starting with the very youthful Mocidade and Juventude (both meaning Youth) and progressing in age to Triunfadores (The Triumphants), and ending with the Velha Guarda (The Old Guard).
Each group would have its theme-song. They would go from house to house, stopping and dancing with the pretty girls, who would be beautifully dressed, waiting for them to arrive. The group Mocidade, mainly young men in their late teens and early twenties, had a lively march in Portuguese that proclaimed their youthfulness and their zest in life:
Mocidade, Mocidade/ risos perfumes e flores/ Mocidade, Mocidade/ cancoes sonhos e amores/... Mocidade, Mocidade/ tens o perfumes das rosas/ Mocidade, Mocidade/ brilhas mais do que as estrelas.
Youth, youth/ laughter, perfume and flowers/ Youth, Youth/ songs, dreams and love/... Youth, Youth/ you have perfume of roses/ Youth, Youth/ you shine brighter than the stars.
And then would come the refrain:
Oh vida como es divina/ quando o calor do amor te ilumina. O life, how divine you are/ when the warmth of love illumines you.
There was also the young men of the group Triunfador (The Triumphant) with their imposing march, in Portuguese, that goes:
Viver amando e cantando/ Combater o mal e a dor/ Eis o designio sublime/ Do grupo Triunfador.
To live loving and singing/ Combating evil and sorrows/ This is the sublime task/ Of the group Triunfador.
Joyful daughters of Brava/ Lovely Crioulas* in bloom/ Follow your dreams/ [You] soul of the Triumphant.
Then the refrain:
Boas festas, ai boas festas/ Que o ano que vem surgir/ Nos leve a fruir a paz/ Num belo e vasto porvir.
Happy holidays, happy holidays/ May the coming year/ bring us the enjoyment of peace/ In a beautiful and long future.
Then there was the Velha Guarda or the Old Guard. This group was mainly composed of the older gentlemen of the island, fathers, uncles and grandfathers who, nevertheless, never lost their zest for youthful fun, as their theme-song, in Crioulo, attests:
E nos qu' e Vehla Guarda
Um grupo d homes d' idade- bis
Corpo bedjo, curacam nobo
Inda mas nobo qui Mocidade.
Pde bem Triunfador,
Pode bem 'te Juventude- bis
E nos me qu' e badjador,
Ai, qu' es oto e pisador.
We are the Vehla Guarda
A group of old men- bis
Old bodies, but young hearts,
Younger still then Mocidade
Let the Triunfador come;
Let come even Juventude,
Good dancers we are,
The others are feet stompers.
The whole island would join in the celebration as these groups would go through the town and the villages singing. The younger groups---and the some diehard adventurers from the older ones---would stretch their merriment for days on end, catnapping here and there as they could, until, exhausted, they would come home to recuperate. Yet all was done with proper taste, so that their parents didn't worry, knowing well that wherever they were they were just having clean fun.
Aside from these main groups there was also the group of Piscadores di Furna or the Fishermen from Furna who would occasionally come up from that seaport to join in the festivities. Although mixing of classes would normally be a social fuax pas, this was a feast in which all social barriers came down. And so, not to be outdone by the rest, when a fisherman asked a girl to dance he would show his chivalry by placing a snow–white handkerchief on the girl's back, at the very spot where his calloused hand would touch her back. And, thus, very gentleman-y-like, he would lead her in the dance.
These festivities did not occur on the spurt of the moment, but involved preparation which would start some two months before the holidays. The festivities would begin Christmas Eve, and continue on Christmas Day, as they would go from house to house singing Christmas songs. There would be a hiatus until New Year's Eve when everything would go wild dances all over the island, as the groups would go from house to house to dance with the pretty girls waiting there. The merriment would pick up tempo and stretch to the Dia dos Reis (Kings Day) on January sixth, in a concerted effort at non-stop fun. Reminiscing about those days a friend remarked that "this was the way it was when Brava was Brava."
For Christmas the groups would take part in the solemn religious festivities, and for those too there were hymns that they sang. One such hymn I still remember is this one by Joao Jose Nunes.
The heavens beaming with light,
The earth quivering with flowers,
They sing, they greet with exquisite ardor
The birth of the Redeemer.
Oh stars of the blessed blue, oh vast fields in bloom,
Celebrate the coming of the dawn of forgiveness,
of peace, and love.
A golden cathedral
Is Nature thus adorned
With lights, with resplendend colors,
Like a rosy, immense and ardent dream.
"Christ" the forests sing;
"Jesus" murmurs the sea.
In an unequaled alleluia
Sky, earth and sea sing Christmas.
Although all was done in merriment, it was also done with the due solemnity called for by the season. We see words that appear simple and beautiful in arrangement, and yet they show a clear theological understanding of the fall of man and of Christ's redeeming love for humanity in his incarnation gift at the first Christmas.
Joao Jose Nunes died in the United States, in 1965. The New Bedford Standard Times honored him with a lengthy article, in 1985, in which it called him "The Poet of Cape Verde."
Bravense Admiral Reis could have been first President of Portugal
Let us begin our story in Portugal in the first half of last century, in the year 1829 to be exact. In that year Portugal was plunged into civil unrest as two brothers, Pedro and Miguel, vied for the power that comes with being a King. Miguel, an absolutist, had the previous year returned from exile in Austria. He had an agreement with Pedro, who was Emperor of Brazil and the rightful heir to the throne, to govern Portugal as regent and according to an adopted constitution. After a year in power, Miguel reneged on the constitution. He wanted no part of a constitution; he wanted absolute power and declared himself an absolute King.
With the ascendancy of Miguel to the throne, many prominent Portuguese of liberal tendencies fled the country for fear of losing their lives. It was also during this period of time that Jose Joaquim de Azevedo returned to Brava, Cabo Verde, seeking a more quiet life. He bought a property in the section of Nova Sintra known as Fernao Nunes, better known in Crioulo as Fernanune. At the time there was only a small structure there, which in olden days was used as a lookout for French pirates who had been pestering the islands back then. Jose Joaquim de Azevedo had a large house built next to this smaller structure, and he and his young wife, Domingas das Armas de Burgo, made it their home. Here they lived for many years, had children and raised their family, among which was a daughter named Lila. In 1852 a married young woman, Lila Azevedo dos Reis bore her first son in the house in Fernao Nunes, in Nova Sintra, Brava. They named the boy Carlos.
Lila's paternal relatives, the Azevedos, have always been known in Cabo Verde and in Portugal to be a seafaring people. They were always connected to the sea, either as captains and officers in the Portuguese Navy or in the merchant marines. They constantly shuffled between their families in Portugal and Cabo Verde.
According to living family members, after the birth of Carlos, the Reises didn't live in Cabo Verde for long. While Carlos was still an infant and in order for him to have a future and education worthy of his family stature, his parents moved to Lisbon where their roots were.
Carlos grew up in Lisbon and at seventeen volunteered for and entered the Army, but he soon switched to what was natural to his family, the Navy. Here he studied and, being very intelligent, progressed quickly through the ranks. After several years he was commanding warships such as the Bengo and the Cuanza. At one time during his military career he taught practical naval artillery at a military academy in the city of Porto and had two regiments under his command. Yet, in spite of all this, Carlos was not happy. He was very liberal in this thinking, and the monarch stood in the way.
The year 1908 began with the monarchy in Portugal nearing its last moments. Most people considered that government by king was a thing of the past and that a new government, in the form of a republic, was needed to usher Portugal into the twentieth century. Most of the leading figures in the nation were in agreement with this. Among them loomed the figure of Admiral Candido dos Reis. He was an adamant opponent in the monarchy.
In the closing days of January of that year, he masterminded an attempt to overthrow King Carlos I. The plot called for the imprisonment of Joao Franco, the King's dictatorial Prime Minister, and of the royal family. It ended in total failure. Many prominent people went to jail or were exiled. If it had not been for Admiral Reis quick thinking in countering the order, many more would have had the same fate.
The fire driving the revolution did not abate, however. Exactly four days later the King and Crown Prince Luis Filipe were gunned down by two assailants in downtown Lisbon as they stepped out of a coach. The monarchy was in its last gasp.
The new King, Manuel II, was an inexperienced twenty-one year old man who was in no way competent to face the tremendous opposition before him. However, he managed to stay in power for the next two years, forming one failed cabinet after another.
In the meantime Admiral Reis was plotting a new coup. He was the mastermind behind the entire revolution and he led the movement in both its military and its civil circles. It was he to whom they would turn to either give or countermand any important order. He was so well regarded that he was elected deputy for the liberal cause to the King's Parliamentary Courts by the Lisbon circle. If the monarchy was to fall, it stood to reason that Admiral Reis would be the man most likely chosen to be president and lead his people and the country into the modern era.
By October of 1910, Admiral Reis and his accomplices had the backing of most of the military forces. The date was set - the opening hours of October fourth. The evening before, it is said most military leaders came to him and expressed that more preparation time was needed. They advised a postponement. The Admiral, in a fiery speech in which he made known that he was willing to die for these cause, imposed his will: the revolution would go on as planned.
So it did. It started in the early hours of the forth and continued on to the morning of the fifth, when the monarchy conceded. The royal family boarded a ship and went into exile in England. Finally after so many trials and attempts and after almost eight hundred years of monarchical rule, Portugal had a new form of government. It was now time for celebration; it was now time to elect a first president.
It is said that, in its opening moments, the revolution seemed to be foundering. When Admiral Reis was so informed, he declined an offer to go with friends and stay aboard one of the friendly warships in the harbor. He said good night to his accomplices and left. Hours later, it is said, his body was found in Azinhaga das Freiras, a remote and rustic alley in Lisbon. Thus, ended the life of Carlos Candido dos Reis, the little boy from Brava, the son of Lila Azevedo dos Reis from the section of Fernao Nunes, in Nova Sintra, Brava. He was not to be the first President of Portugal.
There have been books published questioning the mystery surrounding Admiral Reis' death... It makes any reasonable minded person wonder. If it was suicide, why didn't he kill himself in 1908, when failure was total and so apparent to him? Why didn't the Admiral wait, this time, until all was over to see how things might really have ended - in victory, as it was. Why a remote, dark and secluded alley in Lisbon?
More on this story with detailed pictures can be found starting on page 161 of the book Little Known by Americo Araujo.