Celebrating 3 Decades of Liberdade: A Discussion with Professor Richard Lobban
July 5, 2005 marked the 30th anniversary of the Independence of the Republic of Cape Verde. It presented an appropriate opportunity to reflect on the past, the important historical underpinnings that led to Independence, and also to
look forward to the future and upcoming opportunities. There have certainly been many challenges faced and many triumphs to celebrate, and it is impossible to chronicle those in a brief article such as this. But, we'll highlight a few issues and hopefully be a part of a movement to continue to raise awareness of a unique and amazing nation.
One individual uniquely positioned to comment on Cape Verde is Professor Richard Lobban of Rhode Island College. Professor Lobban himself was in Cape Verde 3 decades ago during the time of revolution, and in the 3 decades since, he has written extensively on Cape Verde.
I sat down with Professor Lobban recently on the quiet campus of Rhode Island College and asked him to comment on Cape Verde as this historic anniversary approaches.
One major issue raised is what Lobban terms, 're-colonization': the economic colonization by Portugal and other European and outside interests. This is reminiscent perhaps of the Antebellum South in the US, in which former slaves became sharecroppers, still in many ways beholden to their former masters not unlike the dynamics present during the era of slavery. One key to continued independence of CV may be self-determination in an economic sense, and there are various movements toward that of late.
Another critical issue is language: although Portuguese is the official language of Cape Verde, it is widely understood that most CapeVerdean households, in CV and abroad, are mainly using CV Creole as their primary language. Minister of Culture Manuel Veiga has been promoting the consideration of making Creole a second official language, and simultaneously standardizing variations of the language to make it easier to write and eliminate discrepancies. It remains to be seen how successful Minister Veiga's plan will ultimately be, but even for the time being it does seem to raise awareness of the language, as well as instilling pride in the language. Standardization will ultimately be extremely helpful in terms of efficiency of use.
Another issue that has come to the forefront recently is the deportation from the US of CapeVerdeans, and subsequent difficulties, including ostracization and lack of employment opportunities, that those deportees face back in CV. Here in Rhode Island, on June 28th, July 5th was declared 'Cape Verde Independence Day' and July proclaimed 'Cape Verde month' in RI. This was a resolution made by Pawtucket Rep. J. Patrick O'Neill, supported by Majority Leader Gordon Fox, who is the highest ranking official in RI of CV heritage; Speaker of the House William Murphy; and Rep. Peter Kilmartin of Pawtucket.
Of course, when considering contemporary issues facing CV, we must also examine historical issues, including the legacy of centuries of colonization, lack of infrastructure, poverty, and other social issues.
For Lobban, the critical issue facing CapeVerdeans historically has been 'identity'. Amilcar Cabral, lauded as a heroic figure central to many CV's was known to have said 'Tell no lies; Claim no easy victories'. At the heart of CV identity has been honesty and friendliness. Also central to the CV experience has been emigration: leaving the country for economic reasons, or to stay with relatives already abroad.
Lobban breaks emigration down into being precipitated by both 'push' and 'pull' factors: the push factors have included drought and faming, political and social repression, poverty, and limited opportunities. The pull factors include economic and employment opportunities, political and social freedom, educational opportunity, health care, and the opportunity to join an already existing CV Diaspora abroad.
Alluding to the diversity of cultures reflected in the people of CV, as well as the proclivity for CapeVerdeans to travel, Lobban refers to the island as 'an archipelago of immigrants and migrants'.
Having a community well-informed of history is essential to continued progress, especially among the Diaspora community. Like many groups but perhaps more than most, CapeVerdeans maintain a strong connection to the country, even while living abroad, often traveling back for visits with friends and relatives, supporting various social projects, providing economic support, continuing to be involved politically, and celebrating CV wherever they happen to be.
There have been a number of issues facing CV which are quite complex in nature: with historical influences from Africa, Europe, and North America, this has provided a myriad of opportunities, but it also has created some identity confusion, with some Cape Verdeans unclear as to how to define themselves, and outside communities unsure as to how they are expected to define Cape Verdeans. As a result, there have been inaccuracies in census counts of CapeVerdeans due to individuals of CapeVerdean descent self-defining as Portuguese, Latino/a, White, or African American. Though of course in physical proximity to the continent of Africa, yet with strong ties to Europe and North America, it is unclear at times how the nation itself should be classified.
One interesting development globally is the recent resurgence of the popularity of Cape Verdean music, with the legends of the past such as Cesaria Evoria, and Bana, recently honored by CACD, the City of Pawtucket, and the State of RI with lifetime achievement awards for his contribution and promotion of CV culture, are leading the way for a younger generation of musical ambassadors, such as Maria De Barros and many others. Recent articles in the Pawtucket Times and the Providence Jounal have highlighted this popularity, which transcends the CapeVerdean community. The Times article suggested that while earlier generations of CapeVerdeans were sailors, traveling the world, a newer generation several centuries later traverse the globe with music.
So, it is certainly an intriguing moment in CapeVerdean history: much has been accomplished, there have certainly been some challenges and dark days, and much remains to be done. What is certain is that the CV people, at home and abroad, will face the challenges with a smile and dedication. The motto of Cape Verde: 'Work, Unity, Progress', serves us well as we consider both the past, present, and future of the nation. Please take a moment to honor Cape Verde, wherever you are at this moment.